Fathers and Sons is Turgenev’s version of the age-old tale of the battle between the older and the younger generation. Set in 19th century Russia, the novel brings out the schism between the liberal-minded older generation, who preferred western-based social changes in Russia, and the younger generation of nihilists, who defied the old order and authority.
This is my first Turgenev novel and was very much surprised by its modernity. The use of the language and the easy and light writing style were quite contrary to the Russian literary experience that I have had so far. Turgenev is quite a different Russian author. His writing doesn’t follow the deep philosophical and psychological style of that of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy. While his subject matter is essentially Russian, his writing is more akin to his English and French counterparts. The light, lively, and dramatic quality in his writing and the humour make this novel a very enjoyable read.
Turgenev brings an interesting set of characters to the story. The older and younger characters, both men and women, interested me equally. I was at a loss as to who the main character was, and settled it upon Bazarov. Bazarov, the nihilist, was not an easy character to like. In the beginning, I simply loathed him. But with time, he grew on me. This is not to say that his character was made likable by Turgenev. Bazarov was the same cynic from beginning to end, although he undergoes a character conflict with his unrequited love for Anna Sergeyevna. While Bazarov represented the young ideals alongside his disciple Arkady, Nikolai and Pavel represented the old nobility who enjoyed their living in a westernized style. The two sets of conflicting characters were a treat to read.
The story has a bittersweet end. Turgenev has worked towards a collapse of both this idealism. Arkady falls out with his idol, Bazarov, and turns towards a liberal life. Bazarov himself succumbs to human nature and gives in to human feelings when he falls in love. The man who defies authority falls under the authority of his heart. Nikolai marries his mistress with Pavel’s consent and Pavel wastes away his “aristocratic” life in complete idleness. I don’t know what Turgenev’s views on liberalism and nihilism are, but if the story is privy to his perspective, it looks as if he has been most dissatisfied with the hypocrisy surrounding both factions.
The story, the characters, and the writing were all very well done and the combination brings to the reader a wonderful novel. It was very interesting and engaging. For a very long time, I have wanted to read Turgenev, and I’m happy to have ended the long wait with this read.