Oblomov, p.28Ivan Goncharov
‘You see how it’s done,’ she added quietly.
He gave her a look of dull-witted superciliousness, but she only grinned.
‘Oh, you silly peasant woman; you’re trying to be clever, are you? You don’t know the sort of a house we had in Oblomovka, do you now? Why, everything depended on me there. I had fifteen footmen and page-boys under me, not to mention other servants! And as for women like you, there were so many of them that I couldn’t remember all their names. And you’re trying to teach me, are you? Oh, you – –’
‘But I mean well,’ she began.
‘All right, all right!’ he wheezed, raising his elbow menacingly. ‘Get out of the master’s room. To the kitchen with you – and mind your woman’s business!’
She grinned and went out, while he looked at her gloomily out of the corner of his eye. His pride was hurt, and he treated Anisya dismally. When, however, Oblomov asked for something, and it could not be found or had been broken, or when there was confusion in the house and a storm, accompanied by ‘pathetic words’, gathered over Zakhar’s head, Zakhar winked at Anisya, motioned towards his master’s study, and pointing to it with his thumb, said in an imperious whisper: ‘Go and see what the master wants, will you?’ Anisya went, and the storm was always averted by a simple explanation. Indeed, Zakhar himself suggested calling in Anisya as soon as Oblomov began using ‘pathetic words’. But for Anisya, therefore, everything in Oblomov’s rooms would have fallen into neglect again; she had already attached herself to Oblomov’s household and quite unconsciously shared her husband’s unshakeable connexion with Oblomov’s house, life, and person; her woman’s eyes kept careful watch over the neglected rooms. Zakhar had only to go out for a moment for Anisya to dust the tables and sofas, open a window, set the blinds right, put away the boots left in the middle of the room and the trousers thrown over an arm-chair, carefully examine all the clothes and even the papers, pencils, penknife, and pens on the table – and put it all in order; beat up the crumpled pillows and remake the bed – and all in no time at all; then she glanced round the room, moved a chair, closed a half-open drawer, took a napkin off the table, and quickly slipped into the kitchen the moment she heard Zakhar’s squeaking boots. She was a quick and lively woman of about forty-seven with a solicitous smile, eyes that never missed anything, a strong neck and chest, and a pair of red, tenacious, untiring hands. She had hardly any face at all; the nose was the only thing that stood out on it; though small, it did not seem to belong to it at all or to have been clumsily attached, and, besides, the end of it was turned up, which made the rest of the face unnoticeable: it was so drawn and faded that one gained a clear impression of the nose long before noticing the rest of her face.
There are many husbands like Zakhar in the world. A diplomat will sometimes listen carelessly to his wife’s advice, shrug, and – secretly write as she has advised him. A high official will whistle contemptuously while listening to his wife’s chatter about some important affair of state and reply to her with a pitying grimace – and the next day he will solemnly repeat her chatter to the Minister. These gentlemen treat their wives as grimly or as lightly as Zakhar and barely vouchsafe to speak to them, regarding them, if not, like Zakhar, as silly women, then as a delightful relaxation from serious business affairs.
The bright noonday sun had long been burning the paths of the park. Everyone was sitting in the shade of the canvas awnings; only nursemaids and children walked about boldly in groups or sat on the grass in the noonday sun. Oblomov still lay on the sofa, believing and disbelieving the meaning of his conversation with Olga that morning. ‘She loves me, she has set her affections on me. Is it possible? She dreams of me; it was for me she sang so passionately, and the music awakened the same feelings in us for one another.’ His pride was aroused, life shone brightly, its magic vistas opened before him, it was all aglow with light and colour, as it had not been so recently. He already saw himself travelling abroad with her, in Switzerland, on the lakes, in Italy, walking among the ruins in Rome, sailing in a gondola, then lost in a crowd in Paris and London, then – then in his earthly paradise, Oblomovka. She was divine with that charming prattle of hers, her exquisite, fair-skinned face, her lovely, slender neck.… The peasants had never seen anything like her and they prostrated themselves before this angel. She was treading so softly on the grass; she walked with him in the shade of the young birch-trees; she sang to him.… And he became conscious of life, of its gentle flow, of the splashing of its sweet stream – he sank into thought, his desires satisfied, his happiness full to overflowing.… Suddenly his face clouded over.
‘No,’ he cried aloud, getting up from the sofa and pacing the room. ‘This cannot be! To love a ridiculous fellow like me, with sleepy eyes and flabby cheeks.… She is just laughing at me.…’
He stopped before the looking-glass and examined himself for a long time, first disapprovingly, then his eyes suddenly cleared; he even smiled.
‘I seem to look better, fresher than I did in town,’ he said. ‘My eyes are not dull – I was starting a stye, but it has disappeared. Must be because of the air here – I walk a lot, don’t drink, don’t lie about.… No need for me to go to Egypt.’
A servant from Olga’s aunt came with an invitation to dinner.
‘I’m coming, I’m coming!’ said Oblomov.
The servant turned to go.
‘Wait! Here’s something for you.’ He gave him some money.
He felt gay and light-hearted. It was such a bright, sunny day. The people were so kind, everybody was enjoying himself, everybody looked happy. Zakhar alone was gloomy and kept looking sideways at his master; Anisya, on the other hand, was grinning so good-humouredly.
‘I’ll get myself a dog,’ Oblomov decided, ‘or a cat: cats are affectionate creatures – they purr.’
He rushed off to Olga’s.
‘But then – Olga loves me!’ he thought on the way. ‘She who is so young and so fresh! She, whose imagination should be wideawake to the poetic side of life, ought to be dreaming of black-haired, curly-headed youths, tall and slender, with thoughtful, hidden power, with courage in their faces, a proud smile, with that melting and trembling light in the eye that touches the heart so easily, and with a gentle fresh voice that sounds like a harp-string. It is true there are women who do not care for youth, courage, good dancing, clever riding.… Olga, I daresay, is no ordinary girl whose heart can be won by a handsome moustache or whose ears can be charmed by the rattle of a sword; but then something else is needed – intelligence, for instance, so that a woman should yield and bow her head to it as the rest of the world does.… Or a famous artist.… But what am I? Oblomov – and nothing more. Stolz, now, is a different matter: Stolz has intelligence, force, he knows how to control himself, others, and life. Wherever he goes and whoever he meets, he immediately gets the upper hand, playing on people as on an instrument. And I? Why, I can’t get the better of Zakhar even – or of myself – I – Oblomov! Stolz – good Lord, she loves him,’ he thought with horror. ‘She said so herself. Like a friend, she said. But that’s a lie, an unconscious lie perhaps. There can be no friendship between man and woman.…’ He walked slower and slower, overcome with doubts. ‘And what if she is just flirting with me? If only – –’ He stopped altogether, rooted to the spot for a moment. ‘What if it is treachery, a plot?… And whatever made me think that she loves me? She did not say so: it is just the satanic whispering of my vanity! Andrey! Can it be? No, it can’t: she’s so – so – – That is what she’s like!’ he suddenly cried joyfully, seeing Olga coming to meet him.
Olga held out her hand to him with a gay smile.
‘No,’ he decided, ‘she is not like that, she is not like that, she is not a deceiver. Deceivers don’t look so kind, they don’t laugh so candidly – they titter. But, all the same, she never said she loved me!’ he suddenly thought again in terror: that was how he had interpreted it. ‘But, then, why should she have been vexed? Goodness, what a bog I am in!’
‘What have you got there?’
‘What sort of twig?’
‘As you see: it’s lilac.’
‘Where did you get it? There is no lilac here. Which way did you come?’
‘It’s the same sprig you plucked and threw away.’
‘Why did you pick it up?’
‘Oh, I don’t know. I suppose I was glad that – that you threw it away in vexation.’
‘You’re glad I was vexed! That’s something new. Why?’
‘I won’t tell you!’
‘Please, do, I beg you.’
‘Never! Not for anything in the world!’
‘I implore you!’
He shook his head.
‘And if I sing?’
‘Then – perhaps.’
‘So it’s only music that has any effect on you, is it?’ she said, frowning. ‘That’s true, isn’t it?’
‘Yes, music interpreted by you.’
‘Very well, I’ll sing. Casta diva, Casta di – –’ she sang Norma’s invocation and stopped.
‘Well, tell me now!’ she said.
For some time he struggled with himself.
‘No, no!’ he concluded even more decisively than before. ‘Not for anything in the world! Never! Suppose it isn’t true, and I’ve just imagined it? Never, never!’
‘What’s the matter? Is it something dreadful?’ she said, her whole mind concentrated on the question, glancing searchingly at him.
Then gradually realization came to her: the ray of thought and surmise spread to every feature of her face and, suddenly, her whole face lit up with the consciousness of the truth.… Just like the sun which, emerging from behind a cloud, sometimes first lights up one bush, then another, then the roof of a house and, suddenly, floods a whole landscape with light. She knew what Oblomov’s thought was.
‘No, no,’ Oblomov kept repeating. ‘I could never say it. It’s no use your asking.’
‘I’m not asking you,’ she replied indifferently.
‘Aren’t you? But just now – –’
‘Let’s go home,’ she said seriously, without listening to him. ‘Auntie is waiting.’
She walked in front of him and, leaving him with her aunt, went straight to her room.
THE whole of that day was a day of gradual disillusionment to Oblomov. He spent it with Olga’s aunt, a very intelligent, estimable, and well-dressed woman; she always wore a new, well-made silk dress with an elegant lace collar; her cap, too, was tastefully made and the ribbons matched her face coquettishly, her complexion was fresh, although she was nearly fifty. A golden lorgnette hung on a chain round her neck. Her postures and gestures were full of dignity; she draped herself very skilfully in an expensive shawl, leaned her elbow very becomingly on an embroidered cushion, and reclined majestically on the sofa. You would never find her at work: bending down, sewing, occupying herself with trifles did not suit her face or her imposing figure. She even gave orders to her servants in a curt, dry, casual tone of voice. She sometimes read but never wrote; she spoke well, though mostly in French. However, noticing at once that Oblomov was not very fluent in French, she spoke to him in Russian after his first visit. She never indulged in reveries or tried to be clever in her conversation; she seemed to have drawn a line in her mind beyond which she never went. It was quite obvious that feelings, every kind of relationship, including love, entered into her life on equal terms with everything else, while in the case of other women love quite manifestly takes part, if not in deeds, then in words, in all the problems of life, and everything else is allowed in only in so far as love leaves room for it. The thing this woman esteemed most was the art of living, of being able to control oneself, of keeping a balance between thought and intention, intention and realization. You could never take her unawares, by surprise, but she was like a watchful enemy whose expectant gaze would always be fixed on you, however hard you tried to lie in wait for him. High society was her element, and therefore tact and caution prompted her every thought, word, and movement. She never opened her heart or confided her inmost secrets to anyone. You never saw her whispering to some old lady over a cup of coffee. It was only with Baron von Landwagen that she often remained alone. The baron sometimes stayed with her till midnight, but Olga was almost always there as well; most of the time they were silent anyway, but, somehow, significantly and intelligently silent, just as if they knew something that no one else did, but that was all. They evidently liked to be in each other’s company – that was the only conclusion one could draw; she treated him exactly as she did everyone else – graciously and kindly, but also calmly and with absolute equanimity. Evil tongues made the best they could of it and hinted at some old friendship and a visit abroad together; but there was nothing in her attitude to him that betrayed any trace of some special, hidden sympathy, for that would surely have come out sooner or later. He was, incidentally, trustee of Olga’s small estate, which had been mortgaged as a result of some contract as security and never redeemed. The baron was engaged in a lawsuit about it, that is, he made some government clerk write papers, read them through his lorgnette, signed them, and sent the same official to the law-courts with them, while he himself made use of his connexions to bring about a satisfactory issue to the legal proceedings. He thought there was good reason to hope that everything would soon end happily. This put an end to the malicious gossip, and people grew accustomed to look upon the baron as a member of the family. He was nearly fifty, but he looked younger than his age, except that he dyed his moustache and had a slight limp. He was exquisitely polite, never smoked in the presence of ladies, never crossed his legs, and severely criticized the young men when during a visit they allowed themselves to lean back in an arm-chair or raise their knees and boots on a level with their noses. He kept his gloves on even indoors, removing them only when he sat down to dinner. He dressed in the latest fashion and wore several ribbons in his buttonhole. He always drove in a carriage and pair and took great care of his horses: before stepping into the carriage, he first walked round it, examined the harness and even the horses’ hoofs, and sometimes took out a white handkerchief and rubbed their flanks and backs to see whether they had been well groomed. He greeted acquaintances with a polite and affable smile, and strangers coldly at first, but his coldness was replaced by a smile as soon as they had been introduced to him, and his new acquaintance could always count on it in future. He discussed everything: virtue, high cost of living, science and society – and with equal precision; he expressed his views in clear-cut and well-balanced sentences, as though speaking in ready-made maxims written down in some textbook and circulated among society people for general guidance.
Olga’s relations with her aunt had so far been very simple and calm; they never transgressed against the limits of moderation in their expressions of affection for each other and there was never a shadow of displeasure between them. This was partly due to the character of Maria Mikhailovna, Olga’s aunt, and partly to the absence of any reason for them to behave differently. It never occurred to the aunt to demand anything to which Olga would have strongly objected; Olga would never have dreamt of refusing to comply with her aunt’s preferences or to follow her advice. And what was the nature of those preferences? They concerned the choice of her clothes, the style of arranging her hair, or whether they should go to the French theatre or the opera. Olga obeyed in so far as her aunt expressed a preference or gave advice, but no more than that – and her aunt always expressed her wishes with a moderation that amounted to dryness, never exceeding her rights as an aunt. Their relations were so colourless that it was quite impossible to say whether her aunt made any claims on Olga’s obedience or demanded any special tenderness, and whether Olga would dream of disobeying her aunt or felt any tenderness towards her. On the other hand, one could tell at once that they were aunt and niece and not mother and daughter.
‘I’m going shopping; is there anything you want?’ the aunt as
‘Yes, Auntie, I have to change my lilac dress,’ Olga said, and they went together. Or: ‘No, Auntie,’ Olga said, ‘I went there the other day.’
The aunt touched her cheek with two fingers, kissed her on the forehead, and she kissed her aunt’s hand, and one went and the other one stayed behind.
‘Shall we take the same country cottage again?’ the aunt would say, neither affirmatively nor questioningly, but just as though she were debating the question with herself and could not make up her mind.
‘Yes,’ Olga replied, ‘it’s very nice there.’
And the country cottage was taken.
And if Olga said, ‘Goodness, Auntie, aren’t you tired of that forest and sand? Hadn’t we better go somewhere else?’
‘Very well,’ said the aunt, ‘let us.’
‘Shall we go to the theatre, Olga?’ the aunt said. ‘Everybody has been talking about this play for weeks.’
‘With pleasure,’ answered Olga, but without any particular desire to please her aunt or any expression of obedience.
Sometimes they had a slight argument.
‘My dear child,’ the aunt said, ‘green ribbons do not suit you at all. Why not take straw-coloured ones?’
‘But, Auntie dear, I’ve worn straw-coloured ones six times already: people will get tired of it.’
‘Well, take pensée.’
‘And do you like these?’
Oblomov by Ivan Goncharov / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes