Fathers and Sons (novel)

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Fathers and Sons
Title page of the second edition (Leipzig, Germany, 1880)
Author Ivan Turgenev
Original title Отцы и дѣти (Otcy i deti)
Country Russia
Language Russian
Genre Political, romance, philosophical
Publisher The Russian Messenger
Publication date
February 1862
Media type Hardback and paperback
Pages 226 pp (2001 Modern Library Paperback Edition)
Preceded by On the Eve
Followed by Smoke

Fathers and Sons (Russian: Отцы и дети Ottsy i dety, IPA: [ɐˈtsɨ i ˈdʲetʲi]; archaic spelling Отцы и дѣти), also translated more literally as Fathers and Children, is an 1862 novel by Ivan Turgenev, and vies with A Nest of Gentlefolk for the repute of being his best novel.[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, Nikolai, gladly receives the two young men at his estate, called Maryino, but Nikolai's brother, Pavel, soon becomes upset by the strange new philosophy called "nihilism" which the young men advocate.

Nikolai, initially delighted to have his son return home, slowly begins to feel unease, 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. To complicate this, the father has taken a servant, Fenichka, into his house to live with him and has already had a son by her. Arkady however is not troubled by the relationship: to the contrary, he openly celebrates the acquisition of a younger brother.

The two young men stay over at Maryino 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 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, Nikolskoe.

At Nikolskoe, they also meet Katya, Madame Odintsova's sister. Although they remain for only a short period, both characters undergo significant change: their relationship with each other is especially affected, as they both find themselves drawn to Madame Odintsova. Bazarov in particular finds this distressing because falling in love 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. 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 moeurs 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, drops as he settles back into his own family's ambiance. Interrupted his father as he speaks to Arkady, he proves rather abrupt. 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. After a brief stay, much to the parents' disappointment, they decide to return to Maryino, 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 Nikolskoe. Once there, he realizes he is not in love with Odintsova, but instead with her sister Katya. Bazarov stays at Maryino 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 gives her a quick kiss. Pavel observes this kiss and, secretly in love with Fenichka himself, challenges Bazarov to a duel. Pavel is wounded in the leg, and Bazarov must leave Maryino. 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.

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 Fenichka and is delighted to have his son home with him. Pavel leaves the country and lives the rest of his life as a "noble" in Dresden, Germany.

Major characters

  • Yevgeny Vasil'evich Bazarov – 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.
  • Arkady Nikolaevich Kirsanov – 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.
  • Nikolai Petrovich Kirsanov – A landlord, a liberal democrat, Arkady’s father.
  • Pavel Petrovich Kirsanov – Nikolai’s brother and a bourgeois with aristocratic pretensions, who prides himself on his refinement but, like his brother, is reform-minded. Although he is reluctantly tolerant of the nihilism, he cannot help hating Bazarov.
  • Vasily Ivanovich Bazarov – 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 a loyalty to traditionalist ways, manifested particularly in devotion to God and to his son Yevgeny.
  • Arina Vlas'evna Bazarova – Bazarov’s mother. A very traditional woman of the 15th-century Moscovy style aristocracy: 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.
  • Anna Sergeevna Odintsova – A wealthy widow who entertains the nihilist friends at her estate.
  • Katerina (Katya) Sergeevna Lokteva – 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.
  • Feodosya (Fenichka) Nikolayevna – The daughter of Nikolai’s housekeeper, with whom he has fallen in love and fathered a child out of wedlock. The implied obstacles to their marriage are difference in class, and perhaps Nikolai's previous marriage – the burden of 'traditionalist' values.
  • Viktor Sitnikov – A pompous and foolhardy friend of Bazarov who joins populist ideals and groups. Like Arkady, he is heavily influenced by Bazarov in his ideals.
  • Avdotya (Evdoksia) Nikitishna Kukshina – 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.

Historical context and notes

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 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. Turgenev, Ivan (1941). The best known works of Ivan Turgenev; including Fathers and sons, Smoke and nine short stories. Greystone Press.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. "Nihilismus" (PDF). Johannes Kepler University. Retrieved 24 September 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Kakutani, Michiko. "Books of the Times". New York Times. Retrieved 24 September 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Power, Chris. "a brief survey of the short story part 50: Ivan Turgenev". Guardian News. Retrieved 24 September 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. James, Henry. "Ivan Turgenev". Eldritch Press. Retrieved 24 September 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Polianski, Igor (2012). "Between Hegel and Haeckel:Monistic worldview, Marxist Philosophy, and Biomedecine in Russia and the Soviet Union". In Weir, Todd H. (ed.). Monism: science, philosophy, religion, and the history of a worldview (1st ed.). Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 9780230113732.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. "Refracting Russia Through the Present". Newsday, October 23, 1992.

External links