Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Fathers Trying to Impress Sons

The title of Turgenev's work had me thinking about the relationship between Arkady and Nikolai. What strikes me most about this father and son is Nikolai's almost servile desire to please Arkady. On page 43, Nikolai despairs about the growing distance he feels between them despite his past attempts to fit in with his son, like all "those young people's conversations" he listened in on; we even learn that he "rejoiced when he managed to insert a word or two into their heated discussions." Nikolai's concern for his son's approval is also evident in the situation with Fenichka. He expresses shame for his situation, and is relieved only when Arkady grants his blessing.

Since this novel examines the growing divide between the older romanticists (embodied by Pavel and Nikolai) and the young nihilists (Arkady and Bazarov), I wonder how Nikolai's relationship with his son is appropriate to this political and historical context. Perhaps Nikolai's pathetic attempts to relate embody Turgenev's comment on the Romanticists' fickle interests. While I certainly do not think that we are meant to like Bazarov, it seems to me that Turgenev's preference, especially as it is explored through fathers and sons, is for the nihilists—or at least against the romanticists.

I also found something interesting when looking at Turgenev's wikipedia page. Apparently, Dostoyevsky based a character on Turgenev in his novel The Devils. The character, Karmazinov, is a vain novelist who "is anxious to ingratiate himself with the radical youth." Dostoyevsky's critique of Turgenev is oddly similar to Turgenev's treatment of Nikolai. Since the page didn't expand on Turgenev's political beliefs, I guess we're left to wonder at the extent of Turgenev's attempts to fit in...


  1. I think your comment on Turgenev's ability to fit in is very interesting. It gets me thinking whether or not Nikolai and Arkady's relationship is a reflection on father and son's relationships of the time or if it was truly just Turgenev's experience. I believe that Turgenev had a daughter but never had any sons. Maybe this relationship is a reflection on his relationship with his own father.

  2. In response to Kate's post, perhaps the character's relationship is built on the dynamic that Turgenyev saw between the generations present when he was writing. My impression was that, because of the way he portrays both generations as being a little flawed (the fathers a little sad and out of touch, while the sons are arrogant and too self-assured), this impression was less born from personal experience (like his relationship with his father) and more of just the general conflict he saw between generations.

    Also, I found it interesting that while I was reading, I could imagine the era being changed by many decades and not actually change the story that much. I think the conflict between generations was much more important and independent from the actual generations being discussed.