The next book I opened, Fathers and Sons by Turgenev, is also set in 19th Century Russia and takes us deeper into the provinces – outside of the town and into the estates and agricultural fields – among the rural gentry and their peasants.
Bazarov and Arcady, two newly graduated students brimming with new ideas from the cities and the universities returns to the country, to their homes and fathers, where old-fashioned tradition and domestic life reigns. The book, which is now one of my favorites, touched more than just the theme of a clash of generations.
The book popularized the use of the term “Nihilist,” derived from Latin nihil – nothing, to describe the radicals of their days who admitted “no established authorities, who takes no principles for granted.”
The protagonist of the novel, the extraordinary character that is Bazarov, was such a man: he was a doctor who praised science above all else; he checked on his emotions; he dismissed poetry and all art as useless; he shocked the world of the fathers with his radicalism and arrogant approach to expounding his philosophy.
When I began reading the book, I took a peep at the last page and read about Bazarov’s parents’ mourning over his grave and consequently had this notion that Bazarov – hotheaded, intolerant and outspoken as he was – would die in a duel. He didn’t. He dueled but didn’t die of it. His death was caused by a less romantic but more tragic reason.
What did happen was a profound change in Bazarov’s character. This humbling coupled with the end of his promising life was perhaps a reflection of Turgenev’s cautious stance against the tendency by the radicals of his time to call for the negation of all traditions, to advocate for a clean sweep, to destroy everything.
And indeed Turgenev’s worries were not unfounded, as events in the next Century would demonstrate. ■