Fathers and Sons (novel)

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Fathers and Sons
Title page of the second edition (Leipzig, Germany, 1880)
AuthorIvan Turgenev
Original titleОтцы и дѣти (Otcy i deti)
GenrePolitical, romance, philosophical
PublisherThe Russian Messenger
Publication date
February 1862
Media typeHardback and paperback
Pages226 pp (2001 Modern Library Paperback Edition)
Preceded byOn the Eve 
Followed bySmoke 

Fathers and Sons (Russian: «Отцы и дети»; Otcy i deti, IPA: [ɐˈtsɨ i ˈdʲetʲi]; archaic spelling Отцы и дѣти), also translated more literally as Fathers and Children, is an 1862 novel by Ivan Turgenev, published in Moscow by Grachev & Co.[1]


Arkady Kirsanov has just graduated from the University of Petersburg and returns with a friend, Bazarov, to his father's modest estate in an outlying province of Russia. His father, Nikolay, gladly receives the two young men at his estate, called Marino, but Nikolay's brother, Pavel, soon becomes upset by the strange new philosophy called "nihilism" which the young men, especially Bazarov, advocate.

Nikolay, initially delighted to have his son return home, slowly begins to feel uneasy, and a certain awkwardness in his regard, as it emerges that Arkady's views, much influenced by Bazarov, are radical and make his own beliefs feel dated. Nikolay has always tried to stay as current as possible, by doing things such as visiting his son at school so the two can stay as close as they are, but this in Nikolay's eyes has failed. To complicate this, the father has taken a servant, Fenechka, into his house to live with him and has already had a son by her, named Mitya. Arkady, however, is not troubled by the relationship: to the contrary, he openly celebrates the addition of a younger brother.

The two young men stay over at Marino for some weeks, then decide to visit a relative of Arkady's in a neighboring province. There, they observe the local gentry and meet Madame Anna Sergevna Odintsova, an elegant woman of independent means, who cuts a seductively different figure from the pretentious or humdrum types of her surrounding provincial society of gentry. Both are attracted to her, and she, intrigued by Bazarov's singular manner, invites them to spend a few days at her estate, Nikolskoye. While Bazarov at first feels nothing for Anna, Arkady falls head over heels in love with her.

At Nikolskoye, they also meet Katya, Anna Sergevna's sister. Although they remain for only a short period, both characters undergo significant change: their relationship with each other is especially affected, as Arkady has begun to find himself and drift from the position of Bazarov's follower. Bazarov, in particular, finds falling in love distressing because it runs against his nihilist beliefs. Eventually, prompted by Odintsova's own cautious expressions of attraction to him, he announces that he loves her. She does not respond overtly to his declaration, though she too is deeply drawn to Bazarov while finding his dismissal of feelings and the aesthetic side of existence troublesome. While Anna does have some feelings toward Bazarov, they are not akin toward love and Anna cannot open herself to him because she does not see the possibility of a good future with him. After his avowal of love, and her failure to make a similar declaration, Bazarov proceeds to his parents' home, and Arkady decides to accompany him.

At Bazarov's home, they are received enthusiastically by his parents, and the traditional mores of both father and mother, who adulate their son, are portrayed with a nostalgic, idealistic description of humble people and their fast-disappearing world of simple values and virtues. Bazarov's social cynicism, invariably on display with outsiders, is still quite clear as he settles back into his own family's ambiance. Interrupting his father as he speaks to Arkady, he proves rather abrupt and still the powerful center of attention despite being around his parents. Arkady, who has delighted Bazarov's father by assuring him that his son has a brilliant future in store, in turn, reproves his friend for his brusqueness. Later, Bazarov almost comes to blows with Arkady after the latter makes a joke about fighting over Bazarov's cynicism. This once again shows the distance and changes within Arkady and Bazarov's relationship, as Arkady becomes more defiant against Bazarov's ideals. After a brief stay, much to the parents' disappointment, they decide to return to Marino, stopping on the way to see Madame Odintsova, who receives them coolly. They leave almost immediately and return to Arkady's home.

Arkady remains for only a few days and makes an excuse to leave in order to go to Nikolskoye again. Once there, he realizes he is not in love with Odintsova, but instead with her sister Katya. Bazarov stays at Marino to do some scientific research, and tension between him and Pavel increases. Bazarov enjoys talking with Fenichka and playing with her child, and one day he kisses her, against her will. Pavel observes this kiss and, secretly in love with Fenichka himself and in protection of both Fenechka and Nikolay's feelings for her, challenges Bazarov to a duel. Pavel is wounded in the leg, and Bazarov must leave Marino. He stops for an hour or so at Madame Odintsova's, then continues on to his parents' home. Meanwhile, Arkady and Katya have fallen in love and have become engaged. Anna Sergevna Odinstova is hesitant to accept Arkady's request to marry her sister, but Bazarov convinces her to allow the marriage.

While back at home, Bazarov changes quite drastically. Instead of focusing on his experiments he turns to help his father in being a country doctor. At home, Bazarov cannot keep his mind on his work and while performing an autopsy fails to take the proper precautions. He cuts himself and contracts blood poisoning. On his deathbed, he sends for Madame Odintsova, who arrives just in time to hear Bazarov tell her how beautiful she is. She kisses him on the forehead and leaves; Bazarov dies from his illness the following day.

Arkady marries Katya and takes over the management of his father's estate. His father marries Fenechka and is delighted to have Arkady home with him. Pavel leaves the country and lives the rest of his life as a "noble" in Dresden, Germany.

Major characters[edit]

  • Yevgény Vasílevich Bazárov – A nihilist and medical student. As a nihilist, he is a mentor to Arkady and a challenger to the liberal ideas of the Kirsanov brothers and the traditional Russian Orthodox feelings of his own parents.
  • Arkády Nikoláyevich Kirsánov – A recent graduate of St. Petersburg University and friend of Bazarov. He is also a nihilist, although his nihilism has a lot to do with Bazarov's influence.
  • Nikoláy Petróvich Kirsánov – The landlord of Marino, a liberal democrat, Arkady’s father, and Pavel's brother.
  • Pável Petróvich Kirsánov – Nikolay’s brother and a bourgeois with aristocratic pretensions, who prides himself on his refinement but, like his brother, is reform-minded. He cannot help hating Bazarov.
  • Vasíly Ivánovich Bazárov – Bazarov’s father. A retired army surgeon, and a small countryside land/serf holder. Educated and enlightened, he nonetheless feels, like many of the characters, that rural isolation has left him out of touch with modern ideas. He thus retains loyalty to traditionalist ways, manifested particularly in devotion to God and to his son Yevgeny.
  • Arína Vlásevna Bazárova – Bazarov’s mother. A very traditional woman of the 15th-century Moscovy style aristocracy and a pious follower of Orthodox Christianity, woven with folk tales and falsehoods. She loves her son deeply but is also terrified of him and his rejection of all beliefs.
  • Ánna Sergéyevna Odíntsova – A wealthy widow who entertains the nihilist friends at her estate.
  • Yekaterína (Kátya) Sergéyevna Lókteva – The younger sister of Anna. She lives comfortably with her sister but lacks confidence, finding it hard to escape Anna Sergeevna's shadow. This shyness makes her and Arkady’s love slow to realize itself.
  • Feodósya (Fenéchka) Nikoláyevna – The daughter of Nikolay’s late housekeeper, with whom he has fallen in love and fathered a child out of wedlock (named Mitya). The implied obstacles to their marriage are difference in class, and perhaps Nikolay's previous marriage – the burden of 'traditionalist' values.
  • Víktor Sítnikov – A pompous and foolhardy friend of Bazarov who joins populist ideals and groups. Like Arkady, he is heavily influenced by Bazarov in his ideals.
  • Avdótya (Yevdoksíya) Nikitíshna Kúkshina – An emancipated woman who lives in the town of X. Kukshina is independent but rather eccentric and incapable as a proto-feminist, despite her potential.
  • Matvei Ilyich Kolyazin - A cousin of Nikolay and Pavel who invites the brothers and Arkady to the town of X during his stay to inspect the province.
  • Pyotr - A servant of the Kirsánovs.

Historical context and notes[edit]

The fathers and children of the novel refers to the growing divide between the two generations of Russians, and the character Yevgeny Bazarov, a nihilist who rejects the old order.

Turgenev wrote Fathers and Sons as a response to the growing cultural schism that he saw between liberals of the 1830s/1840s and the growing nihilist movement. Both the nihilists (the "sons") and the 1830s liberals (the "fathers") sought Western-based social change in Russia. Additionally, these two modes of thought were contrasted with the Slavophiles, who believed that Russia's path lay in its traditional spirituality.

Turgenev's novel was responsible for popularizing the use of the term nihilism, which became widely used after the novel was published.[2]

Fathers and Sons might be regarded as the first wholly modern novel in Russian literature (Gogol's Dead Souls, another main contender, was referred to by the author as a poem or epic in prose as in the style of Dante's Divine Comedy, and was at any rate never completed). The novel introduces a dual character study, as seen with the gradual breakdown of Bazarov's and Arkady's nihilistic opposition to emotional display, especially in the case of Bazarov's love for Madame Odintsova.

The novel is also the first Russian work to gain prominence in the Western world, eventually gaining the approval of well established novelists Gustave Flaubert,[3] Guy de Maupassant,[4] and Henry James.[5]

The Bolshevik revolutionary Vladimir Bazarov adopted his pseudonym from the character of Yevgeny Bazarov in this novel.[6]


Canadian playwright George F. Walker's 1988 play Nothing Sacred is a stage adaptation of Fathers and Sons.[7] Irish playwright Brian Friel has also adapted the novel, under the same title.


  1. ^ "Manuscript". www.sothebys.com. 2017.
  2. ^ "Nihilismus" (PDF). Johannes Kepler University. Retrieved 24 September 2013.
  3. ^ Kakutani, Michiko. "Books of the Times". New York Times. Retrieved 24 September 2013.
  4. ^ Power, Chris. "a brief survey of the short story part 50: Ivan Turgenev". Guardian News. Retrieved 24 September 2013.
  5. ^ James, Henry. "Ivan Turgenev". Eldritch Press. Retrieved 24 September 2013.
  6. ^ Polianski, Igor (2012). "Between Hegel and Haeckel:Monistic worldview, Marxist Philosophy, and Biomedecine in Russia and the Soviet Union". In Weir, Todd H. Monism: science, philosophy, religion, and the history of a worldview (1st ed.). Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 9780230113732.
  7. ^ "Refracting Russia Through the Present". Newsday, October 23, 1992.

External links[edit]