Tuesday, May 20, 2014

First Lines Second Thoughts — Fathers and Sons

Tiptoeing through the tulips on May the 20th.

First Lines Second Thoughts is an occasional look at the first lines of well known literary works. On second thought, do these opening words stand alone as poetry? Today we look at the novel that is responsible for popularizing the use of the term nihilism in the 19th century. Ivan Sergeyevich Turgenev's Fathers and Sons. Published in 1862.


"Well, Piotr, are they in sight yet?"
was the question asked on
May the 20th, 1859,
by a gentleman of a little over forty,
in a dusty coat and checked trousers,
who came out without his hat on
to the low steps of the post office at S————;
he was addressing his servant,
a chubby young fellow,
with whitish down on his chin,
and little, lacklustre eyes.


— Ivan Sergeyevich Turgenev (1818–1883)


Written as a response to the growing schism between liberals and nihilists who both sought social change in Czarist Russia, Fathers and Sons is considered the first modern Russian novel. The book's popularity in the West is thought to have opened the door for his Russian contemporaries Leo Tolstoy and Fyodor Dostoevsky.

Ivan Turgenev's introduction to literature began with poetry. As a child, the young Ivan was read Mikhail Kheraskov's epic Rossiad by a family serf.

The Bar None Group has previously featured the opening lines to Dostoevsky's Notes from Underground and Tolstoy's Anna Karenina as part of our First Lines Second Thoughts series.