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Excerpt from

Fathers and Sons  

- Ivan Turgenev


The battle occurred that same day at evening tea. Pavel Petrovitch came into the drawing-room, all ready for the fray, irritable and determined. He was only waiting for an excuse to fall upon the enemy; but for a long while an excuse did not present itself. As a rule, Bazarov said little in the presence of the 'old Kirsanovs' (that was how he spoke of the brothers), and that evening he felt out of humour, and drank off cup after cup of tea without a word. Pavel Petrovitch was all aflame with impatience; his wishes were fulfilled at last. The conversation turned on one of the neighbouring landowners.

'Rotten aristocratic snob,' observed Bazarov indifferently. He had met him in Petersburg.

'Allow me to ask you,' began Pavel Petrovitch, and his lips were trembling, 'according to your ideas, have the words "rotten" and "aristocrat" the same meaning?'

'I said "aristocratic snob," ' replied Bazarov, lazily swallowing a sip of tea.

'Precisely so; but I imagine you have the same opinion of aristocrats as of aristocratic snobs. I think it my duty to inform you that I do not share that opinion. I venture to assert that every one knows me for a man of liberal ideas and devoted to progress; but, exactly for that reason, I respect aristocrats--real aristocrats. Kindly remember, sir' (at these words Bazarov lifted his eyes and looked at Pavel Petrovitch), 'kindly remember, sir,' he repeated, with acrimony--'the English aristocracy. They do not abate one iota of their rights, and for that reason they respect the rights of others; they demand the performance of what is due to them, and for that reason they perform their own duties. The aristocracy has given freedom to England, and maintains it for her.'

'We've heard that story a good many times,' replied Bazarov; 'but what are you trying to prove by that?'

'I am tryin' to prove by that, sir' (when Pavel Petrovitch was angry he intentionally clipped his words in this way, though, of course, he knew very well that such forms are not strictly grammatical. In this fashionable whim could be discerned a survival of the habits of the times of Alexander. The exquisites of those days, on the rare occasions when they spoke their own language, made use of such slipshod forms; as much as to say, 'We, of course, are born Russians, at the same time we are great swells, who are at liberty to neglect the rules of scholars'); 'I am tryin' to prove by that, sir, that without the sense of personal dignity, without self-respect--and these two sentiments are well developed in the aristocrat--there is no secure foundation for the social ... bien public ... the social fabric. Personal character, sir--that is the chief thing; a man's personal character must be firm as a rock, since everything is built on it. I am very well aware, for instance, that you are pleased to consider my habits, my dress, my refinements, in fact, ridiculous; but all that proceeds from a sense of self-respect, from a sense of duty--yes, indeed, of duty. I live in the country, in the wilds, but I will not lower myself. I respect the dignity of man in myself.' '

Let me ask you, Pavel Petrovitch,' commented Bazarov; 'you respect yourself, and sit with your hands folded; what sort of benefit does that do to the bien public? If you didn't respect yourself, you'd do just the same.'

Pavel Petrovitch turned white.

'That's a different question. It's absolutely unnecessary for me to explain to you now why I sit with folded hands, as you are pleased to express yourself. I wish only to tell you that aristocracy is a principle, and in our days none but immoral or silly people can live without principles. I said that to Arkady the day after he came home, and I repeat it now. Isn't it so, Nikolai?'

Nikolai Petrovitch nodded his head.

'Aristocracy, Liberalism, progress, principles,' Bazarov was saying meanwhile; 'if you think of it, what a lot of foreign ... and useless words! To a Russian they're good for nothing.'

'What is good for something according to you? If we listen to you, we shall find ourselves outside humanity, outside its laws. Come--the logic of history demands ...'

'But what's that logic to us? We can get on without that too.'

'How do you mean?'

'Why, this. You don't need logic, I hope, to put a bit of bread in your mouth when you're hungry. What's the object of these abstractions to us?'

Pavel Petrovitch raised his hands in horror.

'I don't understand you, after that. You insult the Russian people. I don't understand how it's possible not to acknowledge principles, rules! By virtue of what do you act then?'

'I've told you already, uncle, that we don't accept any authorities,' put in Arkady.

'We act by virtue of what we recognise as beneficial,' observed Bazarov. 'At the present time, negation is the most beneficial of all--and we deny----'



'What? not only art and poetry ... but even ... It's horrible to say ...'

'Everything,' repeated Bazarov, with indescribable composure.

Pavel Petrovitch stared at him. He had not expected this; while Arkady fairly blushed with delight.

'Allow me, though,' began Nikolai Petrovitch. 'You deny everything; or, speaking more precisely, you destroy everything.... But one must construct too, you know.'

'That's not our business now.... The ground wants clearing first.'

'The present condition of the people requires it,' added Arkady, with dignity; 'we are bound to carry out these requirements, we have no right to yield to the satisfaction of our personal egoism.'

This last phrase obviously displeased Bazarov; there was a flavour of philosophy, that is to say, romanticism about it, for Bazarov called philosophy also romanticism, but he did not think it necessary to correct his young disciple.

'No, no!' cried Pavel Petrovitch, with sudden energy. 'I'm not willing to believe that you, young men, know the Russian people really, that you are the representatives of their requirements, their efforts! No; the Russian people is not what you imagine it. Tradition it holds sacred; it is a patriarchal people; it cannot live without faith ...'

'I'm not going to dispute that,' Bazarov interrupted. 'I'm even ready to agree that in that you're right.'

'But if I am right ...'

'And, all the same, that proves nothing.'

'It just proves nothing,' repeated Arkady, with the confidence of a practised chess-player, who has foreseen an apparently dangerous move on the part of his adversary, and so is not at all taken aback by it.

'How does it prove nothing?' muttered Pavel Petrovitch, astounded. 'You must be going against the people then?' 'And what if we are?' shouted Bazarov. 'The people imagine that, when it thunders, the prophet Ilya's riding across the sky in his chariot. What then? Are we to agree with them? Besides, the people's Russian; but am I not Russian too?'

'No, you are not Russian, after all you have just been saying! I can't acknowledge you as Russian.'

'My grandfather ploughed the land,' answered Bazarov with haughty pride. 'Ask any one of your peasants which of us--you or me--he'd more readily acknowledge as a fellow-countryman. You don't even know how to talk to them.'

'While you talk to him and despise him at the same time.' 'Well, suppose he deserves contempt. You find fault with my attitude, but how do you know that I have got it by chance, that it's not a product of that very national spirit, in the name of which you wage war on it?'

'What an idea! We've much in need of nihilists!'

'Whether they're of use or not, is not for us to decide. Why, even you suppose you're not a useless person.'

'Gentlemen, gentlemen, please don't get personal, please!' cried Nikolai Petrovitch, and rose from the chair...

About the book:

Turgenev's masterpiece focuses on the conflict between two subsequent generations, taking into account the nihilistic movement that started in Russia in the 18th century. The lucid and detailed prose makes the novel a delight to read.

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