on 12 November 2013
British readers should be aware that this edition of Fathers and Sons is translated into American English. If you can live with "gotten", "envisioning", "catching on fire" and the rest of it it's a decent version of a wonderful book but personally I find the idiom jarring and I'll stick with my disintegrating Penguin Classics paperback.
One of the many delights of reading fiction from any literary period is the sense of timeless authority fashioned by the rich imaginations of talented writers. Although the historical settings may seem distant the characters behave pretty much as they do today, for example, they feel pain, fall in love, philosophise, act benevolently, contradict themselves, are conceited and pretentious. And these traits of human nature are compassionately handled by Turgenev in a novel that skilfully captures the ageless dilemma of youthful idealism (the sons) versus contented maturity (the fathers) thrust against the socio-political conservatism and burgeoning radicalism of mid 19th century Russia. The principle protagonist, Bazarov, is the archetypal angry young man, an Epicurean nihilist with romantic tendencies! Such are the contradictory dimensions belonging to this strain of Russian reactionaries, who want to destroy society's institutions whilst not caring about what to put in their place. In dismissing the existing social order and its moral obligations Bazarov is forced to confront his own despair and loss. In a telling passage Bazarov details, to his friend Arkady, his sense of `spiritual' insignificance in an indifferent universe, "I feel nothing but depression and rancour." Bazarov, however, is only human, and when he encounters the independent, educated, beautiful widow, Madame Odintsov, his self-imposed emotional detachment is tested to breaking point with catastrophic consequences. The story is an extraordinary examination of the cost of moral principles even if you think, as Bazarov does, you don't have any. This edition contains an excellent lecture and introduction detailing Turgenev's literary life, contemporary reaction to Fathers and Sons and the political climate of the period.
on 21 May 2009
The struggle between the generations. It's nasty, heartbreaking and futile. And it's easily recognisable by about all young men who've fought to build a personality independent of their parents. The young regard with disdain efforts by the ancients to "understand" the new generation. The old recall with regret their vanquished youth and cannot understand why their grown-up children shun them. As Nikolai Petrovich notes all old people were young once too. It's a vicious merry-go-round from father to son to his son on and on and explored in F&S to brutal effect. What is it all for - this existence with its sighs, hopes, banalities and the crushing disappointments and humiliations that one must endure to get to the finishing line? Nihilism. Love. Duty. Faith. Reason. Tradition. Each to his own as Turgenev's characters disperse.
on 16 July 2014
"And what do you do?" asked Yevdoxia.
"My name is Arkady Nikolayevich Kirsanov," Arkady informed her, "and I don't do anything."
Yevdoxia burst into a laugh,
That quote sums up the characters in this delightful novel, and the tone of the work. It trips along very nicely, and the deft character drawing is continually of interest. There is no plot as such--but Turgenev, a master storyteller, doesn't need one: his story unfolds in a natural and organic way. Stylistically, it is at the opposite pole to Dostoevsky, another favourite of mine. Dostoevsky complained of Turgenev's "superficiality"--but hidden depths are hinted at here, and in passages it is genuinely moving. There is a lot of keen--and affectionate--observation. It is rather short for a Russian novel, and quickly read.
on 23 July 2011
While I also love the fiction of Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy, having read this I was not surprised to learn from the editor of this edition that it was Turgenev who proved to be the most popular Russian novelist in Europe during the shared lifetimes of these three giant authors. And that, throughout the 1850s and 60s, Turgenev was likewise the most famous and loved in Russia. Interestingly, he was also the most controversial and passionate debate both for and against Turgenev and this novel even up to the 1950s.
Turgenev's greater popularity, compared with his two most famous counterparts, arguably rests on his deeper humanity and, thereby, psychological and emotional complexity that he breathes into his principal characters from their first introduction. With Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy, it seems too often that their own characters' complexity originates always from experiences of trauma, crisis and conflict in their lives, compared with Turgenev's characters who have an inherent, natuarl complexity and intelligence.
Of the characters here, there is much to enjoy, be engaged as well as challenged by. Bazarov and Arkady, university students, take a holiday together, visiting Arkady's landlord and liberal-minded, caring father (Nikolai) and uncle (Pavel), formerly a distinguished army captain, at Nikolia's farm and home, with whom Pavel also lives. The conflict between `fathers and sons' is played out primarily in this holiday, arising because of Bazarov's deep-seated nihilism and his insistent, relentlessly stern fatalism that he preaches.
The story is worth reading just two characters alone: Bazarov himself, who is vividly infuriating and an anti-hero one will never forget on reading. He is supremely arrogant and contemptuous of others; recognising no rules of conduct or recognition of anything of value, save that which he himself defines and determines; is rude to his charming and much devoted friend, Arkady, who is himself in such awe of Bazarov and he can't help but give allegiance to him and his negative vision and attitude towards society, history, life in general (and particular). Even though this allegiance, along with Bazarov's comments, confound and upset Arkady's father - and infuriate Pavel - ironically it is Bazarov's nihilistic own rejection of Arkady's friendship that brings Arkady to his senses, thereby explicitly reaffirming his humanism, empathy and love he always felt for both his father and uncle.
While Nikolai and Arkady are also very well drawn, besides Bazarov, the other character who is memorable, amusing - with a caustic sense of humour and irony -superbly realised, and great fun to read about - is Pavel. He's a Russian who, while now elderly, remains as he was from his youth: distinguished, handsome, a reputation as a `lady-killer', with an aristocratic flair, and besotted with English bespoke and colourful tailoring and fancy accoutrements (handkerchiefs, cufflinks, neckerchiefs). He's also deeply civilised, graceful, yet in no doubt of his views, with a strong and independent viewpoint and depth of character. He is also deeply generous and caring, having giving much of his money to Nikolai, to help him keep his farm and land. And the intense debates between Pavel (increasingly infuriated), and Bazarov (bored, steely, deeply rude and negative), are worth the price of the novel many times over.
A wonderful, moving, compelling read.
A note on this edition: Because there are several editions of this novel available to buy, and some much cheaper than this one, I first wanted to highlight that I believe this one is by far the best to date, for two reasons: the translator, Rosemary Edmonds's version, is elegant and smooth, and her own introduction is excellent - providing meaningful reflection and understanding not only of the novel, but Turgenev's talent, other works, and the political and literary times he lived through. The second major reason is because this edition (I think) is the only one that contains Isaiah Berlin's brilliant, insightful lecture on the novel that he first gave in 1970, and was included in this edition from 1975 onwards, and that offers much insight into the novel's historical context and background in terms of philosophy and politics in Russia during Turgenev's lifetime.
on 31 July 2015
Interesting on a number of levels. Turgenev painted a vivid picture of the Russia he was experiencing at the time - the young, graduate revolutionaries versus the old guard. On another level the novel is timeless as the same sparring exists today as adolescent children rub up against the beliefs of their parents. This was an old translation but it didn't detract from the stories some translations can.
on 11 March 2015
It is hardly surprising that his novel has held its popularity over the years. Turgenev has the knack of bringing each one of his minor characters to life. His major characters are drawn with exquisite fineness bringing them to life warts and all. We are given hope for the future in the person of Arkady and sadness and sympathy for the current plight of everyone concerned. You will cry and laugh reading this wonderful, but do be careful with which translation you choose.
on 2 January 1998
The book concerns the lives of two young men and their fathers, or more precisely the relationship between the 'new generation' and the old. Bazarov, the book's central character is a nihilist, he claims to depise art, social institutions of any kind and any sort of emotion. Turgenev illustrates his contempt for people prepared to embrace nihilism at this expense with bazarov's ultimate disillusionment and unhappiness; as such it is a very political book and it had him labeled a conservative by his contemporaries.
on 18 November 2000
In this book, arguably representing the zenith of Turgenev's writing ability, a fascinating insight into Russian life is portrayed. Admittedly not the easiest of reads, there are still immense benefits to be gained from assessing all the points that Turgenev raises. The plot is essentially one of conflict and of ideas on a variety of levels. The broader context is one of a changing Russia. At a crucial time in its history, with ideas of westernisation, liberalism and serf emancipation sweeping the country, the internal dilemmas Russia faced are manifested in the books main characters. Bazarov, an obtuse and obstinate young man meets the father and uncle of Arkady, a son returning home to the family estate for the first time after graduating from university. The ensuing relationships are fascinating. Bazarov, a nihilist, inevitably finds conflict with Arkady's uncle, a traditional militaristic Russian and also leads both Arkady and his father Nicholas to question themselves and their beliefs and how as middling nobles, they should react to this and place themselves within the great debate. Furthermore, the relationships between Nicholas and the peasants - how they react to emancipation and how he deals with them on a more personal level - provides great entertainment within the story. An impressive piece of Russian literature which offers an interesting alternative to works by Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky, Fathers and Sons provides a story of people, and of relationships in a crucial period of Russia's history prior to the revolution and many readers will note the underlying themes of the book as telling us as much about Imperial society as about Turgenev's storytelling technique.
[This review discusses key parts of the plot. If you have not read the novel and don't want the plot spoiled, stop now.]
In this great novel Turgenev details the changes happening in Russian society through the opposition of the young, nihilistic and brilliant student, Bazarov, to the world of comfortable liberalism. For his trouble Turgenev was attacked by the Left and the Right; the former for his emphasis on the world of feeling and the latter for his apparent sympathy for the amoral Bazarov. It is Bazarov around whom the novel is centred and who lives long in the memory. He is the strident materialist who rejects wholly the world of feeling and value and reduces everything to science. He dissects animals out of curiosity and wins both arguments and duels against his elders and betters. Yet he finds it awkward just to be in the presence of his devoted loving parents. Their genuine, motiveless affection and love cannot be abided for long. For Bazarov, attachment to any individual makes no sense. Just as all trees are the same so all humans share the same nature. To study one is to study them all.
Yet, just as this young Turk's challenge to the values of the old world matures and his wholesale rejection of feeling and art reaches its peak, he falls in love. For Bazarov, the materialist, to find himself in this position is a failure of intellect rather than anything else. Yet he, like so many before and after him, is powerless to prevent his pointless love for the charming, cold and beautiful Madame Odintsov determining the course of his short life. His love, unrequited, leads to such a sadness of the soul that he almost embraces death by inviting typhus on himself.
Even in his dying fever Madame Odintsov can visit Bazarov but cannot return his love. There is no happy ending. So he dies, bringing such a depth of grief and sorrow to his father and mother that the reader can hardly bear it. They asked for nothing from their son but to be. Struck by love, with his nihilism destroyed, he could not even do that.
In a world so many think of, Dawkins-like, as prescribed by our genes and devoid of meaning, the triumph of feeling over materialism in Turgenev is as relevant today as ever. However we came to be as we are are on this earth there is no accounting for the mystery of love. That feeling defines our humanity. And it is the depth and tragedy of our humanity that Turgenev's great novel brings so painfully into focus.
Turgenev's novel is so beautifully written that it rewards reading and re-reading.