Fathers and Sons | Study Guide

Ivan Turgenev

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Fathers and Sons | Chapter 8 | Summary



In his room Pavel considers the money he has given Nikolai over the years to keep the farm afloat. He wishes his brother were more practical and better with his loans. Sighing he walks over to Fenitchka's bedroom under the pretense of asking her to order green tea while in the market today. He comments on the comfortable furnishings Nikolai has added to Fenitchka's bedroom and then asks to see the baby. Nervous in his presence Fenitchka disappears and quickly cleans and changes the baby, putting on a fancy, embroidered smock. Pavel plays with baby Mitya but looks at Fenitchka "almost mournfully." Nikolai's sudden appearance interrupts Pavel's gaze, and he quickly leaves the room. Nikolai seems delighted Pavel paid Fenitchka a visit. Returning to his room Pavel draws the curtains and "[throws] himself on the sofa."

The narrator recounts how Nikolai and Fenitchka met. After Masha died, Nikolai hired a widow, Arina Savishna, to help him run the house. She came with her timid 17-year-old daughter, Fenitchka. Immediately Nikolai was struck by the beautiful young girl, but didn't realize he loved her until she was 18, when a minor eye injury brought them together. After Fenitchka's mother died suddenly of cholera, Nikolai decided to keep Fenitchka as his housemaid and eventually his lover.


Pavel's interest in Fenitchka might surprise readers given his entrenched views on social protocol. He visits her room under the ruse of asking her to order green tea but lingers socially. Fenitchka responds to the unexpected visit by acting anxiously. She feels trapped by the old hierarchy—she is a peasant, and Pavel is gentry—yet her new role as Nikolai's lover and mother of Nikolai's heir suggests they should have the type of friendly relationship that would have been unlikely before the political upheaval. That Pavel would socialize with a servant and accept her presence in the house as anything more than a servant is even more startling, but readers will discover later what draws the haughty Pavel to Fenitchka. That he tries to hide his meeting with Fenitchka, leaving awkwardly as soon as Nikolai arrives, and then throwing himself dramatically on the sofa, suggests an ulterior motive to the meeting. He acts as if he is attracted to or in love with Fenitchka, thus creating another level of intrigue for readers as they assess shifting cultural expectations.

For modern readers the backstory of Nikolai and Fenitchka reads less as a romantic tale and more like a lonely older man taking advantage of a vulnerable girl. However, their story shows how in "old Russia" Nikolai would have been a fairy-tale-like match for impoverished Fenitchka. That he falls in love with her despite her social status would have been deeply romantic for readers in the 19th century, although their relationship may have been questionable by 21st-century standards. But Nikolai is a man who is open to love—his late wife, his son, and Fenitchka—and his marriage to Masha was indeed a happy one. His feelings for Fenitchka are sincere and transcend boundaries of class.

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