Thursday, March 13, 2008

Fathers and Sons

Somehow, have not spent much time on this blog for a few days - mainly because of work, and also because my blogging time window was devoured by the two posts I wrote on my travel blog. I have not really read much in the last few days (Inching away with Eichmann in Jerusalem, which is quite full of information and ideas that it gets exhaustive), and my mind is too blank for thought!
I read Turgenev sometime back, with his most illustrious Fathers and Sons - I had read this book partly years ago as a school-kid, and school kids are not the best judges of books I must say.

In this reading I was quite impressed with the book. It is a little bit of a relief to read the love stories from these old Russian writers, even if most of their loves are tragic and pathetic and marred by a vague discontent (which is perhaps a most fitting treatment of this virtue). But at least they talk of love, which seems to be a kind of disease many illustrious author are keen to shy away from. I found this work from Turgenev to be essentially a love story too, though it played a wider canvas by slighting that romanticism, often being ashamed of it too like the modern writer, but eventually surrendering to emotion.

It is a riveting work, ever engaging and spreading out the futility of both a complete rejection and a thoughtless liberalism. With dexterity, Turgenev is able to mock an allegiance to either school, even though it appears that his sympathy lies with the old order, because he gives it a more human color as compared to the almost ridiculous shade granted to the new order in form of Bazarov and a half hearted Arkady. Personally, though I would be more biased towards nihilism than towards the well-manicured ostentatious existence of Pavel Petrovich, I thank God that these are not my only two choices!Adopting Nihilism is like adopting despondence for life, and really, I look terrible with a frown or any sort of perpetually serious expression. :) I would rather be a skeptic.

Though I hate to put a gender color to any work, I did feel that this work was almost exclusively a male work. The women were all in plain shades - either timid and superstitious devotees like Bazarov's mother, or calculating and capricious like Anna Odintsov. Turgenev refused to give them any hues which he awarded the men who were allowed to experience different emotions - feel strong or foolish, get bored or fight ridiculous duels. But then, the work is called "Fathers and Sons" - and makes no claims to feminism.
I plan to follow up this one with Dead Souls soon - striving for a completion of the 'Modern Russian literature' course with my recent reading of Dostoevsky.

5 comments:

Kubla Khan said...

Hi

You write that this is basically a "love story" and that "the women are shown plainly"!

i would suggest a re-appraisal. this is not fundamentally a story of love but of a clash of ideals and ideas. the war of the aesthetic against the realistic, dominant reality of that Russia( perhaps unchanged even now)
this novel is a fore-runner of other novels, with Bazarov clearly Ivan karamazov's inspiration. where Turgenev differs from his contemporaries was his European or continental disposition or world view. Dostoevesky was slavophilic, and his solutions mostly russian.

you complain of the feminist angle.......Turgenev was quite conscious of that and painted the most realistic picture of those times. the pathos and suffering of Bazarov's parents is quite poignant with his mother clearly more sensible, more realistic and stronger than her husband.

alltogether, turgenev was a writer who painted with words and this on its own, is a true masterpiece.
i suggest reading his novel "smoke" if you have not done so already.
cheers

Madhuri said...

Hi Kubla Khan - the clash of ideas is definitely at the center of this book, and that's what I had expected to read when I picked it up. However I felt that a significant stage has been given to love and emotion, perhaps more than this clash. Eventually, it is love that the book ends in; in stead of a difference of belief. Even those beliefs are wound up around the finger of love.
As for the women - may be the women of Russia find representation here - but their representation is straight-jacketed. While the men in the book experience different and conflicting emotions, the woman seem to very 'in-place'

Kubla Khan said...

Bazarov is not like Ivan Karamazov. turgenev did not espouse or want a violent convulsion in russia. dostoevky had a mystic love for russia. the difference between bazarov and thus the stage, as you call it, for love in this novel, is not his weak nihilism, but his studied approach towards it. he might despise the aristocracy but he does not want violence.he is debating things, he is not sure, he thinks, he falls, he loves, he dies.

not till karamazov decided for a violent breach do we find a change, carried on in the devils. even ivan, if i remember, was in love. all russian revolutionaries are always in love.

it is important to view a writer in his entire oeuvre and fathers and sons is turgenev's best but not the only great work.it is the very nature of the place things deserve that turgenev and dostoevsky had a famous rupture.

ciao

Madhuri said...

'it is important to view a writer in his entire oeuvre'
Definitely agree with you and thus am thankful for your suggestion of 'Smoke' - I was already researching on which of his works to read next.

S said...

Interesting book. Thanks for the introduction.