Oblomov, p.22
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       Oblomov, p.22

           Ivan Goncharov
 

  Stolz laughed.

  ‘Of course it’s a nuisance!’ Oblomov went on. ‘The peasants were behaving nicely, you heard nothing, neither good nor bad, from them, they went about their business and asked for nothing, but now they’ll be corrupted! They’ll start drinking tea and coffee, wearing velvet trousers and blacked boots, playing accordions – no good will come of it!’

  ‘Well, of course, if they do that, it will certainly not be much good,’ observed Stolz. ‘But why shouldn’t you open a school in your village?’

  ‘Isn’t it a bit too soon?’ said Oblomov. ‘Literacy is harmful to the peasant: educate him and for all you know he may not want to plough any more.’

  ‘But the peasants will be able to read how to plough their fields – you funny man! But, look here, you really ought to go to your estate this year.’

  ‘Yes, that’s true, but, you see, my plan isn’t quite ready yet.…’ Oblomov observed timidly.

  ‘You don’t want any plan!’ said Stolz. ‘All you have to do is to go there – you’ll see on the spot what has to be done. You’ve been working on this plan for years: isn’t it finished yet? What do you do?’

  ‘My dear fellow, as though I have only the estate to worry about! What about my other misfortune?’

  ‘What’s that?’

  ‘They’re driving me out of my flat.’

  ‘Driving you out?’

  ‘Yes, they just told me to clear out, and they seem to mean it.’

  ‘Well, what about it?’

  ‘What about it? I’ve worn myself to a shadow worrying about it. I’m all alone, and there’s this and that to be seen to, check the accounts, pay the bills, and then there’s the moving! I’m spending a terrible amount of money and I’m hanged if I know what on! Before I know where I am, I shall be left penniless!’

  ‘What a pampered fellow you are – can’t bring yourself to move to a new flat!’ Stolz said in surprise. ‘Talking of money – how much money have you got on you? Let me have five hundred roubles, please. I must send it off at once. I’ll get it from our office to-morrow – –’

  ‘Wait, let me think! I received a thousand roubles from the estate the other day, and now there’s left – wait a minute – –’

  Oblomov began rummaging in the drawers.

  ‘Here – ten, twenty, two hundred roubles – and here’s another twenty. There were some coppers here – Zakhar! Zakhar!’

  Zakhar, as usual, jumped off the stove and came in.

  ‘Where are the twenty copecks I put on the table yesterday?’

  ‘You keep on harping on the twenty copecks, sir! I’ve already told you that there were no twenty copecks on the table.’

  ‘Of course there were! The change from the oranges.’

  ‘You must have given it to somebody and forgotten all about it, sir,’ said Zakhar, turning to the door.

  Stolz laughed.

  ‘Oh, you Oblomovs!’ he upbraided them. ‘Don’t know how much money you have in your pockets!’

  ‘And didn’t you give some money to Mr Tarantyev, sir?’ Zakhar reminded Oblomov.

  ‘Yes, yes, of course,’ Oblomov said, turning to Stolz. ‘Tarantyev took ten roubles. I forgot all about it.’

  ‘Why do you receive that brute?’ Stolz observed.

  ‘Receive him, sir?’ Zakhar intervened. ‘Why, he comes here as if it was his own house or a pub. Took the master’s shirt and waistcoat, he did, and we never saw ’em again! This morning he came for a dress-coat, if you please. Wanted to put it on at once, he did! I wish, sir, you’d speak to him about it!’

  ‘It’s not your business, Zakhar!’ Oblomov said sternly. ‘Go back to your room.’

  ‘Let’s have a sheet of note-paper,’ Stolz said. ‘I must write a note to someone.’

  ‘Zakhar, Mr Stolz wants paper; give him some,’ said Oblomov.

  ‘But there isn’t any, sir,’ Zakhar replied from the passage. ‘You looked for it yourself this morning,’ he added, without bothering to come in.

  ‘Just a scrap of paper!’ Stolz persisted.

  Oblomov searched on the table; there wasn’t a scrap.

  ‘Give me your visiting card at least.’

  ‘I haven’t had any for ages,’ said Oblomov.

  ‘What is the matter with you?’ Stolz asked ironically. ‘And you’re about to do something – you’re writing a plan. Tell me, do you go out anywhere? Whom do you see?’

  ‘Going out? Good Lord, no! I’m always at home. My plan does worry me, you know, and then there’s the business of getting a new flat – thank goodness, Tarantyev promised to find something for me.’

  ‘Does anyone come to see you?’

  ‘Oh yes – Tarantyev, Alexeyev… the doctor looked in this morning. Penkin, too, Sudbinsky, Volkov – –’

  ‘I don’t see any books in your room,’ said Stolz.

  ‘Here’s one!’ Oblomov observed, pointing to a book that lay on the table.

  ‘What’s this?’ asked Stolz, glancing at the book. ‘A Journey to Africa. And the page you’ve stopped at has grown mouldy. Not a newspaper to be seen. Do you read the papers?’

  ‘No, the print’s too small – bad for the eyes, and there isn’t really any need for it: if anything new happens, it’s drummed into your ears all day long.’

  ‘Good heavens, Ilya!’ said Stolz, casting a surprised glance at Oblomov. ‘What do you do? You just roll up and lie about like a piece of dough.’

  ‘That’s true enough, Andrey,’ Oblomov answered sadly, ‘just like a piece of dough.’

  ‘But to be conscious of something does not excuse it, does it?’

  ‘No, but I merely answered your question; I’m not justifying myself,’ Oblomov replied with a sigh.

  ‘But you must rouse yourself from your sleep.’

  ‘I’ve tried, but failed, and now – what for? There is nothing to rouse me, my heart is at rest, my mind is peacefully asleep!’ he concluded with a touch of bitterness. ‘Don’t let us talk about it.… Better tell me where you have come from.’

  ‘Kiev. In another fortnight I’ll be going abroad. Come with me.’

  ‘Very well – perhaps I will,’ Oblomov decided.

  ‘Well then, sit down and write the application for your passport and to-morrow you can hand it in.’

  ‘To-morrow!’ Oblomov cried, startled. ‘You people are always in such a hurry, as though someone were driving you! We’ll think it over and discuss it and then we shall see. Perhaps it would be best to go to the estate first and abroad – afterwards.’

  ‘But why afterwards? Didn’t the doctor tell you to? First of all you must get rid of your fat, of your bodily heaviness, then your spirit won’t be sleepy, either. You need both physical and mental gymnastics.’

  ‘No, Andrey, all that is sure to tire me: my health is bad. No, you’d better leave me and go alone.’

  Stolz looked at the recumbent Oblomov, and Oblomov looked at him. Stolz shook his head, and Oblomov sighed.

  ‘I suppose you’re too lazy to live,’ Stolz said.

  ‘Well, I suppose I am, Andrey.’

  Andrey was trying hard to think how he could touch him to the quick, if indeed anything could affect him any more, and meanwhile he scrutinized him in silence and suddenly burst out laughing.

  ‘Why have you one woollen stocking and one cotton stocking on?’ he suddenly remarked, pointing to Oblomov’s feet. ‘And your shirt is inside out, too!’

  Oblomov looked at his feet, then at his shirt.

  ‘So they are,’ he confessed, looking put out. ‘That Zakhar is the limit! You wouldn’t believe how he tires me out! He argues, he is rude, and he never attends to his business.’

  ‘Oh, Ilya, Ilya!’ said Stolz. ‘No, I can’t leave you like that. In another week you won’t know yourself. I’ll tell you what I am going to do with you and myself this evening, and now get dressed! You wait; I’ll shake you up! Zakhar!’ he shouted, ‘Mr Oblomov’s clothes!’

  ‘But where are we going
good Lord! Tarantyev and Alexeyev are coming to dine with me, and then we wanted to – –’

  ‘Zakhar,’ Stolz went on, without listening to him, ‘fetch the clothes.’

  ‘Yes, sir, but let me clean the boots, first,’ Zakhar said readily.

  ‘What? Don’t you clean the boots before five o’clock?’

  ‘They’re cleaned all right, sir. I’ve cleaned them last week, but Master hasn’t been out so they’ve lost their shine again.’

  ‘Never mind, fetch them as they are. Take my trunk into the drawing-room; I’ll stay here. I’m going to dress now and you, Ilya, get ready, too. We’ll have dinner somewhere on the way, and then we’ll call at two or three places and – –’

  ‘But, look here, don’t be in such a rush – wait a minute – let’s think it over first – I haven’t shaved – –’

  ‘There’s no need to think and scratch your head.… You’ll shave on the way: I’ll take you to a hairdresser’s.’

  ‘But where are we going to?’ Oblomov cried mournfully. ‘Do I know the people? What an idea! I’d better call on Ivan Gerasimovich. I haven’t seen him for three days.’

  ‘Who is this Ivan Gerasimovich?’

  ‘He was at the same office as I.’

  ‘Oh, the grey-headed administrative official. What do you see in him? What makes you wish to waste your time with a blockhead like that?’

  ‘How harshly you speak of people sometimes, Andrey. Really! He’s a nice man, though he doesn’t wear shirts of Dutch linen!’

  ‘What do you do there? What do you talk to him about?’ asked Stolz.

  ‘Well, you know, everything at his place is so nice and cosy. The rooms are small, the sofas so deep that you sink into them and can’t be seen. The windows are covered with ivy and cactus, there are more than a dozen canaries, three dogs – such affectionate creatures! There is always some snack on the table. The prints on the walls are all of family scenes. You come and you don’t want to go away. You sit without thinking or worrying about anything, you know there is a man beside you who – though perhaps far from intelligent, for it would be a waste of time to exchange ideas with him – is unsophisticated, kind-hearted, hospitable, without pretensions, a man who would never dream of insulting you behind your back!’

  ‘But what do you do there?’

  ‘What do we do? Well, you see, as soon as I come we sit down on sofas opposite each other with our feet up – he smokes – –’

  ‘And you?’

  ‘I also smoke and listen to the song of the canaries. Then Marfa brings in the samovar.’

  ‘Tarantyev, Ivan Gerasimovich!’ said Stolz, shrugging his shoulders. ‘Well, come on and dress quickly,’ he hurried him.

  ‘Tell Tarantyev when he comes,’ he added, addressing Zakhar, ’that we are dining out and that Mr Oblomov will be dining out all summer, and he will be too busy in the autumn to see him.’

  ‘I’ll tell him that, sir. Don’t worry, I shan’t forget,’ replied Zakhar. ‘And what shall I do with the dinner, sir?’

  ‘Eat it with anyone you like.’

  ‘Yes, sir.’

  Ten minutes later Stolz came out of the drawing-room dressed, shaven, and with his hair brushed. Oblomov was sitting on his bed, looking melancholy and slowly buttoning his shirt and struggling with the buttonholes. Zakhar knelt before him on one knee, holding an unpolished boot in his hand as if it were some dish and waiting for his master to finish buttoning his shirt.

  ‘You haven’t put your boots on yet!’ Stolz said in surprise. ‘Well, come on, Ilya, hurry up!’

  ‘But where are we going? And whatever for?’ Oblomov cried miserably. ‘I have seen it all before! I’m afraid I’m no longer interested – I don’t want to – –’

  ‘Come on! Come on!’ Stolz hurried him.

  4

  ALTHOUGH it was already late, they managed to make a business call, then Stolz took an owner of some gold-mines to dinner, then they went to the latter’s country house for tea. There they found a large company, and after his complete seclusion Oblomov found himself in a crowd. They returned home late at night.

  The next day and the day after, the same thing happened, and a whole week passed by in a flash. Oblomov protested, complained, argued, but he was overborne and followed his friend everywhere. One morning, when they came home late, he protested especially against this sort of life.

  ‘All day long,’ Oblomov muttered, putting on his dressing-gown, ‘you don’t take off your boots: my feet are throbbing! I dislike this Petersburg life of yours!’ he went on, lying down on the sofa.

  ‘What sort of life do you like?’ asked Stolz.

  ‘Not this sort.’

  ‘What is it you dislike particularly?’

  ‘Everything – this constant rushing about, this eternal interplay of petty passions, greed especially, the eagerness with which they try to get the better of one another, the scandalmongering, the gossip, the way they look you up and down; listening to their talk makes your head swim and you go silly. They look so dignified and intelligent, but all you hear them say is, “This one has been given something and that one has got a big Government contract.…” “Heavens above, what for?” someone cries. “So-and-so lost all his money at cards at the club last night; so-and-so takes three hundred thousand for his dowry!” The whole thing is boring, boring, boring! Where is the real man here? Where is his integrity? Where has he disappeared? How has he managed to squander his great gifts on trifles?’

  ‘But society has to be occupied by something or other,’ said Stolz. ‘Everyone has his own interests. That’s life.…’

  ‘Society! I suppose, Andrey, you are sending me into society on purpose so as to discourage me from going there. Life! A fine life! What is one to look for there? Intellectual interests? True feeling? Just see whether you can find the centre round which all this revolves; there is no such centre, there is nothing deep, nothing vital. All these society people are dead, they are all asleep, they are worse than I! What is their aim in life? They do not lie about, they scurry to and fro every day like flies, but to what purpose? You come into a drawing-room and you cannot help admiring the symmetrical way in which the visitors are seated – at the card tables! It is indeed an excellent purpose in life! A wonderful example for a mind looking for something exciting. Aren’t they all dead men? Aren’t they asleep all their life sitting there like that? Why am I more to blame because I lie about at home and do not infect the minds of others with my talk of aces and knaves?’

  ‘This is all old stuff,’ Stolz remarked. ‘It’s been said a thousand times before. You’ve nothing newer, have you?’

  ‘Well, and what about the best representatives of our younger generation? What do they do? Aren’t they asleep even while walking or driving along the Nevsky, or dancing? What a continual, futile shuffling and reshuffling of days! But observe the pride and wonderful dignity, the supercilious look with which they regard everyone who is not dressed or of the same rank and social position as they. And the poor wretches imagine that they are above the common people! “We,” they say, “occupy the best posts in the Civil Service, we sit in the front row of the stalls, we go to Prince N.’s balls where no other people are invited.” And when they come together, they get drunk and fight like savages. Why, are these alive, wide-awake people? And it isn’t just the young people, either. Take a look at the older people. They meet, entertain each other at meals, but there is no real good-fellowship, no real hospitality, no mutual sympathy. If they meet at a dinner or a party, it is just the same as at their office – coldly, without a spark of gaiety, to boast of their chef or their drawing-room, and then to jeer at each other in a discreet aside, to trip one another up. The other day at dinner I honestly did not know where to look and wished I could hide under the table, when they began tearing to shreds the reputations of those who did not happen to be there: so-and-so is an ass, so-and-so is a mean scoundrel; that one is a thief, and another one is ridiculous – a regular massacre! An
d as they said it, they looked at each other as if to say, “Just go out of the door, my dear fellow, and we’ll do the same to you.” Why, then, do they meet if they are like that? Why do they press each other’s hands so warmly? No genuine laughter, no glimmer of sympathy! They are all out to get someone of high rank, someone with a name, to come to their place. “So-and-so has called on me,” they boast afterwards. “I’ve been to see so-and-so.” What kind of life is that? I don’t want it. What can I get out of it? What will I learn there?’

  ‘Do you know, Ilya,’ said Stolz, ‘you talk like the ancients: they all used to write like that in old books. However, that, too, is a good thing: at least you talk and don’t sleep. Well, what else? Go on.’

  ‘Why go on? You have a good look: not a single person here looks fresh and healthy.’

  ‘It’s the climate,’ Stolz interrupted. ‘Your face, too, looks puffy and you’re not running about – you lie in bed all day.’

  ‘Not one of them has clear, calm eyes,’ Oblomov went on. ‘They all infect each other by a sort of tormenting anxiety and melancholy; they are all painfully searching for something. And if only it were for truth or their own and other people’s welfare – but no, they turn pale when they learn of a friend’s success. One man’s only worry in the world is to be present in court tomorrow; his case has been dragging on for five years, the other side is winning, and for five years he has had only one desire, one thought in his head: to trip up the other man and erect his own welfare on his ruin. To go regularly to court for five years and to sit and wait in the corridor – that is the aim and the ideal of his life! One man is depressed because he has to go to his office every day and stay there for five hours, and another man is sighing deeply because such bliss has not fallen to his lot – –’

  ‘You’re a philosopher, Ilya,’ said Stolz. ‘Everyone is worrying, you alone want nothing.’

  ‘That sallow-faced gentleman in glasses,’ Oblomov went on, ‘kept asking me if I had read the speech of some French deputy, and glared at me when I told him that I did not read the papers. And he kept talking and talking about Louis-Philippe as though he were his own father. Then he kept pestering me to tell him why the French ambassador had left Rome. Do you expect me to load myself every day with a fresh supply of world news and then to shout about it all week till it runs out? To-day Mahomet-Ali dispatched a ship to Constantinople and he is racking his brains wondering why. To-morrow Don Carlos has a setback and he is terribly worried. Here they are digging a canal, there a detachment of troops has been sent to the East: good Lord, it’s war! He looks terribly upset, he runs, he shouts, as though an army was marching against him personally. They argue, they discuss everything from every possible point of view, but they are bored, they are not really interested in the whole thing: you can see they are fast asleep in spite of their shouts! The whole thing does not concern them; it is as if they walked about in borrowed hats. They have nothing to do, so they squander their energies all over the place without trying to aim at anything in particular. The universality of their interests merely conceals emptiness and a complete absence of sympathy with everything! To choose the modest path of hard work and follow it, to dig a deep channel – is dull and unostentatious, and knowing everything would be of no use there, and there would be no one to impress!’

 

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