A reader's guide to Fathers And Sons

Updated Sunday, 1st May 2005
Ivan Turgenev's classic 1862 novel Fathers And Sons sparked a significant shift from plot to character.

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After discussing a couple of Birmingham-based books, The Rotters’ Club and Astonishing Splashes of Colour, we are now off to Russia to explore Ivan Turgenev’s classic novel Fathers and Sons. We’re a versatile bunch on the Forum!

This text was published in 1862, one year after the emancipation of the serfs, but it is actually set in 1859. At that crucial time of transition, landowners were being encouraged to prepare for reform. The historical context is important, because Turgenev deals with a key turning-point in history and ‘Fathers and Sons’ tends to be categorized as a realist novel. Nevertheless the book also has a timeless significance and universal application, as the author conveys the debate and conflict between the young generation and the old.

Ivan Turgenev and Russian writers
Ivan Turgenev (front row, second from the left), alongside Leo Tolstoy and other Russian writers

Perhaps the characters seem ‘real’ because Turgenev had a habit of basing them on people he knew or met. They were therefore ‘discovered’ rather than being ‘invented’. For example, Bazarov was inspired by a country doctor encountered on a train journey. Beyond that, however, Turgenev was also fascinated by characters as ‘types’, as representative figures. Bazarov is more than just a character; he also symbolizes a new breed of human being with particular views about life.

As the realist novel developed in the nineteenth century, there was a marked shift in emphasis from plot to character. In Fathers and Sons the plot is minimal, because the prime concern is with ideology and the clash between young and old. Incidentally, if you are looking for a particular ‘angle’ to focus on you may find the contrasting female figures interesting!

 

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