Thursday, 4 October 2012
Tracing Byron's Influence on the Creaetion and Development of the Nihilist Bazarov in Ivan Turgenev's Fathers and Sons
The socially unsettled and peasant-filled (1) Russian countryside of 1862 was far from the politics of Victorian England at the height of its Empire and the literary and philosophical realism of European writers of the same period. As English romantic idealism faded with Napoleon's defeat and English Romanticism "died" with Sir Walter Scott, late-blooming Byronic Romanticism marched through war-ravished France and on to an isolated Russia wracked by revolutionary elements of its own.
Byron's influence as individual and author seemed always to have greater impact outside of England than within his prudish homeland. While imitators and admirers of Byron the individual and author could be found throughout Greece, Spain, France, Italy, Turkey, and Russia, little more than harsh criticism for his works and exile for his lifestyle emanated from his sometimes beloved, sometimes criticized native Britain, even after his death. Other nations were left to bear Byron's legacy through the future, a responsibility eagerly attempted by an emerging array of Russian Romanticists in the 1830s through the middle 1840s. Voraciously reading Byron's poetry and prose in the original, in translation, and in loose interpretation, these Russian writers dedicated themselves for over a decade to write as Byron wrote and to live as Byron lived. Although short-lived, this worship of a completely new type of hero made an indelible impression upon a young Russian intellectual just beginning to write: Ivan Sergeevich Turgenev. (2)
Turgenev's first critically acclaimed work was written a short seven or eight years after the death of the last of the Russian Romantics, Mikhail Lermontov. (3) Turgenev grew up reading Byron's work in English (4) and in translation, translating Byron's work himself, and imitating Byron in his writing style and content (Magarshack 33). As Romanticism's appeal waned in a Russian intellectual and cultural environment grown tired of idealism, Turgenev's first critical work, Notes of a Hunter,(5) was praised for its realistic attention to the life of the peasant because it did not treat the Russian social and political situation idealistically; it was perceived and lauded as a veiled critique of Russian serfdom (Lowe 1989, 23).
By 1862, when Turgenev published what is now known as his greatest work, Fathers and Sons, Byron and Romanticism had long been left behind as idealistic nonsense; yet Fathers and Sons' main character Bazarov, the first literary "nihilist," reveals traces of Turgenev's Byronic appreciation and imitation in his Byronically negating revolutionary spirit. Although no direct line of influence connects Bazarov to Byron and no critical study of Bazarov's character could possibly be completed by focusing solely on his Byronic traits, Bazarov's nihilistic world view certainly has its roots in the influence of European and Russian Byronism.
To discuss Bazarov in terms of his Byronic traits and ancestry, several terms should be defined. The phenomenon of "Byronism" alone deserves an entire monograph study. It is not my intention to definitively establish a definitive conception of "Byronism;" rather, it is to identify traces of European and Russian Byronic imitations and influences on Turgenev as author and creator of Bazarov. To avoid encountering serious debate on the specific characteristics of Byronism as a literary movement, "Byronism" as understood in this essay can be characterized by the personal and public lifestyle of the poet and by the darkly heroic characters he created which were modeled on his own philosophical conception of himself and his place in the world.
Russian Romanticism will be considered a later extension or continuation of a particularly Byronic brand of European Romanticism that, in its later incarnations, focused upon the perceived demonic and oriental nature of Byron and his characters, often applied to the contemporary political and social situation in Russia.(6) Though various specific dates have been applied to this intellectual period, this essay will combine and conflate the dating used by D. S. Mirsky and by Charles A. Moser to between 1820 and 1841.(7) Most often Russian Romantic authors expressed their philosophies in poetry-often in imitations and loose interpretations of Byron's oriental tales-but frequently chose also to express their ideals in their manner of living.(8)
Nihilism requires at least a working definition; while a more detailed listing of several characteristics of nihilism will be developed later in the paper, a general conception of the term will be a movement of which Bazarov was the first literary example, the creation of whom became a critical defining moment in Russian revolutionary history. Bazarov's emergence created a dual conception of nihilism-a philosophical stance of negation with various precedents, including Byron himself; and a movement of revolutionary reform, involving a group of individuals practicing nihilism's philosophical principle of negation.
The structure of this paper follows the train of thought by which its ideas emerged. Upon studying Byron's earlier work, particularly an oriental tale like "The Giaour," Byron's personal letters, and "English Bards and Scotch Reviewers," I noticed distinct correlation between Byron's dark, biting, incriminating criticism of societal cant and the nihilism of Turgenev's Bazarov in Fathers and Sons. I followed up on this possibility by searching for a direct correlation between the concepts of Byronism and those of Russian nihilism, a search that proved relatively unsuccessful because of the connection of Byronism to Romanticism and nihilism to realism, two literary movements often diametrically opposed to one another.(9) In this study I traced Turgenev's influences in creating the literary nihilist Bazarov and found the connection that I had sought in Turgenev's inspirational roots in Byron, European Byronism, and Russian Romanticism.
Ivan Turgenev was exposed early to Byron and Byronism in both European and Russian forms. His early upbringing may have encouraged him to find in Byron a critic of society's ills, particularly the malaise of Russian serfdom in the 1820s and 1830s. He was born in 1818 in the Orel, near the Turgenev family estate of Spasskoe. His father, interested in other, more attractive women than his wife, died in 1834, leaving Ivan with his heavy-handed, hen-pecking mother whose cruel treatment of the family's serfs repulsed and repelled him (Moser 1972, 4). Perhaps his mother's greatest contribution to Turgenev was her death in 1850, the result of which was a sizeable inheritance that, had he been a better manager of money, would have left him financially comfortable for the rest of his life (Lowe 1989, 22). Spasskoe became a place for Turgenev to gain inspiration, to write, and to be exiled to, though he preferred to travel and live throughout Europe. When he left Russia at the age of eighteen to attend the University of Berlin after deserting Moscow University and completing his undergraduate studies at St. Petersburg University, it was the last time Turgenev was to remain in his native Russia for eighteen years without leaving (Moser 1972, 5).
Even before his tenure as a student in Berlin, Turgenev had been writing. His earliest writing illustrates the influence Byron had on the adolescent Turgenev. Transferred to the University of St. Petersburg to be nearer his brother Nicholas (and to find greater intellectual challenges than at Moscow University), Turgenev brought with him "a three-act poetic play-Steno-'a fantastic drama in pentameters, in which,' he explains in his reminiscences,(10) 'I attempted with puerile clumsiness an imitation of Byron's Manfred,' " the action of which occurred in Italy: in the Coliseum, in a mountain cabin, in a Gothic church, and in the cell of a pious monk. By 1837, at the age of 19, Turgenev wrote Alexander Nikitenko(11) that he had already written over a hundred poems, begun a long narrative poem, and planned another long poem. He wrote also that he had translated significant portions of King Lear, the first two acts of Othello, and Manfred (Magarshack 36-8). While in Berlin, Turgenev fell under the influence of German post-romantics and Russian Romantics-followers of Goethe, Schiller, and Schlegel-including the anarchist Bakunin, the Romantic Lermontov, and the not-yet-famous Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. Magarshack describes Turgenev during this period as "an admirer of the Russian 'pseudo-sublime school' of writers and an imitator of Byron" (33). Turgenev also associated with and befriended several Russian literary critics, namely Peter Pletnyov, who discerned a glimmer of talent in the juvenile Steno (38) and Vissarion Belinsky,(12) with whom Turgenev intensely discussed philosophical principles and ideals before Belinsky died of tuberculosis in 1848(13) (Moser 1972, 7). These and later friendships began to haunt him in the years after writing Fathers and Sons and Smoke, a time during which some of those same critics and friends who had earlier embraced him turned hostile toward him for his ambivalent attitudes toward Bazarov and nihilism.
Turgenev never admitted to consciously attempting a Byronic lifestyle, unlike Pushkin and Lermontov who readily admitted their Byronic influences. His lifestyle, however, sometimes reflects a Byronic romantic whimsy. His mother seems to have ordered one of her young chambermaids to introduce her fifteen year old son to his own sexuality, his first introduction to sexual love. This was his first of several mistresses, among whom could be counted a peasant-girl whom he impregnated and Bakunin and Tolstoy's sisters (though not at the same time). He loved only one woman-the not so beautiful but remarkably talented Pauline Viardot, opera prima donna and wife to the much older French writer Louis Viardot-whom he met in St. Petersburg in 1843 when Pauline was twenty-one (Lowe 19). They never consummated their love,(14) but he lived near the Viardot family off and on for the rest of his life, almost like a near-platonic version of Byron's cavalier servante. His love for Pauline contrasted considerably with his early disregard for his daughter-only later did he take an interest in Paulinette when he returned to Russia in 1850; Pauline offered to raise her, so he sent her to Pauline in Paris late in 1850 (Lowe 22). Turgenev's frustrated love life found literary expression through characterizing the mysteries of female-male relationships in his novels and short stories. These sometimes meaningful, sometimes frivolous liaisons and their consequences provide evidence of similarities between Turgenev and Byron.
Another theme in Turgenev's life that echoes Byron's is his self-imposed exile from his homeland, Russia. Turgenev chose to spend as much or more time traveling outside of Russia as time living and writing in Russia. Beginning with his graduate studies in Berlin, Turgenev traveled and lived in Germany, France, and England, interspersing sojourns to Russia for long and short periods. Very often his living environment followed the Viardot's moves throughout Europe. While his early travels outside of Russia were grounded in a desire to learn more of European culture (in the Slavophile versus Westernizing debate, Turgenev always remained firmly in the Westernizing camp(15)), his later transplantation occurred as a result of negative popular and critical reaction to Fathers and Sons. He ceased all correspondence and communication with contemporary critics who had lambasted his ambivalent attitude to the nihilistic character Bazarov. Following the Viardot family and living with and near his daughter Paulinette, Turgenev found comfort away from Russia, unappreciated at home and warmly accepted in Europe; his works were also highly regarded in translation in France and Germany, and later in England and America (Lowe 29-31). Only in the late 1870s did Turgenev begin to feel welcome in his homeland, though he had always dearly loved Russia and written lovingly of the Russian countryside. It was only at this time that Turgenev reconciled with many critics and writers who had earlier turned on him, namely Tolstoy (Lowe, 31-2). Turgenev died outside of his homeland Russia, but his body was returned and buried in Volkovo cemetery in St. Petersburg in 1783-a Russian literary hero and legend (Magarshack 313).
Russian literature of the nineteenth century seemed always to have extraordinarily deep ties to the social, economic, and political milieu, and Turgenev's Fathers and Sons was no exception. The harshest critics of the novel interpreted its characters (Bazarov and Arkady on one hand, Pavel and Nikolai Petrovich on the other) as representatives of specific strata or classes in Russia of the 1850s and 1860s. Fully understanding the character of Bazarov requires placing the novel in its social and political context. Russia's intelligentsia was split between Slavophiles and Westernizers, both of whom believed in enacting sweeping reforms to eliminate the nation's serfdom-based economy and social structure. Since Turgenev allied himself firmly with the Westernizing camp, he and others like him believed that enacting Western democratic reforms would relieve the burden of serfdom. Slavophiles, on the other hand, felt Alexander II had already Westernized the country too much to little avail, calling him the "arch-villain of Russian history"-since the nation remained locked in the social and economic trappings and assumptions of a serfdom-based agrarian society-and that reform needed to take a more Russian track (Lowe 1989, 18). Turgenev had hinted at the theme of emancipating the serfs early in his career with A Hunter's Notes, collected and first published as a complete set of peasant sketches in 1852. Turgenev congratulated himself on contributing to the emancipation, a claim that Moser suggests can be substantiated: "The book made a solid political point without ceasing to be art" (1972, 9). The Emancipation Act became law in the spring of 1861, just before Turgenev published Fathers and Sons in February 1862. Set in 1859, just two years before the Emancipation Act was enacted, the novel opens to "a world on the brink of extreme change" and presents a view of the confusion and breakdown of social order that these years brought to the Russian countryside (Ripp 191).
Bazarov found his immediate Russian roots in the young revolutionaries of the day, those members of the intelligentsia who had embraced and popularized a concept of negation-particularly Slavophilic in nature, expressing a need to denounce and reject the prevailing Westernizing trend of Alexander II's reforms-which emerged as early anarchism and nihilism. These young revolutionaries, second generation followers of such leaders as the anarchist Bakunin (whom Turgenev had befriended in Berlin and whose amorous sister he had unfeelingly rejected),(16) sometimes complained at Turgenev's depiction of their kind in Bazarov, finding the members of the dominant ruling class-Pavel and Nicholas-much more sympathetically portrayed than the tragic and meaningless figure of Bazarov.(17) These same revolutionaries, like Dmitry Pisarev, interpreted Bazarov as "a disease of our time" that "must be endured to the end, no matter what palliatives and amputations are employed. . . you will not be able to put a stop to it; it is just the same as cholera" (189). Bazarov also became part of the vehicle by which Turgenev expressed a concept that had not yet been expressed in Russian literature, that of the gap between the conservative reforming of the fathers and the radical revolutionizing of the children (sons). (18)