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8 - Turgenev’s Portrait of a Nihilist

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  10 March 2023

Jon Stewart
Affiliation:
Slovak Academy of Sciences
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Summary

Chapter 8 treats Ivan Turgenev’s influential portrait of a nihilist in his character Bazarov from the novel Fathers and Sons. Turgenev portrays the rise of nihilism as a conflict between the older and the younger generation in Russia that took place after the emancipation of the serfs in 1861. With his character sketch of Bazarov, Turgenev made the Russian nihilist movement famous throughout Europe. The story tells of the homecoming of the young Arkady Kirsanov who brings with him his friend from the university, Bazarov. The novel depicts the conflicts that arise when the two young men stay at the rural estate of Arkady’s father. Bazarov claims that nihilism is about negation, and his goal is to destroy everything and start again. When asked what his positive program is for afterwards, he surprisingly says that he does not have one. While Turgenev generally gives a sympathetic sketch of Bazarov, he cannot subscribe to his ideas. Like Jean Paul and Møller, he believes it is impossible to accept the idea that death is annihilation. His model is rather Bazarov’s simple grieving parents, who believe in something higher than death.

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Chapter
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A History of Nihilism in the Nineteenth Century
Confrontations with Nothingness
, pp. 237 - 258
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2023

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