Fathers and Sons

Ivan Turgenev

Preview: Issue 1 of 24

Translated by Charles James Hogarth


"Well, Peter? Cannot you see them yet?" asked a barin of about forty who, hatless, and clad in a dusty jacket over a pair of tweed breeches, stepped on to the verandah of a posting-house on the 20th day of May, 1859. The person addressed was the barin's servant --a round-cheeked young fellow with small, dull eyes and a chin adorned with a tuft of pale-coloured down.

Glancing along the high road in a supercilious manner, the servant (in whom everything, from the turquoise ear-ring to the dyed, pomaded hair and the mincing gait, revealed the modern, the rising generation) replied: "No, barin , I cannot."

"Is that so?" queried the barin.

"Yes," the servant affirmed.

The barin sighed, and seated himself upon a bench. While he is sitting there with his knees drawn under him and his eyes moodily glancing to right and left, the reader may care to become better acquainted with his personality.

His name was Nikolai Petrovitch Kirsanov, and he owned (some fifteen versts from the posting-house) a respectable little property of about two hundred souls (or, as, after that he had apportioned his peasantry allotments, and set up a "farm," he himself expressed it, a property "of two thousand desiatini "). His father, one of the generals of 1812, had spent his life exclusively in military service as the commander, first of a brigade, and then of a division; and always he had been quartered in the provinces, where his rank had enabled him to cut a not inconspicuous figure. As for Nikolai Petrovitch himself, he was born in Southern Russia (as also was his elder brother, Paul--of whom presently), and, until his fourteenth year, received his education amid a circle of hard-up governors, free-and-easy aides-de-camp, and sundry staff and regimental officers. His mother came of the family of the Koliazins, and, known in maidenhood as Agathe, and subsequently as Agathoklea Kuzminishna Kirsanov, belonged to the type of "officer's lady." That is to say, she wore pompous mobcaps and rustling silk dresses, was always the first to approach the cross in church, talked volubly and in a loud tone, of set practice admitted her sons to kiss her hand in the morning, and never failed to bless them before retiring to rest at night. In short, she lived the life which suited her. As the son of a general, Nikolai Petrovitch was bound--though he evinced no particular bravery, and might even have seemed a coward--to follow his brother Paul's example by entering the army; but unfortunately, owing to the fact that, on the very day when there arrived the news of his commission, he happened to break his leg, it befell that, after two months in bed, he rose to his feet a permanently lamed man. When his father had finished wringing his hands over the mischance, he sent his son to acquire a civilian education; whence it came about that Nikolai, at eighteen, found himself a student at the University of St. Petersburg. At the same period his brother obtained a commission in one of the regiments of Guards; and, that being so, their father apportioned the two young men a joint establishment, and placed it under the more or less detached supervision of Ilya Koliazin, their maternal uncle and a leading tchinovnik. That done, the father returned to his division and his wife, and only at rare intervals sent his sons sheets of grey foolscap (scrawled and re-scrawled in flamboyant calligraphy) to which there was appended, amid a bower of laborious flourishes, the signature "Piotr Kirsanov, Major-General." In the year 1835 Nikolai Petrovitch obtained his university degree; and in the same year General Kirsanov was retired for incompetence at a review, and decided to transfer his quarters to St. Petersburg. Unfortunately, just as he was on the point both of renting a house near the Tavritchesky Gardens and of being enrolled as a member of the English Club, a stroke put an end to his career, and Agathoklea Kuzminishna followed him soon afterwards, since never had she succeeded in taking to the dull life of the capital, but always had hankered after the old provincial existence. Already during his parents' lifetime, and to their no small vexation, Nikolai Petrovitch had contrived to fall in love with the daughter of a certain tchinovnik named Prepolovensky, the landlord of his flat; and since the maiden was not only comely, but one of the type known as "advanced" (that is to say, she perused an occasional "Science" article in one newspaper or another), he married her out of hand as soon as the term of mourning was ended, and, abandoning the Ministry of Provincial Affairs to which, through his father's influence, he had been posted, embarked upon connubial felicity in a villa adjoining the Institute of Forestry. Thence, after a while, the couple removed to a diminutive, but in every way respectable, flat which could boast of a spotless vestibule and an icy-cold drawing-room; and thence, again, they migrated to the country, where they settled for good, and where, in due time, they had born to them a son Arkady. The existence of husband and wife was one of perfect comfort and tranquillity. Almost never were they parted from one another, they read together, they played the piano together, and they sang duets. Also, she would garden or superintend the poultry-yard, and he would set forth a-hunting, or see to the management of the estate. Meanwhile Arkady led an existence of equal calm and comfort, and grew, and waxed fat; until, in 1847, when ten years had been passed in this idyllic fashion, Kirsanov's wife breathed her last. The blow proved almost more than the husband could bear --so much so that his head turned grey in a few weeks. Yet, though he sought distraction for his thoughts by going abroad, he felt constrained, in the following year, to return home, where, after a prolonged period of inaction, he took up the subject of Industrial Reform. Next, in 1855, he sent his son to the University of St. Petersburg, and, for the same reason, spent the following three winters in the capital, where he seldom went out, but spent the greater part of his time in endeavouring to fraternise with his son's youthful acquaintances. The fourth winter, however, he was prevented by various circumstances from spending in St. Petersburg; and thus in the May of 1859 we see him--grey-headed, dusty, a trifle bent, and wholly middle-aged--awaiting his son's home-coming after the elevation of the latter (in Nikolai's own footsteps) to the dignity of a graduate.

Presently either a sense of decency or (more probably) a certain disinclination to remain immediately under his master's eye led the servant to withdraw to the entrance gates, and there to light a pipe. Nikolai Petrovitch, however, continued sitting with head bent, and his eyes contemplating the ancient steps of the verandah, up which a stout speckled hen was tap-tapping its way on a pair of splayed yellow legs, and thereby causing an untidy, but fastidious-looking, cat to regard it from the balustrade with marked disapproval. Meanwhile the sun beat fiercely down, and from the darkened interior of a neighbouring granary came a smell as of hot rye straw. Nikolai Petrovitch sank into a reverie. "My son Arkady a graduate!"--the words kept passing and repassing through his mind. Again and again he tried to think of something else, but always the same thought returned to him. Until eventually he reverted to the memory of his dead wife. "Would that she were still with me!" was his yearning reflection. Presently a fat blue pigeon alighted upon the roadway, and fell to taking a hasty drink from a pool beside the well. And almost at the instant that the spectacle of the bird caught Nikolai Petrovitch's eye, his ear caught the sound of approaching wheels.

"They are coming, I think," hazarded the servant as he stepped forward through the gates.

Nikolai Petrovitch sprang to his feet, and strained his eyes along the road. Yes, coming into view there was a tarantass , drawn by three stagehorses; and in the tarantass there could be seen the band of a student's cap and the outlines of a familiar, well-beloved face.

"Arkasha, Arkasha!" was Kirsanov's cry as, running forward, he waved his arms. A few moments later he was pressing his lips to the sun-tanned, dusty, hairless cheek of the newly-fledged graduate.


"Yes, but first give me a rub down, dearest Papa," said Arkady in a voice which, though a little hoarsened with travelling, was yet clear and youthful. "See! I am covering you with dust!" he added as joyously he returned his father's caresses.

"Oh, but that will not matter," said Nikolai Petrovitch with a loving, reassuring smile as he gave the collar of his son's blue cloak a couple of pats, and then did the same by his own jacket. Thereafter, gently withdrawing from his son's embrace, and beginning to lead the way towards the inn yard, he added: "Come this way, come this way. The horses will soon be ready."

His excitement seemed even to outdo his son's, so much did he stammer and stutter, and, at times, find himself at a loss for a word. Arkady stopped him.

"Papa," he said, "first let me introduce my good friend Bazarov, who is the comrade whom I have so often mentioned in letters to you, and who has been kind enough to come to us for a visit."

At once Nikolai Petrovitch wheeled round, and, approaching a tall man who, clad in a long coat with a tasselled belt, had just alighted from the tarantass , pressed the bare red hand which, after a pause, the stranger offered him.

"I am indeed glad to see you!" was Nikolai Petrovitch's greeting, "I am indeed grateful to you for your kindness in paying us this visit! Alas, I hope that, that----But first might I inquire your name?"

"Evgenii Vasiliev," replied the other in slow, but virile, accents as, turning down the collar of his coat, he revealed his face more clearly. Long and thin, with a high forehead which looked flattened at the top and became sharpened towards the nose, the face had large, greenish eyes and long, sandy whiskers. The instant that the features brightened into a smile, however, they betokened self-assurance and intellect.

"My dearest Evgenii Vasiliev", Nikolai Petrovitch continued, "I trust that whilst you are with us you will not find time hang heavy upon your hands."

Bazarov gave his lips a slight twitch, but vouchsafed no reply beyond raising his cap--a movement which revealed the fact that the prominent convolutions of the skull were by no means concealed by the superincumbent mass of indeterminate-coloured hair.

"Now, Arkady," went on Nikolai Petrovitch as he turned to his son, "shall we have the horses harnessed at once, or should you prefer to rest a little?"

"Let us rest at home, Papa. So pray have the horses put to."

"I will," his father agreed. "Peter! Bestir yourself, my good fellow!"

Being what is known as a "perfectly trained servant," Peter had neither approached nor shaken hands with the young barin , but contented himself with a distant bow. He now vanished through the yard gates.

"Though I have come in the koliaska ," said Nikolai Petrovitch, "I have brought three fresh horses for the tarantass."

Arkady then drank some water from a yellow bowl proffered by the landlord, while Bazarov lighted a pipe, and approached the ostler, who was engaged in unharnessing the stagehorses.

"Only two can ride in the koliaska ," continued Nikolai Petrovitch; "wherefore I am rather in a difficulty to know how your friend will----"

"Oh, he can travel in the tarantass ," interrupted Arkady. "Moreover, do not stand on any ceremony with him, for, wonderful though he is, he is also quite simple, as you will find for yourself."

Nikolai Petrovitch's coachman brought out the horses, and Bazarov remarked to the ostler:

"Come, bestir yourself, fat-beard!"

"Did you hear that, Mitiusha?" added another ostler who was standing with his hands thrust into the back slits of his blouse. "The barin has just called you a fat-beard. And a fat-beard you are."

For answer Mitiusha merely cocked his cap to one side and drew the reins from the back of the sweating shafts-horse.

"Quick now, my good fellows!" cried Nikolai Petrovitch. "Bear a hand, all of you, and for each there will be a glassful of vodka."

Naturally, it was not long before the horses were harnessed, and then father and son seated themselves in the koliaska , Peter mounted the box of that vehicle, and Bazarov stepped into the tarantass , and lolled his head against the leather cushion at the back. Finally the cortège moved away.

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