Fathers and Sons: Chapter 1
Turgenev, Ivan. Fathers and Sons. New York: Penguin Group, 2009.
Chapter 1: Summary
Nikolay Petrovich Kirsanov (Pyotr) is waiting for the arrival of his son, who just graduated with a master’s degree. It is May 1859, and the novel opens at a small inn somewhere in Russia. Pyotr’s manservant is with him. Pyotr is happy, thinking about his son. Arkasha (Pyotr’s son) arrives in a horse-drawn carriage. Pytor catches “the familiar outline of a beloved face . . .” (8).
Pyotr owns a 5,000-acre farm with 200 serfs. His father was a general in the War of 1812; his mother was devoted to the children; his brother Pavel followed in the footsteps of his father, joining the army. Nikolay is different; he graduated from a university with a degree. He then married the daughter of one of his landlords and had a son. His father died of a stroke, and then his mother died soon after. Nikolay and his wife, Masha, lived a quiet life in the country until she died in 1847. He suddenly seemed to grow older, and the revolution began in 1848. He spent time with his son until he could no longer travel.
Chapter 1: Analysis
Turgenev’s language is formal in the beginning of the story, which is relevant for the literary period in which he wrote. The detailed descriptions of the characters enliven them and help the reader get a sense of their personalities before they even speak. They are educated and wealthy: the mother and her “rustling silk gowns” (5), the father from a “modern, educated generation” (5), Nikolay himself receiving a degree from a university, and finally his own son coming home after having earned a master’s degree.
At the same time, we sense that Nikolay does not conform to his father’s military way of life. He prefers to live a civilian life, immersed in his quiet life in the country. He marries the daughter of a “minor civil servant.” We can see already the kind of man this Nikolay is, the opposite of his father who was very traditional, a general in the army in which he had served his whole life (5). Nikolay is referred to as a “softie,” breaking his leg just before the news of his commission to join the army arrives (6).
After Nicolay’s wife died, he spent his time doting on his son. At the opening of this story, we see him waiting happily for his son’s arrival. They have apparently been away from each other for quite some time. He is living in the past, thinking of his dead wife and anticipating being with his son again.