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The Momentum of Byronism
Terms of engagement

Turgenev: biography
Early upbringing
Early influences
Developing lifestyle
Exile, repatriation, death

Turgenev and political turbulence
Slavophiles and Westernizers
Forces of negation

Byronic influence through others
Pushkin and Lermontov
Anarchists and early nihilists

Fathers and Sons: from the source
Bazarov as nihilist?
Bazarov as Romantic hero?

Bazarov as Byronic negator and idealist

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Tracing Byron's Influence on the Creation and Development of the Nihilist Bazarov in Ivan Turgenev's Fathers and Sons


Bazarov as Romantic Hero?

These four areas of negation-socio-economic, political, emotional, and spiritual-provide ample evidence for Bazarov's radical nihilism in the cultural-intellectual sense, but there is more to that character than a simple nihilistic motive for existence. It is in Bazarov's relationship to Odintsova that we find a contradictory vein running through the character-that of the romantic. Remarkably for a man who would rather crush stones than be under the control or influence of a woman, a man who calls a freethinking woman an "ugly monster" (Turgenev 1996, 58), Bazarov falls deeply in love with Anna Odintsova. Despite his protestations to the contrary and his rationalizations afterward, Bazarov is capable of feeling deep emotions, particularly love.

    Bazarov was a great lover of women and feminine beauty, but love in the ideal sense, or, as he expressed it, the romantic sense, he called rubbish or unforgivable stupidity; he considered chivalrous feelings somewhat akin to deformity or disease. . . . [Yet] [h]is blood caught fire as soon as he thought about her; he could've easily coped with blood, but something else had taken root in him that he'd never be able to admit, something he'd always mocked, something that irritated his pride. (71)

Later, Bazarov reveals that "something": " 'Then you should know that I love you, stupidly, madly . . . now see what you've extracted' " (80). It is here that Bazarov the romantic reveals himself-though only for a brief moment-until he finds that Odintsova does not return that love. He then reverts to his former nihilistic self, though not without a corresponding decline in spirit and increase in boredom, as if the experience of falling in love and being rejected deprived him of some aspect of his drastic self-reliance and confidence.

It is in closely reading the character of Bazarov that direct correlation between the Romantic or Byronic hero and Bazarov as hero can be drawn. In a review of Vronchenko's translation of Faust in Otechestvennye zapiski (1845, No. 2), Turgenev wrote the following characterization of the Romantic hero.

    He becomes the center of the surrounding world; he . . . does not submit to anything, he forces everything to submit to himself; he lives by the heart, but by his own, solitary heart-not another's-even in love, about which he dreams so much; he is a romantic, and romanticism is nothing more than the apotheosis of personality. He is willing to talk about society, about social questions, about science; but society, like science, exists for him-not he for them (I, 220).

Understanding this as Turgenev's genuine conception of the romantic hero, written nearly twenty years earlier than the current novel, two specific statements can be made about this characterization as relate to this paper. First, this is not an inaccurate examination of the Byronic hero, whether conceived of the author's life or the lives of the author's literary creations. Second, this is not an inaccurate picture of Bazarov in Fathers and Sons. According to Willaim C. Brumfield in "Bazarov and Rjazanov: The Romantic Archetype in Russian Nihilism,"

    Much in this description [quoted passage above] could well be applied to Bazarov: the last sentence is reminiscent of his outburst against concern for the peasants' wellbeing in the face of his own inevitable death, while the phrase "apotheosis of personality" identifies one of the dominant motifs in Bazarov's character. In chapter X Pavel Petrovich remarks Bazarov's "almost Satanic pride," while Arkady, in chapter XIX, notices "the fathomless depths of Bazarov's conceit," and asks him whether he considers himself a god. Whatever the difficulties in establishing a typology for homo romanticus, the passage quoted above suggests that in his commentary on Faust, Turgenev presented an interpretation of the Romantic hero which reached its culmination in the creation of Bazarov (499).

We find in Bazarov this egocentrism, this apotheosis, and this existence of society for the hero: Pavel says of Bazarov and the nihilists, "First there's the almost Satanic pride, then ridicule" (41) while Bazarov says of himself, "As for the age-why should I depend on it? Let it rather depend on me" (26). In a letter to M. N. Katkov, Turgenev responds to criticism made by Katkov that Bazarov represented an apotheosis of The Contemporary, a revolutionary literary journal by saying, "I hope that . . . the figure of Bazarov will become comprehensible to you and won't give you the impression of apotheosis" (Lowe 1983 I, 199). Regardless of whether Turgenev intended for Bazarov to undergo an apotheosis of personality, his character throughout the first half of the novel suggests a strong egotism that borders becoming god-like, and Turgenev certainly seemed to have this characterization of the romantic hero in mind when creating Bazarov. These characteristics of Bazarov provide a portrait of a hero with remarkably Byronic qualities.

Even stronger evidence of a direct correlation between Byronic romanticism and Fathers and Sons-of "viewing Bazarov's nihilism as one component of a Romantic image"-can be found in preparatory remarks for the novel Virgin Soil (Nov, 1877):

    He writes that there are "Romantics of Realism," who "long for the real and strive toward it as former Romantics did toward the 'ideal,' " who seek in this reality "something grand and significant" (Brumfield 498).

Clive rephrases the argument, suggesting that many of Bazarov's "nihilistic" thoughts are a part of a "Romantic-Idealistic revolt against Romantic Idealism in the name of Realism" (222-3). This opens the door to the possibility that Bazarov is not a revolutionary leader at heart, but a free spirit, Ein Einzeleager, whose great strength is his ability to criticize himself; his very "antipathy toward Romanticism gives him away" as a Romantic (224-5). Clive goes so far as to identify specific scenes and areas of the novel in which Bazarov's direct Romantic nature appears. First, he claims that Bazarov's relationship with Arcady reveals his Romantic sensibility, since they pour out their hearts to one another (Bazarov taking the lead in un-Aristotelian fashion), they visit one another's families together, they fall in love at the same time at the same place, and they become virtually inseparable despite their "sweet quarrels." Second, he identifies Bazarov's chronic susceptibility to boredom and restlessness as a Romantic characteristic. Third, he defines as a Romantic characteristic the curse and protection of a hero's "awareness of being aware," identifying Bazarov's personality as an example. Fourth, Bazarov demonstrates a Byronic hatred of cant (225-7). While these Romantic characteristics do appear in the character of Bazarov, reading the novel and the character as a directly Romantic work limits the author's ability to portray his beloved Russia and its characters, perhaps the strongest characteristic of this novel.

Perhaps the best way to read the Byronic influence upon Bazarov is, as Brostram puts it, to consider Turgenev as an heir to Romantic pessimism or Welschmertz-"ironic pessimism and despair which could find no relief in the momentary ecstasies of transcendence"-not really an example of nihilistic "absolute pessimism" but of metaphysical doubt and uncertainty (81-2). Yet even this conception of Bazarov leaves something to be desired, for it seems to place the character within a framework in which there is little room for change or development. Some critics have argued that the strongest characteristic of Fathers and Sons is that it is the only novel Turgenev wrote which contains a character who undergoes realistic development. Without a doubt, the strong-willed negating nihilist of the first chapters seems far removed from the bored, restless, resigned son of the last chapters before his death. To explain this development with a Romantic twist, John Mersereau, Jr. in "Don Quixote-Bazarov-Hamlet" relates Bazarov's evolution to an essay entitled "Hamlet and Don Quixote" in which Turgenev wrote in 1860, "It seemed to us that all people to a greater or lesser degree belong to one of these two types, that almost every one of us resembles either Don Quixote or Hamlet." Mersereau summarizes the essay's argument with, "These two become, therefore, archetypes, on the one hand, for enthusiastic but naive dynamism with action and, on the other hand, for analytical skepticism leading to alienation and inactivity" (347-8). Inasmuch as Don Quixote and Hamlet contain within them seeds of the Romantic hero, a brief discussion of Bazarov in these terms might shed light on Bazarov's Byronic roots. Mersereau describes Bazarov at the beginning of the novel " 'tilting at windmills' in the guise of Nikolai Petrovich and his effete brother, Pavel" (349). This explains the considerable hostility between Bazarov and Pavel, particularly since Bazarov actively engaged in trying arguments with Pavel that resulted in anger and confusion on Pavel's part. Mersereau identifies the beginning of the shift toward a Hamlet-like persona when he receives the shock of Odintsova's rejection of his love, particularly since he was prepared to love no matter what the consequences. This led to introspection and self-doubt, characteristics Bazarov had never experienced before, characteristics which possibly caused Bazarov to escape the boredom of having no real purpose by "willing" himself to die like his Russian romantic counterparts Pechorin, Pushkin, and Lermontov (350). Mersereau's interpretation allows for Bazarov's evolution from beginning to end of novel while providing a hint of the influence of Byronic romanticism.

A final suggestion, though perhaps not logically sound, is to present the strong affinity between the biographies of Turgenev and Byron. Both reflect a sympathetic view toward their apotheosis-prone characters: Turgenev finds he believes in almost all of the nihilist positions Bazarov posits throughout the novel, while Byron portrays himself in characters like Don Juan's narrator and the Giaour while he deifies himself in Manfred's self-determination and decisive sense of justice. Both experience similar exiles from their homeland as a direct result of their writings-Turgenev's was self-imposed in many cases by Russia's lack of appreciation for his work and by his desire to be near Pauline Viardot; Byron's was forced by English intolerance for his irreverence and misunderstood morality. Tragically, Byron never returned to his homeland, while Turgenev did, hailed a hero of Russian literature. Both reflect an inability to find fulfillment in romantic relationship, and both sired children for whom they seemed to have little regard (although Turgenev eventually accepted and finally learned to love Paulinette). Although these similarities provide little insight into the Byronic influence exerted upon Bazarov by Turgenev, they do present an interesting insight into the similarities of the ill-received author.

No single treatment of Bazarov could possibly do this archetypal character justice. The fact that Bazarov is an archetype at all-the archetypal nihilist-provides a flexible and sliding image which is nearly impossible to pin down with a single characterization. According to Mersereau, Bazarov is one of the first round Russian realistic characters who undergoes a psychological evolutionary development and whose legacy extends to Raskol'nikov, Prince Andrew, Anna Karenina, and Dmitrij Karamazov (354-5). Yet the realistic treatment of character, passed on to Turgenev by Lermontov and Pushkin before him and Henry James within his generation, provides an excellent springboard for the development in Bazarov of what Brumfield called "the culmination" of Turgenev's romantic hero conceived in 1845 (499).

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* F O O T N O T E S *


. . . that of the romantic . . .
G. S. Pahamov in Earthbound Flight: Romanticism in Turgenev (Rockville, MD: Victor Kamkin, 1986) devotes two chapters to romantic love and its expression in Turgenev. The book provides insight into Turgenevs conception of romanticism which differs somewhat from twentieth century conceptions.

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. . . contain within them seeds of the Romantic hero . . .
As discussed in reference to the film Don Juan de Marco. The Don Juan characters artistic interpretations throughout history have swung between Quixotic action to Hamlet-like tortured introspection.

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