Pavel Petrovich shows up soon after Arkady arrives back at Maryino the day of May 20th, 1859.
The narrator notes his long tapering nails, and his "aristocratic elegance" (4.11). Pavel does not even acknowledge Bazarov, but tells Nikolai he is happy to have Arkady back.
After dinner that night, Bazarov tells Arkady that he thinks his uncle is absurd, that he must dress so elaborately out of nostalgia for lost times.
Pavel stays up late reading an English daily paper and staring into the fire.
The next day, Pavel joins Arkady and Nikolai for tea.
Pavel asks about Bazarov, making it clear that he disapproves of him, and Arkady tells them that his friend is a nihilist.
Pavel defines a nihilist as someone who respects nothing, and tells Arkady, "We shall see how you exist in a void, in an airless vacuum" (5.62).
When Bazarov appears briefly and announces he must go put away the frogs he has collected, Pavel says, "He has no faith in principles, only in frogs" (5.73).
When Bazarov returns, Pavel asks about his studies in natural science. He is irritated by the rudeness in the young man's voice and his excessive admiration for German chemists.
Pavel tries to pin Bazarov down, but Bazarov doesn't make any definite statements. When Bazarov asks why he is undergoing a cross-examination, Pavel turns pale.
When Pavel and Nikolai go to see the new bailiff, Pavel says sarcastically that he hadn't known that the younger generation was more intelligent than the older.
In an attempt to make Bazarov sympathize with his uncle, Arkady tells him Pavel's story.
From the start, Pavel was a man of action, and he was made a captain at the young age of twenty-seven. He was very popular in society, particularly with young women.
Pavel fell in love with a mysterious woman named Princess R. They began an affair, and he became obsessed with her, giving her a ring with a sphinx on it to symbolize what a puzzle she was to him.
When she fled from him, he resigned his military post and followed her. He was ashamed but "her image – that baffling, almost vacant but fascinating image – had bitten too deeply into his soul" (7.6).
They were briefly together in Baden, but she fled again and Pavel could do nothing but return to Russian society and attempt to function; "he undertook nothing new" (7.6).
Pavel later heard that Princess R. died in Paris in a state bordering on insanity. She sent him the ring with a cross etched over the sphinx and a note explaining that this was the answer to the riddle.
After a time, Pavel came to settle with Nikolai. By then "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).
At Maryino, Pavel began reading English books and modeled his life on the English style. Yet he chose to stay aloof (distant) from society.
After hearing the story, Bazarov still thinks Pavel is ridiculous. He claims that he messed up his own life and now consoles himself by giving advice to others.
After the interview with the bailiff, Pavel goes to visit Fenichka and little Mitya. He asks her for green tea and begins making small talk. Fenichka is confused because he never comes to visit.
Pavel asks if he can have a look at Mitya, and Fenichka is very excited. She tells Mitya that Pavel is his uncle.
When Nikolai enters, Pavel seems embarrassed and leaves abruptly. He goes to his room, throws himself down on the sofa, and remains "staring at the ceiling with an expression verging on despair" (8.58).
Though most people at Maryino get used to Bazarov, Pavel persists in his dislike.
After Nikolai hears Bazarov and Arkady talking about how backward he is, he goes and tells Pavel that the distance between himself and his son saddens him.
Pavel tells Nikolai that they are wrong and that Bazarov's conceit is "quite revolting" (10.16).
When Bazarov and Arkady rejoin them, Pavel is ready for a fight. At the first opportunity, he begins lecturing Bazarov.
He tells him "without a sense of proper pride, without a sense of self-respect – and these feelings are highly developed in the aristocrat – there can be no firm foundation for the social... bien public... the social fabric" (10.45).
Pavel pushes Bazarov, and Bazarov explains that the most useful thing the nihilists can do is to repudiate everything. Pavel is shocked.
Pavel tells Bazarov that the Russian people "hold traditions sacred, they are a patriarchal people – they cannot live without faith" (10.68).
Bazarov retorts that Pavel doesn't even know how to talk to the Russian people, and both men begin to lose their temper.
When Arkady says that nihilists are "a force" and don't need to be responsible to anyone, Pavel laughs (10.101).
He tells them "there are only four men and a half of you, whereas the others number millions who won't let you trample their most sacred beliefs underfoot – it is they who will crush you" (10.104).
Pavel goes on to point out that these days all a man needs to do in order to seem educated is to say that everything in the world is rubbish.
When the young men leave, Nikolai wonders if the two generations are simply incapable of understanding one another. Pavel thinks that he is too modest – that they are much more in the right than the arrogant young men.
A few weeks later, when Bazarov and Arkady leave, Nikolai and Pavel are greatly relieved.
When they return, Pavel Petrovich seems to avoid arguing with Bazarov. He satisfies himself with the notion that they are incapable of understanding one another. Occasionally, he even stops in to see how Bazarov's experiments are coming.
A few days later, when Bazarov kisses Fenichka, Pavel Petrovich emerges from the bushes. It becomes clear that he has been spying on them.
He does nothing at the time and, when Nikolai thinks that he seems in ill humor, he blames it on "bilious attacks" (23.81).
Two hours later, Pavel Petrovich goes to Bazarov's room and challenges him to a duel. Bazarov agrees, but seems to take the whole thing as a joke. Pavel warns him that he is deadly serious.
They make the arrangements and decide not to tell Nikolai the reason for the duel. They will simply say that they despise one another.
They meet early the next morning. Pavel Petrovich shoots first. He aims directly at Bazarov's head, but the bullet whizzes by the young man's ear.
Bazarov fires back and hits Pavel in the thigh. Bazarov rushes to help him. Pavel wants to proceed with the duel, but he blacks out.
When Pavel comes to, Bazarov tells him it is only a superficial wound. Pavel is ashamed of how he has acted and can hardly make eye contact with the young man.
The servant Piotr goes to get Nikolai. Pavel tells his brother that they fell out over English politics, and that it was his fault: he challenged Bazarov.
Back home, Pavel makes a joke of the whole situation. One night, in delirium, he tells Nikolai that Fenichka reminds him of his old love, Princess R.
When Bazarov leaves, Pavel says goodbye to him, but Bazarov thinks that he is still acting proud and trying to get the upper hand.
A week later, Pavel calls Fenichka to bring him tea.
He reveals to her that he saw Bazarov kiss her and asks if her conscience is clear. He questions her love for her brother, and when she insists that her love is pure, Pavel takes her hand and squeezes it. He tells her never to stop loving Nikolai.
"At that moment the whole of his wasted life stirred within him" (24.165).
Soon after, when Nikolai comes to his room, Pavel begs him to fulfill one wish. He says, "Marry Fenichka... She loves you: she is the mother of your son" (24.178).
Nikolai is thrilled and they embrace several times. Pavel encourages him to propose as soon as possible. He thinks that after the marriage he will go somewhere and wait to die.
At the end of the novel, Pavel sets off for Moscow. He ultimately settles in Dresden, and becomes a popular figure in polite society.
"Within his capacity he continues to do good works; in a small way he still causes a stir; it was not for nothing that he had been a social lion once upon a time; but life weighs heavily on him... more heavily than he himself suspects" (28.10).