Wives and Daughters -- Fathers and Sons
Did you know that just a couple of years before Mrs. Gaskell wrote Wives and Daughters, the Russian author, Ivan wrote a book called, "Fathers and Sons". Like Gaskell, he authored his novel in the 1860's, but, also like Gaskell, he sets the novel in the 1830's and '40's.
Like Wives and Daughters, Fathers and Sons is about generational changes in outlook. Turgenev wrote about the cultural chasm he saw growing between Russian liberals in the earlier part of the 19th century when compared to he complete nihilism that was coming into vogue in among younger Russian intellectuals. The nihilists, like some counterparts among the post-Darwinian movement, believed that "pure" science held all of the answer for mankind. The Russian nihilists took this a step further. They wished to do away with all institutions, except for a national government composed of people who would lead and educate the people according to "enlightened" nihilist values. Hmm...Is there some historical foreshadowing here?
The main character, Bazarov, finds that his nihilism falls apart when it is confronted with human emotions, particularly when he is rejected by the woman he loves. Bazarov's nihilist theories also give his parents pain, and he is frustrated by the fact that his parents don't see things his way. His story is contrasted with a friend's, who marries and has a happy home.
Mrs. Gaskell entitled one of the chapters in her book "Father and Sons." Notes to the book suggest this might be an oblique reference to Turgenev's novel, but I am not sure about that. It seems to me as if it's a logical title for that chapter in its own right.
Had Mrs. Gaskell read "Fathers and Sons" when she wrote "Wives and Daughters"? Quite possibly. Lots of people were reading it in England at the time she penned her novels. Were any themes in "Wives and Daughters" influenced by Turgenev's work? I wouldn't venture to say. Perhaps, someone who has studied this era's literature would be more qualified to speak about this.