Oblomov, p.21Ivan Goncharov
On the day of Andrey’s departure his father gave him a hundred roubles in notes.
‘You’ll ride to the town,’ he said, ‘and there Kalinnikov will give you three hundred and fifty roubles. You can leave the horse with him. If he isn’t in town, you can sell the horse. There is going to be a fair there soon and you’ll easily get four hundred roubles for it from anyone. Your fares to Moscow will be about forty roubles and from there to Petersburg, seventy-five. You will have enough left. After that you can do as you like. You have been in business with me and so you know that I have a small capital, but don’t count on getting any of it before my death. I’ll probably live for another twenty years, unless a stone falls on my head. The lamp still burns brightly and there is plenty of oil in it. You have received a good education and all careers are open to you. You can enter the Civil Service, or become a business man, or even a writer, if you like – I don’t know the one you will choose, which you feel most attracted to.…’
‘I’ll see whether I can’t do all at once,’ said Andrey.
His father burst out laughing with all his might and began patting his son’s shoulders so vigorously that a horse would not have stood it, but Andrey did not mind.
‘Well, and if your ability should not be equal to the task, and if you should find it difficult to strike the right road all at once and would like to ask someone’s advice, go and see Reinhold – he’ll tell you. Oh,’ he added, rubbing his hands and shaking his head, ‘he is – he is – –’ he wanted to say something in Reinhold’s praise, but could not find the right words; ‘We came together from Saxony. He owns a house of four stories. I’ll give you his address – –’
‘Don’t bother, I don’t want it,’ said Andrey. ‘I’ll go and see him when I have a house of four stories, and at present I shall do without him.’
There was more patting on the shoulder.
Andrey jumped on to his horse. Two bags were tied to the saddle: one had an oilskin cape, a pair of thick, nail-studded boots, and a few shirts made of Verkhlyovo linen – things he had bought and taken at his father’s insistent request; in the other was an elegant dress-coat of fine cloth, a thick overcoat, a dozen fine shirts, and shoes that had been ordered from Moscow, in memory of his mother’s admonitions.
‘Well?’ said the father.
‘Well?’ said the son.
‘Is that all?’ asked the father.
‘All!’ replied the son.
They looked at each other in silence, as though trying to pierce each other with their eyes.
Meanwhile, a small group of curious neighbours had collected and were gazing open-mouthed at the way the steward was taking leave of his son.
Father and son shook hands. Andrey rode off at a gallop.
‘How do you like the young puppy?’ the neighbours were saying to one another. ‘He hasn’t shed a tear! Those two crows on the fence are cawing as though their throats would burst. Mark my words, that bodes no good – he’d better look out!’
‘What are crows to him? He’s not afraid of walking in the woods alone on St John’s Eve. All that means nothing to Germans. A Russian would have paid dearly for it!’
‘And the old infidel is a fine fellow, too!’ a mother observed. ‘He threw him out into the street like a kitten: never embraced or wailed over him.’
‘Stop, stop, Andrey!’ the old man shouted.
Andrey stopped his horse.
‘Oh, so his heart misgave him, after all,’ people in the crowd said with approval.
‘Well?’ asked Andrey.
‘The saddle-strap is loose – let me tighten it.’
‘I’ll tighten it myself when I get to Shamshevka. It’s no use wasting time; I want to be there before dark.’
‘All right,’ said the father with a wave of the hand.
‘All right,’ the son repeated with a nod and, bending down a little, he was about to spur his horse.
‘Just like dogs – the two of them,’ said the neighbours. ‘They might be strangers!’
Suddenly a loud wail was heard in the crowd: some woman could bear it no longer.
‘Oh, you poor darling,’ she said, wiping her tears with a corner of her kerchief. ‘Poor little orphan! You have no mother, you have no one to bless you.… Let me at least make the sign of the cross over you!’
Andrey rode up to her and jumped off his horse. He embraced the old woman and was about to ride on – when suddenly he burst out crying while she was kissing him and making the sign of the cross over him. In her fervent words he seemed to have heard the voice of his mother, and for a moment his mother’s tender image rose before his mind. He embraced the woman once more with great tenderness, hastily wiped his tears, and jumped on to his horse. He struck it with his crop and disappeared in a cloud of dust; three dogs rushed after him desperately from two sides, barking at the top of their voices.
STOLZ was the same age as Oblomov: he, too, was over thirty. He had been a civil servant, retired, gone into business, and had actually acquired a house and capital. He was on the board of some company trading with foreign countries. He was continually on the move: if his company had to send an agent to Belgium or England, they sent him; if some new scheme had to be drafted or a new idea put into practice, he was chosen to do it. At the same time he kept up his social connexions and his reading; goodness only knows how he found time to do it.
He was made of bone, muscle, and nerve, like an English racehorse. He was spare: he had practically no cheeks, that is to say, there was bone and muscle but no sign of fat; his complexion was clear, darkish, and without a sign of red in it; his eyes were expressive, though slightly green. He made no superfluous gestures. If he was sitting, he sat quietly; if he was doing something, he used as few gestures as were necessary. Just as there was nothing excessive in his organism, so in his moral outlook he aimed at a balance between the practical side of life and the finer requirements of the spirit. The two sides ran parallel to each other, twisting and turning on the way, but never getting entangled in heavy, inextricable knots. He went along on his way firmly and cheerfully, lived within his income, and spent every day as he spent every rouble, keeping a firm and unremitting control over his time, his labour, and his mental and emotional powers. He seemed to be able to control his joys and sorrows like the movements of his hands and feet, and treated them as he did good or bad weather. When it rained, he put up an umbrella – that is to say, he suffered while the sorrow lasted, and even then with vexation and pride rather than timid submission – and bore patiently with it only because he blamed himself for his troubles and did not lay them at other people’s doors. He enjoyed his pleasures as one enjoys a flower plucked by the wayside, until it begins to wilt in your hands, and never drained the cup to the last bitter drop which lies at the bottom of every pleasure. He constantly aimed at a simple, that is, a direct and true view of life, and as he gradually came to achieve it, he understood how difficult it was, and he was proud and happy every time he happened to notice a deviation from his path and put it right. ‘Living simply is a hard and tricky business,’ he often said to himself, and tried to see at once where he went wrong, where the thread of life was beginning to coil up into an irregular, complicated knot. Above everything else he feared imagination, that double-faced companion, friendly on one side and hostile on the other, your friend – the less you believe him, your foe – when you fall trustfully asleep to the sound of his sweet murmur. He was afraid of every dream, and if he ventured to enter the land of dreams, he did so as one enters a grotto inscribed: ma solitude, mon ermitage, mon repos, knowing exactly the hour and the minute when one should leave it. There was no room in his soul for a dream, for anything that was enigmatic and mysterious. He regarded everything that would not stand up to the analysis of reason and objective truth as an optical illusion, a particular reflection of the rays and colours on the retina or, at most, as a fact that had not yet been tested by experiment.
He had none of the di
He kept as careful and keen a watch over his heart as over his imagination. But he had to admit after frequent retreats that the sphere of emotions was still terra incognita to him. He warmly thanked his lucky stars if he managed to distinguish in good time between the painted lie and the pale truth; he did not complain when a lie artfully concealed in flowers caused him to stumble but not fall, and he was overjoyed if his heart was merely beating fast and feverishly but did not bleed, if his brow did not break out in a cold sweat, and a long shadow was not cast over his life for many years. He thought himself fortunate because he could always keep at a certain height, and while carried along by his emotions, never overstepped the thin line that divides the world of feeling from the world of lies and sentimentality, the world of truth from the world of the ridiculous, or, when going in the opposite direction, he was not swept away to the sandy desert of rigid ideas, pettiness, mistrust, sophistication, and callousness.
Even when carried away, he was never swept off his feet, and always felt strong enough to wrench himself free if absolutely necessary. He was never blinded by beauty, and therefore never forgot or lowered his dignity as a man; he was never a slave, nor ‘lay at the feet’ of beautiful women, though he never experienced fiery joys, either. He had no idols, and that was why he preserved the powers of his soul and the strength of his body, that was why he was both chaste and proud; he exuded freshness and strength, which made even the least modest woman feel embarrassed. He knew the value of these rare and precious qualities and was so niggardly in their use that he was called an unfeeling egoist. He was blamed for his ability to control his impulses, keep within the bounds of rational behaviour, and preserve his spiritual freedom, while someone else who rushed headlong into disaster and ruined his own and another human being’s life was excused and sometimes even envied and admired.
‘Passion,’ people round him said – ‘passion justifies everything, and you in your egoism are taking care only of yourself: we shall see who you are doing it for.’
‘Well, it must be for someone,’ he said thoughtfully, as though gazing into the distance, and continued to disbelieve in the poesy of passions, refusing to admire their stormy manifestations and devastating consequences, but, as always, regarding an austere conception of life and its functions as the ideal aim of man’s existence. The more people argued with him, the more obstinate he became, and lapsed, in discussions at any rate, into puritanical fanaticism. He used to say that ‘the normal purpose of a man’s life is to live through his four “ages” without sudden jumps and carry the vessel of life to the very end without spilling a single drop, and that a slowly and evenly burning fire is better than a blazing conflagration, however poetical it might be’. In conclusion, he added that he would have been happy if he could prove his conviction in his own case, but that he could not hope to do so because it was most difficult. As for himself, he steadily followed the path he had chosen. No one ever saw him brooding over anything painfully and morbidly; he was not apparently tormented by pricks of conscience; his heart did not ache, he never lost his presence of mind in new, difficult, or complicated situations, but tackled them as old acquaintances, as though he were living his life over again – as though he were visiting old familiar places once more. He always applied the right method in any emergency as a housekeeper chooses the right key for every door from the bunch hanging at her waist. Persistence in the pursuit of a certain aim was a quality he valued most; it was a mark of character in his eyes, and he never denied respect to people who possessed it, however insignificant their aims might be. ‘These are men,’ he used to say. Needless to say, he pursued his aims fearlessly, stepping over every obstacle in his way, and only relinquishing them when a brick wall rose before him or an unbridgeable abyss opened at his feet. He was incapable of the kind of courage which makes a man jump across an abyss or fling himself at a wall with his eyes shut, just on the off chance that he may succeed. He first measured the wall or the abyss, and if there were no certain way of overcoming the obstacle, he turned back, regardless of what people might say about him. Such a character could perhaps not be formed without the mixed elements of which Stolz’s character was composed. Our statesmen have always conformed to five or six stereotyped models; they look lazily and with half-closed eyes about them, put their hand to the engine of State, and drowsily move it along the beaten track, following in their predecessors’ footsteps. But soon their eyes awaken from their sleep, firm striding steps and lively voices were to be heard.… How many Stolzes have still to appear under Russian names!
How could such a man be intimate with Oblomov, whose whole existence, every feature, every step was a flagrant protest against everything Stolz stood for? It seems, however, to be an established fact that while extremes do not necessarily, as it was formerly believed, give rise to a feeling of mutual sympathy, they do not prevent it. Besides, they had spent their childhood and schooldays together – two strong ties; then there was the typically Russian, big-hearted affection lavished in Oblomov’s family on the German boy, the fact that Stolz had always played the part of the stronger, both physically and morally, and, finally and above all, there was in Oblomov’s nature something good, pure, and irreproachable, which was deeply in sympathy with everything that was good and that responded to the call of his simple, unsophisticated, and eternally trustful nature. Anyone who once looked, whether by accident or design, into his pure and childlike soul – however gloomy and bitter he might be – could not help sympathizing with him and, if circumstances prevented them from becoming friends, retaining a good and lasting memory of him.
Andrey often tore himself away from his business affairs or from a fashionable crowd, a party or a ball, and went to sit on Oblomov’s wide sofa and unburden his weary heart and find relief for his agitated spirits in a lazy conversation, and he always experienced the soothing feeling a man experiences on coming from magnificent halls to his own humble home or returning from the beautiful South to the birch wood where he used to walk as a child.
‘GOOD MORNING, llya, I’m so glad to see you! Well, how are you? All right?’ asked Stolz.
‘Oh dear, no, Andrey, old man,’ Oblomov said with a sigh. ‘I’m not at all well.’
‘Why, you’re not ill, are you?’ Stolz asked solicitously.
‘Styes have got me down: last week I got rid of one on my right eye and now I’m getting one on the left.’
‘Is that all?’ he asked. ‘You’ve got them from sleeping too much.’
‘All? Good heavens – no! I’ve awful heartburn. You should have heard what the doctor said this morning. He told me to go abroad or it would be the worse for me: I might have a stroke.’
‘Well, are you going?’
‘Good Lord, you should have heard all he told me! I have to live somewhere on a mountain, go to Egypt, or to America.…’
‘Well, what about it?’ Stolz said coolly. ‘You can be in Egypt in a fortnight and in America in three weeks.’
‘You, too, old man? You were the only sensible man I knew and you, too, have gone off your head. Who goes to America and Egypt? The English – but they have been made like that by the good Lord and, besides, they have not enough room at home. But who in Russia would dream of going? Some desperate fellow, perhaps, who doesn’t value his own life.’
‘But, good heavens, it’s nothing: you get into a carriage or go on board ship, breathe pure air, look at foreign countries, cities, customs, at all the marvels.… Oh, you funny fellow! Well, tell me how you are getting on? How are things at Oblomovka?’
‘Oh!’ Oblomov sai
‘Why, life doesn’t leave me alone.’
‘Thank goodness it doesn’t!’ said Stolz.
‘Thank goodness indeed! if it just went on patting me on the head, but it keeps pestering me just as naughty boys pester a quiet boy at school, pinching him on the sly or rushing up to him and throwing sand in his face – I can’t stand it any more!’
‘You’re much too quiet. What’s happened?’ asked Stolz.
‘I’m utterly ruined.’
‘Let me read to you what my bailiff writes – where’s the letter? Zakhar, Zakhar!’
Zakhar found the letter. Stolz read it and laughed, probably at the bailiff’s style.
‘What a rogue that bailiff is!’ he said. ‘He has let the peasants go and now he complains! He might as well have given them passports and let them go where they like.’
‘Good Lord, if he did that, they might all want to go,’ Oblomov retorted.
‘Let them!’ Stolz said with complete unconcern. ‘Those who are happy and find it to their advantage to stay, will not go, and those who do not want to stay are of no use to you, anyway. Why keep them in that case?’
‘What an idea!’ said Oblomov. ‘The Oblomovka peasants are quiet people who like to stay at home. What do they want to roam about for?’
‘I don’t suppose you know,’ Stolz interrupted, ‘they’re going to build a landing-stage at Verkhlyovo and they also plan to make a highroad there, so that Oblomovka will be within a mile of it, and they’re going to hold an annual fair in the town, too.’
‘Dear me,’ said Oblomov, ‘that would be the last straw! Oblomovka used to be in a backwater, away from everything, and now there’s going to be a fair, a highroad! The peasants will start going regularly to the town, merchants will be coming to us – it’s the end! What a nuisance!’
Oblomov by Ivan Goncharov / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes