It is 1859, and under the leadership of progressive Czar Alexander II, Russia is rushing pell-mell from the 11th century to the 19th. Serfdom has been abolished, and something approaching parliamentary democracy has been installed. Arkady, a fresh college graduate, proceeds with his friend Bazarov, a charismatic nihilist, to the estate of his father, a down-at-the-heels gentleman farmer. It appears as though dad and the housekeeper have just had a child, and dad is deeply in love - although their difference in class makes marriage impossible to contemplate. Arkady, enraptured with the new thought he learned at college, is eager to impact the New Russia, though he has no idea how. Bazarov, who has burnished his fashionable cynicism to a near-blinding sheen, has resolved to say or think nothing which is not 'useful.' It is surprising, still, how talkative he is. As we learn only at the end of the first Act, Arkady's uncle Pavel, a Europeanized dandy, has begun to stalk Bazarov's mistress, Anna - because he was in love with Anna's late mother.