LESSON 11: IVAN TURGENEV (1818-83)
(Note: Lessons Ten and Eleven in these “Supplementary Materials” were prepared by Prof. Catherine Kulesov (retired) to whom grateful acknowledgement is made.)
D. S. Mirsky, A History of Russian Literature, pp. 193-208
Ivan Turgenev, Fathers and Sons
Mirsky provides important background information on Turgenev's life and work. The "Study Notes are intended to introduce you to some of the author's other works so as to prepare you for an analysis of Fathers and Sons. Pay particular attention to the discussions of Westernism, Slavophilism, and the Radical Movement, and follow up on the "Suggestions and Questions.
I. S. Turgenev (1818-1883)
Early Works A Sportsman's Sketches consists
of 25 short stories or plotless sketches which were published
from 1847 to 1851. They are perfectly in tune with the literary output of the
The Diary of a Superfluous Man (1850) Is a confessional piece in which a dying man tells the story of his unrequited love for a young lady and concludes that he Is a suDerfluouS man because the lady married someone else. Literary critics subsequently broadened the meaning of the phrase, "superfluous man , and used it as a springboard into social criticism. As Mlrsky points out, the phrase has had an extraordinary run, for it is still used by literary and social historians to designate an ineffective Idealist who rejects conventional values and Is unable or unwilling to adapt himself to the practical realities of life. (See "Oblomovism in Lesson 1 for a similar concept.)
Turgenev's first novel, Rudin (1856), depicts a typical idealist of the 1840s, the generation to which the author himself belonged. The story is laid in an isolated Russian estate where Rudin unexpectedly appears. Dana Mikhilovna, the imperious and vain mistress of the estate, impressed by the gentleman's eloquence, invites him to be her guest for the whole summer. The landlady's other guests and her young daughter, Natalia, are affected in one way or another by Rudin, especially by his flair for rhetoric.
Rudin loves abstract principles, a vaguely defined but high- minded liberalism, culture and learning, the finer human emotions, and the beautiful in nature. Naturally, Natalia falls in love with this clever man, who has as burning desire to do great things in life.
The plot of the novel illustrates the basic impracticality of Rudin, the division between his heart and head, his words and his deeds. He is unable to take part in public life, unable ~to take the decisive step of marrying Natalia. His predilection for talk and intellectual analysis destroys any possibility of true emotional commitment. When Natalia offers herself to him without reservation, he knows he should respond. But he feels nothing. And so he loses a strong, serious woman eager for self-dedication or altruistic selfsacri f ice.
In the end, Rudin is killed during the French Revolution of 1848, and Natalia is to be married to Sergei Volyntsev, a neighboring landowner who manages to find a purposeful life on his estate.
Westernism andSlavophilism In 1856, the year Rudin was published, and for several years thereafter, Turgenev, though basically a westerner, was at his Slavophile (or Russophile) best. In fact, both concepts can be found in all of Turgenev's novels. Therefore, we should clarify Westernism and Slavophilism.
These two intellectual movements took form around
1840. Both had roots in German idealist philosophy, and both were animated by
the spirit of romanticism and liberalism. Around 1845, however, the two groups
split over the question of
The "Westerners (or
"Westernizers ), sharply opposing the official ideology of Nicholas I, contended
Unfortunately for them, the "Westerners could
not express their ideas openly under the reactionary regime of Nicholas I, and
the complete formulation of "Westernism” came
only with Alexander Herzen's emigration to the West
in 1847. Herzen founded Kolokol
(The Bell) in 1857, a weekly paper published in
Movement flourished for three decades, the 1840s through the 1860s. Slavophiles held that
In the 1860s, the Slavophile groups fell apart. The liberation of the serfs and other reforms of this decade, however, brought a partial fulfillment of their demands.
the case of Turgenev, we see that toward the
conclusion of Rudin he causes a character to make a
strong statement against Westernism and to define the
source of Rudin's unhappiness as his ignorance of
Turgenev continued to develop this line of thought in A Nest of Gentlefolk (1859). You should not take this to mean that he abandoned his Western leanings at this time; but he did look most sympathetically on the Russian traits of his heroes and most unfavorably upon certain aspects of Western culture.
He reveals his sympathies through characterization. The father of Lavretsky, the book's hero, is a scatter-brained Anglophile who tries to bring up his son as a rootless European. His mother, a gentle peasant woman, influences him in the other direction, even though she dies when he is only ten years old. The result is a mix. Lavretsky does not become a Slavophile in a dogmatic sense, but he moves away from the modish, cosmopolitan Westernism of the time toward a more mature understanding of the significance of nationality.
Turgenev devotes a great deal of attention in this novel to the problem of the family as the foundation stone of society (the "nest” in the title).
Fedor Lavretsky is trapped between two women who represent the poles of womankind in Turgenev's fiction. Lavretsky's wife, Varvara, exploits her husband, is unfaithful to him, makes demands upon him when she has nowhere else to turn, and generally blights his life. She is one of several female characters in Turgenev who feed their egos by exercising power over men. For a time, misled by a false report of her death in Paris where he has left her in order to return to Russia, Lavretsky is deceived into thinking he can find true happiness with the books's heroine, Liza, the most memorable and strongest-willed of Turgenev's women. Intensely religious, Liza is disturbed by the notion of loving a man promised to another woman, even though the latter be dead. But in a brief scene of suppressed passion, she is on the verge of finding happiness with Lavretsky. Then Varvara returns to destroy their prospects. Liza interprets this return as divine punishment for her own spiritual insolence and resolves to take up life as a nun in a distant convent. Meanwhile, Lavretsky is abandoned by his wife once again and is left with only one consolation, work on his estate.
In summary, A Nest of Gentlefolk is one of Turgenev's most successful artistic achievements and one of the best examples of his brand of psychological realism.
Basically a Westerner Turgenev was basically a Westerner, but his last two novels
show that he took a rather negative view of post-reform
This work Is built around a love affair in which the hero Litvinov, is determinedly aoolitlcal. Turgenev masterfully develops the conflict around whether Litvinov will succeed in wrenching his beloved Irma, a married woman, from the stifling world of Russian high society in which she lives, or whether she will enslave him with chains of passion and make of him a kept man. In the end, Irma proves too weak, too permeated by the poisons which have circulated about her for so many years, to leave her husband and his social milieu and follow her beloved.
Note that Lltvinov Is exceptionally strong among Turgenev's male characters; that for once it is the woman in Turgenev who misses her opportunity and becomes embittered (while Litvinov is able to renew his relationship with his former fiancée); and that the title of the novel is ironic: all is smoke without fire: the love affair, the Slavophile/Westerner controversy.
NihilIsm Our next task is to place Turgenev's most famous novel, Fathers and Sons (1862), in historical perspective. This leads us to the concept of nihilism and to the Revolutionary Movement.
The reign of Alexander II (1855-1881) began in an atmosphere of hope and relief. After the conclusion of the Crimean War in 1856 there ensued a period of external peace and internal preparation for the perestroika- -far-reaching reforms- -which included: expansion of' local self-government, reorganization of the courts, financial reforms, and significant changes in the country's military establishment.
The greatest reform of this period was the
emancipation of the serfs,
You should also be aware that the Russian intelligentsia intensified its reform activities during the later 1850s. Censorship having been lightened, it became possible to discuss a broader range of topics more freely In public than before. Contemporary problems were analyzed in novels and especially in the quantities of "thick journals” which appeared or assumed new prominence between 1855 and 1859. Thus, reform quickly took on the status of a movement.
Radical and Revolutionary Reform can actually be traced back much
further. The writer, Alexander Radishchev
(1749-1802), promoted it in the 18th century. Its first overt manifestation was
the Decembrist' uprising, which occurred in 1825 when a small group of
radicals, Including thirty army officers and 3,000 soldiers, gathered at Senate
Square in St. Petersburg to have it out with government troops. (They were
quickly dispersed.) In the 1840s, the revolutionary tradition was largely in
the hands of the nobility. But in the freer atmosphere prevailing after 1855
there arose throughout
The social background of the new radicals was mixed. Many of the most influential among them were the offspring of priests who had studied in church-run schools, but reacted violently against religious dogma and became fanatic materialists. The movement attracted all sorts of individuals, however--from cranks, to people who became radicals simply because it seemed the fashionable thing to do, to self-sacrificing men and women who believed sincerely that the radical doctrines pointed the way to a better life for all the Russian people.
Three names stand out in the 1860s: Nikolai Chernyshevsky, Nikolai Dobrolyubov, and Dmitri Pisarev. The moral influence of these three men over the younger generation of Russians was enhanced in some cases by the fact that they suffered publicly for their beliefs. While both Pisarev and Chernyshevsky served time in jail; the other radical writers wrote articles and published them in the leading liberal journals of the day, The Contemporary and Russian Word. It was common practice to write sociological and political essays under the guise of discussing literature.
The term "nihilist” was used to describe this radical generation. It had a long history of its own. In the Middle Ages the word was used to designate a person who doubted the divinity of Christ and other articles of the Christian faith. It appeared in Russian as early as 1829. The writer, assigning another sense to the Latin word "nihil, meaning "nothing , spoke of a "nihilist as a worthless person or someone who knew nothing. Later, Belinsky grouped the word with "emptiness. Turgenev gave the word much of its present meaning, which is defined as follows: "A nihilist is a man who does not bow down before any authority, who does not take any principle on faith, whatever reverence that principle may be enshrined in.”
It is generally agreed that Turgenev is the one who firmly fastened the label "nihilist” onto the radicals. He did so in Chapter V of Fathers and Sons where Pavel Kirsanov and his nephew Arkady discuss the younger, "nihilist generation.”
The radicals of the 1860s were in an awkward situation philosophically. Given present politics, the only path which seemed open to them was to destroy the existing order and clear the ground so that something better might be established in its place. They even looked in vague fashion towards a new order based on socialist principles. But they did not elaborate because the present job seemed too monumental. Consequently, their opponents accused them of being nihilists of the purest type, i.e., interested only in negation for the sake of negation.
This was not the case. Personally they were far from being nihillsts. They had unbounded faith in themselves, in their convictions, and in the future.
Terrorism To destroy the existing
order, the radicals eventually espoused terrorism. On
Populism A more widespread feature of the revolutionary movement as it moved into the 1870s was "going to the people.” Beginning around 1868, young intellectuals from the large city universities decided to put on peasant dress, learn a trade if possible, gain the confidence of the peasants, and lead them in revolutionary activities. The peasants reacted by ridicule. Failing to understand what the students were about, they turned many of them in to the police. Thus, the movement failed, reaching its climax in the summer of 1874 and tailing off thereafter.
Focusing on some of its initiators, Turgenev wrote his sixth, last, and most political novel, Virgin Soil (1877), to demonstrate how and why, despite their good intentions, the radicals failed to take their movement "to the people.”
The book's major character is Aleksei Nezhdanov, the illegitimate son of a nobleman. Nezhdanov, who has been given a first-rate education, becomes a revolutionary, though he is basically an aristocrat, i.e., intelligent and sensitive to beauty and poetry. One of his major weaknesses as a revolutionary is a tendency to write poetry, an inclination he carefully conceals after joining the radical movement. The novel's climax occurs when he rushes in peasant clothing to enlighten the common people only to discover that he cannot "simplify himself and thereby overcome his instinctive aversion to what he considers some nasty peasant traits. The conflict between his inborn instincts and his intellectual convictions leads him to take his own life.
Other characters in the novel remain faithful to the cause: the plain-looking Mashurina, who loves Nezhdanov with an unrequited love; and the energetic Markelov, who discovers it is no simple matter to conduct agitation among the peasantry.
A sort of ideological barometer in the novel is Marianna, who deserts her guardian's home to run away with Nezhdanov but refuses to marry him until he commits himself totally to her. This Nezhdanov cannot bring himself to do. Instead, he manages before his suicide to join her with the book's positive hero, Solomin, an educated common man with proper training in factory management, who believes in the gradual attainment of appropriate social and political goals.
Marianna (and Solomin as well) is an ideological barometer because she carries Turgenev's hopes for the future. He clearly hoped that the world would one day belong to such people as Solomin and Marianna.
Meanwhile, in the real world, the radical critics violently disputed Turgenev' s message. The future did not belong to Solomin's class. Thus, they condemned Turgenev's last novel despite its satirical thrust against the aristocratic establishment.
A Playwright Before moving on to assess Turgenev's novelistic contributions to Russian literature, I want you to bear in mind that Turgenev was also a playwright, the most important playwright of all the novelists. His plays were written early in his career, 1843-1852. They are largely experimental gropings after an adequate form in which to express himself. The most stageable is Provincial Lady, a delicately characterized, light comedy. The most interesting historically is A Month In the Country (1850), a psychological work describing the competition between a mature woman and a young girl for the affection of a student who comes to their country estate as a tutor. This play is still performed regularly on the Russian stage.
Assessment In Turgenev: The Novelist's Novelist, Richard Freeborn writes:
Turgenev's achievement in the first four novels is to be measured in literary terms by the fact that before their appearance during the six-year period 1856-62 there was no tradition of the novel in Russian literature; while after their appearance there could be no other tradition except that of the novel.... Turgenev raised the art of the novel to an eminence surpassing all other genres; it was in the nature of things that the novel should have pride of place in the future.
This statement needs some clarification. You should know that before 1856 Russian literature had seen the appearance of several isolated works which, both in formal terms and in point of literary merit, could be described as novels:
Pushkin's novel in
verse, Eugene Onegin, Lermontov's
A Hero of Our Time, Gogol's Dead Souls, and Goncharov's A Common Story, to name only the outstanding
examples. While these "novels were in essence amalgams of other traditions
(poetic narrative, tale, novella), their authors were clearly in the first stages
of forging what was eventually to become the tradition of the realistic novel
Since the early works of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky are, strictly speaking, not novels at all, it was Turgenev who picked up the thread and took the novel beyond these first stages. His contribution to the establishment of a tradition of the novel was twofold: first, he enlarged the short-story form; second, he developed his own form of the novel into a distinctive work of literary art, i.e., he mastered it. When, in 1859, Goncharov's Oblomov showed a similar mastery of the new genre, it was already following a tradition set down by Turgenev three years earlier. As Freeborn remarks:
Turgenev's novels can be said to show the way to future developments, and the success of his endeavour lay in the extent to which he was able to promote a tradition in the novel that did not hamstring those who came after him.
European Reputation The great triad of novelists responsible for the sudden burst of attention bestowed by the literary world on Russian literature included Turgenev, Tolstoy, and Dostoevsky. Of the three, Turgenev was the source of the new tradition as well as the first to gain a European reputation.
It is strange to realize now how little Russian writing was available to the Western world in the last century. The fine poetry of the romantic period was almost impossible to translate; as a result, Pushkin and Lermontov, to mention only the best, were not then (and are not even today) accorded the place in world literature that they deserve.
But it was different with the prose writers. Turgenev apparently made the difference. He lived almost permanently in Western Europe after 1864; he became friends with continental and American writers; his works were translated into French, German, and English during his lifetime. No doubt it was initially because of him that the writings of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy gained worldwide attention as well.
Suggestions and Questions As you read Fathers and Sons, keep the following suggestions in mind and think about how you would respond to the following questions:
1. One of Turgenev's devices is to extend his narrative plane. He does so in two ways: (1) by giving prehistories of his characters (extension in time); (2) by giving descriptions of the milieu (extension in ~
The prehistories usually contain important characterizing material. Nikolai Kirsanov's past, for example, reveals his propensity to act emotionally (his marriage against the wishes of his parents) and to love deeply and romantically (his ten years of happy, married life). Nikolai remains true to his nature throughout the course of the novel (especially revealing is chapter XI). His brother Pavel, whosepast is revealed by Arkady in chapter VII, is different, i.e., his actions do not conform to his past. A former military man and basically a rational and practical person, Pavel creates an illusion of "eternal love” for Princess R.
The two Kirsanov brothers are representatives of the older generation. They adhere to certain ideals and standards which form the basis of their existence. What are these values? Do you feel that they are important values? Why do you think Bazarov rejects them so violently?
2. Turgenev's descriptions of the milieu also contain important characterizing material. His details often suggest not only the material situation but also the interests and personality of a character. The poorly managed Kirsanov estate, Marino, is a reflection of Nikolai's lack of practical and organizational abilities, while the well managed Odintsova estate, Nikolskoe, conveys the idea that Anna has these abilities to a high degree.
You will find that gestures, facial expressions, and the appearances of characters are also pertinent, for Turgenev also uses these details to reveal the psychology of his characters.
3. Characterization is structurally integrated with four love stories. These stories (1) supply the plot of the novel, (2) illustrate its ideological issues, and (3) reveal the personal qualities of its characters.
love for Fenichka supplies the material for one plot.
What it reveals about Nikolai Is most personal and
touching. And such a relationship between landowner and peasant girl takes us
into ideology, calling to mind the social scene in
Do not overlook the fact that Pavel Kirsanov and Bazarov are also involved with Fenichka. Is their involvement psychological and ideological as well, i.e., does It reveal anything meaningful about their characters or about the social issues of the day? To push this question a little further, how would you explain the duel between Bazarov and Pavel?
4. The structure of the novel is perfectly balanced. It is based on the principle of thesis and antithesis (for and against). In other words, Turgenev always proceeds in two’s. There are two groups of characters which represent the older and the younger generation with their specific ideals and ideas. Within each group there are four pairs of characters, or four sets of two's: two fathers, two young friends (the sons), two brothers, and two sisters. The two friends, Bazarov and Arkady, are the organizational focus of the novel, for they journey together to the four main settings of the novel, where they (and we) discover the different oppositions (or comparisons).
As you look at this structuring device, do not forget the points made above. Observe, for Instance, how Turgenev uses the different pairs of characters to Illuminate certain aspects of Bazarov's personality.
If you wish to gain a more comprehensive view of the novel's structure and thematic development, read the following studies:
Richard Freeborn, "The Structure of Fathers and Sons (available In your text).
Gary Jahn, "Character and Theme in Fathers and Sons, College Literature, II, No. 1 (Winter, 1977), 80-91.
5. The love theme is important in all of Turgenev' s novels. He believed that life offers the possibility of mutual self-fulfillment through love between a man and woman. This theme is slightly varied in Fathers and Sons. Bazarov's dislike of romanticism and sentimentality has led him to dismiss any suggestion that there can be anything "mysterious” between a man and woman. But he changes his tune when he meets Anna Odintsova, for he comes to realize that his relationship with her emphasizes the "romantic in his own nature. Of course we are not talking about mutual self-fulfillment in this case. What this relationship has to offer Bazarov is sel f-real ization.
I suggest that you analyze in detail the Bazarov/Odintsoya relationship, observing the similarities and differences in their characters and the various stages in Bazarov's path to self-realization. (Especially important are chapters 22, 25, 26, and 27.)
What kind of person is Anna Odintsova? In what ways could Bazarov be viewed as superior in comparison with Anna and the other characters? (By the way, the name "Odintsova derives from odin, which means "one or "alone .)
6. How do you understand the terms "self-fulfillment and "self-realization ? Are they operable in the relationships between Nikolai and Fenichka and Arkady and Katya? What do you have to say about these four characters?
7. The relationship between the two friends, Arkady and Bazarov, is solid in the first portion of the novel. But when it becomes clear thereafter that Arkady regards himself as the pupil and Bazarov the master, the solidarity greatly diminishes. Look closely at this issue as they visit Nikolskoe and the estate of Bazarov' s parents. What are the basic differences between Bazarov and Arkady?
8. Some critics think that Bazarov has a cold attitude toward his loving parents and therefore reveals himself as an extreme egotist. But in chapter 21 he says to Arkady that he loves his parents and is concerned about their happiness; and in chapter 27 he says to Anna Odintsova: "...be kind to mother. People like (her] aren't to be found in your great world if you look by daylight with a candle. What do you remember about Bazarov's parents? How would you describe the relationship between Bazarov and his parents?
9. In chapter 13 Bazarov and Arkady meet two nihilists, Mrs. Kukshin and Sitnikov, the characterization of whom is obviously satirical. What is the purpose of this satire? What is the basic difference between Bazarov and the two "emancipated” comrades?
10. There are many comments in the novel about peasant life and ways. Are they primarily positive? Any negative suggestions? Why does Turgenev make Nikolai Kirsanov liberate his peasants before the official emancipation in 1861? Does anything in this material imply that Turgenev idealizes the Russian peasantry? Do you think the liberated peasants take advantage of Nikolai? What is Bazarov's attitude toward peasant life and ways?
11. When Bazarov dies of typhus, his great dreams come to nothing. Is his death therefore ironic? Are the critics right who find fault with this ending, who blame Turgenev for not knowing what to do with his hero?
Or do you feel that Turgenev had something bigger in mind? Does pantheism clarify the meaning of Bazarov's death (Turgenev's worldview is generally pantheistic)?
Does his death have some other symbolic meaning? Is it at least consistent with his character?
12. After its publication, the novel was criticized for its presentation of Bazarov. Dmitri Plsarev, the most radical critic of the 1860s and a nihilist like Bazarov, reviewed the novel within a month of its publication and was in part responsible for the controversy. He "recognized himself” in Bazarov, criticized Turgenev for presenting Bazarov in an unpleasant light, and used his review to promote his own nihilist Ideas.
While Pisarev's article is quite interesting (he was a talented critic), Turgenev was disappointed. Feeling that his novel was misinterpreted and misunderstood, he deemed it necessary to publish an article in defense of it, "Apropos of Fathers and Sons. Both articles are included in the Norton edition of the novel.