Reading Fathers and Sons
So far in this book we have been concentrating on novels written in English. However, many people feel that the realist novel reached the peak of its achievement outside Britain, and in particular in mid-nineteenth-century France and Russia. The writings of Honoré de Balzac, Stendhal, Gustave Flaubert, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Leo Tolstoy and Ivan Turgenev, to name but a few of the most widely read, deserve attention in any serious account of the genre. In terms of our overall strategy of using detailed ‘readings’ of a few significant texts to raise the important issues, it seemed a good idea to take as a European text a novel by Turgenev, the first Russian writer to enjoy an international reputation. Turgenev was honoured even more in France, England and America to begin with than in his homeland. Henry James called him ‘the novelist’s novelist’. As James went on to suggest, Turgenev’s achievement was above all as a creator of character, ‘character expressed and exposed’ (‘Turgenev’, in Kettle, The Nineteenth Century Novel, 1981, p.173). What better text to look at than Fathers and Sons (1862)—or Fathers and Children, as it is sometimes translated-the novel containing Turgenev’s most famous character, Bazarov the nihilist.