To analyze the attitudes towards the women question and the most useful starting point would be to look at the representation of the liberated woman, Yevdoxia Kukshina, which can be contrasted with the representation of Bazarov’s mother or Nikolai Kirsanov’s wife, the women ideals of the older generation. Kukshina is clearly meant to the representative of the radicalism of the 1850s to1860s, “the progressive, advanced or educated woman : nigilistka or nihilist woman” (Richard Stites). She has ‘vowed to defend the rights of women to the last drop of my blood’ and is scornful of Sand ‘an out of date woman’. She has separated from her husband and plans to go abroad to study in Paris and Heildelberg. She thus, personifies the emergence of new objectives and tactics among the Russian emancipees of the early 1860s.
However, it is also quite obvious that while much has been written about Turgenev’s attitude towards his nihilist hero, there is no doubt that the female nihilist Kukshina is an unflattering caricature and as Walter Smyrniw quotes “Turgenev has deliberately portrayed Kukshina as a ludicrous and repulsive emancipee.” Walter goes on to argue that in his portrayal of Kukshina, Turgenev lampooned only certain undesirable tendencies generated by Russian emancipees. The worst among them was a lack of genuine involvement, an inadequate commitment to the movement itself.
Some merely assumed the roles of the emancipated women and hence their behaviour was both contrived and unnatural. Although many critics have argued along the same lines of Turgenev’s portrayal of Kukshina as a device for irony “the progressive louse which Turgenev combed out of Russian reality” (Dostoevsky) and that he has assumed the same sentiment in respect to Russian men who merely assumed the pose of materialists and nihilists (eg. Sitnikov), it is hard to escape that in the description of her person and household we find some of the stereotyping of radical women found in most conservative writing.
He did not hesitate in expressing value judgments when ridiculing the pretentiousness and hypocrisy of Russian women who merely played the role of emancipees. She is dirty and slovenly in her habits and person, her room is scattered and dusty, her hair disheveled and her dress crumpled. Moreover, her conversation and behaviour is meant to ‘show’ us that her radicalism is shallow and unaffected. The narrator ‘tells’ us that she greets her guests with a string of questions without waiting for answers. It is important to notice here the narrator’s generalization here, which would seem to impute lack of serious concern (feminine casualness) to all women as part of their feminine nature and not to Kukshina as an individual. The narrator draws repeated attention to Kukshina’s unattractive physical appearance almost as if that were partly her fault.
Kukshina is unfortunate enough to show her gums above her top teeth when she laughs and her piano playing revels her flat-cut fingernails. However, what is most significant in terms of the dominant patriarchal ideology of the mid-nineteenth century Russia is her declaration, “I’m free, I have no children.” From a conservative perspective, this would count as near sacrilegious statement. Though Bazarov himself is a serious character, it’s possible to read Sitnikov as a parody of the younger generation. At Madame Kukshin’s, the narrator tells us “To Sitnikov the chance to be scathing and express contempt was the most agreeable of sensations” (13.44).