Nezhdanov dies, he kills himself, his lover marries, the plotters or so-called revolutionaries are arrested and some jailed, life moves on, the revolution is stalled, the rich coat of Petersburg attracts its most powerful citizens again. In Nezhdanov, Turgenev has created the quintessential tragic revolutionary, one who refuses to bargain, for whom any doubt in the cause itself is not worth the trouble, a slight hesitation, a difference of opinion or temperament is enough to foment doubt. Nezhdanov has doubts right from the beginning, the cause seems vague to him, he is not ready to jump himself blindly or let others do so and yet carry on does he, in spite of himself, everyone else even the very conditions he finds himself in.
Nezhdanov's suicide is an act of mercy. To languish in Siberia would have been a terrible injustice for he not only mistrusts the mission and its ultimate aims but is not sure all along what its aims actually are. he loves life but does not hate its seedier manifestations, he loves his country but cannot understand how the peasants can drink vodka and leer in oblivion, he is not a slavophile, he is a figure of moderation though he carries a gun only to set it on himself. Even in love, the slightest of doubts in affections returned makes him wonder a hundred times, he is zealously unselfish, polite and considerate, and his act of suicide is not an act of selfishness but an acknowledgement of the haste of others and a saving grace for them. His death is an act of compassion.
Can Nezhdanov, from Virgin Soil be compared to Stavrogin from The Devils? The answer is a resolute No. I am aware that any comparison of these two novels, which I cannot help comparing will not be totally out of place, and that (all comparisons are so odious and usually tasteless) but the quality of virgin soil sets it apart for not only are the revolutionaries treated with compassion, their very notions set forth clearly, they are treated with dignity.
Dostoevsky makes fun of these pamphleteers, these revolutionaries. I remember in one episode in The Devils, they all meet to discuss something and yet no one can set about the agenda for discussion. They are treated with no dignity, it seems they are just well read criminals, whose only aim is greedy crime and the hasty dissolution of a state that has no justification to exist. The aristocratic class, the governor of the city and his wife are actually soul-less characters and yet their very base ideas and actions are covered with a slime of hypocrisy and the veneer of good breeding, coated with the profusion of French sayings with which the devils abounds. The character of Stepan Verkhovensky is one that I have no sympathy with and yet the narrator of that story wastes literally a few hundred pages on resurrecting a character that has no moral fibre.
The notion of mental illness, of greed and alcoholic abuse, of any form of ill-health or physical defect does not arise in Turgenev's fiction. The men and women are perfectly healthy, the only differences we see are the ones of class, of opinion and education over which there are no controlling factors. in fact in virgin soil, there are no lectures around fires burning all night, we know they are talking but we do not know what, there is an ongoing cause but we are privy to their innermost thoughts. We move with them, we think we know them, in fact we know when Nezhdanov falls in and out of love, but in the devils we do not know what Pyotr Verkhovensky is up to, what Stavrogin wants? The Sipyagins of virgin soil are shown as to what they really are, condescending, greedy, hypocrites and all idle talk and no class really. Contrast this usually with Dostoevsky's treatment of the aristocrats, to whom , I suspect he was slightly impartial. His treatment of the lower classes and the poor is a mixture of condescension and a sort of christian love and misguided mysticism, in which lending an ear but not shaking the hand is the epitome of charity.
Turgenev's virgin soil, his longest novel is a brilliant portrait of not just so called revolutionary action but the preceding account and post- mortem of revolutionary ideals and the pungent distaste of defeat. The last chapter when Mashurina meets the lame Paklin, when old memories are exchanged is perhaps the best in the novel, where Turgenev shows not only his humanity but his sympathy too, sympathy for the characters he has created. It is evident from his tone that his is a voice of moderation and even though he is not a man of violence, he knows that only a certain amount of activity will lead to change and change there must be. In that sense, virgin soil is a prophetic novel for within forty years, the revolutionary activities were in full swing.
Nezhdanov, young and poetic burns his verses before killing himself. He gives his lover's hand away to the person he sees his rival in love at the very moment of death. He is aware of his humiliating past but does not resent it at all. He leaves his affairs in order, he is the only member of the group who is ready. He is ready to begin, to start change. He is true and loyal, he is not a hypocrite, he gives what is not asked, his very life.