It might mean exceeding our Book-Loop quota on this writer and my 'seriousness' quota for the month, but in my defense, I did arrive late to this party.
I actually finished Fathers and Sons the other day, and after that, a few sketches from Turgenev's Hunter’s Notebook. As regards their artistic and aesthetic merit, I am only qualified to bow in deepest reverence. After all, Turgenev’s writing met with Flaubert’s approval, and Flaubert himself found that hard to come by. In any case, I was more naturally interested in the moral, political, and economic dynamics at work beneath the surface of Turgenev’s realism, and not just for their distinctly Russian character. In particular, I found myself reading his writings as a profound meditation on human ‘happiness,’ as is possible with most great works of literature.
In this case, it seems for Turgenev, and perhaps equally for Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, that ‘happiness’ is something reserved for the blessedly simple (e.g., Turgenev’s Fenichka or the peasants sketched in his Hunter's Notebook; likewise Tolstoy’s Gerasim or Dostoevsky’s Alyosha K.) and possibly also those fortunate enough to be ‘saved’ among the well-to-do (e.g., if one can separate the tragic from the optimistic, the ‘happy endings’ in Fathers and Sons; likewise in Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina). To be sure, for Turgenev, salvation would appear to lie upon the more secular road of love, nature, and beauty—which might help explain his popularity in France—whereas Tolstoy and Dostoevsky tend to preach more transcendental ideals. This is not my main concern, however. Instead, what of the people who take neither road? Utter hopelessness, it would seem. (I speak only for myself, of course, but air these doubts on the chance that other Book-Loopers might offer sympathy or, better, insights.) I consider myself neither blessedly simple nor avowedly spiritual and certainly not well-to-do. What must I conclude? Am I to be Turgenev's Bazarov or perhaps the anonymous ‘Hamlet’ from his Sketches? Am I to be Dostoevsky’s Ivan Karamazov or, worse, his ‘Underground Man?’
Of course, these great writers can be seen as leading by their own examples, and perhaps my fellow Book-Loopers are fortunate enough to have a creative genius of their own with which to escape such a nihilistic fate. For my part, I laugh at the lot left me by these great Russian writers, but I will also, now and again, fret whether there is nothing more to do than that. Obviously, I would be most eager to hear alternative interpretations, as I will be the first to admit to the tenuous and tendentious nature of my own. I also second the sentiment of other Book-Loopers that these writers are especially worthy of consideration.