Oblomov, p.23Ivan Goncharov
‘Well, Ilya,’ said Stolz, ‘you and I have not scattered our energies in all directions, have we? Where is our modest path of hard work?’
Oblomov suddenly fell silent.
‘Oh, I’ve only to finish – er – my plan,’ he said. ‘Anyway, why should I worry about them?’ he added with vexation after a pause. ‘I’m not interfering with them. I’m not after anything. All I say is that I can’t see that their life is normal. No, that is not life, but a distortion of the norm, of the ideal of life, which nature demands that man should regard as his aim.’
‘What is this ideal, this norm of life?’
Oblomov made no answer.
‘Now, tell me,’ Stolz went on, ‘what sort of life would you have planned for yourself?’
‘I have already planned it.’
‘Oh? Tell me, what is it?’
‘What is it?’ said Oblomov, turning over on his back and staring at the ceiling. ‘Well, I’d go to the country.’
‘Why don’t you?’
‘My plan isn’t ready. Besides, I wouldn’t have gone by myself, but with my wife.’
‘Oh, I see! Well, why not? What are you waiting for? In another three or four years nobody will marry you.’
‘Well, it can’t be helped,’ said Oblomov, sighing. ‘I’m too poor to marry.’
‘Good heavens, and what about Oblomovka? Three hundred serfs!’
‘What about it? That isn’t enough to live on with a wife.’
‘Not enough for two people to live on?’
‘But what about the children?’
‘If you give them a decent education, they’ll be able to earn their own living. You must know how to start them in the right direction – –’
‘No, sir, it’s no use making workmen out of gentlemen,’ Oblomov interrupted dryly. ‘Besides, even if we disregard the question of children, we shouldn’t be just by ourselves. Alone with your wife is only a manner of speaking. Actually, hundreds of women will invade your house as soon as you are married. Look at any family you like: female relatives, housekeepers, and if they don’t live in the house, they come every day to coffee and to dinner. How is one to keep such an establishment with three hundred serfs?’
‘All right. Now, suppose you were given another three hundred thousand – what would you have done then?’ Stolz asked, his curiosity aroused.
‘I’d mortgage it at once and live on the interest.’
‘But you wouldn’t get a high enough interest. Why not invest your money in some company – ours, for instance?’
‘No, sir, you won’t catch me doing that.’
‘Why not? Wouldn’t you trust even me?’
‘Certainly not. It isn’t a question of not trusting you, but anything might happen: suppose your company went bankrupt and I was left without a penny! A bank is a different matter.’
‘Very well. What would you do then?’
‘I’d move into a comfortable new house. There would be good neighbours living in the vicinity – you, for instance. But no, you couldn’t stay in one place long, could you?’
‘Could you? Wouldn’t you go on a journey at all?’
‘Why, then, are they taking so much trouble building railways, steamers, if the ideal of life is to stay in the same place? Let’s send in a proposal for them to stop, Ilya. We aren’t going anywhere, are we?’
‘There are lots of people who are – all sorts of agents, managers, merchants, civil servants, travellers with no home of their own. Let them travel as much as they like.’
‘But who are you?’
Oblomov made no answer.
‘To what category of people do you think you belong?’
‘Ask Zakhar,’ said Oblomov.
Stolz carried out Oblomov’s wish literally.
‘Zakhar!’ he shouted.
Zakhar came in, looking sleepy.
‘Who is it lying there?’ asked Stolz.
Zakhar woke up suddenly and cast a suspicious, sidelong glance at Stolz, then at Oblomov.
‘Who is it, sir? Why, don’t you see?’
‘I don’t,’ said Stolz.
‘Good gracious! Why, it’s the master, Ilya Ilyich.’
‘All right, you can go.’
‘The master!’ Stolz repeated and burst out laughing.
‘Oh, well,’ Oblomov corrected with vexation, ‘a gentleman, then.’
‘No, no! You’re a master!’ Stolz continued, laughing.
‘What’s the difference?’ said Oblomov. ‘Gentleman is the same as master.’
‘A gentleman,’ Stolz defined, ‘is the sort of master who puts on his socks and takes off his boots himself.’
‘Yes, an Englishman does it himself because in England they haven’t got many servants, but a Russian – –’
‘Go on painting the ideal of your life for me. Well, you have your good friends around you: what next? How would you spend your days?’
‘Well, I’d get up in the morning,’ began Oblomov, putting his hands behind his neck, and his face assuming an expression of repose (in his thoughts he was already in the country). ‘The weather is lovely, the sky is as blue as blue can be, not a cloud,’ he said. ‘The balcony on one side of the house in my plan faces east towards the garden and the fields, and the other side towards the village. While waiting for my wife to waken, I’d put on my dressing-gown and go for a walk in the garden, for a breath of fresh morning air. There I’d already find the gardener and we’d water the flowers together and prune the bushes and trees. I’d make a bouquet for my wife. Then I’d have my bath or go for a swim in the river. On my return, I’d find the balcony door open. My wife is wearing her morning dress and a light cap which looks as if it might be blown off any moment.… She is waiting for me. “Tea’s ready,” she says. What a kiss! What tea! What an easy-chair! I sit down at the table: rusks, cream, fresh butter.…’
‘Well, then, having put on a loose coat or some sort of tunic and with my arm round my wife’s waist, we walk down an endless dark avenue of trees; we walk along quietly, dreamily, in silence or thinking aloud, day-dreaming, counting the moments of happiness as the beating of one’s pulse; we listen to the throbbing of our heart, we look for sympathy in nature and – imperceptibly – we come to the river, to the fields.… There is scarcely a ripple on the river, the ears of corn wave in the light breeze – it is hot – we get into a boat, my wife steers, scarcely raising an oar.…’
‘Why, you’re a poet, Ilya!’ Stolz interrupted.
‘Yes, a poet in life, because life is poetry. People are free to distort it, if they like!… Then we might go into a hot-house,’ Oblomov went on, carried away by the ideal of happiness he was depicting.
He was extracting from his imagination ready-made scenes, which he had drawn long ago, and that was why he spoke with such animation and without stopping.
‘.… to have a look at the peaches and grapes, to tell them what we want for the table, then to go back, have a light lunch and wait for visitors.… Meanwhile there would be a note for my wife from Maria Petrovna, with a book and music, or somebody would send us a pineapple as a present, or a huge watermelon would ripen in my hot-house and I would send it to a dear friend for next day’s dinner, and go there myself.… In the meantime things are humming in the kitchen, the chef, in a snow-white cap and apron, is terribly busy, putting one saucepan on the stove, taking off another, stirring something in a third, making pastry, throwing away some water.… A clatter of knives – the vegetables are being chopped – ice-cream is being made.… I like to look into the kitchen before dinner, take the lid off a saucepan and have a sniff, to see them rolling up pasties, whipping cream. Then lie down on the sofa; my wife is reading something new aloud – we stop and discuss it.… But the visitors arrive, you and your wife, for instance.’
‘Oh, so you’ve married me, too, have you?’
‘Certainly! Two or three friends more, all
‘You are describing to me the same sort of thing our fathers and grandfathers used to do.’
‘No, I’m not,’ Oblomov replied, almost offended. ‘How can you say it’s the same thing? Would my wife be making jams or pickling mushrooms? Would she be measuring yarn and sorting out home-spun linen? Would she box her maids’ ears? You heard what I said, didn’t you? Music, books, piano, elegant furniture?’
‘Well, and you?’
‘I should not be reading last year’s papers, travelling in an unwieldy old carriage, or eating noodle soup and roast goose, but I should have trained my chef in the English Club or at a foreign embassy,’
‘Then, when the heat abated, I’d send a cart with the samovar and dessert to the birch copse or else to the hay-field, spread rugs on the newly mown grass between the ricks, and be blissfully happy there till it was time for the cold soup and beefsteak. The peasants are returning from the fields with scythes on their shoulders, a hay-cart crawls past loaded so high that it conceals the cart and the horse from view, a peasant’s cap with flowers and a child’s head sticking out from the hay on top; and there comes a crowd of women, barefoot and with sickles, singing at the top of their voices.… Suddenly they catch sight of their master and his guests, grow quiet, and bow low. One of them, a young girl with a sunburnt neck, bare arms, and timidly lowered, sly eyes, pretends to avoid her master’s caress, but is really happy – hush! my wife mustn’t see it!’
Oblomov and Stolz burst out laughing.
‘It is damp in the fields,’ Oblomov concluded. ‘it’s dark; a mist, like an inverted sea, hangs over the rye; a shiver passes over the flanks of the horses and they paw the ground; it is time to go home. In the house lights are already burning; knives are clattering in the kitchen; a frying-pan full of mushrooms, cutlets, berries – music in the drawing-room – Casta diva, Casta diva!…’ Oblomov burst into song. ‘I can’t think of Casta diva without wishing to sing it,’ he said, singing the beginning of the cavatina. ‘How that woman cried her heart out! How full of sadness those sounds are! And no one around her knows anything.… She is alone.… Her secret oppresses her; she entrusts it to the moon.…’
‘You are fond of that aria? That’s fine! Olga Ilyinsky sings it beautifully. I’ll introduce you to her. She has a lovely voice and she sings wonderfully. And she herself is such a charming child! But I’m afraid I may be a little partial: I have a soft spot in my heart for her.… However,’ he added, ‘go on, please.’
‘Well,’ Oblomov went on, ‘what else is there? That is all. The visitors go to their rooms in the cottages and pavilions, and on the following day they disperse in different directions; some go fishing, some shooting, and some simply sit still.’
‘Simply? Have they nothing in their hands?’ asked Stolz.
‘What would you like them to have? A handkerchief, maybe. Now, wouldn’t you like to live like that?’ asked Oblomov. ‘It is real life, isn’t it?’
‘Always like that?’ asked Stolz.
‘Yes, till old age – till the grave. That is life!’
‘No, that isn’t life!’
‘No? Why not? Did I leave anything out? Just think, you wouldn’t see a single pale, worried face, no troubles, no questions about the high court, the stock exchange, shares, reports, the minister’s reception, ranks, larger allowances for expenses. Instead, everything you heard people say would be sincere! You would never have to move to a new flat – that alone is worth something! And that isn’t life?’
‘No, it isn’t!’ Stolz repeated obstinately.
‘What, then, is this life in your opinion?’
‘It is – –’ Stolz pondered for a while, trying to find a name for this sort of life – ‘it is a sort of – Oblomovitis!’ he said at last.
‘Oblomovitis!’ Oblomov repeated slowly, surprised at this strange definition and scanning it syllable by syllable. ‘Oblomovitis – ob-lo-mo-vi-tis!’
He gave Stolz a strange and intent look.
‘And what is the ideal of life, in your opinion, then? What is not Oblomovitis?’ he asked timidly and without enthusiasm. ‘Doesn’t everybody strive to achieve the very thing I dream of? Why,’ he added, ‘isn’t the whole purpose of all your rushing about, all your passions, wars, trade, and politics to attain rest – reach this ideal of a lost paradise?’
‘Your utopia, too, is a typical Oblomov utopia,’ replied Stolz.
‘But everyone seeks peace and rest!’ Oblomov defended himself.
‘No, not all. Ten years ago you, too, were looking for something different.’
‘What was I looking for?’ Oblomov asked in perplexity, lost in thoughts of his past.
‘Think! Try to remember! Where are your books, your translations?’
‘Zakhar put them away somewhere,’ replied Oblomov. ‘In one of the corners of this room, I suppose.’
‘In a corner!’ Stolz said, reproachfully. ‘In the same corner, I suppose, as your plan to serve Russia so long as you have any strength left, because Russia needs hands and brains for the exploitation of her inexhaustible resources (your own words!); to work so that rest should be the sweeter, and to rest means to live a different and more artistic, more elegant kind of life, the life of poets and artists! Has Zakhar put away all those plans in a corner too? Do you remember telling me that after you had finished with your studies you wanted to visit foreign countries so as to be able to appreciate and love your own country the more? “All life is work and thought,” you used to repeat then, “obscure, unknown but incessant work – to die in the consciousness that you have performed your task.” Didn’t you say that? In what corner have you put that away?’
‘Yes, yes,’ Oblomov said, following anxiously every word of Stolz’s. ‘I remember I did actually – I believe – of course,’ he went on, suddenly remembering the past, ‘you and I, Andrey, were planning first to travel all over Europe, walk through Switzerland, scorch our feet on Vesuvius, go down to Herculaneum. We nearly went off our heads! Oh, the stupidities – –’
‘Stupidities!’ Stolz repeated reproachfully. ‘Wasn’t it you who said with tears in your eyes, as you looked at the prints of Raphael’s Madonnas, Correggio’s Night, Apollo Belvedere: “Good Lord, shall I never be able to see the originals and be struck dumb with awe at the thought that I am standing before the works of Michelangelo and Titian, and treading the soil of Rome? Shall I never in all my life see those myrtles, cypresses, and citrons in their native land instead of in hot-houses? Shall I never breathe the air of Italy and feast my eyes on her azure skies?” And what magnificent intellectual fireworks you used to let off in those days! Stupidities!’
‘Yes, yes, I remember,’ Oblomov said, going over the past in his mind. ‘You took me by the hand and said, “Let us vow to see it all before we die.”’
‘I remember,’ Stolz went on, ‘how once you brought me a translation from a book by Jean-Baptiste Say which you dedicated to me on my name-day. I have it still. And how you used to closet yourself with the teacher of mathematics because you were determined to find out why you had to know all about circles and squares, but threw it up half-way and never found out! You began to learn English and – never did learn it! And when I drew up a plan for a journey abroad and asked you to
‘But one day you will stop working, won’t you?’ Oblomov remarked.
‘I shall never stop. Why should I?’
‘When you have doubled your capital,’ said Oblomov.
‘I won’t stop even when I have quadrupled it.’
‘So why,’ said Oblomov after a pause, ‘do you work so hard if it is not your intention to get enough money to last you your lifetime and then retire to the country for a well-earned rest?’
Oblomov by Ivan Goncharov / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes