Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev - Spring 2005, Ohlone College Book Club

Cover for Fathers and Sons.…is our book selection for Spring 2005.

"It portrays the conflicts between the older aristocratic generation and the democratic intelligentsia in Russia during the 1860s."
- Benet's Reader's Encyclopedia

Notes - April 14, 2005 Discussion of Turgenev's Fathers and Sons

We learned a little Russian history, discussed the use of patronymics in Russian names, and enjoyed seeing the novel through the eyes of other readers. For those of you who couldn't be there, here are a few highlights from our discussion. Please forgive sentence fragments.

Paul Belasky pointed out that the portrait on the cover of the book is not Turgenev. A portrait of Turgenev appears at the right.

Portrait of Ivan Turgenev: older man with white hair, white beard and mustache, dark grey suit.Place in the Russian Literary Canon

Every Russian high school student reads this book. It's kind of a Russian equivalent to our Stephen Crane's Red Badge of Courage. We all agreed that it is a very interesting exercise to revisit a book that one read at a different point in one's life.

Translation Issues

We talked about the problems with translation. The Russian title is actually Fathers and Children. It was felt that the English title is actually more accurate in its description of the story. No daughters! Paul pointed out that Turgenev would never have used curse words in his work but that the translator felt it necessary to convey a certain “roughness.” The Russian speakers in the book club felt that the translation had an overly English feel and that some of the slang was odd and unfamiliar.

Social Class

In 19th century Russia, especially in the first half, rigid social class structure; peasantry, merchant class, priests, and the nobility. Arkady is not able to cross the boundary beyond his social class. Bazarov is an interesting case in that his mother was from the noble class, though poor, and his father rose above his lower class background as a military doctor and was able to marry a woman from a higher class.


Passion for the sciences came to Russia in the 19th century, later than it did for other parts of Europe. The nobility had the financial independence to take up science, especially the natural sciences. Who can forget the scenes of Bazarov's frog collecting? It was pointed out that Bazarov was mindless in his pursuit of science which was consistent with his total lack of belief in anything.


Bazarov and Anna fated to be unhappy as was Uncle Pavel. Arkady unable to go beyond his own social class, chose traditional path.

Good Time Had By All

What a pleasure to share the afternoon with fellow lovers of literature. Special thanks to Dr. Paul Belasky for his careful reading of the novel and many, many interesting insights into Russian literature, culture, and history.

About the Book

Paperback versions of the Oxford edition translated by Richard Freeborn (ISBN 0192833928) will be available for purchase in the Ohlone College Library by Friday, January 14, 2005 (price not determined at this time but we accept only cash) - ask for the book at the Reference/Information Desk.

Book description:

When a young graduate returns home he is accompanied, much to his father and uncle's discomfort, by a strange friend "who doesn't acknowledge any authorities, who doesn't accept a single principle on faith." Turgenev's masterpiece of generational conflict shocked Russian society when it was published in 1862 and continues today to seem as fresh and outspoken as it did to those who first encountered its nihilistic hero.

Book Discussion

Discussion Date:
RESCHEDULED to Thursday, April 14, 2:00pm-3:00pm in the Library, Room 1307 (Video Conference Room).
Discussion Lead By:
Dr. Paul Belasky, Geology Department - He considers this Turgenev's finest novel.