by Lee Trepanier
The importance of place is often neglected by liberal theorists, with the assumption that liberal ideas are understood and articulated in the same manner from one society to another. But as much as ideas shape a society’s culture and politics so do culture and politics shape ideas. In this article, I want to explore these relationships of politics, culture, and ideas in Turgenev’s novel, Fathers and Sons. In this work, liberalism as expressed in nineteenth-century Russia adopts a very different form than that found in Europe or America. What we discover is that Turgenev’s liberalism is based on a love of the family, the arts, and nature. It creates and sustains a common good that seeks to preserve and reform tradition instead of destroying it and reveals to us the importance of place in affecting how the same ideas are articulated and understood in different contexts.
The political and intellectual context of Turgenev’s novel (1862) was in the aftermath of Russia’s defeat in the Crimean War (1853-56), which prompted the liberal reforms of Alexander II (reign 1855-81), with the most famous being the liberation of the serfs (1861). In this new ideological climate, educated commoners began to assert themselves as the “new men” who would reform Russia. They considered themselves different from the “men of the forties” who were portrayed as weak, wavering idealist liberals of the gentry. Nikolai Chernyshevsky, Nikolai Doroliubov, Dmitry Pisarev, and others were leading examples of these “new men” with their journal, The Contemporarya, where they espoused ideas of materialism, naturalism, and rationalism as the means to remove and reform the semi-feudal institutions of Russia. Influenced by the thought of Feuerbach and Hegelian dialectics, these thinkers developed an ethics of rational egoism that was similar to British utilitarianism where material pleasure was valued as the highest good for both the individual and society.
These “new men,” “the sons of the sixties,” later to be known as nihilists, were critical of the “fathers of the forties” because the latter were concerned only about political freedoms and incremental reform rather than revolutionary progress and the social welfare of the people. Of particular importance was the thought of Dmitry Pisarev, who became the model for the character Bazarov in Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons (and later an influential figure in Lenin’s own political thought). Having rejected everything that could not be justified from a utilitarian perspective, Pisarev sought to liberate individuals from traditional beliefs and behavior and re-establish human relations on the rationality of the natural sciences. The greatest enemies of nihilism were the aesthetic and idealist attitudes towards life characteristic of the intellectuals from the gentry. For Pisarev, aesthetics were superfluous products that contradicted the economic principles of material and intellectual forces. It was this ideological position to which Turgenev would respond and defend the liberal ideas of the gentry in his novel, Fathers and Sons.
Unlike Chernyshevsky, Doroliubov, Pisarev, and others, Turgenev expressed his ideas in literature rather than in political and philosophical pamphlets. Because of the strict censorship laws in nineteenth-century Russia, political and philosophical ideas could only be articulated indirectly and in the medium of literature without fear of reprisal from the state. For instance, because of their explicit political writings, Chernyshevsky and Pisarev were imprisoned and Doroliubov went into voluntary exile. Therefore, if one wanted to engage in political and philosophical debate, literature was the safest way to protect oneself from persecution. Novels like Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons should therefore be understood not as a works of literature that have political and philosophical elements but rather as political and philosophical treatises that have literary elements.
In Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons two movements are presented that will wrestle for the mantle of reform in Russia: nihilism and liberalism. The former is characterized as abstract, scientific, and destructive, while the latter is concrete, integral, and regenerative. Both nihilism and liberalism want to replace arbitrary decrees with the rule of law, establish rights in place of privileges, and looked to their Western European counterparts as models for governance. But these two movements disagreed about the pace of reform and the place of traditional values like the family, art, and nature.
This conflict about the speed of reform and the place of traditional values is dramatically represented in the two characters, Bazarov and Arkady. Bazarov represents nihilism, while Arkady personifies a regenerative liberalism undergirded with the principle of love that nihilism lacks. For example, the unrequited love of Bazarov and Odinstov causes them a despair from which they cannot recover. By contrast, Arkady and Katya are able to integrate their emotional lives with their intellectual ones and thereby find happiness. The nihilism of Bazarov is refuted by Turgenev in favor of the regenerative liberalism of Arkady in order to advocate a reform of Russia that preserves the best of its past while looking forward towards its future.
Summary of the Novel
Fathers and Sons opens with Arkady, who has just graduated from the University of St. Petersburg and returned to his father’s modest estate in an outlying province of Russia called Maryino. Nikolai feels awkward with his son’s return because he has taken a servant, Fenichka, into his house to live with him and already has a son with her. However, Arkady assures his father that, as “a more advanced person,” he is not be disturbed by this unorthodox relationship.
Accompanying Arkady is his friend and philosophical mentor, Bazarov. The father gladly receives the two young men into his estate, but Nikolai’s brother, Pavel, soon becomes distressed by the strange new philosophy named nihilism that the young men espouse. According to Arkady, a nihilist is someone “Who looks at everything critically . . . a person who does not take any principle for granted, however much that principle may be revered” (94). Nikolai and Pavel argue that any philosophical concept must have a positive end, but Bazarov insists that the nihilist is only interested in cleaning the site by destroying the corruption that presently exists. Until all things can be destroyed, the nihilist must revile and undermine all things. They act not for the sake of any values, but merely because they are a force. It does not even matter if they understand why they destroy as long as they destroy. As a result, there is nothing that the nihilist will respect.
Of the two brothers, Pavel is the more upset by Bazarov’s nihilism, which leads Bazarov to hold him in contempt. However, Arkady defends Pavel and explains that his uncle’s arrogant and disputatious personality is due to his experience of unrequited love from a Princess R–. He wants Bazarov to feel some compassion for Pavel, a compassion built upon understanding why Pavel had developed into the person that he is. This ability to feel compassion for people and later to enter into a wholesome relationship with others is a major point of distinction between Arkady and Bazarov.
The two young men later decide to visit a relative of Arkady’s in a neighboring province where they meet the local gentry and Madame Odintsov, an elegant woman of independent means who invites them to spend a few days at her estate. Both men become attractive to the women there, with Arkady to Katya, Odinstov’s sister, and Bazarov to Odinstov herself. At the end of their stay, Bazarov declares his love for Odinstov who does not return his declaration. Soon after this incident, both Arkady and Bazarov leave for the latter’s home.
Although unrequited, Bazarov has become deeply affected by his love and the rejection of it. He experiences a greater change than Odinstov, and, as a result, violates his own principles of nihilism. As a nihilist Bazarov should be the person who can live totally alone and without dependence on another person; yet it is Odintsov who can and does live without love or human companionship. She is more the nihilist than the nihilist Bazarov, who craves her company and love.
When the two companions arrive at Bazarov’s home, his parents receive them enthusiastically. Still disturbed by his rejection, Bazarov becomes even more socially difficult and almost comes to blows with his friend Arkady. After a brief stay, they decide to return to Maryino, and circle by to see Madame Odintsov, who receives them coolly. They leave almost immediately and return to Arkady’s home.
However, Arkady remains only a few days and makes an excuse to leave in order to see Katya. Bazarov stays at Maryino to do some scientific research, and the tension between him and Pavel increases. Bazarov enjoys talking with Fenichka and playing with her child, and one day he gives Fenichka a kiss, which is observed by Pavel. The older man feels it is his duty to defend his brother’s honor, and he challenges Bazarov to a duel, to which Bazarov agrees. At the duel, Pavel is wounded slightly, but he tries to maintain the right for Bazarov to shoot again. Bazarov refuses his right and assumes the role of doctor to care for Pavel’s wound. For the first time, Pavel realizes that a man as different from him as Bazarov can still be an honorable man.
After leaving Maryino, Bazarov stops briefly at Madame Odintsov’s estate and then continues on to his parents’ home. Meanwhile, Arkady and Katya have fallen in love and become engaged. At home, Bazarov cannot keep his mind on his work and, while performing an autopsy, fails to take the proper precautions. He contracts typhus and is taken to his deathbed where he refuses the ministrations of the church. He comforts his father that the last rites can be administered to an unconscious man. During the death scene, Bazarov succumbs to his romantic inclinations and calls for Odintosv, who arrives and whose beauty is admired by Bazarov. As Bazarov becomes delirious, he says things that contradict his earlier views of nihilism. At the end, Bazarov even recognizes that certain types of men are needed by Russia and that he is not one of them.
At the conclusion of the novel, Arkady marries Katya and successfully takes over the management of his father’s estate. His father marries Fenichka and is delighted to have his Arkady at home with him. Pavel leaves the country and lives the rest of his life as a self-exiled aristocrat in Dresden; and Bazrov’s parents visit his gravesite to remember their son.
Critical reception of Fathers and Sons has focused either on the ideological confrontation between generations or the character Bazarov. For example, Isaiah Berlin states that “the central topic of the novel is the confrontation of the old and the young, of liberals and radicals, traditional civilization and the new, harsh positivism.” V.S. Pritchett continues this vein of criticism, saying that “Fathers and Sons [is] the tragedy of conflict between two generations.” Other critics have been preoccupied with Bazarov, such as Peter Henry who argues that “Fathers and Sons is essentially the story of Bazarov.” Likewise, Richard Freeborn agrees that “The main feature of Fathers and Children is the figure of Bazarov.”
Although the work does pay attention to the ideological and generational differences between the fathers and sons, I believe that the most significant difference is within the generation of the sons themselves, specifically between Bazarov and Arkady who each offer a competing account of how to reform and renew Russian society. Bazarov’s nihilism is characterized by its abstract, scientific, and empirical features with no positive political program; while Arkady’s liberalism is concrete, subjective, and integrates both emotions and reason for the preservation of traditional values and the promotion of progressive political reform. Turgenev presents his readers a choice between these two alternatives.
In addition to these two accounts, Turgenev also portrays other ideologies that exist in nineteenth-century Russia: the familial warmth but romantic impracticability of Nikolai; the reformed-minded but cold-hearted Pavel; the icy material comfort and severe order of Odinstov; and the simple-minded religiosity and superstitions of the peasantry, as illustrated by Bazarov’s mother and Fenichka. However, for Turgenev, these avenues are exhausted and no longer present a viable option for Russian society to reform itself, as demonstrated by these characters’ unwillingness to leave their domicile (Nikolai, Odinstov, the peasantry) or their self-committed exile (Pavel). The only ideologies that possess the energy, vitality, and youth for genuine reform in Russia are the ones of the “sons.”
Each ideology is associated throughout the novel with a set of characteristics that are regenerative or destructive in nature. The positive characteristics of liberalism are ones connected with the family, the arts, and nature, while the negative characteristics of nihilism are linked with science, disputation, and self-absorption. The characters Arkady, Katya, and Fenichka are associated with these regenerative forces, while the figures Bazarov, Odinstov, and Pavel are connected with the destructive ones. By consistently developing and juxtaposing these forces, Turgenev is able to clarify these two alternatives that were available for the reform of Russia.
Bazarov best represents and articulate the philosophy of nihilism with his self-absorption, disruptive behavior, and preoccupation with science. For example, in the beginning of the novel, he interrupts the reunion between father and son at Maryino by commanding Arkady to bring him a match for “I’ve nothing to light my pipe with” (84). The interruption is not only significant because it prefigures the interruption that Bazarov will have on the relationship between Nikolai and Arkady; but the interruption also cuts off Nikolai’s recitation of Puskin when the father is welcoming the return of his son, anticipating Bazarov’s preference for science over poetry. Bazarov’s disruptive force continues in this episode as the smoke from his pipe diffuses about him “such a strong and acrid smell of cheap tobacco that Nikolai Petrovich, who had never been a smoker, was forced to avert his nose” (84). The smoke symbolizes the destructive chemical force that Bazarov brings to Maryino as well as to Arkady’s own education in the philosophy of nihilism.
At Maryino, Bazarov becomes associated with his microscope, his dissections, and his laboratory. He shuts himself off from the beauty of nature and its regenerative elements in favor of scientific experimentation. Unlike Nikolai or Arkady, who marvel at nature and are sensitive to its variety, wholeness, and harmony, Bazarov reduces it to a workshop where he “shall cut the frog open to see what goes on inside him, and then, since you and I are much the same as frogs except that we walk about on our hind legs, I shall know what’s going on inside us too” (90). Like Francis Bacon, Bazarov perceives nature as a phenomenon to inspect, dominate, and eventually control with human beings having no special place in the world and being no different from the frogs that he cuts open to investigate.
Bazarov also rejects the arts as a source of vitality and regeneration with his continual rejection of literature: he criticizes Nikolai for “wast[ing] his time reading poetry” (88; also see 118, 123) and “playing the ‘cello’” (116); and argues with Pavel that “A decent chemist is twenty times more useful than any poet” (97). Instead of pursuing activities that produce practical results, these “fathers,” the liberals of the 1830s-1840s, “stimulate their nervous systems to the point where they completely break down,” observes Bazarov. By wasting their time on aesthetic activities of no practical value, these people become useless, like Nikolai who “knows precious little about farming,” and actually retards society’s progress (88).
But it is the familial disruptions where Bazarov causes the most damage, especially in the relationships among the Nikolai, Pavel, and Arkady. Bazarov not only pits the son against the father, but he also creates conflict between the two brothers, Nikolai and Pavel. Whereas Arkady has superficially adopted Bazarov’s nihilism and thereby causing a rift between father and son as well as between uncle and nephew, Nikolai and Pavel disagree about the seriousness of the threat that nihilism poises to the younger generation. Nikolai is more resigned but sympathetic to the ideas of the “sons” while Pavel remains adamant that they are wrong (129).
Underlying these disruptive episodes is the idea of nihilism, which both Nikolai and Pavel describe as producing one “who recognizes nothing . . . who respects nothing,” although Arkady later modifies this position to one “Who looks at everything critically” (94). When asked whether this is a good or bad thing, Arkady is evasive: “It depends on the individual, my dear uncle. It’s good in some cases and very bad in others.” This answer is interpreted by both Nikolai and Pavel as a philosophy without principles, and “without principles taken as you say on trust one cannot move an inch or draw a single breath” (94). They wonder how nihilists can “exist in a void, in an airless vacuum,” in a world without principles (94).
A fuller account of nihilism is drawn out later in the novel when Bazarov and Pavel are engaged in a heated disagreement about the validity of nihilism. According to Arkady, the nihilist doesn’t “recognize any authorities,” to which Bazarov adds “We base our conduct on what we recognize as useful . . . In these days the most useful thing we can do is to repudiate – and so we repudiate . . . . Everything” (123). When challenged by Pavel that “one must construct, too,” Bazarov replies “that is not our affair . . . . The ground must be cleared first” (124).
Consequently, nihilism is a philosophy that recognizes no authorities but is guided by practical conduct on a heuristic basis. Its initial task is to destroy everything and not be concerned with what will appear later. Of course, this desire to destroy everything and offer nothing is ultimately self-negating as dramatically portrayed in the fate of Bazarov with his unrequited love for Odinstov, his damaged friendship with Arkady, and ultimately his deathbed recognition that this philosophy, to which he has dedicated his whole life, is ultimately unfulfilling. For Turgenev, this philosophy of nihilism provides neither personal meaning nor societal reform.
Not surprisingly, the person with whom Bazarov falls in love is Odinstov, whose internal rigidity prevents her from fully engaging in anything beyond her own self-absorption:
Having no prejudices of any kind, and no strong convictions even, she was not put off by obstacles and she had no goal in life. She had clear ideas about many things and a variety of interests, but nothing ever completely satisfied her; indeed, she did not really seek satisfaction. Her mind was at once probing and indifferent; any doubts she entertained were never soothed into oblivion, nor ever swelled into unrest (164-65).
Odinstov is like Bazarov in that she is “indifferent to the beauties of nature” (169); but, unlike Bazarov, she is incapable of love (176-77). Bazarov’s declaration of love for Odinstov is not only a repudiation of his own philosophy of nihilism, but reveals the conflict between his emotions and his intellect: “it was not the trembling of youthful timidity, not the sweet alarm of the first declaration that possessed him: it was passion struggling in him, violent and painful – passion not unlike fury and perhaps akin to it” (182). His thoughts dominate him, but his emotions continually to assert themselves and work against his intellect, causing discord and frustration.
Unfortunately for Bazarov, his declaration causes Odinstov to recoil, “You have misunderstood me,” (183). Although she knew exactly what she was doing, Odinstov was unable to relinquish control. Odinstov’s self-absorption, internal rigidity, and incapacity for love are qualities that are associated with nihilism, like the qualities of Bazarov’s disruptive personality, narcissism, and preoccupation with science. What both of these characters reveal dramatically are the harmful consequences that nihilism has on people if adopted.
Interestingly Bazarov’s relationship with Odinstov parallels Pavel’s relationship with Princess R–. When Pavel was a young man, he was like Bazarov – self-confident, ironical, and caustic – and fell in love with a woman who was cultivated, childless, and had a deceased wealthy husband. The frustrations that Pavel had encountered in his futile pursuit of Princess R– ultimately disillusioned him: “he no longer expected anything much of himself or of others, and he understood nothing new” (102). Bazarov’s frustrations in his pursuit of Odinstov produce a similar effect: “I have not destroyed myself, and no female shall break me. That’s the end of it. You won’t hear another word from me on the subject” (209).
Both Pavel and Bazarov are also arrogant and disputatious. They gain much of their identity from the forceful expression of their attitudes and in the defense of them. Never contributing anything positive to conversation, Bazarov always leave others to define his positions and then spends the rest of the time defending his alleged positions. Over time what is actually being disputed matters less than how it is being disputed. Characters harden their positions, become intolerant of each other, and destroy any capacity to understand another person’s views. Because of their self-absorption, disagreement is no longer about resolution but the continuation of disputation itself.
When Pavel and Bazarov duel, they are engaged in a symbolic ritual of self-destruction where each wants to destroy the worst qualities they see in themselves: misanthropy, disputatiousness, and an uncontrollable love for beautiful but distant women. Although the cause is Bazarov kissing Fenichka and the dishonor it brings to Nikolai, both wonder whether this is the true motive of the duel. Bazarov suspects “. . . but would he really behave like this on his brother’s account? And is a kiss so very important? There must be something else in the background” (238). The duel is less about who wins than about the problem of chronic self-absorption with its attendant pride that leads to misunderstanding and violence. Neither Pavel nor Bazarov possess the regenerative qualities that enable each to understand the other, leading to their fates as “dead” men at the end of the novel.
Thus, the nihilism represented by Bazarov, and to a lesser extent Odinstov and Pavel, possesses characteristics that are incapable of providing individuals meaning and renewing society. The characteristics of a reliance on science, disputation, and self-absorption lead to Odinstov’s loveless materialism, Pavel’s existential despair, and Bazarov’s deathbed recognition of the futility of his ideas.
Although Turgenev rejects nihilism, he does recognize that aspects of the philosophy are valid. The impracticability of, or simple indifference to, the plight of the peasantry of the Russian gentry, as illuminated respectively by Nikolai and Pavel, are both serious threats to the social stability and reform of nineteenth-century Russia. Throughout the novel Bazarov is able to have the most natural, friendly, and spontaneous relationships with the peasants, unlike his often fractious and disruptive relationships with the aristocracy. Bazarov identifies with the peasantry, unlike the other characters: “‘My grandfather tilled the soil,’ answered Bazarov with supercilious pride. Ask any of your peasants which of us – you [Pavel] or me- he would more readily acknowledge as a fellow-countryman. You don’t even know how to talk to them” (124-25; also see 117, 239). Bazarov’s preoccupation with science is an avenue he vaguely recognizes but never explicitly articulates as a practical step to help the plight of the peasantry to better their condition.
The problem with nihilism for Turgenev is that it throws the baby out with the bathwater: its intentions to reform Russian society on practical, scientific grounds are commendable but not at the expense of traditional values like the family, the arts, or an appreciation of nature. Furthermore, even if the nihilist attempts to be true to his philosophical percepts, he would be unsuccessful, as human nature will always be drawn towards life’s more regenerative features. The fact that Bazarov is not entirely consumed by life’s destructive forces not only reveals the conflict between his intellect and his emotions but also that the human desire to destroy everything is ultimately not self-sustaining.
A good example of this is Bazarov’s attraction to Fenichka and his adept handling of her son. Children are associated with innocent, love, and regeneration – qualities that are alien to Bazarov. Yet Bazarov is able to handle Fenichka’s son with ease and pleasure:
Bazarov took the baby in his arms, and to both Fenichka’s and Dunyasha’s surprise the child made no resistance and showed no fear . . . . “How quiet he was with you,” she said in an undertone. “All children are good with me,” answered Bazarov. “I have a way with them.” “Children know when people are fond of them,” remarked Dunyasha. “They certainly do,” Fenichka confirmed (114-15).
Although Bazarov’s attraction to Fenichka is never precisely identified, it is clear that Fenichka is connected with the regenerative qualities of life – family, the arts, and nature – as she is associated throughout the novel with flowers, which for Turgenev represents the most emotionally and aesthetically evocative elements in nature. Fenichka’s habit of resting in the lilac arbor amid “a large bunch of red and white roses still wet with dew” (230) and her capacity to “unfold and bloom like summer roses” links her with nature (229). As Fenichka becomes more associated with nature and simplicity throughout the novel, Bazarov becomes more and more attracted to her and unable to deny life’s regenerative qualities.
Bazarov’s death precludes him from embracing life’s regenerative qualities, but his disciple, Arkady, is able to change. Arkady reorients his philosophical perspective and by the end of the novel he has repudiated Bazarov’s nihilist position. As representative of regenerative liberalism, Arkady sees Bazarov with increasing objectivity that he ultimately rejects nihilism. However, even at the beginning of the novel, Arkady is not as naïve as he is often interpreted. In chapter five, Arkady defines and corrects his father’s understanding of nihilism as one “Who looks at everything critically” (94). When Pavel equates this definition with “one who recognizes nothing,” Arkady modifies his answer more precisely as “. . . a person who does not take any principle for granted, however much that principle may be revered” (94). Thus, Arkady never claims to reject all principles: he rejects only those principles that are accepted uncritically.
It may be the case that Arkady is simply parroting Bazarov’s philosophy, especially since he is referred to as a “Bazarov’s friend and disciple” (70) and possesses the confidence of a “practiced chess player” (124), but there are important philosophical and dramatic differences between the two characters that surface early and throughout the novel. For instance, Arkady has a genuine concern for the peasantry, which may be the reason why he became a nihilist. . On his ride to Maryino, Arkady’s heart sinks upon seeing “the peasants whom they met on the way were all in rags and mounted on the sorriest little nags,” saying to himself, “there is no prosperity here, no sign of contentment or hard work. It just can’t go on like this: this all be transformed . . . but how are we to do it, how should we begin?” (83) For Arkady the initial answer lies in nihilism, but a nihilism that does not include the self-absorption of Bazarov. In a later conversation with Pavel, Arkady states:
“The present condition of the people requires it . . . We are bound to carry out these requirements, we have no right to indulge in the gratification of our personal egotism.” This last sentence obviously did not please Bazarov: it smacked of philosophy, that is, of romanticism . . . (124).
Arkady’s argument upsets Bazarov because of Arkady’s care for other human beings. While Arkady later confesses that he doesn’t “detest anyone,” Bazarov responds by saying, “And I hate lots of people. You’re a soft-hearted mawkish individual . . .” (210). Bazarov’s low esteem of humankind is later confirmed in his statement that “Slander a man as much as we like, and he will still deserve twenty times worse in reality” (212). Whereas Arkady is a nihilist because he sincerely wants to improve society, Bazarov is a nihilist for his own personal egoism.
It is also important to note that Arkady never loses his love for his family, the arts, or nature. When at Bazarov’s parents’ home, Arkady marvels at nature: “Look . . . a withered maple leaf has come off and is fluttering to the ground: its movements are exactly like a butterfly in flight. Isn’t it strange that something so mournful and dead should be like a creature so gay and full of life?” Bazarov’s reply is to implore his friend for “no fine talk” today and accuses him of following in his uncle’s footsteps because of “family feelings” (212-13). Although Arkady denies that he spoke out of family feelings but rather out of justice, it is clear that he does want to defend his family because he loves them (and he does not want to admit that to Bazarov because it might be perceived as a sign of weakness) (213). Arkady is attracted to Bazarov’s critical mind, but he is eventually repelled by its rigidity.
This perspective ultimately leads Arkady to reject the conclusions of Bazarov and recognize that family, the arts, and nature are not only necessary for one’s own personal life but are required for the regeneration of Russia. Arkady’s embrace of these regenerative qualities of life allows him to sympathize with the peasantry and to help them to improve their conditions, while Bazarov’s unwillingness to allow these qualities into his life only produces hatred. In passing the clean, neat cottage of the local bailiff, Arkady remarks that “Only when the poorest peasant has a house like that will Russia achieve perfection, and we must all of us work to that end . . .” (211). But Bazarov’s reaction is the opposite where he has “developed a hatred for that ‘poorest peasant’ of yours, that Philip or Sidor for whose sake I’m to be ready to sacrifice my skin and who won’t even thank me for it . . .” (211). The unwillingness of Bazarov to accept life’s regenerative qualities while wanting to help the peasantry creates a contradiction within him: in order to help the peasantry, one must be open to life’s regenerative qualities to be able to identify and sympathize with them, but Bazarov is closed to them.
Arkady reaches the culmination of his intellectual and spiritual pilgrimage when he declares his love for Katya in the gardens of Odinstov’s estate. The setting of the garden itself is a reference to both the prelapsarian and fallen state of the Garden of Eden. For Arkady, who appreciates nature, and Katya, who, like Fenichka, is associated with flowers throughout the novel, the garden reveals their aesthetic appreciation for nature. But for Odinstov, the garden represents the fallen Eden, as she did “not cared to go into the place; but Katya often came and sat on a big stone bench under one of the niches” (265). Odinstov’s reluctance to enter the garden results from seeing “grass-snakes there,” which reinforces the archetypal suggestions of the setting. Whereas Odinstov’s mindscape is reflected onto the garden as a fallen Eden, both Arkady and Katya project a prelapsarian state where nature is bountiful, beautiful, and regenerative.
Arkady loves Katya but when he initially expresses his feelings for her, he still has traces of the Bazarov’s corrupting egoism that render his declaration of love comic and inadequate:
I can see that I am going to surprise you . . . all the more so, since this emotion of mine is connected in a certain way – in a certain way, notice – with you. I seem to remember your reproaching me yesterday for a lack of seriousness . . . That reproach is often leveled at . . . often falls on . . . young men when they cease to deserve it; and if I had more self-confidence . . . . If I might hope . . . (266-67).
Arkady is beleaguered with the fears that interfere with young love: fear of rejection, fear of looking foolish, and fear of sounding desperate. But when Odinstov’s voice is heard approaching them, “If I could feel sure of what you say,” Arkady begins to change (267). Although we are not sure to what Odinstov is responding, Arkady recognizes his love for Katya is something larger and more significant than himself and provides him the spiritual regeneration that has incapacitated Bazarov and Odinstov. Whereas Odinstov speaks of having “seen life, we are tired,” for both herself and Bazarov, Arkady realizes that their intrusion upon this prelapsarian state can be cured with a proper understanding and expression of love (267). Life is not one of intellectual and spiritual fatigue for Arkady and Katy but instead one of renewal and harmony with each other and with the world.
This recognition fills Arkady with the urgency and confidence to declare, “Katerina Sergeyevna, I love you forever, irrevocably, and I love only you” (268). Katya’s simple response of “Yes” ends the episode with a silent affirmation. This silence stands in stark contrast to the conversation of half-truths and sarcasm that transpires between Bazarov and Odinstov. It requires silence to appreciate not only each other but also nature and the arts. Silence consequently is the revealing but elliptical expression of love between Arkady and Katya and the hope of a happy and harmonious future together.
The future of Arkady and Katya is one that combines the critical perspective of nihilism with the constructive aspects of regenerative liberalism as they marry and start a family with their son, little Nikolai. Children are perhaps the most closely associated with the regenerative characteristics of life in the novel as they will continue the existence of Russia. Although Bazarov gets along with children, he does not have one due to his premature death. The implication is clear in Turgenev’s verdict on nihilism: the desire only to destroy makes the possibility for any sort of renewal impossible. What is required is someone like Arkady who adopts the critical perspective of nihilism and the constructive elements of regenerative liberalism in order to reorient the individual and to improve society.
This form of regenerative liberalism is most evident at the end of the novel with Arkady who is now married, has started a family, and “has become passionately engrossed in the management of the estate; and the ‘farm’ now yields a fairly substantial income” (292). Unlike his father, Nikolai, who had aspirations for reforming his estate to become profitable but lacked the critical perspective to accomplish this project, Arkady is able to implement reform because of his rejection of nihilism and embracement of regenerative liberalism. A preoccupation only with the family, the arts, and nature does not necessarily result into practical results, e.g., Nikolai and the rest of the “fathers.” What is required is the critical perspective that nihilism brings in order to make possible that these regenerative values are preserved and passed down to the next generation.
Regenerative liberalism, therefore, is the psychological capacity to integrate emotions and reason for the sake of positive social and political action. It adopts the critical perspective of nihilism but also preserves the traditional values of the family, the arts, and nature as regenerative qualities that enable us to identify and empathize with others. Unlike nihilism’s destructive agenda, regenerative liberalism seeks to preserve traditional values while reforming those aspects of society that require a critical perspective. In this sense, Arkady and his family represent a positive path for Russia to reform itself as a liberal polity.
The Principle of Love in Liberalism
Underlying this regenerative liberalism of Arkady is the principle of love and its transformative effect on people’s egoism. As he declared his love to Katya, Arkady recognizes that the debt he owes her in changing him from a callow youth into a mature adult: “I have indeed altered in a great many respects, and you know that better than anyone else – you know it, for in reality I owe this transformation to you . . . .” (266). Arkady realizes that the self-absorption of Bazarov’s nihilism is ultimately unsatisfactory and needs to be replaced with the traditional solution of love, marriage, and estate management. However, this recognition only transpires when he becomes confident enough to declare his love clearly to Katya, who in turn reciprocates it.
As illustrated in Arkady’s declaration to Katya, love is the ability to transcend one’s egoism in order to recognize that one’s relationship with another is something larger and more significant than oneself. It prompts people to identify and to empathize with others and therefore leads them to positive social and political action in reforming and renewing society. Love is the existential motivation that connects people to the regenerative qualities of life, such as the family and nature, and provides the principle for regenerative liberalism.
The characters capable of love are able to be spiritually renewed and regenerated for the purposes of marriage, the family, and estate management, while those characters who are either unwilling or incapable of love lead a listless existence, self-imposed exile, or suffer premature death. Again, it is not surprising that those who love have children – Nikolai and Fenchika, Arkady and Katya – whereas those who do not are barren: Bazarov, Odinstov, Pavel. The symbolism is clear: love has the capability to regenerate itself into the future while hatred or indifference passes away unnoticed.
But why are some characters capable of love and others not? What we discover is that those characters most associated with the regenerative qualities of life are able to recall particular cherished memories of love that allow them to transcend their own isolated and material existence. These characters had experienced love in their lives that had a lasting impact on their souls and created memories which they could recall in order to be sensitive and accepting of the life’s regenerative qualities whether in the family, the arts, or nature. They are able to recognize the variety, the wholeness, and harmony in life and are familiar with the “charm of which lies in a half-conscious, hushed contemplation of the vast current of life that is forever swirling in and around us” (265). Rather than seeing life as an object to be dominated and controlled, these characters perceive themselves as participants in life which is meant to be enjoyed and contemplated.
For example, Nikolai often visits his favorite arbor for solitude and recalls the memories of his deceased wife and their years of young love: “His dead wife came into his mind again but not as he had known her through their many years together, not as a good thrifty housewife but as a young girl with a slim waist, innocently inquiring eyes and a plait of hair knotted tightly on her childish neck” (131). He recognizes “those first sweet moments” were “deathlessly forever” because they still exist within him and thereby gives him a touch of the eternal and immortal (132). Although this idea has no empirical basis for its existence, it enables Nikolai to see life’s continuities and therefore develops his sense of perspective of how each life contributes to all of life.
This ability to recall cherished memories also enables Nikolai to understand the emotions and attitudes of the younger generation better than his brother. When he speaks to Pavel about Bazarov’s ideas, Nikolai recalls from his own experience:
Do you know what all this reminded me of, Pavel? Once I quarreled with our late mamma: she stored and would not listen to me . . . At last I said to her, “Of course, you cannot understand me: we belong to two different generations,” I said. She was dreadfully offended but I thought to myself, “It can’t be helped. It is a bitter pill but she must swallow it.” You see, now our turn has come, and our successors say to us, “You are not of our generation: swallow your pill” (129).
But instead of agreeing with his brother, Pavel retorts, “I am convinced, on the contrary, that you and I are far more in the right than these young gentlemen, although perhaps we express ourselves in somewhat old-fashioned, vieilli language and are not so insolently conceited. . .” (129).
It is not insignificant that Pavel is described as the one who has “abandoned his memories” and therefore lacks the imaginative capacity to understand the perspectives of the younger generation (103). Pavel’s inability to cherish any moments of happiness from his past, believing that “in losing his past he lost everything he had,” reveals he approaches life as an object to be controlled and dominated, like the nihilists. Even when Princess R– reciprocated his love, he still suffered “torments” because he was constantly jealous of her other suitors (102). The fact that Pavel was unable to trust someone, even one who had returned his love, suggests a psychology that perceives life not as a process in which to participate but as something to be controlled. His desires for possession and certitude rather than being open to life with its unknown future preclude any possibility for him to remember.
In other words, the memory of cherished moments of love increases one’s understanding of the human condition and diminishes one’s preoccupation with the self. Nikolai understands himself not as an isolated spark that exists in an indifferent world but as a thinking and feeling element in a universe of thought and emotion. His wife’s love has transcended her grave, just as his own existence may continue to be sustained in the memories of Arkady. By contrast, Pavel’s and Bazarov’s self-absorptions constrict their understanding of human nature; they perceive themselves as isolated individuals moving randomly in a meaningless void. Whereas Nikolai, and later Arkady, view themselves as part of an orderly and significant design, Bazarov sees himself as a brief, isolated entity existing in a vast void:
The tiny bit of space I occupy is so minute in comparison with the rest of the universe, where I am not and which is not concerned with me; and the period of time in which it is my lot to live is so infinitesimal compared with the eternity in which I have not been and shall not be . . . And yet here, in this atom which is myself, in this mathematical point, blood circulates, the brain operates and aspires to something too . . . What a monstrous business! What futility! (209)
The biggest different between Nikolai and Arkady, on the one hand, and Pavel and Bazarov, on the other, is their differing beliefs in what constitutes the individual. For the former, the individual is both a materialist and spiritual entity that belongs to an orderly and significant design; for the latter, the individual is a materialist being that is isolated and without inherent meaning.
Bazarov potentially could have followed Arkady’s path if Odinstov had returned his declaration of love. In this sense, Odinstov is similar to Pavel in that both possess memories but find no meaning in them: “So many memories lie behind me: my life in Petersburg, wealth, then poverty, my father’s death, my marriage, the inevitable tour of the Continent . . . So many memories and so little worth remembering, and in front of me, a long, long road without a goal . . . I have no wish to go on” (176). Her role in the novel is significant because she could have persuaded Bazarov from his nihilist conclusions, if she were capable of love. Instead her rejection of Bazarov only reinforces the destructive qualities of nihilism within him to the point where he mocks Arkady’s love for Katya and resigns himself to the pain that Odinstov has inflicted upon him: “What can’t be cured must be endured!” (209)
Bazarov’s despair, therefore, is the result not only of the conflict between his intellect and his emotions but also of Odinstov’s rejection of his declaration of love and his fear that she will forget him. This fear manifests itself on his deathbed, when Bazarov says to Odinstov, “You will forget me” because “Love is a form, and my particular form is already disintegrating” (288). Although Bazarov has reduced love to a materialist nature and, once his physical form disappears, so will his love, he also is referring to the relationship between Odinstov and himself. Odinstov will not forget that Bazarov existed, but she will forget the feelings that they had with one another. Ultimately Bazarov views his final death as “nothing . . . I merely see a kind of blur . . . and that’s all” (282).
While Bazarov refuses to find meaning in his memory, Arkady is the opposite, as first shown in his recollection of his uncle’s past to Bazarov. Because Arkady is able to recall Pavel’s past, he is able to sympathize with him, despite their philosophical disagreements, telling Bazarov: “. . . you don’t know him. Why, he was a great figure in his day. I’ll tell you the story sometimes” (88). He also remembers the goodness of his father despite his lack of estate management skills and his outdated philosophical ideas: “My father has a heart of gold” (88). The ability that Arkady is able to find positive meaning in both his father and uncle reveals a capacity of memory that is receptive to life’s regenerative qualities. It would have been easy for him to remember his father’s impracticability and ridicule his uncle’s broken heart, but Arkady refuses to do so and thereby gains a broader perspective of life’s continuities.
Memory consequently is not merely a recollection of events. It is a psychological state and activity that stretches the mind to a realm where thought, feeling, and imagination meaningfully tie together life’s disparate elements. It can inform and direct social and political action when reform is required, but it remains anchored in a society’s past achievements that are worth preserving. Memory therefore is the ultimate form through which love is conveyed and sustained from one human being to another, transforming both the individual and society into regeneration as opposed to destruction.
The power of memory and love is perhaps best portrayed in the last scene of the novel when Bazarov’s parents visits their son’s grave:
Supporting each other, they walk with heavy steps; they go up to the iron railing, fall on their knees and weep long and bitterly, and long and yearningly they gaze at the silent stone beneath which their son is lying; exchanging a brief word, they brush the dust from the stone, set a branch of a fir-tree right, and then resume their prayers, unable to tear themselves away from the place where they feel nearer to their son, to their memories of him . . . But are those prayers of theirs, all fruitless? Is it their love, their hallowed selfless love, not omnipotent? Oh yes! However passionate, sinful and rebellious the heart hidden in the tomb, the flowers growing over it peep at us serenely with their innocent eyes; they speak to us not only of eternal peace, of the vast repose of “indifferent” nature: they tell us, too, of everlasting reconciliation and of life which has no end (295).
The love of Bazarov’s parents enables Bazarov to live on in their memories and therefore Bazarov is able to transcend death in spite of his “sinful and rebellious” heart. This idea is conveyed symbolically by the final image of the flowers, which “peep at us serenely with their innocent eyes”, symbols of life’s regenerative power. Although Bazarov led a life of destructive nihilism, his life is not worthless, as he had claimed, because those who are receptive to life’s regenerative qualities will be able to remember and sustain his existence in their memories.
Although Fathers and Sons has declined in importance in literary criticism, the novel can be revived as a philosophical work that possesses literary elements. The portraits of Bazarov, Arkady, and the other characters are an examination of the differences within a generation that presents two possible forms of reform: destructive nihilism and regenerative liberalism. Turgenev’s regenerative liberalism adopts the critical perspective of nihilism but is anchored in the principle of love. By being open to life’s regenerative qualities in the family, the arts, and nature, we can be spiritually renewed and practically oriented towards the improvement of both the individual and society.
Regenerative liberalism is one that integrates emotions and reason for the sake of positive social and political action. The absence of either emotions or reason makes for an ineffectual liberalism, e.g., Bazarov’s nihilism and Nikolai’s romanticism. The philosophical program of nihilism is refuted by Turgenev not only by the dramatic action and outcome of the characters but also by the cherished memory of Bazarov itself. That is, after his death, Bazarov is remembered fondly by his family and friends, allowing him to transcend death only through the love of other people. Thus, Turgenev shows a foundation for liberalism that is rooted in love and sustained in memory that the “sons” of his time lacked. This liberalism is an alternative form of politics to both the conservative Slavophiles, who believed that Russia’s salvation lay in its traditional spirituality, and the nihilists who wanted to destroy everything first before reforming it.
Because the avenues of direct political expression and activity were closed to people in nineteenth-century Russia, liberals like Turgenev focused on developing a humane culture that would assist (they hoped) in Russia’s transition to a constitutional monarchy. With its principle of love, regenerative liberalism can create and sustain a common good and preserve traditions for liberal citizens with a focus on the family, the arts, and nature. A culture that rejects the nihilist conclusions of Bazarov could foster a common perspective for all citizens on the common objects that they should love and cherish.
Turgenev’s regenerative liberalism therefore offers a tradition of liberalism that has been neglected in the West, partially because of the disregard of Turgenev’s works and partially because the absence of place in contemporary liberal theory. A liberalism that values the principle of love that is sustained in memory can possibly provide a sense of the common good and preserve traditions for a liberal regime. Liberal politics would need to be reconceived as objects of mutual love that are cherished in a common memory in order for Turgenev’s regenerative liberalism to succeed. Practically speaking, these ideas would be best translated into local communities, where the bonds of love and memory are the strongest: one is more willing to sacrifice for one’s familial member than the citizen stranger. Whether Turgenev’s ideas can be implemented on a larger scale remains to be seen.
Lee Trepanier is a Professor of Political Science at Saginaw Valley State University.
 This article was originally presented at the 2011 Midwest Political Science Conference. I want to thank Jerry Herbel and Peter Haworth as well as the anonymous referees for their comments.
An example of the absence of place in liberal theorists’ philosophies is John Rawls, A Theory of Justice (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999); Political Liberalism (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005). It is also worth noting that contemporary critics of liberalism neglect the importance of place in their criticisms, too. Daniel Bell, Communitarians and its Critics (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993); Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2000); Stephen Muhall and Adam Smith. Liberals and Communitarians (Oxford: Blackwell, 1992); Michael Sandel, Liberalism and the Limits of Justice (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998); Taylor, Charles. Sources of Self (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1989).
 The argument that the same ideas and experiences are articulated in different forms or symbols because of the variation of political, social, and cultural components can be found at Eric Voegelin, “Equivalence Eof Experience and Symbolization in History.” In The Collected Works of Eric Voegelin, Published Essays 1966-1985, Volume 12, ed. Ellis Sandoz (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1990), 115-33.
 Andrzej Walicki, “Russian Social Thought: An Introduction to the Intellectual History of Nineteenth-Century Russia.” Russian Review 36.1 (1977): 1-45. Also refer to Jerome Blum, Lord and Peasant in Russia, From the Ninth to the Nineteenth Century (Princeton: Princeton University, 1961).
 For more about liberalism in Russia, refer to William Henry Chamberlin, “The Short Life of a Russian Liberalism,” Russian Review 26 (1967): 144-52; Derek Offord, Portraits of Early Russian Liberals (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985).
 Evgenii Lampert, Sons Against Fathers (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1965). Also refer to N.G.O.Pereira, The Thought and Teachings of N.G. Cheeysevskij (Hague: Hague, 1975).
 Isaiah Berlin, Fathers and Children (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1972); also see Armand Coquart, Dmitry Pisarev et I’ddologie du nihlisme russe (Paris: Institut d’Etudes Slaves de l’Universite de Paris, 1946).
 An excellent study of Russian censorship and how western ideas were articulated in literature is Marianna Choldin, T. A Fence Around the Empire: Russian Censorship of Western Ideas under Tsars (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1985). For more about censorship in Tsarist Russia, refer to Denis M. O’Flaherty, ed. Censorship in Tsarist Russia on microfiche (Leiden, Netherlands: IDC).
Ivan Turgenev, Fathers and Sons, trans. Rosemary Edmonds (New York: Penguin Books, 1965). Citations in the text are page numbers.
Isaiah Berlin, Fathers and Sons (Oxford: Clarendon Pres, 1972), 25.
V.S. Pritchett, The Gentle Barbarian: The Life and Work of Turgenev (New York, Random House, 1977), 144; also refer to Janko Larvin, An Introduction to the Russian Novel (London: Methuen, 1942), 62; H. Gifford, “Tugenev.” In Nineteenth Century Russian Literature: Studies of Ten Russian Writers, ed. John Fennell (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1973), 154.
Peter Henry, “I.S. Turgenev: Fathers and Sons.” In The Monster in the Mirror: Studies in Nineteenth Century Realism, ed. D. A. Williams (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1978), 60.
Richard Freeborn, Turgenev: The Novelist’ Novelist (Oxford: University of Oxford, 1960), 74; also refer to William C. Brumfield, “Bazarov and Rjzanov: The Romantic Archetype in Russian Nihilism,” The Slavic and Eastern European Journal, 21 (1977): 495-505;Leonard Schapiro, Turgenev: His Life and Times (New York: Random House, 1978), 187;Avrahm Yarmolinsky, Turgenev: The Man, His Art, and His Age (New York: Orion, 1959), 203.
 For more about Bacon’s understanding of nature, refer to Peter Pesic, “Wrestling with Proteus: Francis Bacon and the “Torture” of Nature,” The History of Science Society 90 (1999): 81-94.
 James H. Justus notes that this conflict in Bazarov is an unconscious and psychologically acceptable way for him to admire nature aesthetically via. science, “Fathers and Sons: The Novel as Idyll,” Western Humanities Review 15 (1961): 259-63.
 For more about the parallel between these two characters, refer to Charles Bachman’s “Tragedy and Self-Deception in Fathers and Sons,” Revue des Langues Vivantes 34 (1968): 269-76.
Victor Ripp, Turgenev’s Russian: From Notes of a Hunter to Fathers and Sons (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1980), 193.
 Critics usually interpret the duel as an ideological and generational conflict. Richard Freeborn, Turgenev: The Novelist’ Novelist (Oxford: University of Oxford, 1960);H. Gifford, “Tugenev.” In Nineteenth Century Russian Literature: Studies of Ten Russian Writers, ed. John Fennell (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1973); Milton Hindus’s “The duels in Mann and Tugenev,” Comparative Literature 11 (1959): 308-12.
 Another interesting parallel between Bazarov and Pavel is that they both like children, as Pavel remarks, “I like children: do let me have a look at him” (108). Although at the end of the novel both are “dead men,” one spiritually and the other physically, they still cannot resist the bountifulness and regenerative qualities of life, especially of children.
 Bazarov’s attraction to Fenichka is sometimes interrupted as Bazarov being insensitive or disingenuous. However, such an interpretation ignores the dramatic context and certain passages in the novel that clearly establishes the mutual attraction: “Fenichka liked Bazarov; but he liked her too. Even his face changed when he talked to her: it took on an open, almost kindly expression, and his habitual nonchalance was tempered by a kind of playful solicitude. Fenichka grew prettier ever day” (229).
 It is also important to note that their friendship ends in this episode, with both of them almost coming to physical blows against each other. This break signifies Arkady’s repudiation of Bazarov’s philosophical conclusions of nihilism.
 Some examples of Katya’s association with nature are when the reader is introduced to her, “Katya, who was arranging the flowers one by one in a leisurely way,” (160) and when she later feeds the sparrows, “while Katya searched for a few more crumbs in the basket and began throwing them to the sparrows” (257). She is also connected with the arts, as she plays Mozart’s Sonata Fantasia in C minor on the piano (163).
 An example of this philosophy of participation with respect to approaching reality, as opposed to a subject-object model, is Eric Voegelin, Modernity Without Restraint: The Political Religions; The New Science of Politics; Science, Politics, and Gnosticism, ed. Manfred Henningsen (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2000), 88-108, 175-95.
 Bazarov’s belief in materialism is further underscored by his conscious refusal to take last rites (285).
 This account of memory comports with a participatory approach to reality that Paul Ricoeur explicates in his Memory, History, Forgetting (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004). A similar view can also be found in Avishai Margalit, The Ethics of Memory (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002).
 The conclusion is sometimes criticized because of its sentimentality or religiosity. These interpretations tend to focus on the phrase, “indifferent” nature. However, I agree with Wellek that the quotations are meant ironically with respect to Bazaro’s nihilist philosophy. For me, the key phrase in this passage is the “everlasting reconciliation” between the regenerative and destructive forces in life, which would comport with the themes of life’s regenerative and destructive qualities presented throughout the novel. It also makes the conclusion of the novel neither sentimental nor explicitly religious. René Wellek. “Masterpieces of Realism and Naturalism: Turgenev, Fathers and Sons.” In Continental Edition of World Masterpieces, vol. 2, ed. Maynard Mack et al. (New York: Norton, 1956), 499-503. Kathryn Feuer believes “indifferent” nature is a line from Puskin’s lyric poem “Whether I wander Along Noisy Streets.” “Fathers and Sons: Fathers and Children.” In The Russian Novel from Puskin to Pasternak, ed. John Garrard (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1983), 67-80.
 There is a recent movement to recover the role that emotions play in liberal politics. Turgenev’s regenerative liberalism anticipates this trend, but it also checks it by integrating emotions and reason together for social and political action. For example, refer to Martha Nussbaum, Fragility of Goodness: Luck and Ethics in Greek Tragedy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001); Therapy of Desire: Theory and Practice in Hellenistic Ethics (Princeton: Princeton University, 2009);Emma Rothschild, Economic Sentiments (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001);Alan Wolfe, The Future of Liberalism (New York: Vintage Books, 2010).
 For more about Russian political and intellectual history, refer to the references in footnotes four and five.
 For about the political problems that liberals confronted in Tsarist Russia, refer to William Henry Chamberlin, “The Short Life of a Russian Liberalism,” Russian Review 26 (1967): 144-52;Derek Offord, Portraits of Early Russian Liberals (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985).
 Margalit makes this point in his distinction between “thick” and “thin” relationships: the former are with family, friends, and lovers; the latter with fellow citizens. Both are anchored in shared memory, but the former are stronger bonds. Avishai Margalit, The Ethics of Memory (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002).
Average Overall Rating: 5
Total Votes: 114
1. In what way is Bazarov a hero in the novel?
According to Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, a hero is defined as a man admired for his achievements and noble qualities and one that shows great courage. Bazarov, the principal male character in the novel, is definitely not viewed as a hero by many because of his snobby ways, his extreme self-confidence to the point that he is arrogant and verbally abusive to many, particularly Arkady, but through his first experience with love, he begins to break down that stone wall he has built around himself. Then with the duel, he shows the first sign of integrity when he doctors Pavel’s wound. On his own deathbed, he shows great courage in the way he tolerates the enormous pain he must be experiencing; even more profound than the physical pain is the pain of knowing the people he has hurt, the love that he lost or never knew. These things he deals with in an extraordinarily courageous way. Ironically, it is his self-confidence that gives him a strong work ethic. Wherever he is, on Nikolay’s farm or his own father’s farm, he is constantly working. He is educated, going to school to be a doctor; this alone is a great achievement. His confessions to Arkady when he leaves Anna’s after being rejected by her help serve to exonerate Bazarov from his acts of injustice toward others and are a noble act of honesty: “. . . there’s some space left in my trunk, and I pack hay in there. So it is in our trunk of life: whatever we pack it with, don’t leave any empty space” (179). Bazarov realizes the empty spaces in his own life, and he is determined to make amends for them, another act of courage.
2. How are the characters Bazarov and Pavel alike?
Not so much alike in their physical appearances, Bazarov and Pavel are identical in their personalities: they are both hard and unfeeling, are unsuccessful at love or intimacy, and are very cynical. They are both educated, both possess extreme self-confidence, are very prideful, and are angry at the world. The first thing Pavel does is make fun of Bazarov’s long hair when he asks Nikolay if “that hairy creature” is going to stay with them (17). Bazarov too talks about Pavel’s appearance to Arkady: “His astonishing collar, like a piece of sculpture” (18). He continues to bash Pavel: “Your uncle’s a strange creature, . . . . Such exquisite clothes out here in the sticks, imagine! And his nails—you could send them to an expedition” (18). He comments so rudely to Arkady: “‘An archaic phenomenon,” “‘antique romantics’” (18). Pavel’s opinion of Bazarov is that Bazarov respects nothing (23). One afternoon Bazarov collects some frogs for his experiments, and Pavel remarks to him directly: “‘He doesn’t believe in principle but he does believe in frogs’” (25). This badgering continues between the two fellows that leads to a lengthy heated argument during which their animosity for one another heightens. Their anger at the world is projected at one another during this argument. Pavel is asking Bazarov why he doesn’t believe in any authorities, to which Bazarov replies, “‘Why should I recognize them? And what should I believe in? If people talk sense to me, I agree with them, that’s all there is to it’” (26). This snobbish remark fuels the same hostility in Pavel. In the next scene, Arkady relates Pavel’s story to Bazarov in an attempt to get Bazarov to like Pavel or at least have some sympathy for him, but Bazarov is incapable of this. Pavel had, according to Arkady, “self-confidence, and a slightly mocking and sardonic wit” (28), the same qualities that Bazarov has but fails to recognize in himself. Bazarov does not begin to recognize these qualities in himself until after the duel. Pavel takes the blame for the duel, and he and Bazarov now respect one another because they see that they are the same. They even end up laughing and joking (156). But Bazarov hardens his heart again and becomes angry. His pride keeps him away. Pavel’s wanting to take credit for being the “magnanimous” one causes him to be jealous. Both Pavel and Bazarov end up alone and fail at love. Bazarov dies alone, not ever experiencing a relationship with a woman, and Pavel goes off to live in Dresden, never marrying.
3. Explain the clash between the young and the old. How it might be relevant for the 21st century?
Young people embody the whole idea of freshness and immortality and rebelliousness. They desire change in their restlessness and are bored with tradition. The young think they are invincible. So we see the young in Turgenev’s novel struggling with trying to change their world—out with the old and in with the new. Arkady is perhaps still young and innocent enough to hold on to a bit of that older generation because it makes him happy. Even Bazarov is forced to remember the happy days of his own childhood when reclining in the shade of an aspen tree on his father’s farm. But there is something in our nature that either pulls one home or pushes one farther away. The immense social changes of 1850s Russia played a huge role in the clash between the older generation and the younger. Serfdom was coming to a close, and the older ones must figure out how they were going to treat their servants. The younger ones more or less didn’t look at them at all; they just ordered what they needed for the moment and let the rest take care of themselves. There is a scene where Bazarov is talking rather crudely to some of Vasily’s servants, and the narrator takes us inside the servants’ minds for a moment, and we get an obvious picture of how they view Bazarov: the “self-confident Bazarov didn’t even suspect that in their eyes he remained some kind of buffoon . . .” (183). The 21st century is dealing with the same issues of change in society: governments concerned more about paper work and wars and keeping the lower classes in their place in order to pay for the hierarchical structure that keeps the government’s control over the people, when as Turgenev so profoundly states in the novel, what’s really at stake is our daily bread (51). And that is how the clash between the young and the old, from two different generations, even beliefs perhaps that have developed out in the world away from the farm, have caused enough anger between them to keep them segregated from one another, rather than united in peace.
4. In the novel, Bazarov claims to detest marriage and love; he states it is all “rubbish.” Yet he falls in love with Anna Odintsov. What is the cause for this radical change in Bazarov’s behavior?
Age, wisdom, humility, vulnerability, and loss of pride are virtues required for falling in love. Falling means that we literally fall. Bazarov’s view in the beginning of the novel left no doubt that these “antique romantics,” as he put it, were nothing but stupid fools (18). The more one resists, the harder he falls, and Bazarov falls. The only other person in the novel who comes close to resembling Bazarov is Pavel. But then he meets Anna Odintsova, a female version of himself. The first meeting, Bazarov is stumbling all over himself for words, so unlike his confident self, while Anna “remained quite calm” (74). Slowly and surely, Bazarov feels he is losing his grip on life, on those who subject themselves to his domineering personality. Arkady questions his motives. He had met his match in Pavel, and now a woman? This is humbling for Bazarov’s character. Anna is intelligent, a “free spirit and quite strong-minded” (76). She could hold her own in conversations about medicine with Bazarov, much to his surprise. Still, he later makes rude comments about her physical beauty to Arkady. This description of Anna purely describes Bazarov as well: “Like all women who haven’t managed to know love she wanted something without herself knowing exactly what. In fact she didn’t really want anything although she thought she wanted everything” (86).
Bazarov too does not really know what he wants. Anna could barely tolerate her late husband, and as a result she “experienced a secret revulsion for all men” (86). But their secret attraction for each other grew obvious to those around them, particularly to Arkady. What was the cause for this radical change in Bazarov? He had become a romantic (90). When he thought of her, his “blood was on fire” (90). Here was a confident, apathetic man, who was growing up, becoming a man who must face his own vulnerability and must choose to love or not to love. For Bazarov, it took a duel, his own death, and his loss of pride to make him realize that he truly did love Anna.
5. How does Turgenev use nature in his novel to depict the older generation and their traditional way of life?
First of all, the novel’s central plot takes place in rural Russia. Therefore, it is the setting and the in-depth descriptive language Turgenev uses to describe nature--the people, the land, and the animals—that show this depiction of an older generation that will not die; they go on living in nature itself. The older generation is a group of landowners; therefore, they are associated with the country, the “sticks,” as Bazarov likes to call it. They live off the land, they breath the country air, and this is all they know.
The story opens with a description of Nikolay: “the speaker was a gentleman a little over forty years old, wearing a dusty coat and checked trousers, who had gone out without his hat on to the low porch of an inn. . .” (5). Turgenev deftly portrays the land with words that could be used to describe this older generation. Nikolay and his wife lived simply: “she planted flowers and looked after the poultry yard, he occasionally went shooting and looked after the estate. . . (7). The language here symbolizes the peaceful, traditional way of life this family experiences, all in natural surroundings. Turgenev jumps to the present with Nikolay, still not that old but older, still living on the farm, but the porch now has “dilapidated steps” and a hen “sedately” walks up and down the steps.
Turgenev goes on to describe the land that has grown older and has been used up by its inhabitants, just like the inhabitants themselves who have grown older and more tired from working to maintain it:
The country through which they were driving could hardly be called picturesque. Fields, nothing but fields, rolled gently up and down, stretching to the horizon. . . winding gullies, covered with sparse, low-growing bushes . . . streams with crumbling banks . . . tiny ponds with broken dams . . . low huts with dark roofs . . . churches, brick ones with plaster peeling here and there . . . (13)
In a final scene, Vasily is worried about his dying son. Once again, the setting and the language Turgenev uses precisely depicts Vasily’s age and state of mind: “. . . the old man sat still in his chair, just cracking his knuckles from time to time. He went into the garden for a few minutes and stood there like a statue, as if he’d been struck by some inexplicable shock. . . Then he returned to his [dying] son” (187). Nature, therefore, never dies, it always comes back, and even the old who do die return to it.