Fiction > Harvard Classics > Ivan Turgenev > A House of Gentlefolk > Criticisms and Interpretations > IV
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Ivan Turgenev (1818–1883).  A House of Gentlefolk.
The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction.  1917.
  
Criticisms and Interpretations
IV. Richard H. P. Curle
  
BUT for the best expression of the bewilderment of life we have to turn to the portrait of a man, to the famous Bazarov of “Fathers and Children.” Turgenev raises through him the eternal problem—Has personality any hold, has life any meaning at all? The reality of this figure, his contempt for nature, his egoism, his strength, his mothlike weakness are so convincing that before his philosophy all other philosophies seem to pale. He is the one who sees the life-illusion, and yet, knowing that it is the mask of night, grasps at it, loathing himself. You can hate Bazarov, you cannot have contempt for him. He is a man of genius, rid of sentiment and hope, believing in nothing but himself, to whom come, as from the darkness, all the violent questions of life and death. “Fathers and Children” is simply an exposure of our power to mould our own lives. Bazarov is a man of astonishing intellect—he is the pawn of an emotion he despises; he is a man of gigantic will—he can do nothing but destroy his own beliefs; he is a man of intense life—he cannot avoid the first, brainless touch of death. It is the hopeless fight of mind against instinct, of determination against fate, of personality against impersonality. Bazarov disdaining everyone, sick of all smallness, is roused to fury by the obvious irritations of Pavel Petrovitch. Savagely announcing the creed of nihilism and the end of romance, he has only to feel the calm, aristocratic smile of Madame Odinstov fixed on him and he suffers all the agony of first love. Determining to live and create, he has only to play with death for a moment, and he is caught. But though he is the most positive of all Turgenev’s male portraits, there are others linking up the chain of delusion. There is Rudin, typical of the unrest of the idealist; there is Nezhdanov (“Virgin Soil”), typical of the self-torture of the anarchist. There is Shubin (“On the Eve”), hiding his misery in laughter, and Lavretsky (“A House of Gentlefolk”), hiding his misery in silence. It is not necessary to search for further examples. Turgenev put his hand upon the dark things. He perceived character, struggling in the “clutch of circumstances,” the tragic moments, the horrible conflicts of personality. His figures have that capability of suffering which (as someone has said) is the true sign of life. They seem like real people, dazed and uncertain. No action of theirs ever surprises you, because in each of them he has made you hear an inward soliloquy.—From “Turgenev and the Life-Illusion,” in “The Fortnightly Review” (April, 19I0).   1

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