There are many ways in which the word setting may be applied to a novel. Some of these include: The time and place(s) in which the action in the novel takes place; whether or not the novel is being read in its original form, or through the actions of a translator; the narrative voice; the date of its publication in relation to the action contained within it; how the work was first presented to the public; the relationship of socio-political attitudes at the time of its publication to those presented by the author; the author s own such attitudes and whether they colour the way the story unfolds.
While it is not necessary for a work to reflect an ideological statement , it cannot be denied that both Fathers and Sons and Great Expectations both have such statements implicit in the way they were written. The differences between the two works are more numerous than the similarities, so the focus of this piece will be on the way that both authors use physical settings to enhance these ideological statements.
Looking first at Fathers and Sons, the messages within it are a reflection of its author. Conceived while Turgenev was on holiday in England, there is evidence (FaS, p.xiii) that he was also there was to discuss the imminent Emancipation act with other Russian migr s. Fathers and Sons uses the background of this upcoming change as the whole underpinning to what takes place.
Another reason Turgenev wrote this novel was his drive to explore that rapidly changing physiognomy of Russians of the cultured stratum (RN, p.169). His main reason for having Bazarov as the central character for the novel was that he had not seen represented anywhere in Russian literature the changes he sensed all around him (FaS, p.xiii).
Fathers and Sons is a novel made up of few parts. There is a limited cast of characters, there are only a few major locations (Marino, Nikoloskoe and the farm/estate of Bazarov s parents) and the action spans only four months. However, this enhances the effect of the novel on the reader, as it allows Turgenev to concentrate what takes place to produce something much greater than the sum of its parts.
Most of Fathers and Sons is set in country estates and houses, except for the trip to town in Chapters 12 15. This allows Turgenev to use the backdrop of nature and the country to reinforce the difference in attitude that Bazarov represents and also to keep the characters in a close environment where the dynamics between them can be developed.
Nature remains impassive throughout the novel (RN, pp.171 2), with the turning of the seasons happening independently of the actions of the characters in the novel. The elemental and constructive force of Nature in the background contrasts with the need for more violent change evident in Bazarov – First we ve got to clear the ground. (FaS, p.60)
Nature is also used as a subtle way of showing the underlying socio-political state. As they first approach Marino, (FaS, pp.13 14) the majority of adjectives used give a feeling of decay or impending ruin. Even the woodland, the first part of the estate that Arkady notices, has been sold – They ll be cutting it down for timber this year. (FaS, p.13) This destruction of nature mirrors Bazarov s wish to clear the ground and foreshadows the social and political problems ahead when the Emancipation Act comes into force. The overall impression of something rotten at the heart of the estate could imply that the main problem is the aristo owner. A more overtly political reading could also see the Marino estate as a microcosm of the Russia it represents, stumbling towards ruin under its feudal system.
At the end of the novel, the farm is already making a significant profit. (FaS, p.242) However, it is Arkady who is now the proprietor. Turgenev may be subtly implying that the younger generation, with their new ideas, could manage Russia better than their elders. It is also notable that while Arkady eventually rejected nihilism, he was surely influenced by Bazarov. This mix of old and new philosophies in Arkady might be what the author sees as the way ahead for Russia.
Each of the major locations of the work (except for Kukshina s house) is visited twice. At each visit, Bazarov learns a little more about himself. At Marino he comes into conflict with the aristocratic ideals he so despises, realising after the duel that he has more in common with the Petrovitchs than he originally thought. (RN, p.173) In his visits to Nikoloskoe, he falls in love and is rejected, showing that even nihilists are not immune to romantic feelings. The first visit home is painful for him when he discovers that he is closer to the aristocratic landowners than he is comfortable with. On his return, he has to face his own mortality. While an outright rejection of nihilism is never made, unlike Arkady, there is a modification of his extreme views through the novel again reflecting Turgenev s non-revolutionary liberal outlook. (FaS, p.xi)
Turning to Great Expectations, it also reflects some of the social issues of its author s day. Magwitch s deportation and return are used to show the iniquities and harshness of the judicial system in force. Pip s rise from humble beginnings is used to point out the sometimes-ridiculous snobbishness of the class system prevailing at the time. While Dickens zeal for change in these systems is a matter for academic debate, there is evidence that he held similar liberal views to Turgenev in relation to social change, proposing reform rather than revolution . (RN, p.158)
A major point of similarity between the two works is the way that the central character in each repeatedly visits the same locations. Pip is on a voyage of self-discovery in Great Expectations, moving from the honest life of the forge to his snobbery in London. He comes to realise that such behaviour is worthless and his main ambition – to become a gentleman – is an empty one. His return visits to the forge/marshes/local town and Satis House throw his behaviour into sharp relief and allow Dickens to show the folly of such a life. This development of character is seen in other works of Dickens, David Copperfield and Oliver Twist for example, and so could perhaps be seen as part of the author s ideological statement .
While Pip is the product of a dysfunctional family, Dickens attempts to show that love and caring can provide a better environment. The best example of this is found in Wemmick and his Aged P . At first, Wemmick, with his post office mouth and talk of portable property seems cold and unfeeling. However, when Pip visits his Walworth castle he is found to be quite the opposite. The raising of the plank/drawbridge when Wemmick returns home allows him to cut off the communication (GE, p.204) not only with the rest of Walworth, but between his work and home personalities. The image of this castle , snug and secure behind its defences implies that the close relationship between Wemmick and his father is the same.
When Magwitch (Pip s second father [GE, p.315])) returns, Pip perhaps treats him in a kinder way than he would have without Wemmick s example. Dickens, with his views on the judicial system of the day, tries throughout the novel to engage our sympathy for the convict. Even at the start, where Pip sees A fearful man , (GE, p.4) the reader sees a cold and wounded figure, more to be pitied than feared. Magwitch s return is also one of the turning points for Pip and his voyage of discovery, as he now has someone else to care about apart from himself. This becomes even more evident after Magwitch s capture and injury, when he becomes Pip s first duty of my life (GE, p.450)
From that point on, Magwitch becomes a nobler figure until his death and Pip changes with him. The scene of Magwitch s sentencing is particularly striking, with Dickens using the setting to place Magwitch on a higher plane than those administering justice . Dickens uses capital letters in some strange places over pages 451 452: Judge , Jury , Guilty , Justice , Death , Die . The reason for this becomes clear when Magwitch speaks after being sentenced, saying My Lord, I have received sentence of Death from the Almighty, but I now bow to yours. (GE, p.452). The build up of the use of capital letters implies a higher authority present at the court long before the judge or Magwitch acknowledges it. Also, the infliction of death on thirty-two others as well as Magwitch, heightens our perception of such a justice system as brutal and unfeeling.
While there are many other examples in both works of the authors using physical settings to subtly enhance their underlying messages, the ones quoted here are some of the most memorable and stick in the reader s mind long after the novels have been put aside.
Turgenev, I. (1998) Fathers and Sons, Oxford, Oxford University Press.
Dickens, C (1993) Great Expectations, Oxford, Oxford University Press.
Langston, D and Walker, M. J. (1997) York Notes: Great Expectations, London, York Press.
Walder, D. (ed) (1995) The Realist Novel (Ch. 5 & 6), London, Routledge/The Open University
The Open University Audio Cassette AC2120, Side 1, Bands 1 and 2 & Side 2, Band 4
This essay attained a B+ pass when submitted originally.