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Subject Literature

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781444333275.2013.x


A word invented by Turgenev in his novel Fathers and Sons (1862). It denotes a radical or extreme radical attitude which denies all traditional values, and, not infrequently, moral values as well. Turgenev invented it to describe the radical elements in the Russian intelligentsia who were profoundly disillusioned by lack of reform and believed that the only way to achieve anything was to destroy more or less completely all prevailing systems. The main theorist and ideologist was Pisarev (1840–68), who was depicted by Turgenev as Bazarov in Fathers and Sons . Nihilistic ideas spread and nihilism threatened for a time to develop into quite a powerful revolutionary force. Several other novelists took nihilism as a theme in their fiction and through it criticized the nihilists. The main nihilist works were: Pisemski's Troubled Seas (1863), Leskov's No Way Out (1864), Goncharov's The Precipice (1869) and Dostoevsky's The Possessed (or The Devils , 1871–2). Some of the worst aspects of nihilism were exemplified by Dostoevsky in the immoral and unscrupulous character Peter Verkhovensky. Few writers were sympathetic to nihilism, but in What is to be Done? (1863) Chernyshevski showed some sympathy for the nihilists and portrayed them as self-sacrificing heroes and radical leaders to be emulated. ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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