Friday, September 11, 2009

Fathers and Children discussion: Chapters 11 - 19

Picture source

Approximately the middle third of the book, this section covers Arkady’s and Bazarov’s trips to the town of *** and the Nikolskoe estate, ending as they are about to leave for Bazarov’s parents’ manor. The translation I’m reading is by Michael R. Katz so all quotes will come from his version.

Additional characters introduced in this section:

Victor Sitnikov—friend of Bazarov, going as far as to say he’s a disciple. Intellectual lightweight with no social graces.

Evdoksiya (Avdotya) Kukshina--married, but separated woman in the town of ***. At first it seems like she might be a female Bazarov, but the more you see of her the more you realize the basis for her name (see below) is fitting.

Anna Sergeevna Odintsova--a wealthy widow (age 29). Self-disciplined and reserved, she thrives on order. Her independence has come at a cost, and her reserve masks her feelings not just to others but to herself as well.

Katerina (Katya) Sergeevna Lokteva--Anna’s younger sister. Either 18 or 21 (Turganev gives both ages).

I found the following key or sources of names at the Wellesley College 19th Century Russian Literature course page (and attributed to Thomas P. Hodge). It is humorous to see how the names fit the characters. I’ve changed the site's spelling to match the translation I’m reading:

Arkady: Arcas, son of Zeus and King of Arcadia (which was named after him), a sparsely populated, mountainous region in Central Greece adopted by the poets as a symbol of the quiet, rustic life

Bazarov: (Russ.) bazar = bazaar; also, the noise and commotion attached to it. Also bazarit´/razbazarit´ = to waste one’s time, talent and energy on fruitless pursuits

Kirsanov: (? Russ.) kirasir or cuirassier = a prestigious category of officer in the Napoleonic period (reminiscent of Arkady’s grandfather, the old general)

Odintsova: (Russ.) odin = one, alone, solitary, lonely

Kukshina: (Russ.) kuksha = colloquial term for certain birds of the crow family

Sitnikov: (Russ.) sitnik = a loaf of bread made from sifted flour

Generational struggle
Nikolai laments the distance he feels between him and Arkady. Musing over the difference he thinks “(I)t also seems to me that they’re farther from the truth than we are; but at the same time, I feel they have something we lack, some advantage over us…Youth? No, it’s not only youth.” If true, based on what I have seen so far I would vote for conviction and ignorance. “Perhaps their advantage consists in the fact that there’re fewer traces of gentry mentality left in them than in us?” However, given the behavior of the boors the reader is about to meet, the gentry mentality may be good for something after all.

In this same passage Nikolai bemoans having vainly spent time trying to stay close to Arkady. Hinted at here is the common thread of parenthood of intimately learning about your child as they develop. What I rarely see, and Nikolai has shown no reflection on this so far, is the corollary I have found in fatherhood, namely that you will find out much more about yourself during the process.

While at Evdoksiya’s house, Bazarov bluntly asks “Are there any pretty women around here?”, a seemingly un-Bazarov-like thing to say. Yet it isn’t necessarily a contradiction, as Turgenev points out later. “Bazarov was a great lover of women and feminine beauty, but love in the ideal sense, or, as he expressed it, in the romantic sense, he called rubbish or unforgivable stupidity; he considered chivalrous feelings something akin to deformity or disease…”. For him, women were there to use, and if you didn’t accomplish your goal, move on to the next one. Yet those beliefs fall by the wayside in just a few short weeks.

Bazarov clearly falls under Anna’s spell, just as much or more than Arkady does initially. He tries to mask it with his usual detachment: “What a delectable body!” continued Bazarov. “Perfect for the dissecting table.” But as he falls further in love his anxiety increases, as does his agitation within himself and to others around him.

Some more on Bazarov’s philosophy: “I can tell you it isn’t worth the trouble to study separate individuals. All people resemble each other, in soul as well as body; each one of us has a brain, spleen, heart, and lungs, all made similarly. So-called moral qualities are also shared by everyone: small variations don’t mean a thing. A single human specimen’s sufficient to make judgments about all the rest.” He goes on to declare society’s dysfunction as the cause of an individual’s moral illness.

Some of the contradictions underlying Bazarov’s philosophy are explicitly mentioned in this section: “Bazarov complained, but it was precisely because ‘everything moved along rails’ that he and Arkady lived so comfortably in Odintsova’s house.” He is happy to enjoy the benefits provided by others or those that have gone before him even as he disparages them. Or, as the basis of his philosophy dictates, denies they have anything to offer him.

Bazarov has been an insufferable prick up to his rejection by Odintsova and it is precisely at that point that he could be a likeable character, depending on what he does next. The turmoil within him goes beyond the rejection—his nihilism cannot explain or account for the emotions he feels. Here is something that biology cannot fathom. He has had his legs cut out from underneath him for several reasons and his inability to stand has the potential to yield sympathy.

Changes occur in Arkady in this section, although some are harder to perceive than others. He still follows Bazarov’s lead, rudely leaving Evdoksiya Kukshina’s house or Sitnikov’s carriage for example. His feelings to Katya develop slowly, but they are deeper than his infatuation with Odintsova. The infatuation, however, remains strong and drives a wedge between him and Bazarov as Odintsova clearly prefers the company of his friend. As he spends more time with Katya, he finds they have things in common—things that contradict the clinical coldness of his stated nihilism. “Katya adored nature, and Arkady loved it, though dared not admit it.” Having been Bazarov’s disciple, it will be interesting to see how the differences between them, both in having been infatuated with the same woman as well as Arkady yielding to his emotions about Katya (and apparently accepted), will play out.

Anna Odintsova
Anna’s interest in Bazarov initially begins as curiosity. As I mentioned earlier, her reserve seems to mask what she is truly feeling not just to others but to herself as well. Does she fall in love with Bazarov? It certainly seems that way and she definitely sends him the signals that she has.

While mentally torn as to what to do, she is unable to either make up her mind or act. Bazarov follows her lead, unable to act until she prods him to do so. In letting him know he has misunderstood her, she realizes she does not understand her own feelings, the strength of which also bothers her. There is an outward similarity of character between Anna and Bazarov in their coldness and aloofness but that resemblance masks deep differences. Bazarov is driven by a rigid philosophical purity while Anna chooses certainty and serenity. While both characters feel an emotional turmoil, Bazarov yields to his feelings while Anna attempts to squelch hers in order to return to certainty and safety. “Under the influence of various vague emotions, an awareness of life passing by, a desire for novelty, she’d forced herself to reach a certain point, to look beyond it—and there she glimpsed not even an abyss, but a void…or formless chaos.” Anna was a sympathetic character up to the point of her rejection of Bazarov, and could have been so even after it. Seeing that her idleness and curiosity are the only reasons for leading Bazarov on effectively closes the door on that consideration.

Music plays a role in the novel when Katya plays Mozart’s Sonata-Fantasia in C Minor for Arkady. While the music moves Arkady, the mournful strains reflect his unrequited feelings toward Anna, it also causes him to notice Katya and gives him something to talk about with her. Music also helped set a scene in the previous section when Arkady’s father plays Schubert on the cello (and Bazarov, of course, mocks him).

Pushkin sightings
Echoes of Eugene Onegin are in the following exchange:

“What a splendid woman Anna Sergeevna is,” Eclaimed Arkady, when left alone later with his companion in the room reserved for them.

“Yes,” answered Bazarov, “that lady has a head on her shoulders. And she’s been around as well.”

“In what sense do you mean that, Evgeny Vasilich?”

“In a good sense, my dear boy, Arday Nikolaevich, in a good sense! I’m sure she also does a fine job managing her estate. But she’s not the splendid one—it’s her sister.”

The reasons differ from Onegin’s recommendation of the sister: Bazarov advocates Katya because she is young and malleable, unlike her older sister Anna. He may also want to lessen the competition for Anna (even though she clearly prefers Bazarov).

Turgenev’s descriptions are fun to read and call forth additional images. Try not to think of the puckering word ‘lemon’ when reading about Anna’s aunt:

Anna Sergeevna’s auntie, the Princess Kh., a short slender woman with a face pinched like a fist and nasty, steady eyes under a gray wig, came in. Scarcely greeting the guests, she lowered herself into a large velvet-covered armchair, in which no one else had any right to sit. Katya placed a little bench under her feet; the old woman didn’t thank her and didn’t even glance up; she merely placed her hands underneath the yellow shawl covering almost her entire feeble body. The princess loved the color yellow: she was also wearing a cap with bright yellow ribbons.

At Nikolskoe, after Anna’s rejection of Bazarov comes a little comic relief:

The appearance of mediocrity is sometimes a useful thing in life: it soothes strings that have been stretched too taut and it sobers emotions that have become too self-confident or forgetful, suggesting their own close proximity to the mediocre. With Sitnikov’s arrival everything became somehow duller—and simpler; everyone even ate a heartier supper and toddled off to bed half an hour earlier than usual.


hawk said...

hey there..i have to say.. thanks for this good blog man. i mean any book i read , mostly classics , the characters i want to discuss theyre all here...always.. i mean its good to know they make similar impressions on other people out there.. keep up the good work dude... my recent one was Fathers and Sons... i am so dissatisfied with Anna Odinstova... really... it clouds my sadness for losing Bazarov...

Dwight said...

Glad you're enjoying the blog and it fits in with your reading. I don't intend this to be the final word on the books and definitely encourage anyone to post what they got out of the book, even if contrary to what I post. Again, thanks!

hawk said...

hey any chance you could send me a link or tell me where to find the essay by turgenev, on 'hamlet and don quixote'.. ive heard about it it.. but cant find a text....

Dwight said...

I searched for that essay online and never found it...would love to read it as well!

hawk said...

i got it today... ! through jstor... i can send it through mail if you like... just type your email id... i think its a good translation too...

Dwight said...

Thanks! Just click on my name and the email is in my profile. Greatly appreciated.