When Fathers and Sons was released, however, it created a scandal that broke like a thunderstorm right over Turgenev's head.
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Conservative Russians read Turgenev's book and thought that he was glorifying nihilism through the character of Bazarov. Radical Russians read the book and were convinced that he was caricaturing the younger generation.
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In short, both groups went to the book and wanted to see their own opinions and beliefs right there on the page, but neither found them. It is, in a sense, a testament to the success of Turgenev's novel.
He refuses to come down on one side or another, to offer a dogmatic bottom line. Put another way, ideology takes a back seat to art.
Turgenev's goal is to depict the lives of his characters as carefully as he can, not to transmit a political message. The book is a fantastic piece of literature, but one might argue that it has become even more than that. It's almost impossible to speak of mid-nineteenth-century Russian history without a reference to Turgenev's novel. Any discussion of the growing liberalism of Russia, the move to emancipate the serfs in , the anger and radicalism of the younger Russian generation, feels somehow abstract without Turgenev.
What this means is that Turgenev's carefully crafted fiction has become part of the historical record. He took upon himself a role that not too many modern novelists are even ambitious enough to attempt: national elegist.
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His personal struggle to understand what it meant to be a Russian circa was so well articulated that it became his country's. Of course, what has made his novel last is not just that it is a piece of Russian history, but that it has universal appeal. Parents relate to Nikolai Petrovich attempting to understand his son, and children relate to Arkady and Bazarov trying to surpass their fathers.
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More importantly, though, the novel exposes parents and children to the vantage point of the other, and by doing so, creates the possibility of empathy. We don't know if you're somebody's parent, but we're willing to bet that you're somebody's child. As somebody's child, you probably know what it is to be frustrated with the people who raised you, to feel like they're hemming you in, to feel that they're holding you to standards that no longer apply.
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