Oblomov, p.24
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       Oblomov, p.24

           Ivan Goncharov
 

  ‘Oblomovitis in the country!’ said Stolz.

  ‘Or achieve a high position in society by your work as a civil servant and then enjoy a well-earned rest in honourable inactivity.…’

  ‘Oblomovitis in Petersburg!’ Stolz retorted.

  ‘In that case when are you going to live?’ Oblomov replied, vexed by Stolz’s remarks. ‘Why work hard all your life?’

  ‘For the sake of the work itself and nothing else. Work means everything to me, it is the very breath of life – of my life, at any rate. You have banished work from your life, and what is it like? I’ll try to raise you up, perhaps for the last time. If after this you still go on sitting here with the Tarantyevs and Alexe-yevs, you will be done for and become a burden even to yourself. Now or never!’ he concluded.

  Oblomov listened, looking at him with anxious eyes. His friend seemed to have held out a mirror to him, and he was frightened when he recognized himself.

  ‘Don’t scold me, Andrey,’ he began with a sigh, ‘but help me rather! I’m worried to death about it myself, and had you seen me to-day and heard me bewailing my fate digging my own grave, you would not have had the heart to reproach me. I know and understand everything, but I have no strength and no will of my own. Give me some of your will and your intelligence and lead me where you like. I may perhaps follow you, but alone I shall not stir from the place. You are right: it is now or never. In another year it will be too late.’

  ‘Is this you, Ilya?’ Andrey said. ‘I remember you such a slim, lively boy, walking every day from Prechistenka to Kudrino – in the garden there – You have not forgotten the two sisters, have you? You have not forgotten Rousseau, Schiller, Goethe, Byron, whose works you used to take them, taking away from them the novels of Genlis and Cottin – how you used to give yourself airs before them and how you wanted to improve their taste?’

  Oblomov jumped off the sofa.

  ‘Do you remember that, too, Andrey? Of course, I dreamed with them, whispered hopes of the future, made plans, developed ideas and – feelings, too, without your knowledge so that you should not make fun of me. It all died there, and was never repeated again! And where did it all disappear to? Why has it become extinguished? I can’t understand it! There were no storms or shocks in my life; I never lost anything; there is no load on my conscience: it is clear as glass; no blow has killed ambition in me, and goodness only knows why everything has been utterly wasted!’

  He sighed.

  ‘You see, Andrey, the trouble is that no devastating or redeeming fires have ever burnt in my life. It never was like a morning which gradually fills with light and colour and then turns, like other people’s, into a blazing, hot day, when everything seethes and shimmers in the bright noonday sun, and then gradually grows paler and more subdued, fading naturally into the evening twilight. No! My life began by flickering out. It may sound strange but it is so. From the very first moment I became conscious of myself, I felt that I was already flickering out. I began to flicker out over the writing of official papers at the office; I went on flickering out when I read truths in books which I did not know how to apply in life, when I sat with friends listening to rumours, gossip, jeering, spiteful, cold, and empty chatter, and watching friendships kept up by meetings that were without aim or affection; I was flickering out and wasting my energies with Minna on whom I spent more than half of my income, imagining that I loved her; I was flickering out when I walked idly and dejectedly along Nevsky Avenue among people in raccoon coats and beaver collars – at parties, on reception days, where I was welcomed with open arms as a fairly eligible young man; I was flickering out and wasting my life and mind on trifles moving from town to some country house, and from the country house to Gorokhovaya, fixing the arrival of spring by the fact that lobsters and oysters had appeared in the shops, of autumn and winter by the special visiting days, of summer by the fêtes, and life in general by lazy and comfortable somnolence like the rest.… Even ambition – what was it wasted on? To order clothes at a famous tailor’s? To get an invitation to a famous house? To shake hands with Prince P.? And ambition is the salt of life! Where has it gone to? Either I have not understood this sort of life or it is utterly worthless; but I did not know of a better one. No one showed it to me. You appeared and disappeared like a bright and swiftly moving comet, and I forgot it all and went on flickering out.…’

  Stolz no longer replied to Oblomov with light mockery. He listened in gloomy silence.

  ‘You said just now that my face had lost its freshness and was flabby,’ Oblomov continued. ‘Yes, I am an old shabby, worn-out coat, but not because of the climate or hard work, but because for twelve years the light has been shut up within me and, unable to find an outlet, it merely consumed itself inside its prison house and was extinguished without breaking out into the open. And so twelve years have passed, my dear Andrey: I did not want to wake up any more.’

  ‘But why didn’t you break out? Why didn’t you run away somewhere, but preferred to perish in silence?’ Stolz asked impatiently.

  ‘Where to?’

  ‘Where to? Why not to the Volga with your peasants? There is more life there, you could have found all sorts of interests there, a purpose, work! I’d have gone to Siberia, to Sitkha.’

  ‘Well,’ Oblomov observed dejectedly, ‘the remedies you prescribe are rather drastic, aren’t they? Besides, I’m not the only one. There’s Mikhailov, Petrov, Semyonov, Alexeyev, Stepanov.… too many to count: our name is legion!’

  Stolz was still under the influence of Oblomov’s confession and said nothing. Then he sighed.

  ‘Yes, much water has flowed past,’ he said. ‘I shan’t leave you like that. I’ll take you away from here, first abroad, then to the country. You will grow slimmer, you will recover from your depression, and then, we will find something for you to do.…’ ‘Yes, let’s go away somewhere!’ Oblomov cried.

  ‘To-morrow we will apply for a passport and then we’ll start packing. I won’t leave you alone – do you hear, Ilya?’

  ‘It’s always to-morrow with you!’ Oblomov replied, as though coming down from the clouds.

  ‘And you would like “not to put off till to-morrow what can be done to-day”, would you? What energy! It is too late to-day,’ Stolz added, ‘but in a fortnight’s time we shall be far from here.’

  ‘Good Lord, man, what’s your hurry?’ Oblomov said. ‘In a fortnight’s time! A bit sudden, isn’t it? Let me think it over carefully and get everything ready. We shall have to get a carriage of some sort – in three months perhaps.’

  ‘A carriage! What will you be thinking of next! As far as the frontier we shall travel in a post-chaise or by steamer to Lubeck, whichever is more convenient; and abroad there are railways in many places.’

  ‘And my flat, and Zakhar, and Oblomovka?’ Oblomov defended himself. ‘I must see to it all.’

  ‘Oblomovitis! Oblomovitis!’ said Stolz, laughing, and he took his candle and, bidding Oblomov good night, went to his room. ‘Now or never, remember!’ he added, turning to Oblomov before shutting the door behind him.

  5

  ‘NOW OR NEVER!’ the stern words appeared before Oblomov as soon as he woke in the morning. He got up, walked up and down the room a few times, and glanced into the drawing-room; Stolz sat writing.

  ‘Zakhar!’ he called.

  He heard no sound of Zakhar jumping off the stove. Zakhar did not come: Stolz had sent him to the post-office.

  Oblomov went up to his dusty table, sat down, picked up a pen, dipped it in the inkwell, but there was no ink; he looked for paper, there was none, either. He sank into thought and began absent-mindedly writing in the dust with a finger, then he looked at what he had written – it was Oblomovitis. He quickly wiped it off with his sleeve. He had dreamt of that word at night written in letters of fire on the walls as at Belshazzar’s feast. Zakhar came back and glared dully at his master, astonished that he should have got out of bed. In this vacant look of astonishment he read: ‘Oblomovitis.


  ‘A single word,’ Oblomov reflected, ‘but how – venomous it is!’

  Zakhar, as was his wont, took up the comb, brush, and towel and went up to do his master’s hair.

  ‘Go to hell!’ Oblomov said angrily, knocking the brush out of Zakhar’s hand, while Zakhar dropped the comb himself.

  ‘Aren’t you going to lie down again, sir?’ Zakhar asked. ‘I could make the bed.’

  ‘Fetch me some paper and ink,’ replied Oblomov.

  He was pondering over the words ‘Now or never!’ As he listened intently to this desperate appeal of reason and energy, he realized and carefully weighed up the amount of will-power he still had left and where he could apply and what use he could make of that meagre remnant. After thinking it over painfully, he seized the pen and pulled a book out of the corner, wishing to read, write, and think over in one hour what he had not read, written, and thought over in ten years. What was he to do now? Go forward or stay where he was? This typically Oblomov question was of deeper significance to him than Hamlet’s. To go forward meant to throw the capacious dressing-gown not only off his shoulders but also from his heart and mind, to sweep the dust and cobwebs from his eyes as well as from the walls, and to recover his sight!

  What was the first step towards it? What had he to start with?’ I don’t know, I can’t – no! – I’m trying to deceive myself, I do know and – besides, Stolz is here and he will tell me at once.’ But what would he say?’ He would say that during the week I should write detailed instructions to my agent and send him to the country, mortgage Oblomovka, buy some more land, send down a plan of the buildings to be erected, give up my flat, take out a passport and go abroad for six months, get rid of my superfluous fat, throw off my heaviness, refresh my soul with the air of which I once dreamed with my friend, live without a dressing-gown, without Zakhar and Tarantyev, put on my socks and take off my boots myself, sleep at night only, travel where everyone else is travelling, by rail or steamer, then – then – go to live in Oblomovka, learn what sowing and harvesting means, why a peasant is rich or poor; go out into the fields, journey to the district town for the elections, visit the factory, the mill, the landing stage. And at the same time read the newspapers, books, and worry about why the English have sent a man-of-war to the Far East.… That’s what he would say! That is what going forward means. And so all my life! Good-bye, poetic ideal of life! That is a sort of smithy, and not life; it’s continuous flame, heat, noise, clatter – When is one to live? Had one not better stay? To stay meant to wear your shirt inside out, to listen to Zakhar jumping off the stove, to dine with Tarantyev, to think as little as possible about everything, not to finish The Journey to Africa, to grow peacefully old in the house of Tarantyev’s friend.…

  ‘Now or never!’ ‘To be or not to be!’ – Oblomov raised himself from his chair a little, but failing to find his slippers with his feet at once, sat down again.

  About a fortnight later Stolz left for England, having made Oblomov promise to come straight to Paris. Oblomov had even got his passport ready, he had even ordered a coat for travelling and bought a cap. That was how far things had advanced. Zakhar had been arguing with a wise air that it was enough to order one pair of boots and have the other re-soled. Oblomov had bought a blanket, a jersey, a travelling-bag, and was about to buy a bag for provisions when about a dozen people told him that one did not carry provisions abroad. Zakhar had been rushing about from one workshop and shop to another, perspiring copiously, and though he pocketed a good many five- and ten-copeck pieces out of the change in the shops, he cursed Stolz and all those who had invented travel.

  ‘And what will he do there by himself?’ he said in the shop. ‘I hear that in them parts it’s girls what attend on gentlemen. How can a girl pull off a gentleman’s boots? And how is she going to put socks on the master’s bare feet?’

  He grinned so that his whiskers moved sideways, and shook his head. Oblomov was not too lazy to write down what he had to take with him and what had to be left at home. He asked Tarantyev to take the furniture and other things to his friend’s house in Vyborg, to lock them up in three rooms and keep them there till his return from abroad. Oblomov’s acquaintances were already saying – some incredulously, some laughingly, and some with a kind of alarm: ‘He’s going. Just fancy, Oblomov has actually budged from his place!’

  But Oblomov did not go either after a month or after three months.

  On the eve of his departure his lip became swollen during the night. ‘A fly has bitten me,’ he said. ‘I can’t possibly go on board ship with a lip like that!’ and he decided to wait for the next ship.

  It was already August. Stolz had been in Paris for some time, writing furious letters to Oblomov, who did not reply. Why? Was it because the ink had gone dry in the inkwell and there was no paper? Or was it perhaps because that and which jostled each other too frequently in Oblomov’s style? Or was it because, hearing the stern call: Now or never, Oblomov decided in favour of never and had relapsed into his recumbent position, and Zakhar was trying in vain to wake him?

  No. His inkwell was full of ink: letters, papers, and even stamped paper, covered with his own handwriting, lay on his table. Having written several pages, he never once put which twice in the same sentence, he wrote freely and occasionally expressively and eloquently as ‘in the days of yore’ when he had dreamed with Stolz of a life of labour and travelling. He got up at seven, read, took books to a certain place. He did not look sleepy, tired, or bored. There was even a touch of colour in his face and a sparkle in his eyes – something like courage, or at any rate self-confidence. He never wore his dressing-gown: Tarantyev had taken it with him with the other things to his friend’s. He read a book or wrote dressed in an ordinary coat, a light kerchief round his neck, his shirt-collar showed over his tie, and was white as snow. He went out in an excellently made frock-coat and an elegant hat. He looked cheerful. He hummed to himself. What was the matter? Now he was sitting at the window of his country villa (he was staying at a villa in the country a few miles from the town), a bunch of flowers lying by him. He was quickly finishing writing something, glancing continually over the top of the bushes at the path, and again writing hurriedly.

  Suddenly the sand on the path crunched under light footsteps; Oblomov threw down the pen, grabbed the bunch of flowers, and rushed to the window.

  ‘Is it you, Olga Sergeyevna?’ he asked. ‘I shan’t be a minute!’

  He seized his cap and cane, ran out through the gate, offered his arm to a beautiful woman, and disappeared with her in the woods, in the shade of enormous fir-trees.

  Zakhar came out from some corner, followed him with his eyes, shut the door of the room, and went to the kitchen.

  ‘Gone!’ he said to Anisya.

  ‘Will he be in to dinner?’

  ‘I don’t know, I’m sure,’ Zakhar replied sleepily.

  Zakhar was the same as ever: the same enormous side-whiskers, the same unshaven chin, the same grey waistcoat and tear in his coat, but he was married to Anisya, either because of a break with his lady-friend or just from conviction that a man ought to marry; he was married and, regardless of the proverb, he had not changed.

  Stolz had introduced Oblomov to Olga and her aunt. When he brought Oblomov to her aunt’s house for the first time, there were other visitors there. Oblomov felt depressed and ill at ease as usual. ‘I wish I could take off my gloves,’ he thought; ‘it’s so warm in the room. How I’ve grown out of it all!’

  Stolz sat down beside Olga, who was sitting by herself under the lamp at some distance from the tea-table, leaning back in an arm-chair and showing little interest in what was going on around her. She was very glad to see Stolz; though her eyes did not glow, her cheeks were not flushed, an even, calm light spread over her face, and she smiled. She called him her friend; she liked him because he always made her laugh and did not let her be bored, but she was also a little afraid of him because she felt too much of a child in his company. When s
ome question arose in her mind, or when she was puzzled by something, she did not at once decide to confide in him; he was too far ahead of her, too much above her, so that her vanity sometimes suffered from the realization of her immaturity and the difference in their ages and intelligence. Stolz, too, admired her disinterestedly as a lovely creature with a fragrant freshness of mind and feelings. He looked on her as on a charming child of great promise. Stolz, however, talked to her oftener and more readily than to other women, because, though unaware of it herself, her life was distinguished by the utmost simplicity and naturalness and, owing to her happy nature and her sensible and unsophisticated education, she did not shrink from expressing her thoughts, feelings, and desires without any trace of affectation, even in the tiniest movement of her eyes, her lips, and her hands. Quite likely she walked so confidently through life because she heard at times beside her the still more confident footsteps of her ‘friend’ whom she trusted and with whom she tried to keep in step. Be that as it may, there were few girls who possessed such a simplicity and spontaneity of opinions, words, and actions. You never read in her eyes: ‘Now I will purse up my lips a little and try to look thoughtful – I look pretty like that. I’ll glance over there and utter a little scream as though I were frightened, and they’ll all run up to me at once. I’ll sit down at the piano and show the tips of my feet.’ There was not a trace of affectation, coquetry, falsity, tawdriness, or calculation about her! That was why hardly anyone but Stolz appreciated her and that was why she had sat through more than one mazurka alone without concealing her boredom; that was why the most gallant of the young men was silent in her presence, being at a loss what to say to her and how to say it. Some thought her simple, not very bright and not particularly profound because she did not overwhelm them with wise maxims about life and love or rapid, bold, and unexpected repartees or opinions on music and literature borrowed from books or overheard; she spoke little, and whatever she said was her own and not very important – so that the clever and dashing partners avoided her; on the other hand, those who were shy thought her too clever and were a little afraid of her. Stolz alone talked to her without stopping and never failed to make her laugh.

 

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