THE SECOND novel of the series, Fathers and Children, stirred up a storm the suddenness and violence of which it is not easy, nowadays, to understand. The figure of Bazarov, the first Nihilistthus baptized by an inversion of epithet which was to win extraordinary successis merely intended to reveal a mental condition which, though the fact had been insufficiently recognized, had already existed for some years. The epithet itself had been in constant use since 1829, when Nadiéjdine applied it to Pushkin, Polevoï, and some other subverters of the classic tradition. Turgenev only extended its meaning by a new interpretation, destined to be perpetuated by the tremendous success of Fathers and Children. There is nothing, or hardly anything, in Bazarov, of the terrible revolutionary whom we have since learnt to look for under this title. Turgenev was not the man to call up such a figure. He was far too dreamy, too gentle, too good-natured a being. Already, in the character of Roudine, he had failed, in the strangest way, to catch the likeness of Bakounine, that fiery organiser of insurrection, whom all Europe knew, and whom he had selected as his model. Conceive Corot or Millet trying to paint some figure out of the Last Judgment after Michael Angelo! Bazarov is the Nihilist in his first phase, in course of becoming, as the Germans would say, and he is a pupil of the German universities. When Turgenev shaped the character, he certainly drew on his own memories of his stay at Berlin, at a time when Bruno Bauer was laying it down as a dogma that no educated man ought to have opinions on any subject, and when Max Stirner was convincing the young Hegelians that ideas were mere smoke and dust, seeing that the only reality in existence was the individual Ego. These teachings, eagerly received by the Russian youth, were destined to produce a state of moral decomposition, the earliest symptoms of which were admirably analysed by Turgenev.
Bazarov is a very clever man, but clever in thought, and especially in word, only. He scorns art, women, and family life. He does not know what the point of honour means. He is a cynic in his love affairs, and indifferent in his friendships. He has no respect even for paternal tenderness, but he is full of contradictions, even to the extent of fighting a duel about nothing at all, and sacrificing his life for the first peasant he meets. And in this the resemblance is true, much more general, indeed, than the model selected would lead one to imagine; so general, in fact, that, apart from the question of art, Turgenevhe has admitted it himselffelt as if he were drawing his own portrait; and therefore it is, no doubt, that he has made his hero so sympathetic.From A History of Russian Literature (1900).