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On Father & Sons – Ivan Turgenev

“Nature’s not a temple, but a workshop, and man’s the workman in it.”

by Ivan Turgenev, George Reavy (Translator), Jane Costlow (Introduction)

Written as a response to the growing cultural schism between liberals of the 1830s/1840s & the growing nihilist movement, Fathers & Sons parallels both the nihilists (the “sons”) & the 1830s liberals who sought Western-based social change in Russia. Additionally, these two modes of thought were contrasted with the conservative Slavophiles, who believed that Russia’s path lay in its traditional spirituality.

Paperback, 244 pages
Published February 1st 2005 by Signet (first published 1862)

Fathers and Sons – Nihilism Quotes:

  •  “Arkardy went on,with the air of a man who has got into a bog,feels that he is sinking further and further in every step, and yet hurries onwards in the hope of crossing it as soon as possible”
  •  “A man’s capable of understanding anything – how the ether vibrates, and what’s going on in the sun – but how any other man can blow his nose differently from him, that he’s incapable of understanding.” tags: Understanding
  • “a dry maple leaf has come off and is falling to the earth; its movement is exactly like a butterfly’s flight. Isn’t it strange? Gloom and decay—like brightness and life.”
  •  “Ah, but in time the heat of noontide passes, and to it there succeed nightfall and dusk, with a return to the quiet fold where for the weary an the heavy-laden there waits sleep, sweet sleep.”
  •  “I want everything or nothing. A life for a life, taking one and giving up another without hesitation and beyond recall. Or else better have nothing!” tags: Love, Relationship
  •  “We act by virtue of what we recognize as beneficial. At the present time, negation is the most beneficial of all—and we deny.” tags: Nihilism
  •  “Every single man hangs by a thread, a bottomless pit can open beneath him any minute, and yet he still goes on thinking up unpleasantnesses for himself and making a mess of his life.”
  •  “Whereas I think: I’m lying here in a haystack… The tiny space I occupy is so infinitesimal in comparison with the rest of space, which I don’t occupy and which has no relation to me. And the period of time in which I’m fated to live is so insignificant beside the eternity in which I haven’t existed and won’t exist… And yet in this atom, this mathematical point, blood is circulating, a brain is working, desiring something… What chaos! What a farce!” tags: Philosophy
  • “I don’t see why it’s impossible to express everything that’s on one’s mind.”
  •  “As we all know, time sometimes flies like a bird, and sometimes crawls like a worm, but people may be unusually happy when they do not even notice whether time has passed quickly or slowly”
  •  “A withered maple leaf has left its branch and is falling to the ground; its movements resemble those of a butterfly in flight. Isn’t it strange? The saddest and deadest of things is yet so like the gayest and most vital of creatures?” tags: Butterfly, Happiness, Leaf, Nature, Sorrow
  • “So many memories and so little worth remembering, and in front of me — a long, long road without a goal…”
  •  “It’s all romanticism, nonsense, rottenness, art.”
  •  “Behind me there are already so many memories (…) Lots of memories, but no point in remembering them, and ahead of me a long, long road with nothing to aim for … I just don’t want to go along it.”
  •  “What’s important is that twice two is four and all the rest’s nonsense.”
  •  “I look up to heaven only when I want to sneeze.” tags: Nihilism
  • “The fact is that previously they were simply dunces and now they’ve suddenly become nihilists.”
  •  “He was the soul of politeness to everyone — to some with a hint of aversion, to others with a hint of respect. ”
  •  “What I’m thinking is: here I am, lying under a haystack … The tiny little place I occupy is so small in relation to the rest of space where I am not and where it’s none of my business; and the amount of time which I’ll succeed in living is so insignificant by comparison with the eternity where I haven’t been and never will be … And yet in this atom, in this mathematical point, the blood circulates, the brain works and even desires something as well .. What sheer ugliness! What sheer nonsense!”
  •  “a person who gets angry at his own illness is sure to overcome it”
  •  “Death’s an old story, but new for each person.” tags: Death
  • “A nihilist is a man who doesn’t acknowledge any authorities, who doesn’t accept a single principle on faith, no matter how much that principle may be surrounded by respect.” tags: Nihilist
  • “I think; here I lie under a haystack…. The tiny space I occupy is so infinitely small in comparison with the rest of space, in which I am not, and which has nothing to do with me; and the period of time in which it is my lot to live is so petty beside the eternity in which I have not been, and shall not be…. And in this atom, this mathematical point, the blood is circulating, the brain is working and wanting something…. Isn’t it loathsome? Isn’t it petty?
  •  “Nature’s not a temple, but a workshop, and man’s the workman in it.” tags: Nihilism


Ivan Turgenev


Ivan Sergeyevich Turgenev (Cyrillic: Иван Тургенев) was a novelist, poet and dramatist, and now ranks as one of the towering figures of Russian literature. His major works include the short-story collection A Sportsman’s Sketches (1852) and the novels Rudin (1856), Home of the Gentry (1859), On the Eve (1860), and Fathers and Sons (1862). These works offer realistic, affectionate portrayals of the Russian peasantry and penetrating studies of the Russian intelligentsia who were attempting to move the country into a new age. His masterpiece, Fathers and Sons, is considered one of the greatest novels of the nineteenth century. Turgenev was a contemporary with Fyodor Dostoevsky and Leo Tolstoy. While these wrote about church and religion, Turgenev was more concerned with the movement toward social reform.

Edited by Imam Noor Said

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