Fathers and Sons

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In the spring of 1859, a middle-aged Russian gentleman, Nikolai Kirsanov, welcomes back to his estate his university-educated son, Arkady. The latter is accompanied by his fellow student Bazarov, whom he greatly admires. Bazarov soon finds himself engaged in fiercely ideological debates with Nikolai’s brother, Pavel, who dresses in elegant English fashion, parades the most fastidious of manners, and defends the conservative views of the “generation of the 1840’s” against the brusquely irreverent attacks of Bazarov’s “generation of the 1860’s.” Bazarov meets and finds himself falling in love with a wealthy, refined but frigid widow, Anna Odintsov; Arkady meanwhile romances her younger sister, Katya. Bazarov’s relationship with Madame Odintsov ends abruptly when he declares his love for her and she retreats hastily, whispering, “You have misunderstood me.”

At the Kirsanovs’ residence, Bazarov is challenged to a duel by Pavel, wounds him slightly, and therefore finds further stay there impossible. He returns to the home of his old-fashioned parents and helps his father with his medical practice. While dissecting the body of a peasant who died of typhoid fever, Bazarov cuts and infects himself, finds no caustic available as antidote, and dies within a few days. Arkady marries his Katya, and Nikolai Kirsanov jumps the class barrier to wed his servant-mistress, Fenichka.

The meaning of the novel hinges heavily on Bazarov, who unites its various foci of interest. He proudly calls himself a “nihilist,” yet is hardly a revolutionary: He has no coherent...

(The entire section is 652 words.)