Fathers and Sons is a novel by Ivan Turgenev, set in Russia, 1859.
Upon completing his studies, Arkady returns home with a new friend of his, who also turns out to be the main character of the novel, named Bazarov, whom Arkady admires. Bazarov wants to become a doctor and constantly (and only) reads scientific books, always wakes up early in the mornings and takes long walks, observing plants and animals of all sorts and studies them.
We learn from a conversation between Arkady and his uncle Pavel (who lives together with Arkadys father Nikolai in their farm Maryino) that Bazarov is a nihilist where he further defines a nihilist man as a man who does not bow down before any authority, who does not take any principle on faith.
Nikolai, Arkady’s father lives together with Fenitchika, a poor young woman, whom he took next to him after his wife died but never got married. Fenitchika is also the mother to Nikolai’s second son, in other words Arkadys brother.
Pavel, is an aristocrat man who got rejected by a woman and was crushed by this rejection. He spends his life trying not to think about the one who he used to love. Turgenev explains Pavels state with the following passage, when Pavel receives the news that the woman he used to loved died.
A solitary bachelor was entering upon that indefinite twilight period of regrets that are akin to hopes, and hopes that are akin to regrets, when youth is over, while old age has not yet come.
Arkady shares his uncles story with Bazarov noting Pavel is a man who deserves pity not hatred, to which Bazarovs responses “a fellow who stakes his whole life on one card - a woman’s love - and when that card fails, turns sour, and lets himself go till he’s fit fot nothing, is not a man but a male.”.
During Bazarovs visit in Maryino, few conflicts occur between Arkady and Bazarov. One occasion is where Bazarov bursts into laughters when he learns Nikolai, Arkadys father plays the violoncello. There is one thing that is certain, which is shown the reader in few places through out the novel, that Bazarov neither likes nor values art by any means. In his own words, Bazarov claims “A good chemist is twenty times as useful as any poet.”, and this is perhaps why he intentionally cuts Nikolai by asking if Arkady has a match, when Nikolai is reading a poem to his son in a very emotional state.
However, the hottest debates happen between Pavel and Bazarov. For Pavel, it is impossible to understand how it is possible not to acknowledge principles, rules, to which Bazarov replies by saying “We act by virtue of what we recognise as beneficial and deny everything”. Pavel, surprised again, wants confirmation by starting to ask a new question: “What, not only art and poetry.. but even.. horrible to say..”, which Bazarov does not wait for the question to finish and simply says “Everything!”
We never learn how Pavel would finish that sentence, but my guess here is “love”.
It also drives Pavel mad, how Bazarov admires Germans in the means of science and intellect and sees Russia and Russians far behind them.
Bazarov and Arkady take a trip to another city, called The X-, and they meet an old disciple of Bazarov, Viktor. Viktor suggests visits to several people he knows to which Bazarov always asks whether the person to be visited is beautiful or not, or whether there will be champagne or not. He often avoids and gets bored by peoples conversations.
In this visit during a ball, Bazarov sees a very beautiful woman. This person is a rich widow named Madame Odinstova, where the reader starts to see changes in Bazarovs behaviours whenever she is around him, by getting timid, emotional and weak. Turgenev obeserves Madame Odinstova with the following sentences:
Like all woman who have not succeeded in loving, she wanted something, without herself knowing what. Strictly speaking, she wanted nothing, but it seemed to her that she wanted everything.
Accepting Madame Odinstova’s offer, Arkady and Bazarov pay a visit to her in Nikolskoe where her farm is, staying in her farm for a while. During this visit Bazarov and Madame Odinstava get closer. Ultimately Bazarov admits that he has fallen in love with her but gets no response to his love as Madame Odinstava reasons talking to herself “God knows what it would lead to, he could not be played with; peace is anyway the best thing in the world.”.
Leaving Madame Odinstova’s farm, Arkady and Bazarov visit Bazarov’s family. In the second day of the visit, Arkady and Bazarov lay in a small haystack and start talking about life, where we see how Bazarov is affected by falling in love and getting rejected, when we hear his following words..
I think; here I lie under a haystack.. The tiny space I occupy is so infinetly small in comparison with the rest of the space, in which I am not, and which has nothing to do with me; and the period of time in which it is my lot to live is so petty beside the eternity in which I have not been, and shall not be.. And in this atom, this mathematical point, the blood is circulating, the brain is working and wanting something.. Isn’t it loathsome? Isn’t it petty?
Only after three days, Bazarov and Arkady leave and go back to Maryino together. Bazarov shuts himself down in solitude and devotes himself to studying and experimenting. As days pass in the farm, Bazarov starts building feelings towards Fenitchika and tries to kiss her on her lips, which gets witnessed by Pavel. This evantually leads to Bazarovs farewell.
Upon reaching home, Bazarov informs her parents that he has come to work and he asks them not to be hindered. Both Bazarov’s parents, his mother and his father obey to his request. They give him the study room and pay particular attention never to disturb him. However, the fever of work falls away very fast and gets replaced by dreary boredom or vague restlessness. Bazarov, unlike his usual himself, starts to seek society, tries to get into conversations and end up helping his father with curing patients for kidness and goodness.
Bazarov gets infected with a deadly virus during one of his treatments from a peasant and loses his all strength and falls to the bed. He wishes from his father that a messenger is sent to Madame Odinstova, informing her, he is living his last days.
Madame Odinstova, receiving the message, visits Bazarovs with a German doctor. After examination, German doctor confirms the situation is hopeless and there is no chance of recovery.
Bazarov asks his father and the doctor to leave the room, leaving Madame Odinstova and him alone. He repeats his love to her again, in his last day.
Death is an old joke, but it comes fresh to every one. What had I to even say to you.. I loved you! There was no sense in that even before, and less than ever now. Love is a form, and my own form is already breaking up. Better say how lovely you are! And now here you stand, so beautiful…