Fathers and Sons
by Ivan Turgenev
Vassily Ivanych Bazarov
There is perhaps no better description of Vassily Ivanych Bazarov than when he is presenting a peasant's tooth that young Bazarov pulled to Father Alexei. Convinced that his son is the best doctor in the Russian empire, he points out to Alexei that Bazarov must have been very strong to have taken the tooth clean out like he did. Alexei doesn't know what to say to "the rapturous old man" (27.18).
Vassily Ivanych is a humble man, a country doctor who once served in the military under General Kirsanov. He lives a modest life, though not so modest as Bazarov pretends (Bazarov tells Arkady that they have fifteen servants; the servant Timofeich corrects him and points out the number is twenty-two). Above all, however, Vassily Ivanych worships the very ground that his son walks on; he thinks that Bazarov is destined for greatness and his only goal is to stay out of his son's way.
When Arkady tells Vassily Ivanych he thinks Bazarov is one of the most impressive people he has ever met, Vassily Ivanych is ecstatic. He begins explaining his son. He says, "He is against every kind of demonstration of feeling; many people even find fault with him for such strength of character, and take it for a sign of arrogance or lack of sensibility; but men like him ought not to be judged by ordinary standards, ought they?" (21.19). Throughout, we constantly see the father making such excuses for the son. The more we get to know Vassily Ivanych, it is not difficult to think of his father as one source of his excessive pride. At home, he can, quite simply, get away with anything.
For all his humility, Vassily Ivanych is clearly not without a certain level of egotism. He impresses on Arkady that he does his best to stay up with the times. He tries to keep up with phrenology (an early neuroscience) and psychology, and says, "for a thinking man there is no such thing as a wilderness" (20.43). It's clear that his modesty is of the variant where other people must know he is being modest. In other words, Vassily Ivanych subtly emphasizes that he has something to be modest about. Compared to the meekness of Nikolai Petrovich, Vassily Ivanych is a very proud man indeed.
That said, Vassily Ivanych seems to have nothing but good intentions. He often imagines himself stronger than he is, and will make apologies for his wife's sentimentality when he is exactly the same way. For example, when he invites Father Alexei for dinner, he claims that it was Arina Vlassyevna who insisted on it. He constantly makes a fuss over his son while trying to pretend that he is not doing so. The father scrambles for a way to express his love for his son, though he knows that Bazarov is against every "demonstration of feeling" (21.19).
When Bazarov dies, Vassily Ivanych goes into a frenzy. He begins shouting, "I said I would rebel. And I will rebel, I will!" (27.157). It is only when his wife grabs him that the two of them collapse sobbing. Vassily Ivanych is, at heart, a conservative Russian countryman. As much as he supports his son's views, he begs him to take the last anointing and eventually has Father Alexei do it while Bazarov is in a state of delirium. Vassily Ivanych tries to paint himself as man of the times, but he is actually something much more traditional: a loving father who will do anything to please his son.