Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev.

1921 edition.
Fathers and Sons (Отцы и дети, also known as Fathers and Children) is a novel by the Russian author Ivan Turgenev. It marks the beginning of an effective trilogy: when Fathers and Sons was published in 1862, Nikolay Chernyshevsky, a philosopher, critic, and socialist responded to it with a novel titled What Is To Be Done? (Что делать?) in 1863. In turn, Notes from Underground by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1864) is a response to that. As I haven't read Chernyshevsky yet I think it's wise to leave it there, but it's interesting; I'll certainly read Chernyshevsky when I get the chance.

Back to Fathers and Sons: it's set in Maryino, a district of Moscow, and Turgenev tells the story of Arkady Kirsanov, recently graduated from the University of St. Petersberg, who returns to his father's home along with his friend Eugene Bazarov. Arkady's father Nikolai has recently freed his serfs and, trying to make money, has sold off much of his land. In the meantime he has married Fenichka, a former servant, and together they have a son, Mitya. The family live together with Nikolai's brother Pavel.

Parvel, once an army general, is upset by a new trend towards the philosophy of nihilism, a rejection of religion and social rules on the basis that life essentially means nothing. Bazarov, as we learn, is a nihilist, and things become awkward in the household.

During their stay Arkady and Bazarov spend time with Arkady's aunt, where they meet Madame Odintsova. Bazarov finds himself becoming more and more drawn to her, however when he declares his love for her she doesn't respond, leaving him in a depression; meanwhile Arkady becomes attracted to her sister Katya. From here, the two men go to meet Arkady's parents and Bazarov becomes increasingly difficult, argumentative, and sullen; when they return to Maryino, things become yet more tense.

Fathers and Sons is a fascinating novel on the phenomena of nihilism that was gripping Russia in the 1860s. Turgenev popularised the term with this novel, in which he explores not only young men maturing in provincial Russia but also the philosophical wranglings of the young and the old, and between liberalism and nihilism. He portrays a changing society reflected in this changing family, and the fear that comes with that, and also the changing forces on individuals, be it love, social class, even nature itself. A great novel for which Turgenev faced a great deal of criticism from all sides, it would appear, but time has proved its endurance; not only is it interesting from a historical view, but also it is very beautiful indeed.

Further Reading