Character Analysis in Fathers and Sons
Arkady Nikolaevich Kirsanov: One of the two main characters of the novel, Arkady is a recent graduate of the University of St. Petersburg. He returns home to his father Nikolai’s estate. While Arkady is a kind, thoughtful young man, he surprises his family by bringing with him his rough, rude friend Bazarov. Bazarov has turned Arkady onto the philosophy of nihilism, a change that baffles Arkady’s father, Nikolai. As the two young men argue about philosophy and politics over the course of the novel, it becomes clear that Arkady is at least as intelligent and eloquent as Bazarov, but much meeker. Eventually, Arkady discovers that nihilism does not suit him because his temperament is more easy-going: he appreciates nature, family, and tradition.
Evgenii Vasilievitch Bazarov: Bazarov is the most distinctive character in Fathers and Sons and represents an anti-hero of sorts. Bazarov is intense, domineering, rigid, and rude. He is also darkly charismatic, drawing attention with his grand presence and contrary ideas. In the rural world of the Kirsanov estate, Bazarov stands out for his new nihilistic philosophy. It becomes apparent that Bazarov promotes nihilism to a large degree because it suits his personality. Bazarov relishes his role as a naysayer. Nihilism also offers Bazarov a way to frame the existential questioning he undertakes in the novel, an experience common to young adults. On the surface, Bazarov is representative of a new ideology. Below the surface, he is a confused young man struggling to find his bearing in the world. We can see nihilism as a tool with which Bazarov separates himself from his parents, a difficult step every young adult takes.
Nikolai Petrovitch Kirsanov: Nikolai Kirsanov is Arkady’s father. Approaching middle age and living in the country, Nikolai worries that he is losing touch with the ideas and events of the day. When Arkady and Bazarov arrive at his estate, Nikolai is astonished by the new nihilistic philosophy the two young men espouse. Like Arkady, Nikolai is a malleable man, receptive to the ideas and opinions of others. As a romantic and a man of traditional values, however, he is troubled by nihilism.
Paul Petrovitch Kirsanov: Paul Kirsanov—“Pavel” in other translations—is Nikolai’s older brother. Paul is a former military man and a middle-aged bachelor. Paul matches Bazarov in vanity, intensity of temperament, and roughness of manner. Despite, or perhaps because of, their similar personalities, Paul and Bazarov clash from the start of the novel. As a proponent of aristocratic values and principles, Paul immediately detests Bazarov’s nihilism. Paul’s defining wound is the failed love affair that scarred him in his younger years.
Anna Sergievna Odintsova: Anna Sergievna is an independent young woman who lives in the neighboring province from Maryino, Nikolai’s estate. Arkady and Bazarov meet Anna at a dance and the two men quickly fall in love with her. Anna takes a fancy to Bazarov and invites both men to stay at her estate. Anna is elegant, intelligent, and charming but aloof. When Bazarov finally expresses his love for her, she recedes from his affections. Orphaned as a small child, Anna struggles to trust the world around her.
Character Analysis Examples in Fathers and Sons:
Chapter I 6
"Arkasha, Arkasha!..." See in text (Chapter I)
The Russian language affords many different forms of names, and each style takes on various qualities depending on the suffix attached. In this case, taking “Arkady” and changing it to “Arkasha” softens the name and makes it more endearing, much in the same way that “Daniel” can become “Danny.” This also provides further evidence for the closeness of the relationship between father and son.
"Nikolai Petrovitch sank into a reverie..." See in text (Chapter I)
While at the end of the preceding paragraph Hogarth included the pronoun "we," here he chose to omit it from the original. Turgenev's use of these inclusive pronouns add to a particular style of storytelling; it's as if the narrator were directly sharing these events to us over a meal or around a fire. The original line here says "Our Nikolai Petrovich started musing" (Замечтался наш Николай Петрович). This not only pulls us deeper into the story, but it ascribes a caring quality to this character and endears him to us even more.
"in Nikolai's own footsteps..." See in text (Chapter I)
This expression means that Arkady followed the same path as his father. So, we learn that not only did Arkady go to the same university as his father, but he also took up the same studies. This further reinforces the closeness between father and son prior to their meeting in the current time.
"but spent the greater part of his time in endeavouring to fraternise with his son's youthful acquaintances..." See in text (Chapter I)
We see here at Nikolai Petrovich not only stayed in St. Petersburg to educate himself but also spent the majority of his time in the company of his son and his son’s friends. This shows the closeness between father and son, and it also sets up the tension between them since his son is returning from his last year in the capital—which he didn’t spend with his father. They haven’t seen each other in quite some time and much may have changed.
"he took up the subject of Industrial Reform..." See in text (Chapter I)
Referring to this as “Industrial Reform” is not a completely accurate translation. The original Russian says that Nikolai busied himself with economic reforms (занялся хозяйственными преобразованиями). Recall that this story is set a few years before Tsar Alexander II emancipated the serfs. These reforms then refer to the progressive agenda of redesigning work on Russian estates, business, and the economy in general. So, Nikolai Petrovich is actually portrayed as being far more forward thinking than readers might have initially assumed because he has implemented many of these changes.
"in a supercilious manner..." See in text (Chapter I)
The way the servant looks down the road reveals part of his character. The original Russian word is снисходительно (sniskhoditel’no) which translates to “condescendingly.” The adjective “supercilious” is synonymous in meaning, so we learn that this servant considers himself superior to the task at hand, and he won’t make more effort than is necessary.
Chapter II 3
"you will not find time hang heavy upon your hands..." See in text (Chapter II)
The original Russian directly translates to “I hope, Evgenii Vasiliev, that you will not be bored with us” (Надеюсь, любезнейший Евгений Васильич, что вы не соскучитесь у нас). Hogarth has instead used this idiom to possibly add a bit of a country flair to the dialogue, showing that Nikolai Petrovich is more of a country gentleman and prone to using flowery language.
"Evgenii Vasiliev..." See in text (Chapter II)
While it is not possible to notice, except for one detail, in English, the Russian shows that Nikolai Petrovich does not say Bazarov’s name in the same way that Bazarov introduces himself. Bazarov says “Evgenii Vasiliev” (Евгений Васильев) and Nikolai Petrovich says “Evgenii Vasilich” (Евгений Васильич). The difference is small, but Nikolai Petrovich is using the traditional patronymic form here. Notice that in the next paragraph Bazarov’s lips twitch, just barely indicating his displeasure, likely for this difference.
"replied the other in slow, but virile, accents..." See in text (Chapter II)
Turgenev's description of how Bazarov says his first words establishes much about his character. Instead of "slow," the original Russian uses the word "ленивый" (leniviy, or "lazy"). The use of "virile" is appropriate, and the general image of Bazarov conveyed by these word choices is one who possesses power but cares little for what is going on around him. Notice how laziness, which manifests as contempt, tends to characterize Bazarov and reinforce his views of the world.
Chapter III 9
"Yet, even as the thought passed through his mind, Spring seemed once more to regain possession of her kingdom, and everything around him grew golden-green..." See in text (Chapter III)
This passage illustrates the central tension of Arkady’s inner life. Part of Arkady wishes to appeal to Bazarov’s rational, utilitarian understanding of the world. It is from this angle that Arkady coldly looks upon the landscape of his childhood, preaching about educational reform. Then his romantic side takes over and “Spring seemed once more to regain possession of her kingdom.” The following paragraph is a rhapsodic vision of the landscape, bursting with soulfulness and vivacity. Arkady cannot deny for long his delight in beauty and nature, values he shares with his father. Throughout the novel, Arkady continues this inner struggle between romanticism and nihilism.
""Why is he making these excuses?"..." See in text (Chapter III)
While the quotation marks make this look like dialogue, context is important to understand that this question is thought and not said aloud. Turgenev uses a third-person omniscient point of view, and so readers are privy to the internal thoughts and feelings of characters. Here, we can see Arkady’s mixed reaction to his father’s self-reproach: he is both concerned for his father and feels a sense of having grown up.
"whom you will have heard me speak of..." See in text (Chapter III)
Nikolai prefers to not use Thenichka’s name, and he blushes when Arkady says it. This phrase is an example of how Nikolai’s behavior is informed by his polite, conventional, and aristocratic upbringing: his aversion to saying her name suggests that she is not of the same social class and he wishes to avoid a scandal.
"But no significance can attach to the place of a man's birth, Papa...." See in text (Chapter III)
Nikolai has just agreed with Arkady’s observation of the surrounding area, suggesting that Arkady’s having been born in such a place means that he has a connection to the land. Having just fallen into silence after noticing the beauty of the area, Arkady reacts against his father’s suggestion by saying that such a romantic notion has no bearing on the circumstances of one’s birth. Nikolai’s confusion and the stilted conversation that follows shows how the two have grown apart since their last meeting.
"He is altogether superior to such things...." See in text (Chapter III)
Nikolai is concerned that Bazarov might judge him for allowing a servant such as Thenichka to stay in the house. In polite society, such an arrangement would be considered improper. Arkady assures Nikolai that Bazarov is above such matters of social propriety and would not concern himself, let alone cast judgment.
"as the functionary in question was one of the old school which takes no share in the modern movement, he stirred not a muscle of his face...." See in text (Chapter III)
Peter is a member of the modern working class and possesses an interest in advancing his social status. As a result, he looks down on “old school” working-class people who enjoy frequenting the tavern, an activity which Peter judges harshly. Peter attempts to elicit a nod of agreement from the coachman, but finds the man to be one of the “old school” servants he has just insulted.
"threw a glance of apprehension in the direction of the tarantass..." See in text (Chapter III)
Notice that prior to this line, Arkady rejoiced in the atmosphere around the villa, pointing out the beauty of the sky and the smell of the air. That he abruptly stops and looks towards the tarantass, in which Bazarov is seated, suggests that Arkady’s behavior in this moment would not be acceptable to his friend. This tension between Arkady’s love for traditional country life and Bazarov’s views persists throughout the story.
"pray humour him in every way you can..." See in text (Chapter III)
When used as a verb, the word “humor” means to accommodate someone’s particular mood or attitude. In a sense, Arkady is asking his father to ensure that Bazarov enjoys himself. The second sentence also suggests that Arkady wants his father to respect Bazarov’s wishes as he would Arkady’s, which emphasizes how valuable a friend Bazarov is to Arkady.
"he also felt conscious of an instinct that the conversation were best diverted from the emotional to the prosaic..." See in text (Chapter III)
Since we know that Arkady is with his father and his friend Bazarov, we can infer that this instinct to divert the conversation to more practical topics is due to the presence of Bazarov. This suggests that Arkady greatly values Bazarov’s opinions and that emotional matters are not things to be oft discussed.
Chapter IV 15
"for no apparent reason, tripped over his own feet..." See in text (Chapter IV)
Readers should treat details like this as important, no matter how insignificant they may seem. That Nikolai trips over his feet “for no apparent reason” actually suggests that there is something unstable occurring within him. We have seen how he and his son are experiencing tension, so this moment of unsure footing likely represents the confusion taking place within Nikolai’s mind.
"Ah, you elderly Romanticists!..." See in text (Chapter IV)
Bazarov identifies Nikolai as a “romanticist.” Romanticism was a literary, artistic, and intellectual movement in the first half of the 19th century. Romantics—or romanticists—emphasize emotion, intuition, and aesthetic experience over the rationality emphasized by the Enlightenment. Romantics such as Nikolai value emotional and aesthetic reactions, exemplified by Nikolai’s spontaneous recitation of Pushkin when beholding the spring landscape.
"for though he may read foolish poetry..." See in text (Chapter IV)
Bazarov recalls Nikolai’s recitation of Pushkin in the previous chapter as a point of analysis in judging the man’s character. By Bazarov’s estimation, Nikolai’s love for poetry is a detriment to his personality. Nonetheless, Bazarov claims to hold Nikolai in high esteem, calling him “excellent.”
"Yet such things can come to look ridiculous, do not you think?..." See in text (Chapter IV)
The distaste between Bazarov and Paul is mutual. Because Bazarov is unfamiliar with the social fabric of Marino and the relationships between the members of Arkady’s family, he treads lightly at first. Only after praising Paul’s marvelous dress and “perfectly shaven” chin does he turn and call them ridiculous. It is a backhanded compliment.
"At all events, there is no one here for him to enslave...." See in text (Chapter IV)
Bazarov’s comment is clever and carries multiple meanings. In the context of Paul’s past status as a highly desired man, Bazarov means that Paul can no longer “enslave” women with his looks and charm. In the context of land ownership, Paul does not “enslave” anyone in the sense that he does not own land or control peasants to the degree that Nikolai does.
"Yes, many and many a woman has lost her head over his good looks...." See in text (Chapter IV)
Once again, Paul’s identity is defined by his past. Arkady presents Paul’s virtues in terms of his former glories—namely his once-famous looks, status and his once-promising military career. While these virtues are sufficient to garner Arkady’s adulation, Bazarov is unimpressed.
"they represent 'progress.'"..." See in text (Chapter IV)
That Bazarov claims the English washstands represent progress is important. Among the rise of socialists, nihilists, and other educated liberals at this time, there was a common perception in Russia that Western Europe was the home of advanced progress and civilized society. For Bazarov, Russian goods and systems represent backward views and modes of living.
"carefully avoided the use of the term "Papasha," and, once, even went so far as to substitute for it the term "Otety"..." See in text (Chapter IV)
“Papasha” is a term of endearment, a variation on “father.” The equivalent word in English would be “daddy” or “dear papa.” In his desire for adulthood and independence, Arkady wishes to refrain from using the word he would have used as a boy. Arkady even tries to use “Otety,” a formal variation of “father” to further distinguish himself as an adult.
"he was conscious of a touch of that awkwardness which overtakes a young man when, just ceased to be a boy, he returns to the spot where hitherto he has ranked as a mere child..." See in text (Chapter IV)
This passage introduces a crucial aspect of Arkady’s development in Fathers and Sons. In many ways, Arkady’s character arc is a coming-of-age narrative. He desires to stand as an equal among his father, his uncle and Bazarov. Throughout the story, Arkady undergoes a series of internal changes as he seeks an adult identity for himself.
"Je pense que notre Arkady s'est dégourdi...." See in text (Chapter IV)
Je pense que notre Arkady s’est degourdi = [French] “I think that our Arkady has acquired some polish.”
The French verb dégourdir literally means “to stretch.” As an adjective, however, dégourdi means “intelligent.” Because Paul uses the verb reflexively, the idea is that Arkady has cultivated himself, has stretched himself and become intelligent. By speaking in French, Paul is expressing this message of cultivation in a cultivated manner.
""A long-haired fellow like that?"..." See in text (Chapter IV)
Paul is surprised that Bazarov is a house guest due to the young man’s appearance. On the matter of formalities, Paul and Bazarov are opposites. Paul exemplifies the country gentleman and pours much attention into his grooming. Bazarov deems such care ridiculous and, later in the scene, returns the insult behind Paul’s back.
"Inclining his supple figure with a faint smile, Paul Petrovitch this time did not offer his hand...." See in text (Chapter IV)
In this gesture, we encounter the first suggestion of Paul’s distaste for Bazarov. Rather than shaking hands with Bazarov, Paul smiles condescendingly and raises his finger. Paul’s poor opinion of Bazarov proves to be an important source of conflict throughout the novel.
"this prefatory European "handshake"..." See in text (Chapter IV)
It is clear from the context of the interaction between Arkady and Paul that their “handshake” is something of a formality. It is “European” and, moreover, placed in quotation marks. It is likely the case that the handshake is an unspoken joke, a formality Paul extends to Arkady to acknowledge the young man’s new status as a university graduate. The formality is quickly followed by a customary and intimate trio of kisses.
"Still retaining traces of remarkable comeliness, his bright, black, oblong eyes had a peculiar attraction, and his every well-bred, refined feature showed that symmetry of youth, that air of superiority to the rest of the world which usually disappears when once the twenties have been passed...." See in text (Chapter IV)
Paul is, in many ways, a character trapped in the past. As the narrator suggests, Paul is defined by the youthful qualities he maintains: his striking looks, his proud demeanor. Yet, as a man entering middle age, Paul clings to such appearances and behaviors to mask his deeper sources of sorrow and regret.
"sallow..." See in text (Chapter IV)
The adjective “sallow” means yellow, peevish, or pale, and generally serves to describe the complexion of one’s skin. The description of Paul’s complexion as “sallow” is somewhat surprising, given the contradictory account of his good looks. It is likely that Paul’s sallow complexion signals his aging state despite his efforts to maintain a youthful appearance.
Chapter V 18
"Paul Petrovitch himself felt his bon mot to have been out of place, and hastened to divert the subject to the estate and the new steward...." See in text (Chapter V)
A bon mot—French for “good word”—is a wittily phrased remarked. Paul’s bon mot addresses how Bazarov “believes in frogs more than in principles.” Despite having had little direct contact with Bazarov, Paul already openly criticizes him in a manner that Arkady and Nikolai find distasteful. Paul’s criticisms only grow.
"On his linen jacket and trousers was a thick coating of mud, to the crown of his ancient circular hat clung a piece of sticky marshweed..." See in text (Chapter V)
The image of mud and marshweed on Bazarov’s outdated clothing represents his character and values. His interests in science, which led him into the marshes, overshadow his concern for formalities or appearances. In this way, he contrasts greatly with his foil Paul, who is always properly groomed and dressed.
"Yet, though she looked as though she were regretting having come, she looked as though she felt that she had a right to be there...." See in text (Chapter V)
Thenichka occupies an unclear area between roles and classes. On the one hand, she is a servant, a member of the working class. On the other, she is Nikolai’s lover and, as such, feels that she has “a right to be there” among Nikolai, his family, and company.
"but also let us see how you will contrive to exist in an absolute void, an airless vacuum. Pray ring the bell, brother Nikolai, for it is time for me to take my cocoa...." See in text (Chapter V)
Again, Paul calls for the young men to experience life beyond the rational categories promoted by Hegelians—also known as Hegelists—and nihilists. In a telling detail, Paul orders a cup of cocoa to punctuate his remark. The pleasures of food and drink evade rational understanding, and yet are crucial to a fully-lived life. Paul does not state this explicitly; he implies it through action.
"(formerly we had Hegelists, and now they have become Nihilists)..." See in text (Chapter V)
Hegelists are those who subscribe to the ideas of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, a German philosopher writing at the turn of the 19th century. Hegel was a seminal philosopher who worked on a number of intellectual areas, including metaphysics, logic, and phenomenology. As a university student, Turgenev studied Hegel’s work extensively. The apparent similarity between Hegelian and Nihilistic philosophy lies in the question of meaning. One of Hegel’s central ideas is that life is inherently meaningless, a fact which is in itself also meaninglessness. In this way, Nihilism evokes shades of Hegel for Paul.
"(Paul Petrovitch pronounced the word softly, and with a French accent, whereas Arkady had pronounced it with an emphasis on the leading syllable)..." See in text (Chapter V)
Arkady has pronounced “principles” the way we would normally do so in English, with an emphasis on the first syllable: principles. Paul, however, replies with the French form of the word, with its emphasis on the second syllable: principes. Perhaps Paul’s use of French is a rhetorical choice that demonstrates his principled nature.
""What exactly is your Bazarov?"..." See in text (Chapter V)
In the phrasing of this question, Paul’s language subtly dehumanizes Bazarov. “What” suggests that he is a a thing and “your” suggests that he is a possession. Throughout the story, Paul is both repulsed and fascinated by Bazarov. It may be the case that Bazarov’s cold, nihilistic demeanor leads Paul to view him as more of an object or oddity than a person.
"the carelessly folded tie to symbolise the freedom of a country life..." See in text (Chapter V)
Paul’s central character flaw is his vanity. The narrator recognizes the ways in which Paul uses the details of his dress to convey a specific mood or attitude. Ironically enough, the tie is “carelessly folded” in a carefully studied manner.
"fez..." See in text (Chapter V)
A fez is a style of hat with origins in the Ottoman Empire. In the 19th century, the fez became popular throughout Europe and eventually the United States. For many Westerners, it symbolized romanticism and exoticism. Paul’s choice to wear the stylish, romantic fez contrasts greatly with the “ancient circular hat” Bazarov sports in a way that illustrates the differences between the dandyish Paul and the straightforward, idealistic Bazarov.
"for several centuries—at all events, not since last night!..." See in text (Chapter V)
Nikolai is so pleased to be physically and emotionally close with his son again that he claims he had not seen him “for several centuries.” Though Nikolai had technically seen Arkady “last night,” the reference to “several centuries” subtly reveals that Nikolai and Arkady had not been so emotionally unrestrained in a long time.
"but Arkady cut him short by falling upon his neck...." See in text (Chapter V)
While Nikolai had been worried that Arkady would judge him harshly for having taken a lover and fathered a child, Arkady reacts with joy. The phrase “falling upon his neck” suggests that Arkady embraces Nikolai, wrapping his arms around his father’s neck. This is a key moment in that it marks a relinquishment of Arkady’s adopted nihilistic attitudes and a return to a state of pure affection between father and son.
"Yet those apprehensions cannot have been deeply rooted, as was proved by the fact that, for all the beating of his heart, the colour had not left his face...." See in text (Chapter V)
This passage reveals the searching nature of the narrative voice in its attempts to draw meaning from surface details. With his heart pounding, Nikolai is nervous about the thought of Arkady meeting Thenichka and discovering his infant brother. At the same time, his normal complexion reveals his resilience.
"as his fingers began their customary perambulation of his forehead..." See in text (Chapter V)
This detail subtly reveals Nikolai’s thoughtful nature. As he considers the question of telling Arkady about Thenichka, he worriedly touches his forehead. The word “perambulation” is clever in this case. To perambulate is to survey a property, an action which Nikolai is no doubt familiar with.
"since not only did he feel that he was doing the "magnanimous," but also he knew that he was delivering something like a "lecture" to his father..." See in text (Chapter V)
Arkady recognizes that his comments to Nikolai are somewhat pedantic and patronizing. To do the “‘magnanimous’” is to extend forgiveness and compassion to someone with less power. While Arkady is uncomfortable lecturing his father, he also feels it is justified. His mixed feelings on the matter can be seen as a result of his being between youth and adulthood, between being Nikolai’s son and Nikolai’s peer.
""It may be so," he said at length. "At all events, I presume that—that she prefers, she prefers—in fact, that she is shy."..." See in text (Chapter V)
In this passage, Nikolai speaks with a stammering tone that reveals his struggle to discuss Thenichka. Unable to explain why Thenichka is not present—as well as his relationship to her more broadly—Nikolai issues forth a series of filler phrases before uttering “‘that she is shy.’”
""Papasha——" Nikolai Petrovitch glanced confusedly in his direction...." See in text (Chapter V)
It is unusual for Arkady, hungry as he is to distinguish himself as a man, to refer to his father endearingly as “papasha.” Thus Nikolai reacts with surprise. It is likely that Arkady uses “papasha” because of the delicacy of the topic he wishes to discuss: Nikolai’s relationship with Thenichka.
""You see, I like to open them, and then to observe what their insides are doing. You and I are frogs too, except that we walk upon our hind legs. Thus the operation helps me to understand what is taking place in ourselves."..." See in text (Chapter V)
This passage introduces us to Bazarov’s materialist understanding of the world at large and of humankind. To Bazarov, humans are like frogs, organisms to be dissected, diagrammed, and understood. This materialist philosophy holds that reality can be divided into rational categories and that nothing escapes rationality. Poetry, aesthetic appreciation, love, and affection are human experiences which evade rational categorization; Bazarov dismisses all of them.
"asperity..." See in text (Chapter V)
The noun “asperity” refers literally to a roughness of texture. In this passage, Bazarov’s quality of asperity refers to his plainspoken, inelegant style of communication. His informal style adds to his appeal to the peasants.
Chapter VI 7
""Always one ought to be fair." "The connection I do not see." ..." See in text (Chapter VI)
Arkady’s remark reveals a difference in values between himself and Bazarov. Arkady places value in human kindness and empathy, and he believes in extending fairness to others. Bazarov, who believes in nothing but facts, does not openly value empathy. His response is, “The connection I do not see.” To Bazarov, basic human kindness needs to be logically justified.
"First the alphabet should be learnt before we try to read books. We have not even reached the letter A...." See in text (Chapter VI)
In this demeaning comment, Bazarov compares a philosophical and scientific education to an alphabet, whose first letter Nikolai has yet to master. Bazarov seems to misunderstand the nature of Nikolai’s comment. Nikolai had not intended to further the conversation about the fundamentals of philosophical discourse. Rather, Nikolai had attempted to steer the conversation into more practical topics like agriculture.
"Consequently you might be able to help me in my agricultural labours, and to give me much useful advice...." See in text (Chapter VI)
Nikolai understands that it is wise to turn the conversation from the intellectual to the practical, and so he brings up his farm. This move is particularly deft because Nikolai knows that Bazarov has a mind that is more utilitarian than abstract.
"postulates..." See in text (Chapter VI)
In philosophy, a “postulate” is an underlying principle or presupposition on which an argument is built. Paul wishes to know if Bazarov believes in any widely accepted truths, and so he questions Bazarov as to which postulates he abides by. It is a fair question, since it is difficult for two people to hold a conversation if there is no shared underlying structure of truth and belief. Bazarov erupts, however, exclaiming “‘Is it an examination in tenets?’” It is not an examination in tenets, because tenets are opinions. On a basic level, Paul wishes to know whether he and Bazarov have any common ground at all in their respective understandings of the world.
""A good chemist is worth a score of your poets," remarked Bazarov...." See in text (Chapter VI)
Bazarov places no value in beauty, humanistic thought, or religious experience. As a result the work of poets—even geniuses such as Goethe—holds no interest for Bazarov. Bazarov cares only for rational approaches to the world, which he conceptualizes as a frog to dissect more and more.
""Why should I? Is anything in the world trustworthy? Certainly, should I be told a fact, I agree with it, but that is all."..." See in text (Chapter VI)
Bazarov’s reaction is a direct expression of his nihilistic and materialist worldview. Authorities, institutions, and traditions hold no sway over a nihilist. Bazarov rejects all authorities and values, trusting only his own rational faculties.
"brusquerie..." See in text (Chapter VI)
The noun “brusquerie” refers to blunt or rude behaviour. As an aristocrat, Paul expects to be treated with elegant manners, particularly by those younger than he is. Bazarov has no respect for such conventions.
Chapter VII 15
"Paul Petrovitch was still a lonely bachelor, and, moreover, entering upon that dim, murky period when regrets come to resemble hopes, and hopes are beginning to resemble regrets, and youth is fled, and old age is fast approaching...." See in text (Chapter VII)
This passage reveals a great deal about Pavel’s character, in terms of both the choices he has made and the way he feels about his life. Arkady’s account constitutes an elegant reflection on the experience of aging, precocious for a young man. It is important to note the subjectivity of Arkady’s perspective: Arkady may be making assumptions, claiming Paul’s life has been diminished by his bachelorhood.
"Why, a man ought to bring himself up, even as I had to do...." See in text (Chapter VII)
As a haughty young man and a nihilist, Bazarov holds no respect for the generations before him. Part of the nihilist agenda is the throwing out of traditions and older principles. As a result, Bazarov likes to think that he “[brought] himself up,” an opinion that is characteristically arrogant.
"'Scalded with milk, one blows to cool another's water.'..." See in text (Chapter VII)
Bazarov uses this idiom to characterize Paul as a hypocrite. When Arkady claims that Paul is helpful in offering advice about women, Bazarov counters with this harsh saying. Paul has been “scalded” in his own dealings with women, only to turn to offer advice to others.
"that he stands up stoutly for the peasants, even though, when speaking to them, he pulls a wry face, and, before beginning the interview, scents himself well with eau-de-Cologne...." See in text (Chapter VII)
Paul is a paradox. While he cares for the peasants, he still considers himself to be of a higher class than they are. He is progressive in his respect for the movement to liberate the serfs but conservative in his religious and intellectual principles.
"a silver nécessaire and a travelling bath..." See in text (Chapter VII)
Much of Paul’s reputation is built on his aristocratic manner and taste for fine things. Arkady lists such luxuries as Paul’s silver nécessaire—a type of purse—and travelling bath in order to convey his tastes.
"habitué..." See in text (Chapter VII)
A “habitué” is a regular, or someone who habitually attends a specific place. In the wake of his failed affair, Paul tries returning to the status of “society habitué” in order to retain a sense of order. However, he is no longer the young officer he once was, and so he finds no solace in being a socialite.
"'The Sphinx is yourself.'..." See in text (Chapter VII)
Paul offers Princess R. a ring with a design of the Sphinx, a figure in Greek mythology who has the head of a woman and the body of a lion. The Sphinx is an enigmatic creature, and Paul outright states that it is a metaphor for the princess. The naive princess is flattered by the accurate but unpleasant comparison. The Sphinx offers riddles to passing travelers, devouring those who cannot answer correctly. The princess is Paul’s Sphinx. She contains a riddle he cannot solve, and his endless attempts to do so ruin his life.
"the bitter, galling sensation which comes of final and irrevocable failure...." See in text (Chapter VII)
As Paul’s love affair with Princess R. begins to deteriorate, he senses the futility of his pursuit, the inevitable defeat of it. After their meetings, he descends into a “bitter, galling sensation.” He is both forlorn and irritated, because he knows the affair is a lost cause.
"even after she had made the great surrender, there still remained something as immutably veiled, as radically intangible, as before—..." See in text (Chapter VII)
The way Arkady relates the story, it seems that Paul’s attraction to the princess was the result of some ineffable quality in her. It was not her beauty that allured so much as “that glance!” Paul found himself drawn in by her enigmatic personality.
"That glance!—it was a glance which could be careless to the point of daring or meditative to the point of melancholy;..." See in text (Chapter VII)
The way Arkady relates the story, it seems that Paul’s attraction to the princess was the result of some ineffable quality in her. It was not her beauty that allured so much as “that glance!” Paul found himself drawn in by her enigmatic personality.
"the Psalter..." See in text (Chapter VII)
The psalter is a volume containing the Book of Psalms, the third book of the Bible. The psalms are Princess R.’s desperate nightly retreat from the world of St. Petersburg society. This passage illustrates the princess’s psychological imbalances, as well as her spiritual yearnings.
"Princess R...." See in text (Chapter VII)
It is not entirely clear why Arkady refers to Princess R. by her initial rather than her full name. Perhaps Paul never told Arkady the princess’s name. Perhaps Arkady wishes to preserve the princess’s anonymity. Perhaps Turgenev chose to underscore the princess’s mysterious nature by withholding her name from the reader.
"while Nikolai Petrovitch halted..." See in text (Chapter VII)
This passage elucidates the differences between Nikolai and Paul as young men. While Paul was prideful, active and extroverted, Nikolai was quiet, bookish, and introverted. As becomes clear, there is an irony in the way the brothers’ adult lives have unfolded. Though Paul seemed destined for success, it is Nikolai who built the steadier, happier life for himself.
"to play the rake..." See in text (Chapter VII)
A “rake” is a pleasure-seeker who engages in such habits as gambling, drinking, and promiscuous behavior. As a promising young officer with notable good looks, Paul “play[ed] the rake” as a young man in St. Petersburg. The word “rake” comes from “rakehell,” which may derive from the Old English rakel, meaning “rash,” or the Old Norse reikall, meaning “restless.”
"Distinguished from boyhood for his good looks, he had, in addition, a nature of the self-confident, quizzical, amusingly sarcastic type which never fails to please...." See in text (Chapter VII)
Bazarov and Paul can be viewed as doubles. Though the two men dislike each other, Arkady’s description of Paul also could be applied to Bazarov. Like Paul, Bazarov is also “self-confident” and “amusingly sarcastic.” The similarities between the two likely fuel their mutual disdain.