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When Pavel was young, he was extremely good-looking and charming. He quickly became a society favorite, and women lost their heads over him.
He lived in an apartment with Nikolai, though they were very different. Nikolai was sensitive and enjoyed reading, whereas Pavel was a man of action.
At the age of only twenty-seven, he was a captain, and things seemed to just be taking off for him. Then everything changed.
Pavel feel in love with an enigmatic woman named Princess R. She lived in Petersburg with her husband, but was known for constantly traveling to Europe and for displaying extremely eccentric behavior.
Pavel won her heart quickly, but his love did not cool. He became obsessed with this woman who "seemed to be in the grip of mysterious forces, unknown even to herself, which played her at will, her limited intelligence being unable to cope with their caprices" (7.2).
Princess R was a sad woman, and her love was linked with this sadness. After seeing Pavel, she would sometimes lock herself away in her room and sob for hours.
One day, Pavel gave her a ring with a sphinx engraved on a stone. He told her "that sphinx is – you" (7.4).
Princess R said she was flattered, but her eyes retained a strange expression.
When Princess R lost interest in Pavel, he nearly went out of his mind. He pursued her so intensely that she fled the country, and he resigned his post to follow her.
For four years, he went from one spot to another looking for her. He was ashamed, but "her image – that baffling, almost vacant but fascinating image – had bitten too deeply into his soul" (7.6).
They met again in Baden (modern day southwest Germany) and resumed their old relationship; things seemed more intense than ever.
Then she fled one night, without warning, and there was nothing for Pavel to do but return to Russia and try to give the impression that he could still function in society; "he undertook nothing new" (7.6).
One night while out at the club, Pavel received news that Princess R died in Paris in a state bordering on insanity. She had returned the ring, but she had etched a cross over the image of the sphinx.
She had also sent him a note telling him that this was the answer to the enigma – the cross.
This was at the beginning of 1848, shortly after Nikolai had lost his wife. Pavel came to visit, but, even then, there was a great difference between the brothers.
Nikolai had a happy past to look back on and a son, whereas Pavel, "the lonely bachelor, was just entering on that indefinite twilight period of regrets that are akin to hopes, and hopes which are akin to regrets, when youth is over and old age has not yet come" (7.7).
Nikolai did not invite him to Maryino (named for Nikolai's dead wife) because he thought he would find it boring. Pavel, however, said that he was not as restless as he used to be, and that he would like to settle there.
After a year and a half, Pavel came and settled at Maryino. Once there, he never left, even when Nikolai went with Arkady to Petersburg. He began reading English books and modeled his life on the English pattern.
He was a liberal man who cared for the peasants, but also kept the new generation at a distance. He was well-respected in society and could still woo ladies, but he stayed aloof and did not cultivate the society of ladies.
Arkady concludes by telling Bazarov how unfair he was. He also points out that Pavel has helped out his father financially, and that he constantly stands up for the peasants even if he acts stuck-up around them.
Bazarov thinks that he is a nervous case, but Arkady says that his heart is in the right place and that he has much advice to give, especially about women.
Bazarov replies scornfully, "Aha! Messes up his own life and gives advice to others! We know all about that!" (7.15).
Arkady says that Pavel is so unhappy that it's a crime to despise him.
Bazarov says that he does not despise him, but that one who gives up after one failed love affair is not actually a man. He thinks that Pavel is deluded in still thinking himself a man of action.
Arkady tries to appeal to Pavel's different education, but Bazarov snaps that everyone should be able to educate himself, as he has done.
He says, "And as to the times we live in, why should I depend upon them? Much better they should depend upon me" (7.19).
He thinks that all this talk of love is "romantic rot, mouldy aesthetics. We had much better go and inspect that beetle" (7.19).
The two of them walk off to Bazarov's room, which already has a medico-surgical smell, mixed only with "the reek of cheap tobacco" (7.20).