Russian Readers Club discussion

Reading Turgenev's Fathers & Sons

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message 1: by Zachary (last edited Jul 09, 2009 02:06PM) (new)

Zachary Based on past comments about which books members of the group would like to read (in the Monthly Reading Nominations forum), and some recent discussions about this, I would like to propose for those interested that we read Turgenev's Fathers and Sons. It is considered a classic in Russian literature and opens many questions for the reader. Briefly put, the short novel Fathers & Sons takes place in 19th century rural Russia and examines the different worldviews and lifestyles of two family generations (generally between parents and their children), though it also examines the Nihilism movement within this context.

This post forum should serve as a discussion forum on the book; to discuss the book generally, as well the specific themes and issues in the book. For those who would like to participate in reading the book please feel free to post about your willingness and offer suggestions throughout the read. Thanks.

message 2: by Greg (new)

Greg Heaney (lordpoopsicle) | 6 comments I actually just finished Fathers and Sons a few weeks ago after reading Sketches from a Hunters Album in a recent Modern Russian History class. Turgenev is a phenomenal writer, and Fathers and Sons is a great example of his work, even if it is underappreciated by the general public. I believe that if Russian literature could be summed up in one word, it is “ambiguity.” Turgenev is a perfect example of this. He captures the unique dynamic between families with a superhuman deftness, one that is rarely exhibited even by writers who spend a lifetime attempting to capture such a relationship.

The relationship between the anti-hero, Yevgeny Bazarov, and his father, Vasily Bazarov, is the most intricate, fragile, and thus the most interesting. The immense love that Vasily has for his son is overwhelming, and the internal struggle that we see Bazarov going through is beautiful; the obvious yet subconscious desire Bazarov has for his parents’ love and support tangling with his intellectual yet not quite sincere nihilism. This love/hate relationship is so universal, so truthful, and so convincingly crafted that it is difficult for the reader to not feel some sort of association with both father and son.

Of course, the relationship between Arkady and Bazarov is nearly as interesting. Again, true to life, Turgenev makes their quarrel with each other not based on their relationship, but rather on the contrasts of their relationships with their parents. This determination of relationships based on dissimilarities of parallel relationships is really the heart of Turgenev’s novel, at least the heart of its realism.

I don’t want to say too much and spoil it for future readers, and I hope I have not already. For anyone considering reading Fathers and Sons, I would recommend it. It is a wonderful portrait of the Russian aristocracy, their decline, the rise of what would eventually become Socialism, and the trivialities of the middle and upper class. Really though, the reason it touches me, is the beauty of the relationships that give the novel its name-sake. No novel with ever stand the test of time due to popularity. Only universality can make a novel a classic. In short, there is a reason why we are still reading a novel written a century and a half ago. I don’t see it falling out of interest any time soon.

message 3: by Susan (new)

Susan | 7 comments Wow Greg
That was beautifully put. It has also helpped me through a snag as I am reading- and didn't get that the son is the anti-hero. But now that makes perfect sence.

message 4: by Erma (new)

Erma Odrach | 3 comments A really good review, Greg. Made me take a copy down from my bookshelf and re-read it. Though a 19th centuray Russian novel, the social, political and emotional gaps between fathers and sons still hold true. "Universality" really does make it the classic that it is.

message 5: by Greg (new)

Greg Heaney (lordpoopsicle) | 6 comments Well, I'm very glad Turgenev is still getting plenty of attention! I'm interested though, on other people's opinions. I have my own ideas as to why Fathers and Sons is still relevant, but I'm also well known amongst my friends for despising other works of this time period. With all the parties and members of the upper class and love between unequals, this book is very similar to novels like Wuthering Heights and other English novels. Yet, I love Fathers and Sons and hate most English literature of the same time period. So I really want to know, what makes Fathers and Sons dfferent? Am I just prejudiced?

message 6: by Erma (new)

Erma Odrach | 3 comments Maybe because Fathers and Sons is a Russian novel and Russian novels, no matter from which period, are always filled with social/political struggle and suffering. It is through Bazarov that we get a glimpse of the bloody future just years away in the Russian Revolution; afterall, Bazarov is in many ways literature's first Bolshevik.

Wuthering Heights and some English novels of the same period tended to concentrate on love (sometimes obsessive) and romance. I believe they were largely read by women (especially the Brontes).

I also prefer Turgenev to the Brontes.

message 7: by Greg (new)

Greg Heaney (lordpoopsicle) | 6 comments I find it difficult to categorize the differences between Arkady’s relationship with Katerina and Bazarov’s with Anna against an English couple… like Elizabeth and Darcy. Both novels have a strong theme of love against social class, as well as the theme of the turning tide of modernism fighting against the obstinacy of tradition. Yet, these two relationships in Fathers and Sons seem so much deeper, so much more… symbolic almost, although I cannot decide what that symbolism is.

I believe I made this remark concerning Dead Souls, but it applies here as well. Reading Russian literature feels similar to reading the works of Flannery O’Connor (might I specifically reference Parker’s Back?) What I love about O’Connor is that she makes me feel like her characters; like something big has happened. Something, huge, cosmic, divine and life-altering. Defining exactly what it is, however, is impossible. Her characters live in a world where even the most insignificant of actions can have monumental consequences. I feel this way about Fathers and Sons. The fight between Arkady and Bazarov out in the hay fields, their love for the Sergevna sisters, the simple meal made by Bazarov’s parents, all of these things have tremendous importance.

This is what 19th Century Russian literature has that 19th Century English literature does not, in my opinion. It has a sense of mysticism, a mysteriousness, a symbolism, that ambiguity I mentioned earlier. I never felt that Austin or the Bronte sisters created an epic out of the mundane. And the feelings of immensity I get from Turgenev’s work are repeated only in other Russian authors. Perhaps it is the nation they come from, which long outstrips England in history, strife, and, of course, size. All in all, Turgenev is a giant, while the Bronte sisters and their compatriots are, in my humble opinion, hardly able to climb to his shoulders.

message 8: by Greg (new)

Greg Heaney (lordpoopsicle) | 6 comments Point take, Jenifer. I may have generalized too far. I have no knowledge of Lawrence's work, so, perhaps someday in the future, I can come to a better informed opinion. What works would you recommend? He wrote Sons and Daughters, I think?

message 9: by Susan (new)

Susan | 7 comments Greg your review of Dead Souls was also nicely thought out- even your struggles ( in true Russian form- the struggle that is). I might have to pick that one up just to be able to share the struggle.

message 10: by Greg (new)

Greg Heaney (lordpoopsicle) | 6 comments I'll have to try The Rainbow out some day.

message 11: by Zachary (new)

Zachary Since we have scheduled readers to be finished with this novel, I wanted to ask some discussion provoking questions. (and encourage others to add to my list.) Greg already provided a great and crisp review of certain aspects of the novel, but I wanted to delve a bit deeper and pull out some interpretations. The great thing about literature is that can be debatable, which is pedagogical itself. I would love to hear some thoughts on some of the questions below. And FYI to those who haven’t finished the novel, there are some spoilers in the questions below.

1) What is the character Bazarov symbolic of, what is his role in the novel? Why did Turgenev portray his Bazarov’s life then death the way he did? What is symbolic about Bazarov’s death and what is Turgenev arguing about it?
2) Again, what is the character Arkady symbolic of, what is his role in the novel? What does the pathway that Arkady progressed through tell us? Do you think Arkady abandoned his principles as a nihilist in the end? If so, or if not, what is Turgenev trying to tell us with Arkady’s marriage and later life?
3) And, although this novel attacks nihilism, it raises the question, can one live by a set of ideological principles? How so, or why not?
4) What are the roles of other characters in the book, and what to they symbolize and typify?
5) And what do we learn about the generational differences from this novel? Do you agree with Turgenev about some of these ideas?

message 12: by Greg (new)

Greg Heaney (lordpoopsicle) | 6 comments I'll have to think about these soon... I have, however, just taken on an 18 credit semester, and I'm a little intimidated, so my focus will have to shift away from Russian lit for a few months. I regret it, but I look forward to sharing my thoughts on Arthurian literature or Greek history with anyone interested!

message 13: by Tom (new)

Tom This is off the topic a bit, but I thought you Turgenev fans might enjoy his essay, "The Execution of Tropmann," a searing account of mob attending beheading of convicted murderer in Paris. It's in anthology Art of the Personal Essay, Lopate, ed.

message 14: by Erma (new)

Erma Odrach | 3 comments Tom wrote: "This is off the topic a bit, but I thought you Turgenev fans might enjoy his essay, "The Execution of Tropmann," a searing account of mob attending beheading of convicted murderer in Paris. It's i..."

essay sounds intriguing, so does the whole collection. Put it on my to-read list.

message 15: by Paul (new)

Paul Richardson (paulerichardson) | 18 comments Hey lovers of Russian lit, I thought you might want to know about new book of Russian stories just released yesterday: "Life Stories." 19 great stories by modern Russian authors. And all the profits from sales go to benefit Russian hospice. All the A-list authors donated the stories and translators (I was one) donated their time to the effort. Some really moving stories. Can be ordered via, or

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