(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Fathers and Sons is probably Turgenev’s most famous work. It addresses ideas of the period more directly than most of his other works and creates debate over these ideas as a conflict of generations. The novel’s story is simple enough. Arkady brings his friend Evgeny Bazarov home with him at the end of his university studies. Home is a country estate occupied by Arkady’s father, Nikolai Petrovich (who is a widower), his uncle Pavel Petrovich, Fenichka (a young woman living under Nikolai’s protection), and Mitya, the son whom Fenichka has borne to Nikolai. Nikolai considers himself a progressive; Pavel cultivates the manner of an English aristocrat. Conflict develops when these middle-aged men enter into discussion with Bazarov, who rejects all authority but the evidence of scientific materialism and regards art with amused contempt.

Presently, Arkady and Bazarov pay a visit to town. They meet Sitnikov and Kukshin, a foolish young man and woman who pose as radical intellectuals. Then, at a governor’s ball, they meet a young widow, Anna Sergeyevna Odintsov, and her younger sister Katya. Arkady and Bazarov are both smitten by Madame Odintsov and visit her at her country estate. When Bazarov declares his passion to Madame Odintsov, he is rejected. He then takes Arkady to visit his parents, traditionalists who belong to the modest gentry. Bazarov is an only child, deeply loved by his gentle, countrified parents.

After a time,...

(The entire section is 466 words.)


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

At a provincial posting station, Kirsanov waits impatiently for his son, Arkady, who has completed his education at the university in St. Petersburg. Kirsanov reflects that Arkady probably has changed, but he hopes his son has not grown away from him entirely. Arkady’s mother is dead, and the widower is strongly attached to his son.

At last the coach appears, rolling along the dusty road. Arkady jumps out, but he is not alone. Lounging superciliously behind is a stranger whom Arkady introduces as Bazarov, a fellow student. Something in Arkady’s manner tells Kirsanov that here is a special attachment. In a low aside, Arkady begs his father to be gracious to his guest.

Feeling some qualms about his unexpected guest, Kirsanov is troubled during the trip home. He is hesitant about his own news but finally tells Arkady that he took a mistress, Fenichka, and installed her in his house. To his great relief, Arkady takes the news calmly and even congratulates his father on the step. Later, Arkady is pleased to learn that he even has a little half brother.

Kirsanov soon finds he has good reason to distrust Bazarov, who is a doctor and a clever biologist. Arkady seems too much under his influence. Worse, Bazarov is a nihilist. At the university the liberal thinkers consciously decided to defy or ignore all authority—state, church, home, pan-Russianism. Bazarov is irritating to talk to, Kirsanov decides, because he knows so much and has such a sarcastic tongue.

Pavel, Kirsanov’s older brother, is especially irritated by Bazarov. Pavel is a real aristocrat, bound by tradition, who comes to live in retirement with his younger brother after a disappointing career as an army officer and the lover of a famous beauty, the Princess R——. With his background and stiff notions of propriety, Pavel often disagrees with Bazarov.

Luckily, Bazarov keeps busy most of the time. He collects frogs and infusoria and is always dissecting and peering into a microscope. He would be an ideal guest, except for his calmly superior air of belonging to a generation far surpassing Pavel’s. Kirsanov, loving his son so much, does his best to keep peace, but all the while he regrets the nihilism that so greatly affects Arkady.

Kirsanov is harassed by other troubles. Soon, by law, the serfs will be freed. Kirsanov strongly approves of this change and anticipates the new order by dividing his farm into smaller plots that the peasants rent on a sharecropping basis. With their new independence, however, the peasants cheat him more than ever and are slow in paying their rent.

Arkady and Bazarov, growing bored with quiet farm life, go to visit in the provincial capital, where they have...

(The entire section is 1118 words.)