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A hero for his time,
This review is from: Fathers and Sons (Oxford World's Classics) (Paperback)
Turgenev's novels express a continual desire to find a new model for the Russian male, a hero for the time - idealistic and progressive, but also practical, his nature and strength still rooted in the very land itself. While some of these characteristics are evident in the heroes of Nest of the Gentry, On The Eve and Rudin, there's still something lacking, the Russian men still ruled by their hearts more than their minds, unable to break from the shackles of old society, old tradition and old ways of thinking.
In Fathers and Sons (1862), Turgenev creates a character, a Nihilist, to overthrow these old values. Into Bazarov, Turgenev pours all the qualities that he believes the Russian man should have - stout-hearted, educated, intelligent, decent and self-sacrificing, yet ruthlessly contemptuous of old ways. He is no respecter of the "sacred tradition", the aristocracy, or indeed the lower classes, who still cling to the securities they knew under the old feudal system. Ironically, the nihilistic, revolutionary character of Bazarov would find favour with neither the old establishment nor the new regime, making life in Russia difficult for Turgenev (who had already been imprisoned for his support of Gogol), and later see him going into exile.
Fathers and Sons however goes beyond the historical importance of the work, touching on sentiments in the father/son relationship that are still relevant today - the need to break with the past and overturn old ideals, and the sadness of the wedge that this places between parent and child, but the necessity of doing so in order to find a new and better expression in the evolving modern world. In many ways however, the world in Fathers and Sons still resembles that of Rudin, with the same kind of characters, landowners and aristocrats on country estates, with the same social divisions, having the same fruitless discussions about art, family and society - even if it is to condemn them here - while forming romantic attachments.
Fathers and Sons however is certainly a much better constructed and balanced novel than Rudin, the characters actively pursuing revolution rather than merely talking about it, although perhaps because of their very nature, they still fail to make a significant impression on society. Turgenev's model of Bazarov as a character for the future of the new Russia therefore doesn't entirely succeed and there is still some romanticism both in the character and Turgenev's depiction of him. It would take better writers like Tolstoy and Chekhov to delve deeper into the Russian character - and human nature - and bring it out in all its complexities and contradictions. Bazarov then is very much a hero for his time, and Fathers and Sons, although perhaps Turgenev's best novel with much to admire in it, is also very much of its time, while Tolstoy and Chekhov are eternal.