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Fathers and Sons, Ivan Turgenev, 1861

Chapter 10

A FORTNIGHT PASSED BY. LIFE AT MARYINO PURSUED ITS NORMAL course, while Arkady luxuriously enjoyed himself and Bazarov worked. Everyone in the house had grown accustomed to Bazarov, to his casual behavior, to his curt and abrupt manner of speaking. Fenichka indeed, felt so much at ease with him that one night she had him awakened; Mitya had been seized by convulsions; Bazarov had gone, half-joking and half-yawning as usual, had sat with her for two hours and relieved the child. On the other hand, Pavel Petrovich had grown to hate Bazarov with all the strength of his soul; he regarded him as conceited, impudent, cynical and vulgar, he suspected that Bazarov had no respect for him, that he all but despised him--him, Pavel Kirsanov! Nikolai Petrovich was rather frightened of the young "Nihilist" and doubted the benefit of his influence on Arkady, but he listened keenly to what he said and was glad to be present during his chemical and scientific experiments. Bazarov had brought a microscope with him and busied himself with it for hours. The servants also took to him, though he made fun of them; they felt that he was more like one of themselves, and not a master. Dunyasha was always ready to giggle with him and used to cast significant sidelong glances at him when she skipped past like a squirrel. Pyotr, who was vain and stupid to the highest degree, with a constant forced frown on his brow, and whose only merit consisted in the fact that he looked polite, could spell out a page of reading and assiduously brushed his coat--even he grinned and brightened up when Bazarov paid any attention to him; the farm boys simply ran after "the doctor" like puppies. Only old Prokovich disliked him; at table he handed him dishes with a grim expression; he called him "butcher" and "upstart" and declared that with his huge whiskers he looked like a pig in a sty. Prokovich in his own way was quite as much of an aristocrat as Pavel Petrovich.

The best days of the year had come--the early June days. The weather was lovely; in the distance, it is true, cholera was threatening, but the inhabitants of that province had grown used to its periodic ravages. Bazarov used to get up very early and walk for two or three miles, not for pleasure--he could not bear walking without an object--but in order to collect specimens of plants and insects. Sometimes he took Arkady with him. On the way home an argument often sprang up, in which Arkady was usually defeated in spite of talking more than his companion.

One day they had stayed out rather late. Nikolai Petrovich had gone into the garden to meet them, and as he reached the arbor he suddenly heard the quick steps and voices of the two young men; they were walking on the other side of the arbor and could not see him.

"You don't know my father well enough," Arkady was saying. "Your father is a good fellow," said Bazarov, "but his day is over; his song has been sung to extinction."

Nikolai Petrovich listened intently . . . Arkady made no reply.

The man whose day was over stood still for a minute or two, then quietly returned to the house.

"The day before yesterday I saw him reading Pushkin," Bazarov went on meanwhile. "Please explain to him how utterly useless that is. After all he's not a boy, it's high time he got rid of such rubbish. And what an idea to be romantic in our times! Give him something sensible to read."

"What should I give him?" asked Arkady.

"Oh, I think Büchner's Stoff und Kraft to start with."

"I think so too," remarked Arkady approvingly. "Stoff und Kraft is written in popular language . . ."

"So it seems," said Nikolai Petrovich the same day after dinner to his brother, as they sat in his study, "you and I are behind the times, our day is over. Well . . . perhaps Bazarov is right; but one thing, I must say, hurts me; I was so hoping just now to get on really close and friendly terms with Arkady, and it turns out that I've lagged behind while he has gone forward, and we simply can't understand one another."

"But how has he gone forward? And in what way is he so different from us?" exclaimed Pavel Petrovich impatiently. "It's that grand seigneur of a nihilist who has knocked such ideas into his head. I loathe that doctor fellow; in my opinion he's nothing but a charlatan; I'm sure that in spite of all his tadpoles he knows precious little even in medicine."

"No, brother, you mustn't say that; Bazarov is clever and knows his subject."

"And so disagreeably conceited," Pavel Petrovich broke in again.

"Yes," observed Nikolai Petrovich, "he is conceited. Evidently one can't manage without it, that's what I failed to take into account. I thought I was doing everything to keep up with the times; I divided the land with the peasants, started a model farm, so that I'm even described as a "Rebel" all over the province; I read, I study, I try in every way to keep abreast of the demands of the day--and they say my day is over. And brother, I really begin to think that it is."

"Why is that?"

"I'll tell you why. I was sitting and reading Pushkin today . . . I remember, it happened to be The Gypsies . . . Suddenly Arkady comes up to me and silently, with such a kind pity in his face, as gently as if I were a baby, takes the book away from me and puts another one in front of me instead . . . a German book . . . smiles and goes out, carrying Pushkin off with him."

"Well, really! What book did he give you?"

"This one."

And Nikolai Petrovich pulled out of his hip pocket the ninth edition of Büchner's well-known treatise.

Pavel Petrovich turned it over in his hands. "Hm!" he growled, "Arkady Nikolayevich is taking your education in hand. Well, have you tried to read it?"

"Yes, I tried."

"What did you think of it?"

"Either I'm stupid, or it's all nonsense. I suppose I must be stupid."

"But you haven't forgotten your German?" asked Pavel Petrovich.

"Oh, I understand the language all right."

Pavel Petrovich again fingered the book and glanced across at his brother. Both were silent.

"Oh, by the way," began Nikolai Petrovich, evidently wanting to change the subject--"I've had a letter from Kolyazin."

"From Matvei Ilyich?"

"Yes. He has come to inspect the province. He's quite a bigwig now, he writes to say that as a relation he wants to see us again, and invites you, me and Arkady to go to stay in the town."

"Are you going?" asked Pavel Petrovich.

"No. Are you?"

"No. I shan't go. What is the sense of dragging oneself forty miles on a wild-goose chase. Mathieu wants to show off to us in all his glory. Let him go to the devil! He'll have the whole province at his feet, so he can get on without us. It's a grand honor--a privy councilor! If I had continued in the service, drudging along in that dreary routine, I should have been a general-adjutant by now. Besides, you and I are behind the times."

"Yes, brother; it seems the time has come to order a coffin, and to cross the arms over one's chest," remarked Nikolai Petrovich with a sigh.

"Well, I shan't give in quite so soon," muttered his brother. "I've got a quarrel with this doctor creature in front of me, I'm sure of that."

The quarrel materialized that very evening at tea. Pavel Petrovich came into the drawing room all keyed up, irritable and determined. He was only waiting for a pretext to pounce upon his enemy, but for some time no such pretext arose. As a rule Bazarov spoke little in the presence of the "old Kirsanovs" (that was what he called the brothers), and that evening he felt in a bad humor and drank cup after cup of tea without saying a word. Pavel Petrovich was burning with impatience; his wishes were fulfilled at last.

The conversation turned to one of the neighboring landowners. "Rotten aristocratic snob," observed Bazarov casually; he had met him in Petersburg.

"Allow me to ask you," began Pavel Petrovich, and his lips were trembling, "do you attach an identical meaning to the words 'rotten' and 'aristocrat'?"

"I said 'aristocratic snob,'" replied Bazarov, lazily swallowing a sip of tea.

"Precisely, but I imagine you hold the same opinion of aristocrats as of aristocratic snobs. I think it my duty to tell you that I do not share that opinion. I venture to say that I am well known to be a man of liberal views and devoted to progress, but for that very reason I respect aristocrats--real aristocrats. Kindly remember, sir," (at these words Bazarov lifted his eyes and looked at Pavel Petrovich) "kindly remember, sir," he repeated sharply, "the English aristocracy. They did not abandon one iota of their rights, and for that reason they respect the rights of others; they demand the fulfillment of what is due to them, and therefore they respect their own duties. The aristocracy gave freedom to England, and they maintain it for her."

"We've heard that story many times; what are you trying to prove by it?"

"I am tryin' to prove by that, sir," (when Pavel Petrovich became angry he intentionally clipped his words, though of course he knew very well that such forms are not strictly grammatical. This whim indicated a survival from the period of Alexander I. The great ones of that time, on the rare occasions when they spoke their own language, made use of such distortions as if seeking to show thereby that though they were genuine Russians, yet at the same time as grands seigneurs they could afford to ignore the grammatical rules of scholars) "I am tryin' to prove by that, sir, that without a sense of personal dignity, without self-respect--and these two feelings are developed in the aristocrat--there is no firm foundation for the social . . . bien public . . . for the social structure. Personal character, my good sir, that is the chief thing; a man's personality must be as strong as a rock since everything else is built up on it. I am well aware, for instance, that you choose to consider my habits, my dress, even my tidiness, ridiculous; but all this comes from a sense of self-respect and of duty--yes, from a sense of duty. I live in the wilds of the country, but I refuse to lower myself. I respect the dignity of man in myself."

"Let me ask you, Pavel Petrovich," muttered Bazarov, "you respect yourself and you sit with folded hands; what sort of benefit is that to the bien public? If you didn't respect yourself, you'd do just the same.

Pavel Petrovich turned pale. "That is quite another question. There is absolutely no need for me to explain to you now why I sit here with folded hands, as you are pleased to express yourself. I wish only to tell you that aristocracy--is a principle, and that only depraved or stupid people can live in our time without principles. I said as much to Arkady the day after he came home, and I repeat it to you now. Isn't that so, Nikolai?"

Nikolai Petrovich nodded his head.

"Aristocracy, liberalism, progress, principles," said Bazarov. "Just think what a lot of foreign . . . and useless words! To a Russian they're no good for anything!"

"What is good for Russians according to you? If we listen to you, we shall find ourselves beyond the pale of humanity, outside human laws. Doesn't the logic of history demand . . ."

"What's the use of that logic to us? We can get along without it."

"What do you mean?"

"Why, this. You don't need logic, I suppose, to put a piece of bread in your mouth when you're hungry. For what do we need those abstractions?"

Pavel Petrovich raised his hands. "I simply don't understand you after all that. You insult the Russian people. I fail to understand how it is possible not to acknowledge principles, rules! By virtue of what can you act?"

"I already told you, uncle dear, that we don't recognize any authorities," interposed Arkady.

"We act by virtue of what we recognize as useful," went on Bazarov. "At present the most useful thing is denial, so we deny--"



"What? Not only art, poetry . . . but . . . the thought is appalling . . ."

"Everything," repeated Bazarov with indescribable composure.

Pavel Petrovich stared at him. He had not expected this, and Arkady even blushed with satisfaction.

"But allow me," began Nikolai Petrovich. "You deny everything, or to put it more precisely, you destroy everything . . . But one must construct, too, you know."

"That is not our business . . . we must first clear the ground."

"The present condition of the people demands it," added Arkady rather sententiously; "we must fulfill those demands, we have no right to yield to the satisfaction of personal egotism."

That last phrase obviously displeased Bazarov; it smacked of philosophy, or romanticism, for Bazarov called philosophy a kind of romanticism--but he did not judge it necessary to correct his young disciple.

"No, no!" cried Pavel Petrovich with sudden vehemence. "I can't believe that you young men really know the Russian people, that you represent their needs and aspirations! No, the Russian people are not what you imagine them to be. They hold tradition sacred, they are a patriarchal people, they cannot live without faith . . ."

"I'm not going to argue with you," interrupted Bazarov. "I'm even ready to agree that there you are right."

"And if I am right . . ."

"It proves nothing, all the same."

"Exactly, it proves nothing," repeated Arkady with the assurance of an experienced chess player who, having foreseen an apparently dangerous move on the part of his adversary, is not in the least put out by it.

"How can it prove nothing?" mumbled Pavel Petrovich in consternation. "In that case you must be going against your own people."

"And what if we are?" exclaimed Bazarov. "The people imagine that when it thunders the prophet Ilya is riding across the sky in his chariot. What then? Are we to agree with them? Besides, if they are Russian, so am I."

"No, you are not a Russian after what you have said. I can't admit you have any right to call yourself a Russian."

"My grandfather ploughed the land," answered Bazarov with haughty pride. "Ask any one of your peasants which of us--you or me--he would more readily acknowledge as a fellow countryman. You don't even know how to talk to them."

"While you talk to them and despise them at the same time."

"What of that, if they deserve contempt! You find fault with my point of view, but what makes you think it came into being by chance, that it's not a product of that very national spirit which you are championing?"

"What an idea! How can we need nihilists?"

"Whether they are needed or not--is not for us to decide. Why, even you imagine you're not a useless person."

"Gentlemen, gentlemen, no personalities, please!" cried Nikolai Petrovich, getting up.

Pavel Petrovich smiled, and laying his hand on his brother's shoulder, made him sit down again.

"Don't be alarmed," he said, "I shan't forget myself, thanks to that sense of dignity which is so cruelly ridiculed by our friend--our friend, the doctor. Allow me to point out," he resumed, turning again to Bazarov, "you probably think that your doctrine is a novelty? That is an illusion of yours. The materialism which you preach, was more than once in vogue before and has always proved inadequate . . . ."

"Yet another foreign word!" broke in Bazarov. He was beginning to feel angry and his face looked peculiarly copper-colored and coarse. "In the first place, we preach nothing; that's not in our line . . ."

"What do you do, then?"

"This is what we do. Not long ago we used to say that our officials took bribes, that we had no roads, no commerce, no real justice. . . ."

"Oh, I see, you are reformers--that's the right name, I think. I, too, should agree with many of your reforms, but . . ."

"Then we suspected that talk and only talk about our social diseases was not worth while, that it led to nothing but hypocrisy and pedantry; we saw that our leading men, our so-called advanced people and reformers, are worthless; that we busy ourselves with rubbish, talk nonsense about art, about unconscious creation, parliamentarianism, trial by jury, and the devil knows what--when the real question is daily bread, when the grossest superstitions are stifling us, when all our business enterprises crash simply because there aren't enough honest men to carry them on, while the very emancipation which our government is struggling to organize will hardly come to any good, because our peasant is happy to rob even himself so long as he can get drunk at the pub."

"Yes," broke in Pavel Petrovich, "indeed, you were convinced of all this and you therefore decided to undertake nothing serious yourselves."

"We decided to undertake nothing," repeated Bazarov grimly. He suddenly felt annoyed with himself for having been so expansive in front of this gentleman.

"But to confine yourselves to abuse."

"To confine ourselves to abuse."

"And that is called nihilism?"

"And that is called nihilism," Bazarov repeated again, this time in a particularly insolent tone.

Pavel Petrovich screwed up his eyes a little. "So that's it," he murmured in a strangely composed voice. "Nihilism is to cure all our woes, and you--you are our saviors and heroes. Very well--but why do you find fault with others, including the reformers? Don't you do as much talking as anyone else?"

"Whatever faults we may have, that is not one of them," muttered Bazarov between his teeth.

"What then, do you act? Are you preparing for action?"

Bazarov made no reply. A tremor passed through Pavel Petrovich, but he at once regained control of himself.

"Hm!. . . Action, destruction . . ." he went on. "But how can you destroy without even knowing why?"

"We shall destroy because we are a force," remarked Arkady.

Pavel Petrovich looked at his nephew and laughed.

"Yes, a force can't be called to account for itself," said Arkady, drawing himself up.

"Unhappy boy," groaned Pavel Petrovich, who could no longer maintain his show of firmness. "Can't you realize the kind of thing you are encouraging in Russia with your shallow doctrine! No, it's enough to try the patience of an angel! Force! There's force in the savage Kalmuk, in the Mongol, but what is that to us? What is dear to us is civilization, yes, yes, my good sir, its fruits are precious to us. And don't you tell me these fruits are worthless; the poorest dauber, un barbouilleur, the man who plays dance music for five farthings an evening, even they are of more use than you because they stand for civilization and not for brute Mongolian force! You fancy yourselves as advanced people, and yet you're only fit for the Kalmuk's dirty hovel! Force! And remember, you forceful gentlemen, that you're only four men and a half, and the others--are millions, who won't let you trample their sacred beliefs under foot, but will crush you instead!"

"If we're crushed, that's in store for us," said Bazarov. "But it's an open question. We're not so few as you suppose."

"What? You seriously suppose you can set yourself up against a whole people?"

"All Moscow was burnt down, you know, by a penny candle," answered Bazarov.

"Indeed! First comes an almost Satanic pride, then cynical jeers--so that is what attracts the young, what takes by storm the inexperienced hearts of boys! Here is one of them sitting beside you, ready to worship the ground beneath your feet. Look at him. (Arkady turned aside and frowned.) And this plague has already spread far and wide. I am told that in Rome our artists don't even enter the Vatican. Raphael they regard as a fool, because, of course, he is an authority; and these artists are themselves disgustingly sterile and weak, men whose imagination can soar no higher than Girls at a Fountain--and even the girls are abominably drawn! They are fine fellows in your view, I suppose?"

"To my mind," retorted Bazarov, "Raphael isn't worth a brass farthing, and they're no better than he."

"Bravo, bravo! Listen, Arkady . . . that is how modern young men should express themselves! And if you come to think of it, they're bound to follow you. Formerly young men had to study. If they didn't want to be called fools they had to work hard whether they liked it or not. But now they need only say 'Everything in the world is rubbish!' and the trick is done. Young men are delighted. And, to be sure, they were only sheep before, but now they have suddenly turned into Nihilists."

"You have departed from your praiseworthy sense of personal dignity," remarked Bazarov phlegmatically, while Arkady had turned hot all over and his eyes were flashing. "Our argument has gone too far . . . better cut it short, I think. I shall be quite ready to agree with you," he added, getting up, "when you can show me a single institution in our present mode of life, in the family or in society, which does not call for complete and ruthless destruction."

"I can show you millions of such institutions!" cried Pavel Petrovich--"millions! Well, take the commune, for instance."

A cold smile distorted Bazarov's lips. "Well, you had better talk to your brother about the commune. I should think he has seen by now what the commune is like in reality--its mutual guarantees, its sobriety and suchlike."

"Well, the family, the family as it exists among our peasants," cried Pavel Petrovich.

"On that subject, too, I think it will be better for you not to enter into too much detail. You know how the head of the family chooses his daughters-in-law? Take my advice, Pavel Petrovich, allow yourself a day or two to think it all over; you'll hardly find anything straight away. Go through the various classes of our society and examine them carefully, meanwhile Arkady and I will----"

"Will go on abusing everything," broke in Pavel Petrovich.

"No, we will go on dissecting frogs. Come, Arkady; good-by for the present, gentlemen!"

The two friends walked off. The brothers were left alone and at first only looked at each other.

"So that," began Pavel Petrovich, "that is our modern youth! Those young men are our heirs!"

"Our heirs!" repeated Nikolai Petrovich with a weary smile. He had been sitting as if on thorns throughout the argument, and only from time to time cast a sad furtive glance at Arkady. "Do you know what I was reminded of, brother? I once quarreled with our mother; she shouted and wouldn't listen to me. At last I said to her, 'Of course you can't understand me; we belong to two different generations.' She was terribly offended, but I thought, 'It can't be helped--a bitter pill, but she has to swallow it.' So now our turn has come, and our successors can tell us: 'You don't belong to our generation; swallow your pill.'"

"You are much too generous and modest," replied Pavel Petrovich. "I'm convinced, on the contrary, that you and I are far more in the right than these young gentlemen, although perhaps we express ourselves in more old-fashioned language--vieilli--and are not so insolently conceited . . . and the airs these young people give themselves! You ask one 'Would you like white wine or red?' 'It is my custom to prefer red,' he answers in a deep voice and with a face as solemn as if the whole world were looking at him that moment . . ."

"Do you want any more tea?" asked Fenichka, putting her head in at the door; she had not wanted to come into the drawing room while the noisy dispute was going on.

"No, you can tell them to take away the samovar," answered Nikolai Petrovich, and he got up to meet her. Pavel Petrovich said "bonsoir" to him abruptly, and went to his own study.


Büchner's Stoff und Kraft: Matter and Force, 1855 book by Ludwig Büchner, not actually translated into Russian until 1860.

bonsoir: French, good night.

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