Oblomov, p.26Ivan Goncharov
‘I can’t stand it!’ he said. ‘And you want me to be comfortable? I’ll fall out with Andrey. Did he tell you that too?’
‘He did make me laugh terribly at it to-day,’ Olga added. ‘He always makes me laugh. I’m sorry, I won’t, I won’t, and I’ll try to look at you differently.…’ She looked at him with a mock-serious expression.
‘All this is to begin with,’ she went on. ‘Very well, I’m not looking at you as I did the other day, so that you ought to feel comfortable and at ease now. Now, what must I do secondly so that you shouldn’t be bored?’
He looked straight into her grey-blue, tender eyes.
‘Now you, too, are looking strangely at me,’ she said.
He really was looking at her not so much with his eyes as with his mind, with all his will, like a magnetizer, but involuntarily, being quite incapable of not looking.
‘Heavens, how pretty she is!’ he thought, looking at her almost with terrified eyes. ‘And to think that such wonderful girls actually exist! This white skin, these eyes which are as dark as deep pools and yet there is something gleaming in them – her soul, no doubt! Her smile can be read like a book, disclosing her beautiful teeth and – and her whole head – how tenderly it rests on her shoulders, swaying, like a flower, breathing with fragrance.… Yes,’ he thought, ‘I am extracting something from her – something is passing from her into me. Here – close to my heart – something is beginning to stir and flutter – I feel a new sensation there – something that was not there before.… Oh dear, what a joy it is to look at her! It takes my breath away!’
His thoughts went whirling through his mind and he was looking at her as into an endless distance, a bottomless abyss, with self-oblivion and delight.
‘Really, Mr Oblomov, see how you are looking at me now yourself,’ she said, turning her head away shyly, but her curiosity got the better of her and she could not take her eyes off him.
He heard nothing. He really did look at her without hearing her words, and silently listened to what was happening inside him: he touched his head – there, too, something was stirring uneasily, rushing about with unimaginable swiftness. He could not catch his thoughts: they seemed to scurry away like a flock of birds, and there seemed to be a pain in his left side, by the heart.
‘Don’t look at me so strangely,’ she said. ‘It makes me, too, uncomfortable. I expect you also want to extract something from my soul.’
‘What can I get from you?’ he asked mechanically.
‘I, too, have plans, begun and unfinished,’ she replied.
He recovered his senses at this hint at his unfinished plan.
‘Strange,’ he said, ‘you’re spiteful, but you have kind eyes. It’s not for nothing people say that one must never believe women: they lie intentionally with their tongue and unintentionally with their eyes, smile, blushes, and even fainting fits.’
She did not let this impression get stronger, took his hat from him quietly and sat down on a chair herself.
‘I won’t, I won’t,’ she repeated quickly. ‘Oh, I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t have said that! But I swear I wasn’t trying to be sarcastic at all!’ She almost sang, and in the singing of those words emotion stirred.
Oblomov calmed down.
‘Oh that Andrey!’ he said reproachfully.
‘Well, secondly, tell me what I have to do so that you shouldn’t be bored?’ she asked.
‘Sing!’ he said.
‘There, that’s the compliment I was waiting for,’ she said joyfully, flushing. ‘Do you know,’ she went on with animation, ‘if you hadn’t cried “Oh!” after my singing that night, I don’t think I could have slept – I should have cried, perhaps.’
‘Why?’ Oblomov asked in surprise.
She pondered. ‘I don’t know myself,’ she said, after a pause.
‘You’re vain. That’s why.’
‘Yes, of course,’ she said, musing and touching the keys with one hand, ‘but everyone is vain, and very much so. Mr Stolz claims that vanity is almost the only thing that controls a man’s will. I expect you haven’t any, and that is why you’re – –’
She did not finish.
‘I’m what?’ he asked.
‘Oh, nothing,’ she said, changing the subject. ‘I’m fond of Mr Stolz,’ she went on, ‘not only because he makes me laugh – sometimes his words make me cry – and not because he likes me, but I believe because – he likes me more than he likes other people: you see, my vanity betrays me!’
‘You are fond of Mr Stolz?’ Oblomov asked, looking intently and searchingly into her eyes.
‘Why, of course, if he likes me more than he likes other people, then it’s only fair that I should be,’ she replied seriously.
Oblomov looked at her in silence: she answered him with a frank, silent look.
‘He likes Anna Vassilyevna, too, and Zinaida Mikhailovna, but not as much as me,’ she went on. ‘He won’t sit with them for two hours, or make them laugh, or talk frankly to them; he talks about business, about the theatre, the news, but he talks to me as to a sister – no,’ she corrected herself quickly, ‘as to a daughter. Sometimes he even scolds me if I am too slow to understand something, or if I refuse to do as he wishes, or if I do not agree with him. But he never scolds them, and I think I like him all the more because of it. Vanity!’ she added, pensively. ‘But I don’t know how it could have got into my singing. People have often praised it, but you wouldn’t even listen to me – you had almost to be forced to. And if you had gone away without saying a word to me, if I hadn’t noticed anything in your face – I think I’d have fallen ill. Yes, I must admit, that is vanity all right!’ she concluded decisively.
‘Why, did you notice something in my face?’ he asked.
‘Tears, though you did conceal them; it’s a bad habit with men to be ashamed of their feelings. That, too, is vanity, only false vanity. They had better sometimes be ashamed of their intellect: it leads them more often astray. Even Mr Stolz is ashamed of his feelings. I told him that, and he agreed with me. And you?’
‘Looking at you, one would agree with anything!’ he said.
‘Another compliment – and such a – –’ she could not find the right word.
‘– vulgar one,’ Oblomov finished, without taking his eyes off her.
She assented with a smile.
‘That was exactly what I was afraid of when I refused to ask you to sing. What can one say after a first hearing? And yet one has to say something. It is difficult to be clever and sincere at the same time, especially about one’s feelings, when one is as greatly impressed as I was then.’
‘I really did sing then as I had not done for ages, perhaps as I had never done.… Don’t ask me to sing, I shall not be able to sing so again.… Wait, I’ll sing one more thing,’ she said, and her face seemed to flush, her eyes blazed. She sat down, struck two or three loud chords and began to sing.
Dear Lord, what did he not hear in her singing! Hopes, vague fear of storms, the storms themselves, transports of happiness – all this could be heard, not in the song, but in her voice. She sang a long time, turning to him now and again to ask like a child: ‘Have you had enough? No? Well, just this, then,’ and she went on singing. Her cheeks and ears were burning with agitation; sometimes her young face lit up with the sudden flash of emotion or with a ray of such mature passion as though she were re-living in her heart some great experience of the distant past, and then this momentary ray was suddenly extinguished and her voice once more sounded fresh and silvery. Oblomov, too, experienced the same sort of feeling: it seemed to him as though he had been living through it all not for one hour or two, but for years.… Both of them, though outwardly motionless, were rent by an inward fire, shaken by the same agitation; the tears in their eyes were called forth by the same mood. These were all the symptoms of the passions which were evidently destined to arise in her young heart, now subject only to brief and fleeting outbursts of the still slumbering forces of life. She finished
Now it was she who grasped his hand involuntarily.
‘What’s the matter?’ she asked. ‘Why do you look like that? Why?’
But she knew why he looked like that, and inwardly she modestly triumphed, enjoying this manifestation of her powers.
‘Look in the glass,’ she went on, pointing with a smile to the reflection of his face in the mirror. ‘Your eyes are shining! Goodness, there are tears in them! How deeply you feel music!’
‘No,’ said Oblomov quietly, ‘it isn’t music I feel, it’s – love!’
She at once dropped his hand and changed colour. Their eyes met: his gaze was fixed, almost deranged; it was not Oblomov, but passion that looked at her.
Olga realized that his words had escaped him against his will and that he was powerless to suppress them, for he merely spoke the truth.
He came to himself, took his hat, and ran out of the room without turning round. She did not follow him with curious eyes, but stood motionless like a statue at the piano for a long time, her eyes fixed on the ground; only her bosom rose and fell agitatedly.
WHENEVER Oblomov lay about indolently at home or was sunk into a dull slumber or indulged in flights of inspired fancies, there was always a woman in the foreground of his dreams, a woman who was his wife and sometimes – his mistress. The woman he saw in his dreams was tall and well-shaped, with her arms serenely folded on her breast, her eyes gentle yet proud, sitting leisurely under a clump of trees overhung with ivy, or stepping lightly on a carpet or a sandy path, her hips swaying, her head gracefully poised on her shoulders, and her eyes looking dreamily ahead; she was his ideal, the embodiment of a life full of enchantment and grave repose, she was the personification of rest itself. He dreamed of her first, smothered in flowers, standing at the altar wearing a long veil, then at the head of the marriage-bed with bashfully lowered eyes, and, finally, as a mother among a group of children. He dreamed of the smile on her lips, a smile that was not passionate, but sympathetic to him as her husband and indulgent to others; he dreamed of her eyes which were not moist with desire, but yielding only to him, and shy, even severe, to others. He never wanted to see her in a state of agitation, to hear of ardent dreams, sudden tears, languorous longings, exhaustion, followed by a frenzied burst of joy. He wanted neither moonlight nor sadness. She must not turn pale suddenly, faint, or experience shattering outbursts of emotion. ‘Women like that,’ he used to say, ‘have lovers, and they give you no end of trouble: doctors, watering-places, and all sorts of fancies. You will not be able to sleep in peace!’ But beside a wife who was proud, shy, and serene a man could sleep care-free. He goes to sleep confident that when he wakes he will meet the same gentle and kind gaze; and twenty or thirty years later, in response to his affectionate look, he would meet the same gentle and softly gleaming ray of sympathy in her eyes. And so to their dying day! ‘Why, isn’t it the secret aim of every man and woman to find in his or her friend unfailing repose, an even and everlasting flow of feeling? That is the norm of love, and the moment we deviate from it, change or grow cold, we suffer; so that my ideal must be the common ideal of everybody, mustn’t it?’ he thought. ‘Is not that the crowning achievement, the final solution of the relations of the sexes?’ To give passion a legitimate outlet, to show the direction in which it should flow, like a river, for the benefit of a whole country is the common problem of mankind, it is the very pinnacle of progress to which all advanced people like George Sand are striving but invariably go astray. Once it is solved, there can be no more unfaithfulness, nor coolness, but an even-beating, calm, and contented heart and, therefore, a full and happy life and everlasting moral health. There are cases of such a state of blessedness, but they are rare; they are pointed out as phenomenal. One has to be born for it, people say. But perhaps one ought to be educated for it, try to achieve it consciously. Passion! All this is very well in poetry or on the stage, where actors strut about in cloaks and with daggers and then – the murderers and the murdered – go and have supper together. It would be a good thing if passions, too, ended like that, but they leave nothing but smoke and stench behind, and no happiness! And the memories are nothing but shame and tearing of hair.
Finally, if such a misfortune, if passion, should overtake you, it would be like finding yourself on a terribly rough and hilly road where horses slip and the rider is exhausted, but your native village can already be seen in the distance: you must not lose sight of it and must do all you can to get out of the dangerous spot as quickly as possible.… Yes, passion must be curbed, stifled, and destroyed by marriage.… He would have run away in horror from a woman who suddenly scorched him with her gaze, or uttered a moan and fell on his shoulder with her eyes closed, then came to and threw her arms about his neck in a tight embrace. That could be like a firework, like an explosion of a barrel of gunpowder; and afterwards? Deafness, blindness, and singed hair!
But let us see what sort of a woman Olga was.
For many days after his sudden avowal they did not see each other alone. He hid like a schoolboy as soon as he caught sight of Olga. She had changed towards him, but did not avoid him and was not cold to him, but had merely grown more thoughtful. He could not help feeling that she was sorry something had happened that prevented her from tormenting him with her inquisitive glances and teasing him good-humouredly for his lying about, his laziness, and his clumsiness. She would have liked to make fun of him, but it was the sort of fun enjoyed by a mother who cannot help smiling at her son’s comic get-up. Stolz had gone away, and she was bored to have no one to sing to; her piano was closed – in short, both felt constrained and awkward. And how wonderfully it had all gone at first! How simply had they come to know each other! How easily they had become friends! Oblomov was much more simple than Stolz, and more kind, too, though he did not amuse her so well – or rather he amused her by being what he was, and forgave her mockery so easily. Besides, before leaving, Stolz put Oblomov in her charge; he asked her to keep an eye on him and prevent him from stopping at home. In her clever, pretty little head she had devised a detailed plan of how she would break Oblomov of his habit of sleeping after dinner – and not only of sleeping but also of lying down on the sofa in the daytime; she would make him promise her. She dreamed of how she would ‘tell him’ to read the books Stolz had left behind, to read the newspapers every day and tell her the news, to write letters to his estate, to finish his plan of estate management, to get ready to go abroad – in a word, she would not let him drowse; she would show him his aim in life, make him love once more the things he cared for no longer, and Stolz, when he returned, would not recognize him. And she – the silent, shy Olga – would perform this miracle, she, who had not yet begun to live and whom no one had even obeyed so far! She would be the cause of this transformation! It had begun already; the moment she began singing, Oblomov was a different person.… He would live, work, and bless life and her. To restore a man to life – why, think of the glory a doctor won when he restored a hopeless invalid to health! And what about saving a man whose mind and soul were facing moral ruin? The very thought of it made her tremble with pride and joy; she looked upon it as a task assigned to her from above. In her mind she made him her secretary, her librarian. And suddenly all that had come to an end! She did not know what she ought to do and that was why she was silent when she met Oblomov.
Oblomov was tortured by the thought that he had shocked and offended her and he was expecting annihilating glances and cold severity, and he trembled when he caught sight of her, hastening to turn aside. In the meanwhile he had already moved to the country villa, and for three days walked alone over marshy ground to the forest, or went to the village and sat idly by the gates of some
‘Oh, what have I done!’ he murmured. ‘I’ve ruined everything! Thank God, Stolz has gone: she has not had time to tell him, or I should have sunk through the ground! Love, tears – it doesn’t become me! Olga’s aunt hasn’t asked me to call again: I expect she must have told her. Oh, Lord!’
This was what he thought as he got farther and farther into the park, walking down a side avenue.
One thing that worried Olga was how she would meet him and how this encounter would go off: ought she to say something or ought she to pass it over in silence as if nothing had happened? But what could she say? Should she assume a stern expression, look at him proudly, or not look at all, but remark haughtily and dryly that she never expected him to behave like that: who does he think she is, to allow himself such an impertinence? That was what Sonia during a mazurka said to a second lieutenant, though she had taken a great deal of trouble to turn his head. ‘But,’ she asked herself, ‘has he been impertinent? If he really feels it, why shouldn’t he say it? But it was a bit sudden, all the same. He hardly knows me. No one would have said such a thing after seeing a woman for the second or third time, and no one would have fallen in love so quickly. Only Oblomov could.…’ But she remembered having read and heard that love came suddenly sometimes. ‘He acted on an impulse, he was carried away,’ she thought. ‘Now he doesn’t show himself. He is ashamed. It can’t be impertinence, then. But whose fault is it? Stolz’s, of course, because he made me sing.’ Oblomov did not want to listen at first – she resented it and – she tried.… She blushed crimson.… Yes, she had done all she could to rouse him. Stolz had said that he was apathetic, that nothing interested him, that all was dead within him. So she wanted to find out whether everything was dead, and she sang, she sang as never before.… ‘Good heavens, then it is my fault: I must ask him to forgive me.… But whatever for?’ she asked herself a moment later. ‘What am I to tell him? “Mr Oblomov, I’m awfully sorry, I tried to seduce you!”… Oh, how disgraceful! It’s not true!’ she said, flushing and stamping her foot. ‘Who’d dare to think such a thing? I did not know what was going to happen, did I? And if it hadn’t happened, if he had not said it – what then?’ she asked. ‘I don’t know,’ she thought. Ever since that evening she had felt so strange – she must have been very much offended – she felt positively feverish, her cheeks glowed.…
Oblomov by Ivan Goncharov / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes