Oblomov, p.10Ivan Goncharov
Sometimes he told some cock-and-bull story about Oblomov out of sheer boredom or lack of a subject for conversation or out of a desire to impress his listeners.
‘My master,’ he wheezed quietly in a confidential whisper, ‘has taken to visiting that widow. Wrote a note to her yesterday, he did.’ Or he would declare that his master was the greatest gambler and drunkard in the world, that he played cards and drank all night long. There was not a word of truth in it: Oblomov paid no visits to the widow, he spent his nights sleeping peacefully and did not touch cards.
Zakhar was slovenly. He seldom shaved and though he washed his hands and face, it was more for show; besides, no soap could wash off the dirt. After a visit to the bath-house his hands turned red instead of black for a couple of hours, and then became black again. He was very clumsy; when he opened the doors or the gates, one half would shut while he was opening the other, and as he ran to the second half, the first one would shut. He could never pick up a handkerchief or anything else from the floor at once, but always bent down about three times, as though he were trying to catch it, and only got hold of it at the fourth attempt, and even then he was liable to drop it again. If he carried a number of plates or some other crockery across the room, those on the top began to decamp to the floor at the first step he took. First one fell off; he suddenly made a belated and useless attempt to stop it, and dropped another two. As he stood gaping with surprise at the falling plates, paying no attention to those he still held in his hands and holding the tray aslant, the plates continued to drop on the floor; by the time he reached the other end of the room there was sometimes only one plate or wine-glass left on the tray, and, cursing and swearing, he very often deliberately flung down the last things that still remained in his hands. Walking across the room he invariably caught his side or his feet against a table or a chair; he rarely passed through the open half of the door without knocking his shoulder against the other half, swearing at both, at the landlord, and at the carpenter who made them. In Oblomov’s study almost all articles, especially the small ones which required careful handling, were either broken or damaged, and all thanks to Zakhar. This talent for handling things he applied equally to all articles, making no distinction in his method of treating them. He was, for instance, told to snuff a candle or pour out a glass of water: to do that he used as much force as was needed to open the gates. But the real danger came when Zakhar, inspired by a sudden zeal to please his master, took it into his head to tidy everything, clean and put everything in its proper place quickly, at once! There was no end of trouble and breakages; an enemy soldier, rushing into the house, could not have done so much mischief. Things fell down and broke, crockery was smashed, chairs turned over. In the end he had to be driven out of the room, or he went away, swearing and cursing, of his own accord. Fortunately, he was rarely inspired with such zeal.
All that, of course, happened because Zakhar had been brought up and acquired his manners not in the dark and narrow, but fastidiously furnished, drawing-rooms and studies, cluttered up with all sorts of fancy articles, but in the country, where there was plenty of room to move about. There he was accustomed to work without being cramped and to handle things of solid dimensions and massive weight, such as a spade, a crowbar, iron door clamps, and chairs of such size that he could shift them only with difficulty.
Some article, such as a candlestick, a lamp, a transparency, a paper-weight, remained undamaged for three or four years, but as soon as Zakhar picked it up, it broke.
‘Oh,’ he sometimes used to say to Oblomov when this happened, ‘look, sir, what an extraordinary thing: I just picked it up and it came to pieces in my hands.’
Or he said nothing at all, but would put it back secretly and afterwards assured his master that he had broken it himself; and sometimes he excused himself by saying that even an iron article must get broken sooner or later since it could not possibly last for ever. In the first two instances one could still argue with him, but when, driven into a corner, he armed himself with the last argument, every objection was useless and nothing in the world could convince him that he was wrong.
Zakhar had drawn up a definite programme of activity which he never varied, if he could help it. In the morning he set the samovar, cleaned the boots and clothes his master asked for, but not those he did not ask for, though they might be hanging in the wardrobe for ten years. Then he swept – not every day, though – the middle of the room without touching the corners and dusted only the table that had nothing on it, to save himself the trouble of moving anything. After this he considered that he had a right to snooze on the stove or chatter with Anisya in the kitchen or with the servants at the gates. If he was ordered to do something else besides, he did it only reluctantly after long arguments to show that what was asked of him was useless or impossible. It was quite impossible to make him introduce any permanent new item into his programme of daily tasks. If he was told to clean or wash some article, or fetch something or take something away, he carried out the order with his usual growling, but Oblomov could never make him do that regularly and without being told. The next day or the day after he had to be told to do it again with a resumption of the same unpleasant arguments.
In spite of the fact that Zakhar liked to drink and gossip, took Oblomov’s coppers and silver ten-copeck pieces, smashed the crockery and damaged the furniture, and shirked his work, he was nevertheless deeply devoted to his master. He would gladly have jumped into fire or water for him without a moment’s hesitation and without thinking it heroic or worthy of any admiration or reward. He thought it a natural thing, as something that could not be otherwise, or rather he did not think at all, but acted without any reflection. He had no theories on the subject. It never occurred to him to analyse his feelings towards Oblomov; he had not invented them; they had descended to him from his father, his grandfather, his brothers, and the servants among whom he was brought up, and had become part of his flesh and blood. Zakhar would have died instead of his master, since he considered it as his bounden duty, and even without thinking about it he would have rushed to his death just as a dog rushes at a wild beast in the forest, without thinking why it, and not its master, should rush upon it. But if, on the other hand, he had had to keep awake by his master’s bedside all night because his master’s health and even life depended on it, Zakhar would most certainly have fallen asleep.
Outwardly he did not show any servility to his master, he even treated him familiarly and rudely, was angry with him in good earnest over every trifle and even, as already said, told tales about him at the gate; but all this merely pushed into the background for a time, but not by any means diminished, his inborn and intimate feeling of devotion not to Oblomov as such, but to everything that bore the name of Oblomov and that was close, dear, and precious to him. It is possible even that this feeling was opposed to Zakhar’s own opinion of Oblomov personally; it is possible that a close study of his master’s character gave Zakhar a far from flattering opinion of him. Quite probably Zakhar would have objected if the degree of his devotion to Oblomov had been explained to him.
Zakhar loved Oblomovka as a cat loves its attic, a horse its stable, and a dog the kennel in which it has been born and grown up. Within the sphere of this attachment he developed certain personal impressions. For instance, he liked the Oblomov coachman better than the cook, the dairy-maid Varvara better than either of them, and Oblomov himself least of all; but still, the Oblomovka cook was in his eyes better than any other cook in the world, and Oblomov better than all other landowners. He could not stand Taras the butler, but he would not exchange even him for the best man in the world simply because Taras was an Oblomov servant. He treated Oblomov familiarly and rudely just as a medicine-man treats his idol: he dusts it, drops it, sometimes even strikes it in vexation, but nevertheless at heart he is always conscious of the idol’s superiority to himself. The slightest occasion was sufficient to call forth this feeling from the very depths of Zakhar’s soul and make him look
Zakhar could not help looking down on the gentlemen who came to visit Oblomov; he served them, handed them tea and so on, with a kind of condescension, as though making them feel the honour his master bestowed on them by receiving them. He turned them away rather rudely: ‘Master’s asleep,’ he would say, looking the visitor up and down haughtily. Sometimes, instead of telling tales about Oblomov and abusing him, he would extol him immoderately at the shops and the meetings at the gate, and there was no end to his enthusiasm. He would suddenly begin to enumerate his master’s virtues, his intelligence, dexterity, generosity, good nature; and if his master’s fine qualities were not sufficient to merit his panegyrics, he borrowed them from others and declared Oblomov to be a person of high rank, wealth, and extraordinary influence. If he had to put the fear of God into the caretaker, the landlord’s agent, or even the landlord himself, he always threatened them with Oblomov. ‘You wait,’ he would say menacingly, ‘I’ll tell my master and then you’ll catch it.’ He did not expect there could be a higher authority in the whole world.
Outwardly, however, Oblomov’s relations with Zakhar were always rather hostile. Living together, they got on each other’s nerves. A close, daily intimacy between two people has to be paid for: it requires a great deal of experience of life, logic, and warmth of heart on both sides to enjoy each other’s good qualities without being irritated by each other’s shortcomings and blaming each other for them. Oblomov knew at least one inestimable virtue in Zakhar – his devotion to himself – and was used to it, believing, too, that it couldn’t and shouldn’t be otherwise; but having grown used to the virtue once and for all, he could no longer enjoy it; at the same time, however, he could not, in spite of his indifference to everything, patiently put up with Zakhar’s innumerable shortcomings. If Zakhar, while being greatly devoted to his master, differed from the old-fashioned servants by his modern shortcomings, Oblomov, too, much as he appreciated his servant’s loyalty, differed from the masters of former times in not cherishing the same friendly and almost affectionate feelings towards Zakhar that they had had for their servants. Occasionally, indeed, he had rows with Zakhar.
Zakhar, too, was often tired of his master. Having served his term as a footman in his youth, Zakhar had been appointed to look after the young master; from that day he began to regard himself as an article of luxury, an aristocratic accessory of the house, whose duty it was to keep up the prestige and splendour of an old family and not to be of any real use. That was why, having dressed the young master in the morning and undressed him in the evening, he spent the rest of the day doing nothing at all. Lazy by nature, he became even more so by his upbringing as a flunkey. He gave himself airs before the servants, did not take the trouble to set the samovar or sweep the floors. He either dozed in the hall or went to have a chat in the servants’ hall or the kitchen; or he did neither, but just stood for hours at the gates, his arms crossed, and looked dreamily about him. And after such a life, he was suddenly burdened with the heavy task of doing the work of a whole household single-handed! He had to look after his master, sweep and clean, and run errands! No wonder he became morose, bad-tempered, and rude; no wonder he growled every time his master’s voice forced him to leave the stove. In spite, however, of his outward sullenness and unsociableness, Zakhar possessed a soft and kind heart. He even liked to spend his time with children. He was often seen with a crowd of children in the courtyard or by the gate. He settled their quarrels, teased them, organized games, or simply sat with one child on each knee, while another little rascal would throw his arms round his neck from behind or pull at his whiskers.
And so Oblomov interfered with Zakhar’s life by constantly demanding his services and his presence, while Zakhar’s heart, his talkative nature, his love of idleness, and a perpetual, never-ceasing need for munching something drew him to the gate, or to his lady-friend, to the shop, or to the kitchen.
They had known each other and lived together for a very long time. Zakhar had dandled little Oblomov in his arms, and Oblomov remembered him as a quick and sly young man with a prodigious appetite. Nothing in the world could sever the old ties between them. Just as Oblomov could not get up or go to bed, brush his hair, put on his shoes, or have his dinner without Zakhar, so Zakhar could imagine no other master than Oblomov and no other existence than that of dressing him, feeding him, being rude to him, cheating him, lying to him and, at the same time, inwardly revering him.
HAVING closed the door behind Tarantyev and Alexeyev, Zakhar did not sit down on the stove, but waited for his master to call him any minute, for he had heard that Oblomov was going to write letters. But everything in Oblomov’s study was as silent as the grave.
Zakhar peeped through the chink in the wall – and what did he see? Oblomov was lying quietly on the sofa, his head propped on his hand; a book lay open in front of him. Zakhar opened the door.
‘Why are you lying down again, sir?’ he asked.
‘Don’t disturb me, you see I am reading,’ Oblomov said curtly.
‘It’s time to wash and to write,’ Zakhar said mercilessly.
‘Yes,’ Oblomov said, coming to himself. ‘As a matter of fact it is. I’ll be ready directly. You go now. I’ll think.’
‘How did he manage to lie down again?’ Zakhar growled, jumping on the stove. ‘He’s not half quick!’
Oblomov, however, managed to read the page which had turned yellow during the month since he had last read the book. He put the book down, yawned, and then began thinking of ‘the two misfortunes’.
‘What a bore!’ he whispered, stretching his legs and tucking them under him again. He felt like lying like that in comfort and dreaming. He gazed at the sky, looking for the sun that he loved so much, but it was right overhead, shining dazzlingly on the whitewashed wall of the house behind which Oblomov watched it set in the evening.
‘No,’ he said to himself sternly, ‘first to business and then – –’
In the country the morning would long have been over, but in Petersburg it was just drawing to a close. From the courtyard a mingled sound of human and animal noises reached Oblomov’s ears: the singing of some strolling street musicians, accompanied by the barking of dogs. A sea monster was being brought for show, hawkers shouted their wares in all sorts of voices.
He lay on his back and put both hands under his head. Oblomov was busy with his plan for reorganizing his estate. He rapidly ran through several important, vital points about the rent he was going to charge for leasing his land, the fields that had to be ploughed, thought of a new and sterner measure against laziness and vagrancy among the peasants, and went over to the subject of arranging his own life in the country. He was preoccupied with the problem of building his new country house; he dwelt pleasurably for a few minutes on the arrangement of the rooms, made up his mind about the size of the dining-room and billiard-room, thought on which side the windows of his study would look, and even remembered the furniture and carpets. After that he decided where to erect the outbuildings, taking into account the number of guests he intended to entertain, and allotted the space for the stables, barns, servants’ quarters, and so on. At last he turned his attention to the garden: he decided to leave all the old lime trees and oaks, to cut down the apple and pear trees and plant acacias in their place; he thought of having a park, but making a rough estimate of the expenses, found that it would cost too much and, leaving it for the time being, passed on to the flower-beds and hot-houses. At this point the tempting thought of the fruit he would gather flashed through his mind so vividly that he suddenly transferred himself to the country as it would be several years hence when his estate was already reorganized according to his plan and when he lived there permanent
He imagined himself sitting one summer evening at the tea-table on the veranda under an impenetrable canopy of trees, lazily inhaling the smoke from a long pipe, dreamily enjoying the view from behind the trees, the cool air, the stillness; in the distance the corn in the fields was turning yellow, the sun was setting behind the familiar birch-wood and spreading a red glow over the mirror-like surface of the pond; a mist was rising from the fields; it was getting cool, dusk was falling; the peasants were returning home in crowds. The idle servants were sitting at the gate; cheerful voices came from there, laughter, the sound of a balalaika; girls were playing a game of catch; his own little children were playing round him, climbing on his knees, putting their arms about his neck; at the samovar sat – the queen of it all – his divinity – a woman – his wife! Meanwhile, in the dining-room, furnished with elegant simplicity, bright, friendly lights were lighted, and the big, round table was being laid; Zakhar, promoted to butler, his whiskers perfectly white by now, was setting the table, placing the glasses and the silver on it with a pleasant ringing sound, every moment dropping a glass or a fork on the floor; they sat down to an abundant supper; Stolz, the comrade of his childhood and his faithful friend, was sitting next to him, as well as other familiar faces; then they went to bed.…
Oblomov’s face suddenly flushed with happiness: his dream was so vivid, so distinct, and so poetical that he at once buried his face in the pillow. He suddenly felt a vague longing for love and peaceful happiness, a keen desire for his native fields and hills, for a home with a wife and children of his own.… After lying for five minutes with his face in the pillow, Oblomov slowly turned over on his back again. His face shone with tender, warm emotion; he was happy. He stretched out his legs slowly and with delight, which made his trousers roll up a little, but he did not notice this slight disorder. His obliging imagination carried him lightly and freely into the far-away future. Now he became absorbed in his favourite idea: he was thinking of a small group of friends settling in villages and farms within ten or fifteen miles of his estate, who would visit each other daily in turn, and dine, sup, and dance together; he saw nothing but bright days and bright, laughing people, without a care or a wrinkle, with round faces and rosy cheeks, double chins and insatiable appetites; it was going to be a perpetual summer, everlasting gaiety, lovely food, and sweet leisure.…
Oblomov by Ivan Goncharov / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes