Oblomov, p.27Ivan Goncharov
‘Nervous irritation – a slight fever,’ the doctor told her.
‘It is all Oblomov’s doing!’ she thought as she walked in the park. ‘Oh, he must be taught a lesson so that it doesn’t happen again! I’ll ask auntie not to invite him to our house: he mustn’t forget himself.… How did he dare?’ Her eyes blazed. Suddenly she heard someone coming.
‘Someone’s coming!’ thought Oblomov.
And they met face to face.
‘Olga Sergeyevna,’ he said, shaking like an aspen leaf.
‘Ilya Ilyich,’ she said, timidly, and they both stopped.
‘Good morning,’ he said.
‘Good morning,’ she replied.
‘Where are you going?’ he asked.
‘Nowhere in particular,’ she said without raising her eyes.
‘I’m not in your way?’
‘Oh, not at all,’ she replied, glancing at him quickly and curiously.
‘May I come with you?’ he asked suddenly, with a searching look.
They walked silently along the path. Neither the teacher’s ruler nor the headmaster’s eyebrows had ever made Oblomov’s heart thump as it was doing at that moment. He tried to make an effort and say something, but the words would not come; only his heart was pounding away as though in anticipation of some calamity.
‘Have you had a letter from Mr Stolz?’ she asked.
‘Yes, I have,’ Oblomov replied.
‘What does he say?’
‘He wants me to join him in Paris.’
‘And what are you going to do?’
‘Oh – some time – no, to-morrow – as soon as I get ready.’
‘Why so soon?’ she asked.
He made no answer.
‘Don’t you like your house or – tell me, why do you want to go?’
‘The impudent wretch!’ she thought. ‘He wants to go abroad, does he?’
‘I don’t know,’ Oblomov murmured, without looking at her, ‘I – I feel awful – awkward – something’s choking me.’
She said nothing, picked a spray of lilac and sniffed it, burying her face in it.
‘Smell it,’ she said, covering his face with it, too. ‘Doesn’t it smell lovely?’
‘And here are some lilies of the valley,’ he said, bending down to the grass. ‘Wait, I’ll pick you some. They smell better: of fields and woods; there is more of nature about them. Lilac always grows close to houses, the branches thrust themselves in at the windows, the smell is so cloying. Look, the lilies of the valley are still wet with dew!’
He gave her a few lilies of the valley.
‘And do you like mignonette?’ she asked.
‘I’m afraid not; the smell is too strong. I don’t like mignonette or roses. I don’t care for flowers; they’re all right in the fields, but they’re such a trouble indoors – they make such a mess when they drop…’
‘You like it to be tidy indoors, don’t you?’ she asked, looking slyly at him. ‘You don’t like a mess, do you?’
‘No, I don’t,’ he murmured, ‘but my servant is such a –– Oh, you’re wicked!’ he added under his breath.
‘Are you going straight to Paris?’ she asked.
‘Yes, Stolz has been expecting me for some time.’
‘Take a letter from me: I’ll write one to him,’ she said.
‘Let me have it to-day: I’ll be going back to town to-morrow.’
‘To-morrow?’ she asked. ‘Why so soon? There’s no one driving you out of here, is there?’
‘Well, I’m afraid there is.…’
‘Shame…’ he whispered.
‘Shame!’ she repeated mechanically. ‘Now I’ll tell him,’ she added to herself, ‘Mr Oblomov, I never expected – –’
‘Yes, Olga Sergeyevna,’ he brought himself to say at last, ‘I believe you’re surprised – you’re angry – –’
‘Now – now is the right moment to say it,’ she thought, her heart beating fast. ‘Oh dear, I can’t, I can’t!’
He tried to look into her face, to find out what she thought, but she was smelling the lilac and the lilies of the valley and did not know herself what she was thinking – what she ought to say or do.
‘Oh,’ she thought, ‘Sonia would have thought of something at once, but I’m so silly – I never can do anything – it’s awful!’
‘I had quite forgotten,’ she said.
‘Please believe me, the whole thing – I mean, I don’t know what made me say it – I couldn’t help it,’ he began, gradually growing bolder. ‘I’d have said it if a thunderbolt had struck me or a stone had crashed on top of me. Nothing in the world could have stopped me. Please, please don’t think that I wanted – I’d have given anything a moment later to take back the rash word.…’
She walked with her head bowed, sniffing the flowers.
‘Please forget it,’ he went on, ‘forget it, particularly as it wasn’t true.…’
‘Not true?’ she suddenly repeated, drawing herself up and dropping the flowers.
Her eyes opened wide and flashed with surprise.
‘How do you mean – not true?’ she repeated.
‘I mean – well – for God’s sake don’t be angry with me and forget it. Please, believe me, I was just carried away for a moment – because of the music.’
‘Only because of the music?’
She turned pale and her eyes grew dim.
‘Well,’ she thought, ‘everything’s all right now. He took back his rash words and there’s no need for me to be angry any more! That’s excellent – now I needn’t worry any more.… We can talk and joke as before.’
She broke off a twig from a tree absent-mindedly, bit off a leaf, and then at once threw down the twig and the leaf on the path.
‘You’re not angry with me, are you? You have forgotten, haven’t you?’ Oblomov said, bending forward to her.
‘What was that? What did you ask?’ she said nervously, almost with vexation, turning away from him. ‘I’ve forgotten everything – I’ve such a bad memory!’
He fell silent and did not know what to do. He saw her sudden vexation but did not see the cause of it.
‘Goodness,’ she thought, ‘now everything is all right again. It’s just as if that scene had never taken place, thank heaven! Well, all the better.… Oh dear, what does it all mean? Oh, Sonia, Sonia, how lucky you are!’
‘I’m going home,’ she said suddenly, quickening her steps and turning into another avenue.
There was a lump in her throat. She was afraid she might cry.
‘Not that way,’ Oblomov said. ‘It’s nearer, here!’
‘You ass,’ he said to himself gloomily. ‘What did you want to explain for? Now you’ve offended her more than ever. You should not have reminded her: it would have passed off by itself and been forgotten. Now you’ll jolly well have to ask her to forgive you.’
‘I expect,’ she thought to herself, ‘I’m feeling so vexed because I’ve had no time to say to him, “Mr Oblomov, I never expected you to presume.…” But he forestalled me. “It wasn’t true!” How do you like that! So he was lying to me! How did he dare?’
‘Have you really forgotten?’ he asked softly.
‘Yes, I’ve forgotten everything!’ she said hurriedly, anxious to get home.
‘Give me your hand to show you’re not angry.’
Without looking at him, she gave him the tips of her fingers, and no sooner did he touch them than she snatched them away.
‘No, you are angry!’ he said with a sigh. ‘How can I convince you that I was just carried away for a moment, that I should never have forgotten myself to such an extent? Of course, I shan’t listen to your singing again!’
‘Don’t try to convince me,’ she said quickly. ‘I don’t need your assurances. I shouldn’t dream of singing to you anyhow!’
‘All right, I shan’t say another word,’ he said. ‘Only for heaven’s s
She walked more slowly and listened intently to his words.
‘If it’s true that you would have burst into tears if I hadn’t cried out in admiration of your singing, then – I mean – if you go away now without a smile and without holding out your hand to me like a friend and – have pity on me, Olga Sergeyevna! I shall be ill – my knees tremble – I can hardly stand.…’
‘Why?’ she asked suddenly, glancing at him.
‘I’m afraid I don’t know myself,’ he said. ‘I feel no longer ashamed: I am not ashamed of my words – I think they were – –’
Again his heart missed a beat, again there seemed to be a lump there; again her kind and curious gaze began to burn him. She had turned to him so gracefully, and was awaiting his answer so anxiously.
‘They were – what?’ she asked impatiently.
‘I’m sorry, I’m afraid to say it: you’ll be angry again.’
‘Say it!’ she said imperiously.
He was silent.
‘I again feel like crying as I look at you.… You see I’m not vain, I’m not ashamed of my feelings.’
‘Why do you feel like crying?’ she asked, flushing again.
‘I keep hearing your voice – I feel again – –’
‘What?’ she said, breathing freely again: she was waiting tensely.
They came up to the front steps of her house.
‘I feel – –’ Oblomov was in a hurry to finish, but stopped short.
She was mounting the steps slowly, as though with an effort.
‘The same music – the same – excitement – the same feel –… I’m sorry – I’m sorry – I can’t control my – –’
‘Sir,’ she began severely, but suddenly her face lit up with a smile, ‘I’m not angry and I forgive you,’ she added gently, ‘only in future – –’
Without turning round, she stretched out a hand to him; he seized it and kissed her palm; she softly pressed it against his lips and instantly disappeared behind the glass door, while he remained rooted to the spot.
FOR A LONG TIME he gazed after her open-mouthed and with wide-open eyes, and then stared blankly at the bushes.… Some people he did not know passed by. A bird flew past. A peasant woman asked him in passing if he would like some strawberries – but the stupor continued. Then he walked very slowly down the same avenue and, half-way, came across the lilies of the valley Olga had dropped and the sprig of lilac she had torn off and thrown down in vexation. ‘Why had she done it?’ he wondered, calling it back to mind. ‘You fool! You fool!’ he cried suddenly aloud, picking up the lilies of the valley and the sprig of lilac, and almost running down the avenue. ‘I asked her to forgive me, and she – oh, can it be true?… What an idea!’
He came home, looking happy and radiant, ‘With the moon on his forehead,’ as his nurse used to say, sat down in the corner of the sofa and quickly wrote in large letters on the dust-covered table: ‘Olga.’
‘Oh, what dust!’ he exclaimed, recovering from his ecstatic state. ‘Zakhar! Zakhar!’
He shouted again and again, because Zakhar was sitting with some coachmen at the gate that faced the lane.
‘Go on,’ Anisya said in a stern whisper, pulling him by the sleeve, ‘the master has been calling for you for a long time.’
‘Have a look, Zakhar, what’s this?’ Oblomov said, but in a gentle and kind voice, for he could not be angry just then. ‘You want everything to be in a mess here too, do you? Dust, cobwebs! No, my dear fellow, I shall not permit it! As it is, Olga Sergeyevna doesn’t give me a moment’s rest: “You like dirt,” she says.’
‘It’s all very well for them to talk like that, sir,’ Zakhar remarked, turning to the door. ‘They have five servants, they have.’
‘Where are you going? Will you sweep the room at once, please? It’s impossible to sit down here, or lean on the table. Why, this is horrible – it’s – it’s Oblomovitis!’
Zakhar looked hurt and glanced sideways at his master.
‘There he goes again!’ he thought. ‘He’s invented another pathetic word, a familiar one, too!’
‘Well,’ said Oblomov, ‘why don’t you get on with the sweeping?’
‘There’s nothing to sweep here, sir,’ Zakhar observed stubbornly. ‘I’ve already swept the room to-day.’
‘Where’s the dust come from, if you’ve swept it? Look at it! There and there! I will not put up with it! Sweep it all up at once!’
‘I did sweep it,’ Zakhar repeated. ‘You don’t expect me to sweep the rooms ten times a day, do you? The dust comes from the road – we’re in the country here, sir: there’s a lot of dust on the road.’
‘You shouldn’t sweep the floor first and dust the furniture afterwards,’ Anisya said, suddenly peeping out of the other room. ‘The room is bound to be covered in dust again. You ought first to – –’
‘Who asked you to come here and teach me what to do?’ Zakhar wheezed furiously. ‘Go back to your place!’
‘Who ever heard of sweeping the floor first and dusting the furniture afterwards? That’s why the master is angry.…’
‘Now then, now then!’ he shouted, pushing out his elbow as though intending to aim it at her breast.
She grinned and disappeared. Oblomov waved him out of the room too. He put his head on the embroidered cushion, put his hand to his heart, and began listening to its beating.
‘This is bad for me,’ he said to himself. ‘What’s to be done? If I ask the doctor’s advice, he will probably send me to Abyssinia!’
Before Zakhar and Anisya were married, they did their own work in the house without interference – that is to say, Anisya did the shopping and the cooking and helped with the tidying of the rooms only once a year, when she scrubbed the floors. But after their marriage, she found freer access to the master’s rooms. She helped Zakhar, and the rooms were cleaner, and, besides, she took some of her husband’s duties upon herself, partly of her own accord and partly because Zakhar despotically laid them upon her.
‘Here, beat the carpet, will you?’ he wheezed authoritatively. Or: ‘You’d better sort out the things in that corner there and take what isn’t wanted to the kitchen.’
He spent a month in this blissful state: the rooms were clean, his master did not grumble, or use ‘pathetic words’, and he, Zakhar, had nothing to do. But the state of bliss came to an end – and for the following reason. As soon as he and Anisya began to look after Oblomov’s rooms together, everything Zakhar did turned out to be stupid. Whatever he did was wrong. For fifty-five years he had lived in the world in the conviction that whatever he did could not be done better or differently. And now, suddenly, Anisya proved to him that he was a wash-out, and she did it with such an offensive condescension, so quietly, as though he were a child or a perfect fool, and to make matters worse, she could not help smiling as she looked at him.
‘You shouldn’t open the windows and then shut the flues, dear,’ she said affectionately. ‘You’ll chill the rooms again.’
‘Well, and how would you do it?’ he asked with the rudeness of a husband. ‘When would you open the windows?’
‘Why, dear, when lighting the stove,’ she answered gently. ‘The air will be drawn out and the room will get warm again.’
‘What a silly fool!’ he said. ‘I’ve been doing it like that for twenty years and I’m not going to change it for you.’
On the same shelf in the cupboard he kept tea, sugar, lemons, silver, and, next to it, shoe-polish, brushes, and soap. One day he came home and found the soap on the wash-stand, the brushes and shoe-polish on the kitchen window-ledge, and the tea and sugar in a separate drawer.
‘What do you mean by turning everything upside-down just as you please?’ he asked sternly. ‘I’ve put it all together on purpose to have it handy, and now you’ve come and put it all in different places!’
Another time she pointed out to Zakhar two or three moth holes in Oblomov’s clothes and told him that he ought to shake and brush them at least once a week.
‘Let me give them a brush, dear,’ she concluded affectionately.
He snatched the brush and Oblomov’s frock-coat out of her hands and put the coat back in the wardrobe. When on another occasion he began, as usual, to blame his master for scolding him without reason for the blackbeetles though he had not ‘invented them’, Anisya, without saying a word, removed all the pieces and crumbs of black bread which had been lying on the shelves from time immemorial and swept out and washed all the cupboards and crockery – and the blackbeetles disappeared almost completely. Zakhar still did not properly understand what it was all about, and merely attributed it to her zeal. But one day, when he took a tray with cups and glasses to his master’s room and, dropping two glasses on the floor, began swearing as usual and was about to throw the whole tray down on the floor, Anisya took the tray from him, replaced the broken glasses and put the bread and the sugar-basin on the tray, arranging everything in such a way that not a cup moved, and then demonstrated to him how to pick up the tray with one hand and hold it firmly with the other; then she walked up and down the room twice, turning the tray to left and to right, and not a single spoon moved – it suddenly dawned on Zakhar that Anisya was cleverer than he. He snatched the tray from her, dropping the glasses, and could never forgive her for it.
Oblomov by Ivan Goncharov / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes