Chapter 6: Fathers and Children: Nation and People
Turgenevs major novels, with the exception of Spring Torrents, are deeply concerned with the political and cultural development of Russia, and in Fathers and Children he sets the course of the novels action by suggesting an historical background for his protagonists. The use of such material is more astutely managed in this novel than it is, say, in A Nest of Gentlefolk, Turgenev avoids interrupting the narrative flow by giving this information at the beginning of the novel, before any real action has taken place. The family background he provides is notable on two counts. Firstly it only concerns the Kirsanov family; the forces that have gone to make Bazarov are largely absent from the novel (though we do learn certain details en passant of the military career of Bazarovs father).1 Secondly the background he provides for the Kirsanov family is historical; the family fortunes are linked to dates, and these by and large are dates relating to events of importance in the history of Russia itself.
Arkadiis grandfather won his promotion in 1812 the year of Napoleons invasion of Russia. In 1835 he was retired from the army the year his son Nikolai Petrovich graduated from St Petersburg University (Turgenev himself would have been his contemporary he was then in his second year at St Petersburg University, and his entry in 1834 coincided with the death of his own father). Nikolai Petrovich was frustrated in his desire to go abroad in 1848 - this was the year of revolutions throughout Europe, and of increased repression at home. In 1855 he took his own son, Arkadii, to St Petersburg University - the very year in which Nicholas I died - a year which marked the end of a repressive regime and gave new hope for liberal reform and a new sense of freedom. The date on which the novel opens is 1859, the year in which the committees were set up to draft laws for the Emancipation of the Serfs. The novel, then, is set on the eve of the great reforms.
In the background of Bazarovs father there is a hint through historical reference to that rebelliousness which characterises his son. In his youth he knew all the members of the Southern Society of Decembrists: "Those in the Southern Army, in 1814, you understand" (and here Vasilii Ivanovich pressed his lips together significantly), "I knew all of them, every single one of them. But, you see, I was on the sidelines. Know your lancet and that was sufficient!" [8, 313; 617].
The question of nihilism seems to be at the forefront of the dispute between Bazarov and Pavel Petrovich, yet the argument is perhaps not all it seems. In the first place it is overlaid by differences of class, but secondly, and more importantly, it involves related but deeper issues concerning the nature of Russian nationality itself. To this extent the clash between Bazarov and Pavel Petrovich carries on the argument of the 1840s and 1850s between Westernisers and Slavophiles - an argument which in itself had been initiated by the first Russian nihilist Chaadaev, with his negation of the values of Russian history, culture and native genius.2 In the novel echoes of Chaadaevan pessimism are clearly discernible in the ostensible dispute over nihilism, as are other contributions to the debate on nationality, notably those of Belinsky, whose disciple Turgenev considered himself to be.3 Also present are ideas deriving from the Slavophiles themselves. In particular the championship of native Russian institutions such as the peasant village-commune (the obshchina or mir), the bonds of the family and the Orthodox faith of the peasantry. Yet there is no representative of Slavophilism, as such, in the novel. The argument is carried on between two different types of Westerniser, each of whom appears to make concessions to Slavophile viewpoints. Ideologically the most obvious of these are to be seen in Pavel Petrovich who, for all his insistence on western dress and western values, is nevertheless prepared to champion the obshchina and the traditional values of the Russian peasant. This contradiction is even more acute at the end of the novel: Pavel Petrovich has exiled himself to the West (Dresden), where he mixes with Englishmen, who consider him a perfect gentleman, but he holds fashionable Slavophile views, goes to the Russian church, and although he reads nothing in Russian, keeps a silver ashtray on his desk in the form of a peasant bast shoe [8, 400].4
There is apparent ambiguity in Bazarovs position too. He is a follower of the western scientific spirit of enquiry, yet he denigrates western words and western concepts, and in dress, origins and attitudes proclaims himself to be closer the Russian peasant than Pavel Petrovich. Such ambiguity is made clearer in that would-be disciple, whom Bazarov ironically calls Herr Sitnikov, and who, for all his nihilistic ideas, assumes Slavophile dress, and has a visiting card, bearing his name on one side in French, on the other in ancient Slavonic characters.
The argument between Bazarov and Pavel Petrovich, which in more than one respect touches on the nature of Russian nationality, is conducted between two apparently different, but nevertheless ambivalent Westernisers. It suggests a debate going on within Turgenev himself - an argument projected into the novel as the struggle between two extreme positions.
The sparring begins in chapter six, ostensibly over the question of science, but it is introduced by Pavel Petrovich, obliquely, as a national issue: They say the Deutchers have of late had great success in this area! [8, 218]. This suggestion of western superiority is, nevertheless, not without its ambiguity. Pavel Petrovich undermines its impact by using the ironic term germantsy (Deutchers) for nemtsy - Germans. Bazarov, without irony, is prepared to admit that the Germans (nemtsy) are Russias teachers in this respect, but Pavel Petrovich puts words into his mouth to suggest he holds a less flattering view of native Russian scientists, so that once again he can bring his irony to bear with his comment that this is praiseworthy self-denial. When Nikolai intervenes with a conciliatory gesture referring to Liebig and requesting agricultural advice, Bazarov's response is more openly critical of his fellow countrymen: Well, we have a long way to go to Liebig! We must first learn the alphabet, and only then start on a book. But we havent yet had sight of the letter "a" [8, 220]. It is significant that this, much clearer statement of praiseworthy self-denial, is identified in the novel as the first concrete example of Bazarovs nihilism: "Well, you, I see, are indeed a nihilist", thought Nikolai Petrovich [8, 220].
The point of departure for the main argument in chapter 10 is the issue of class. Bazarov dismissively refers to a local landowner as a worthless little aristocrat (drian aristokratishko) [8, 241]. Pavel Petrovich takes offence at what he interprets as a slur on his class, but his defence of aristocracy quickly moves into the area of nationality and the question of Western values and institutions. He particularly praises the English aristocracy for championing the cause of freedom, and it must be remembered that freedom, and in particular the role to be played by the Russian landowning classes in the emancipation of the serfs were very much issues of the day. This, though not openly stated, lurks behind Pavel Petrovichs spirited defence of aristocracy.
The foreign nature of Pavel Petrovichs Russianness, as an aristocrat, is expressed through a speech mannerism - his pronunciation of eto and etim as efto and eftim: This foible betrayed a remnant of a tradition of the time of Alexander I. The bigwigs of the time, on the rare occasions when they spoke in their native language, would, some of them use efto, others ekhto, as if to say: we are real Russians, but at the same time we are grandees, who are allowed to despise school rules [8, 241].5 As if to assert his claim to be of the people, Bazarovs own speech is peppered with folky expressions and sayings, and he rejects abstract foreign concepts as un-Russian: Aristocratism, liberalism, progress, principles [...] just think how many foreign ...and useless words! A Russian does not need them even for free [8, 242]. Pavel Petrovich appears to interpret such a view as approaching the despondent evaluation of Russia offered by Chaadaev: To listen to you, its as though we exist outside humanity, outside its laws [8, 242].
The claim to understand and speak for the Russian people is clearly at the centre of this argument. Arkadii in defending his uncle asserts that he always intercedes on behalf of the peasants, even though, as he suggests, he cannot stand their smell: But in truth, speaking with them, he winces and sniffs eau-de-Cologne [8, 226]. Pavel Petrovich himself accuses Bazarov of insulting the Russian people [8, 242-3], of going against them [8, 244]. He refuses to believe that Bazarov and his like know the Russian folk and can be accepted as representatives of its needs and aspirations; the Russian people is quite different from how they imagine it to be [8, 243]. When Pavel Petrovich refuses to recognise Bazarov himself as truly Russian, it generates real personal heat:
Thus we see that, whether consciously or not, both Pavel Petrovich and Bazarov are caught in that cultural and linguistic trap, which Russians throughout the nineteenth century found difficult to avoid. The word narod means people, nation, but in a basic populist sense it also means the people - the peasants. This blurring of conceptual outlines posed a very real question for all thinking Russians: in a country in which the peasantry formed the overwhelming mass of the population, did true Russianness lie with them, or with that small élite of educated Russians whose real values came from the West? Pavel Petrovich, as a member of that élite, is a foreigner on Russian soil, as his habit of dressing up in English clothes visually proclaims, yet at the same time he tries to assert Russian (i.e. peasant) values.
Bazarov, for all that he claims affinity with the peasants through birth, nevertheless, seeks to distance himself from their beliefs and institutions. Like Belinsky, the novel's dedicatee, who also came from a similar background, Bazarov has no wish to endorse peasant ignorance and superstition. In Bazarovs view Russianness is not the sole preserve of the peasant: What then? Have I to agree with him? He is, after all Russian, but am I not myself Russian? [8, 244]. Earlier in this argument Arkadii had suggested that in the historical context in which the Russian peasant now found himself the cleansing process of nihilism was a political necessity: The present state of the people demands it [8, 243], and under pressure from Pavel Petrovich, Bazarov actually suggests that nihilism itself might even be a product of the national spirit: You censure my way of thinking, but who has told you that in me this is merely accidental, and has not come about from that same spirit of the people, in whose name you are taking up arms? [8, 244]. This suggestion of an innate national scepticism not only seems to develop Chaadaevs criticisms of Russian culture, but also to take up Belinskys assertion in his famous letter to Gogol that the Russian people were by nature atheistic.6 Bazarov himself makes the point even more forcibly later in the novel when he quotes the proverb about peasant greed: The Russian peasant could even gobble up God [8, 236], and goes on to raise the whole question of Russian self-doubt: The Russian is good only in that he himself has a most terrible opinion of himself [8, 236].
In response to Bazarovs challenge to name one contemporary Russian institution that could not be rejected, Pavel Petrovich puts forward the peasant commune (obshchina or mir), so beloved of the Slavophiles. Bazarov points to the experience of Pavels own brother with the commune, ridiculing it along with that other peasant institution mutual responsibility (krugovaia poruka),7 as well as pointing to peasant unreliability because of their drunkenness. When Pavel Petrovich puts forward the family as a worthy institution, Bazarov replies in even more personal terms, with an oblique allusion to the peasant mistress of Pavels own brother, and he calls attention to the existence of snokhachestvo in the extended peasant family - the practice of allowing daughters-in-law to become mistresses of the peasant patriarch.
One by one cardinal elements in Slavophile teaching on the people their religious faith, the mir, the family are rejected and ridiculed by Bazarov. Later in the novel, through a mocking conversation with a peasant, he will attempt to show the insubstantiality of fashionable ideas which seek to centre national identity on the values and institutions of the common people:
He responds to the peasants incomprehension with further mockery designed to highlight the superstition surrounding the mir, punning on the double sense of the word, meaning both commune and world, and alluding to the peasant belief that the world was supported by three giant fish: Just you explain to me: what is your world? [...] and is this same world the one that stands on three fish? [8, 384].
These, however, are the words of a disillusioned Bazarov, but at the beginning of the novel his claim to be accepted by the peasants as a fellow Russian seems borne out in fact. He is able to associate with the peasant lads of the Kirsanov estate on terms of easy familiarity, and the servants accept him as one of their own in spite of his teasing: The servants also took to him, although he teased them; they felt that, all the same, he was one of them, not a master [8, 237]. It is only after his defeat at the hands of Odintsova that his new bitter mood appears to raise barriers between him and the people. On leaving her estate his taunts on wife-beating addressed to the peasant coachman are clearly related to the sense that his own male pride has been wounded, and the authority he cites is the folk-wisdom of a foreign nation: "A [male] man must be fierce" says an excellent Spanish proverb [8, 307].8 Later he will confess to Arkadii that he approves of his father beating a peasant [8, 332]. Indeed, at the duel, Bazarov claims that he does not know or understand the peasant, and supports his view by reference to another foreign authority: The Russian peasant is that same mysterious stranger, of whom at one time Mrs Radcliffe talked about a lot. Who understands him? He does not understand himself [8, 355].9 Bazarovs allusion to lack of self-knowledge might almost be taken as self-referential, but in the novels of Mrs Radcliffe the mysterious stranger is more a novelistic device, and Bazarovs mysterious stranger provides an external commentary. When Bazarov was alone before the duel the peasant had passed him without doffing his cap, but returning, as Pavel Petrovich lies wounded, he now doffs his cap at the sight of the masters - a plural form which embraces Bazarov himself, and seems emblematic of his new status. The cause of the duel itself had been Bazarovs pursuit of Fenechka - the temptation of peasant amours, which, in view of his own earlier strictures on Nikolai Petrovich, equates him with the sexual mores of the masters. More importantly through participating in the duel, he has adopted their ethical values: he has become feudal, as later he jokingly confesses to Arkadii. In similar vein he goes on to say that he is now on his way to the fathers (k ottsam). As we have seen, this phrase resonates in various senses. Most ominously it suggests his own death - and that, too, lies ahead in his fathers house. Yet, Bazarovs journey to the fathers, also picks up the symbolic implications of the novels title; for once on his fathers small estate, the peasant, whom he teases about the mir reacts in a typically feudal way: But against our mir, so to speak, it is well known there is the masters will; because you are our fathers. And the more severely the master calls us to account, the more the peasant likes it [8, 384]. In peasant eyes Bazarov himself is one of the fathers and in the peasants dismissive comment on this conversation to one of his own kind Bazarovs earlier assessment of peasant comprehension is ironically turned back on Bazarov himself it is the attitude of a master: Well, of course, hes a master. Do you think he understands anything? [8, 384].
In a key scene, the argument in the haystack, Bazarov denies that his mission in life is to better the lot of the peasant:
The irony of this statement becomes obvious at the end of the novel, when Bazarovs own death comes about from working with peasants - an irony reinforced by the fact that the country doctor, whose inferior instruments he used at the autopsy and who has no cauterising agent, bears the lineal name of one of these symbolic peasants - Sidor Sidorovich [8, 386-7]. It is this same incompetent Sidor son of Sidor who attends him before he dies [8, 394].
Previous works that had addressed the question of the nature of Russian society and Russian nationality (Gogols Dead Souls and Sollogubs Tarantas) had done so through the theme of travel. Indeed Gogol had fixed an image of Russia herself in the memorable symbol of the troika and Sollogubs protagonists had conducted their arguments on Russia from that most primitive of national conveyances the springless carriage - the tarantas. It is the tarantas which marks out Bazarov's progress through Turgenevs novel. In it he first enters the Kirsanov estate and later that of his own father. Moreover, when the two friends take their leave of Odintsova, Arkadii, in a highly symbolic gesture, specifically rejects the modern barouche (koliaska) of Sitnikov, which he was urged to accept by Odintsova, and clambers back into the tarantas with Bazarov [8, 304-5]. Bazarovs association with this most traditional of Russian carriages is in itself significant, but the overtones of this vehicle, the central symbol of Sollogubs travelogue, cannot be overlooked; for Fathers and Children is itself a novel of travel. With Bazarov and Arkadii we visit contrasting areas of contemporary Russian life: the reformed nobleman's estate of the Kirsanovs, the bureaucratic milieu of the provincial town; the would-be intelligentsia represented by Sitnikov and the femme émancipée - Kukshina; the more traditional estate of Odintsova, and the old-fashioned rural life of Bazarovs own parents.11
In this theme of travel the references to Gogol are even clearer; for if, as critics have pointed out, the life of Bazarovs parents owes a debt to Gogols story The Old-World Landowners,12 the entry of Bazarov and Arkadii into this old-world estate has a distinct echo of Chichikovs first acquaintance with the estate of Manilov in Dead Souls. In both works the travelling heroes are confronted with a vignette of foolishly quarrelling peasants, which in Dead Souls is a commentary on the benign sentimentality of their master,13 and in Fathers and Children prefigures the shift in Bazarovs populist attitudes. The conclusion he appears to draw from this little scene could equally apply to Gogols view of Manilovs quarrelling peasants that such behaviour results from the lack of patriarchal coercion [8, 307].
Dostoevsky saw a comparison between Fathers and Children and Dead Souls, and it may be that he had the common theme of travel in mind.14 Vehicular imagery in Gogol is particularly pronounced. In Dead Souls not only does the troika become a symbol for Russia, but the vehicle of Chichikov himself is the light carriage - the brichka, and the success or failure of his wanderings are epitomised in a wheel, linked to the theme of the people (narod), in as much as it is peasants who speculate on the viability of the brichkas wheel. It is also a malfunctioning wheel, which holds up Chichikovs flight from the town of N.N. with his dead serfs.15 In Fathers and Children the failure of Ivan Petrovichs peasant reforms are likened to a wheel, creaking from want of grease [8, 227], but it is for Bazarov himself that the image of the wheel, with its overtones of fortune and fate, will have poignant relevance.16
The crude carriage of nihilism is not Chichikov's sophisticated brichka, but, as we have seen, the more rudimentary tarantas. Nevertheless, Pavel Petrovich, through yet another vehicular image, seeks to identify Bazarov and Arkadii with progress, which is essentially Asiatic in character, looking back to Russias dark ages and crude Mongol force: You imagine yourselves to be advanced people, but all you want is to sit in a Kalmyk cart [kibitka]! Force! [8, 246]. Earlier he had raised the question of Russia's need for people like Bazarov:
Yet, when it comes to force, Pavel Petrovich concludes that people like Bazarov are few against millions and they will be crushed. Bazarov is crushed, but by other means. As he lies dying, the pointlessness of his journey finds its expression in the Gogolian image of the wheel, but it is a destructive one. He tells Odintsova: I have fallen under a wheel [8, 395], and his earlier argument with Pavel Petrovich is obviously on his mind:
The sudden image of the forest is a reference to Pavel Petrovich and their constant sparring; for in his dream before the duel he had seen Pavel Petrovich as a large forest with which he had to fight [8, 350]. The forest also suggests the millions of people to whom Pavel Petrovich had referred, but recast in Bazarovs own reductive anthropology, which sees human beings merely as identical trees in a forest [8, 277]. Yet however much Bazarov tries to reduce nature to the status of a workshop, in the end it retains its more mystical essence. For if Bazarov dies, as he prophesied, before Sidor and Filipp are living in white huts, his grave nevertheless does not sprout weeds, but fir trees and flowers: it speaks not of resentment but of eternal reconciliation [8, 402].
1 Critics largely concur on the absence of background as a key to understanding Bazarov (See, for example: Strakhov in Matlaw, p.222; Lowe, p.66; Woodward p.4). Seeley (pp.266-7), however, points to factors often overlooked by critics the unsettled childhood, need to distance himself from smothering parental love, and early experience of the nature of authority.
2 Solitaires dans le monde, nous navons rien donné au monde, nous navons rien appris au monde; nous navons pas versé une seule idée dans la masse des idées humaines; nous navons en rien contribué au progrès de lésprit humain, et tout ce qui nous est revenu de ce progrès, nous lavons défiguré. P.Ia Chaadaev, Lettres sur La Philosophie de lHistoire: Lettre première, Sochineniia i pisma P.Ia Chaadaeva (ed M. Gershenzon) 2 vols., (Reprint of Moscow 1913-14 ed.) Oxford, 1972, Vol. 1, p.84. Ideas such as these permeate the first of Chaadaevs Philosophical Letters, and so annoyed the regime of Nicholas I that he was officially pronounced mad. It is also indicative that Chaadaev wrote in French.
3 Bazarov, following Belinsky, challenges the view that the peasant is the sole repository of national values [8, 244]. Turgenevs debt to Belinsky is particularly stressed by Batiuto. See: Ottsy i deti, St P. 2000, pp.16, 17, 20, 25, 436; and Woodward, p.47.
4 This item seems to be a direct reference to Herzen, whom Turgenev considered a Westerniser who had gone over to the Slavophiles. A similar silver ashtray in the form of a peasant bast shoe, was presented to Herzen (and Ogarev) in London to remind them of their native land. See: N.A. Tuchkova-Ogareva, Vospominania, (intro. ed. and notes S.A. Pereselenkova), Leningrad, 1929, p.195. Turgenevs own preparatory material for the novel points to another prototype for Pavel Petrovich, and his life in Dresden one of the Rossett brothers. See Ottsy i deti, St P.,2000, pp.229, 238, 419-20.
5 Later when Pavel Petrovich asserts the patriarchal nature of the Russian people, and his view that they cannot live without faith, Bazarov in, a rare moment of apparent agreement with his adversary, ironically stresses the correct pronunciation of the word: I am even prepared to agree that in this you are right [8, 243].
6 Look a little more closely, and you will see that in its nature this is a deeply atheistic people. There is still a lot of superstition in it, but there is no trace of religiousness (V.G. Belinsky, Pismo k Gogoliu, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii, Moscow, 1953-59, Vol. 10, p.215.
7 Legally peasants were assumed to have only collective responsibility through the organisation of the mir.
This often meant that apportioning blame to individual peasants was no easy matter.
8 Batiuto considers that in Bazarovs views on the male (samets), Turgenev is contradicting a view put forward by Belinsky, Ottsy i deti, St P.2000, pp.16-17. Batiuto also points out (Ibid. p.403) that Turgenev quotes the proverb in Spanish (el hombre debe ser feroz) in a letter to Flaubert, 8th (20th) February 1870, [L.8, 189] but that it does not appear to be recorded in any Spanish dictionary.
9 These sentiments on the peasant are echoed in a letter to Herzen: Well then, raise an altar to this new unknown god, seeing that almost nothing is known of him [L.5, 67].
10 Batiuto relates Bazarovs words on his indifference to the peasant of the future to Belinskys well-known criticism of Hegel. See: Ottsy i deti, St P. 2000, pp.406-7.
11 Freeborn (Turgenev, p.71) sees each character as having his or her own place in the fiction, and that: each "place" in the fiction can therefore be seen as a stage in the process of the heros characterization.
12 See, for example, Lowe p.121.
13 N.V. Gogol, Dead Souls, Ch.2. (Gogol, PSS, Vol.6, p.23). Pustovoit refers to Gogols portrait of Manilov to claim that Turgenev successfully uses Gogols device of oblique characterization (See: Matlaw, p.306).
14 In a letter to Botkin, 26th March (7th April) 1862, Turgenev writes that Dostoevsky has compared his novel to Gogols Dead Souls [L.4, 386].
15 For a discussion of the wheel in Dead Souls see: Peace, Enigma, pp.256, 334.
16 Turgenev used the image of the wheel to refer to his own fortunes. See Letter to M.A. Markovich, 10th (22nd) July 1862, [L.5, 23].