Fathers And Sons Summary

Ivan Turgenev

Fathers And Sons

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Fathers And Sons Summary

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Upon his graduation from the University of Petersburg, ArkadyKirsanov returns to his father’s small county estate in rural Russia with his friend, Yevgeny Bazarov. While Arkady’s father Nikolai happily welcomes the pair, Arkady’s brother Pavel becomes distressed by the new form of philosophy the boys practice, called nihilism. Yevgeny is particularly enthusiastic about this school of thought.

Nikolai also begins to feel uneasy with Arkady’s philosophy as he realizes how radical his son’s beliefs have become under Yevgeny’s influence. This makes Nikolai feel old and out of touch, a fact that hurts him as he’s prided himself on maintaining his connection to his son. At the same time, Nikolai has invited a servant into his home. Her name is Fenechka, and she’s already had a son by Nikolai. Surprisingly, Arkady welcomes this relationship and the arrival of his little half-brother.

The two young men stay with Nikolai for two weeks, and then decide to visit to visit one of Arkady’s relatives in a nearby province. While there, they meet Madame Anna SergevnaOdintsova. Arkady and Yevgeny are immediately attracted to her, while she is attracted to Yevgeny’s personality and charm. Anna invites both men to accompany her back to her estate, and while Yevgeny doesn’t experience much initial attraction, Arkady falls completely in love with her.

While there, the men meet Anna’s sister, Katya. Yevgeny slowly falls in love with Anna during their stay, and this challenges his nihilism. Arkady feels himself pulling away from Yevgeny’s influence at this time, as well. Eventually, Yevgeny proclaims his love for Anna, but Anna does not reciprocate these feelings and cannot see a future for herself with him. Brokenhearted, Yevgeny decides to retreat to his parents’ home, and Arkady accompanies him.

Yevgeny’s parents welcome their visit. The couple live a simple, honest life, set in contrast to a rapidly changing larger world. They are humble and sweet in their innocence, even as their son maintains his world-weary cynicism. Arkady enamors himself toward Yevgeny’s father by assuring the man that his son has a bright future. Yevgeny rebukes Arkady’s fawning. Later, the two young men nearly come to blows after Arkady makes a joke about cynicism at Yevgeny’s expense. Arkady has grown more distant and resistant to Yevgeny’s ideas. The two eventually leave, to the older couple’s dismay. They return to Arkady’s father’s estate, stopping to visit Anna along the way, who receives them with disinterest.

Arkady stays with his parents only for a few days before returning to Anna’s place, whereupon he realizes he’s not in love with Anna, but with Katya. At Nikolai’s home, Yevgeny conducts some scientific research, but increasingly comes into conflict with Nikolai. Yevgeny spends more and more time with Fenechka, talking with her and playing with her son, and one afternoon, he kisses her against her will. Pavel sees the kiss. He’s been hiding feelings for Fenechka himself, but is also insulted on his father’s behalf. He challenges Yevgeny to a duel.

During the duel, Pavel’s leg is wounded. Yevgeny is uninjured, but he is forced to leave. He heads back to his parents’ home, but stops at Anna’s estate along the way. There, he learns that Katya and Arkady are hoping to get engaged, but Anna is resistant to granting her permission. Yevgeny convinces her to grant the two permission to marry.

Yevgeny continues on to his parents’ home, where he decides to help his father in his country doctor practice. One day, while performing an autopsy, Yevgeny’s mind wanders and he fails to use proper precautions. He cuts himself, and after his wound becomes infected, he develops blood poisoning. He requests a visit from Anna, who arrives as he’s fading away. Yevgeny tells Anna how beautiful she is, and she kisses him before he dies the next day.

Arkady marries Katya and then assumes control of his father’s estate. Nikolai marries Fenechka, and Pavel moves to Dresden.

Fathers and Sons tackles the growing generational divide between older and younger Russians in the 1830s and 1840s. The book popularized the term “nihilism,” and it was soon widely adopted to describe a new emerging thought process among young people. The novel presents the older generation as get-along-to-get-along types of people, while young people question everything. Cynicism is presented as potentially damaging, whereas humility and appreciation for everyday pleasures can be a route to happiness.

Critics have identified Fathers and Sons as Russian literature’s first modern novel. Its presentation of multiple world views and the complicated divide between generations within families marks the book as having something deeper to say about the human condition than preceding works.

The novel is also noteworthy as being among the first Russian novels to attain literary importance in the Western world.