The first time I heard of Turgenev, it was from Dostoevsky. Dostoevsky parodied Ivan Turgenev in his character ‘Karmazinov’ in novel ‘Demons’ (reviewed here) for writing ‘Fathers and Sons’. Turgenev’s novel is based on the nihilist generation and the differences they had with the previous generation – that of socialists. The ‘nihilist’ son Bazarov in the novel refuse to believe in anything based solely on authority – whether it be established sciences, practices, arts or traditions. The ‘fathers’ in the book are in too much of awe for their sons and even have some sort of guilty conscience to produce arguments for their way of thinking. However the nihilism has its own problems. (to began with, nihilism is based on ‘belief’ that nothing is worth believing and is thus paradoxical).Even if you have good reasons to defy authority, often people tend to develop it as a habit and defy authority just for sake of it. Bazarov of the story struggles with his feelings of love just because it is a feeling in established tradition. Thus, Turgenev did brought out the fact that nihilism was not without its faults.
But the character of the Bazarov so attractive to the younger minds of the time that the novel made the word ‘Nihilism’ popular all over the world (he might have seemed just so ‘cool’) . This is probably why Dostoevsky was so critical of him – perhaps, Dostoevsky (always fascinated with new ideas, yet never letting them blind him so much as to not to see their faults) believed that ‘nihilism’ is much worse than Turgenev portrays it. Dostoevsky’s ‘Demons’ (written a decade later) is based on similar themes – the divide between socialist father and nihilist son. However the nihilists and one idea people in Demons are in anguish because of their ideas or lack thereof. Stavrogin, the nihilist son in Demons, appeared ‘cool’ – a sort of ‘Don Juan’ too in the beginning of novel but as you read on, you discover that he was and is always struggling to find something to believe in. There are suicides all around in Demons – suicides and murders. When Harvey Dent in ‘The Dark Knight’ sees his world coming down and his belief system shattered, he starts making attempts on lives of people all around – including his own life. that a strong nihilism might make you want to commit suicide is something Camus too struggles with in his essay ‘Myth of Sisyphus’ – a long argument against suicide which quotes Dostoevsky’s ‘Demons’ several times. Obsession with just one idea either makes you dull or frantic or both. Refusing to believe in anything at all might be cool at start for intellectual introspection but it drains you of energy, it is human nature to always search for, look for things to believe in, people need a belief system just like they need a ground to walk on.