Places: Fathers and Sons

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: Ottsy i deti, 1862 (English translation, 1867)

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Social realism

Time of work: 1859

Places DiscussedMarino

Marino. Fathers and SonsFamily estate of the Russian gentleman Nikolai Kirsanov that is the first of four main settings in which the novel unfolds. Modeled upon Spasskoe, Ivan Turgenev’s family estate in Orel, it is the place where Arkady Kirsanov grows up, returns after earning a university degree, and finally chooses to settle in order to raise a family and to assist his father in transforming their five thousand acres into a profitable “farm” that will benefit the peasants who work their property.

The novel begins in May of 1859, when the recently graduated Arkady and his “uncivil” nihilist friend, Yevgeny Bazarov, arrive at Marino, which to Arkady’s discomfort, is in disarray. As such, it epitomizes so many estates throughout Russia that are owned by ineffectual nobles whose time has passed. Bazarov represents a defiant new force with which the Kirsanovs must contend, given that he rejects all that Marino symbolizes in the way of antiquated aristocracy and romantic idealism.

During his second visit to Marino, weeks later, Bazarov becomes involved in a farcical duel with Pavel Kirsanov, Arkady’s aristocratic uncle. Bazarov shoots Pavel in the leg, tends his wound, and then leaves the estate. Metaphorically, the inconclusive rifts that are played out at Marino suggest that neither the liberal generation of the 1830’s and 1840’s (the fathers) nor the radical generation of the 1850’s and 1860’s (the sons) has achieved an ideological victory that will benefit Russia in its immediate future.

Provincial capital

Provincial capital. Unnamed city to which Arkady and Bazarov journey after spending two weeks at Marino. There, they stay for a period of six days, during which time they encounter an assortment of vain government bureaucrats, revolutionary poseurs, and emancipated women intellectualizing about human rights while puffing on cigars. Scenes such as those at the governor’s ball testify to centuries of uncompromising patriarchal conventions. The provincial capital embodies the political life of the province, dominated at the time by the intellectual split between Westerners and Slavophiles–between those who look to Western Europe for models of progress and those who look to Russia to carve its own unique national identity. Literally and figuratively, Arkady and Bazarov remain strangers to city life.


Nikolskoe (ni-KOHL-ska). Estate belonging to the twenty-nine-year-old widow Anna Odintzov, whom Turgenev describes as representative of idle, dreaming, cold, gentry ladies. She resides in an elegantly furnished Alexandrine-style manor house (a style then popular in Moscow) that showcases her penchant for luxury and order. While at Nikolskoe, Arkady becomes drawn to Katya, Anna’s younger sister, and Bazarov unexpectedly falls in love with Anna. After enticing Bazarov to fall in love with her, Madame Odintzov retreats into her fashionable but listless surroundings, preferring her life of organized precision to any challenges posed by a loving a man who rejects social conventions. After his duel with Pavel Kirsanov, Bazarov revisits Nikolskoe, wanting to take a last look at the place where he has been pulled under by an emotion that he cannot explain to himself.

Bazarov estate

Bazarov estate (ba-ZAR-rof). Small estate belonging to Bazarov’s doting mother. Bazarov’s father, a retired army doctor turned agronomist, has decorated their plain six-room wooden house with an assortment of military weapons and anatomical drawings; his material belongings reflect his life. After being infected by love, Bazarov first ventures home, with Arkady in tow, to lose himself in his work. However, parental sentimentality and ennui soon overwhelm him. One afternoon, while he is watching an ant labor in the shadow of a towering haystack, he feels deeply nature’s indifference to human struggle. He later deliberately courts death after cutting his finger while performing an autopsy on a corpse and neglecting to cauterize the wound. Infected with typhus, he dies.

Village cemetery

Village cemetery. Remote corner of the Russian countryside in which Bazarov is buried. It is described as a “sorry sight” of overgrown ditches and rotting wooden crosses. Bazarov’s aggressive challenges to conventional thinking seemingly are buried with him in his grave.

BibliographyCostlow, Jane T. Worlds Within Worlds: The Novels of Ivan Turgenev. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1990. Presents the concept that Turgenev’s fourth novel focuses on the structures of human lives, especially on the sense of place. It is also an ideological work dealing with the years in Russia before the 1861 emancipation of the serfs. Turgenev’s social resolve is bolstered by his psychological perceptions.Freeborn, Richard. Turgenev: The Novelist’s Novelist. London: Oxford University Press, 1960. Chapter 5, “Four Great Novels,” explores how Turgenev assimilated the short story form into the novel. The figure of the hero unifies the novel and establishes the tradition of organic form in Russian literature.Knowles, A. V. Ivan Turgenev. Boston: Twayne, 1988. The novel reflects Turgenev’s keen interest in politics and his abhorrence of violence. Studies the time frame and construction of the novel, emphasizing its logical progress and sense of inevitability. Also explores character development and theme.Lowe, David A., ed. Critical Essays on Ivan Turgenev. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1989. Lowe’s “Comedy and Tragedy in Fathers and Sons” suggests the novel’s structure is determined by a sequence of trips and a set of confrontations which contribute to its dualism–two parallel but contrasting patterns of tragedy and comedy. Some discussion of other critical readings of the novel are included.Ripp, Victor. Turgenev’s Russia: From “Notes of a Hunter” to “Fathers and Sons.” Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1980. Discusses the novel in the light of the Emancipation Act, the contemporary reaction to Turgenev’s treatment of his hero, and his impact on his successors. Bazarov absorbs politics into psychology. The novel also develops the theme of a home away from the corrupt world.
Categories: Places