Oblomov, p.30Ivan Goncharov
‘Why haven’t you been to see us all this time?’ she asked.
He made no answer. He would have liked to make her feel somehow or other that the secret charm of their relations had gone, that he was oppressed by the air of concentration which seemed to envelop her like a cloud. She seemed to have withdrawn within herself and he did not know how to behave towards her. But he felt that the slightest hint of this would make her look surprised and grow still colder towards him, and perhaps even altogether extinguish the spark of sympathy that he had so carelessly damped at the very beginning. He had to blow it into a flame again, slowly and carefully, but he had not the slightest idea how it was to be done. He felt vaguely that she had grown up and was almost superior to him, that henceforth there could be no question of a return to child-like confidence, that a Rubicon lay between them and that his lost happiness had been left on the opposite bank: he simply had to cross over to it. But how? And what if he crossed over alone? She understood better than he what was passing in his mind, and she had therefore the advantage over him. His soul lay wide open to her and she could see how feeling was born in it, how it stirred within him and at last revealed itself; she saw that feminine guile, cunning, and coquetry – Sonia’s weapons – were of no avail with him because there would be no struggle. She even realized that in spite of her youth it was she who had to play the chief role in their relations, for all she could possibly expect from him was that he would be deeply impressed, passionately but languidly devoted, in perpetual harmony with every beat of her pulse, but show no will of his own, nor any active thought. In an instant the power she wielded over him became clear to her and she liked her role of a guiding star, the ray of light she would shed over the stagnant pool and that would be reflected in it. She was already exulting over her supremacy in this duel in various ways. In this comedy, or perhaps tragedy, the protagonists almost invariably appear in the characters of tormentor and victim. Like every woman in the leading part – that is, in the part of tormentor – Olga could not deny herself the pleasure of playing cat and mouse with Oblomov, though perhaps unconsciously and not as much as other women: sometimes she would reveal her feeling in a momentary and unexpectedly capricious outburst, but would then immediately withdraw into herself again; mostly, though, she drove it farther and farther forward, knowing that he would not take a single step by himself and remain motionless where she left him.
‘Have you been busy?’ she asked, embroidering some piece of canvas.
‘I’d have said I was busy but for that Zakhar,’ thought Oblomov, groaning inwardly.
‘Yes,’ he said casually. ‘I’ve been reading a book.’
‘A novel?’ she asked, raising her eyes to see his expression when telling a lie.
‘No, I hardly ever read novels,’ he replied very calmly. ‘I’ve been reading The History of Inventions and Discoveries.’
‘Thank goodness,’ he thought, ‘I’ve read through a page of the book to-day.’
‘In Russian?’ she asked.
‘No, in English.’
‘So you read English?’
‘I do, though with difficulty. And you haven’t been to town at all?’ he asked chiefly in order to change the subject.
‘No, I was at home all the time. I usually do my work here – in this avenue.’
‘Yes, I like this avenue very much. I’m very grateful to you for having shown it to me. No one ever comes here – –’
‘I did not show it to you,’ he interrupted. ‘You remember we met here accidentally.’
‘Yes, of course.’
Both were silent.
‘Your stye has quite gone, hasn’t it?’ she asked, looking straight at his right eye.
‘Yes, thank goodness,’ he said.
‘When your eye begins to itch bathe it with vodka and you won’t get a stye,’ she went on. ‘My nurse taught me that.’
‘Why does she keep on talking about styes?’ Oblomov thought.
‘And don’t have any supper,’ she added seriously.
‘Zakhar!’ he thought furiously, a silent imprecation rising to his lips.
‘You’ve only to take a heavy supper,’ she went on without raising her eyes from her work, ‘and spend two or three days lying on your back, and you’re sure to get a stye.’
‘Id-i-ot!’ Oblomov swore inwardly at Zakhar.
‘What are you embroidering?’ he asked, to change the subject.
‘A bell-pull for the baron,’ she said, unfolding the roll of canvas, and showing him the pattern. ‘Nice?’
‘Yes, very nice. The pattern is very charming. This is a sprig of lilac, isn’t it?’
‘Yes – I believe so,’ she answered casually. ‘I chose it at random. The first that turned up.’
And, blushing a little, she quickly rolled up the canvas.
‘It’s awfully boring if it goes on like this and I can’t get anything out of her,’ he thought. ‘Another man – Stolz, for instance – could, but I cannot.’
He frowned and looked sleepily around him. She glanced at him and put her work into a basket.
‘Let’s walk as far as the road,’ she said, and letting him carry the basket, she straightened her dress, opened her parasol, and walked on. ‘Why are you so gloomy?’ she asked.
‘I don’t know, Olga Sergeyevna. And why should I be happy? And how?’
‘Find something to do and spend more time with other people.’
‘Find something to do! I could do that if I had some aim in life. But what is my aim? I haven’t one.’
‘The aim is to live.’
‘When you don’t know what to live for, you live anyhow – from one day to another. You are glad the day is over, that the night has come, and in your sleep you can expunge from your mind the wearisome question why you have lived this day and are going to live the next.’
She listened in silence, with a stern look: severity was hidden in her knit brows and incredulity, or scorn, coiled like a serpent in the line of her lips.
‘Why you have lived!’ she repeated. ‘Why, can anyone’s life be useless?’
‘It can. Mine, for instance,’ he said.
‘You don’t yet know what the aim of your life is, do you?’ she asked, stopping. ‘I don’t believe it: you’re maligning yourself; if not, you are not worthy of life.’
‘I have already passed the place where it can be found, and there is nothing more ahead of me.’
He sighed, and she smiled.
‘Nothing more?’ she repeated questioningly, but gaily and laughingly, as though she did not believe him and foresaw that there was something before him.
‘You may laugh,’ he went on, ‘but it is so.’
She walked on slowly with a lowered head.
‘What am I to live for?’ he said, walking after her. ‘Who for? What am I to seek? What am I to turn to? What am I to strive for? The flowers of life have fallen and only the thorns remain.’
They walked along slowly; she listened absent-mindedly and, in passing, tore off a sprig of lilac and gave it to him without looking.
‘What’s this?’ he asked, taken aback.
‘You see, it’s a twig.’
‘What kind of a twig?’ he asked her, looking at her open-eyed.
‘I know. But what does it mean?’
‘The flower of life and – –’
He stopped and she stopped too.
‘And?’ he repeated questioningly.
‘My vexation,’ she said, looking straight at him with a concentrated gaze, and her smile told him that she knew what she was doing.
The cloud of impenetrability round her had dispersed. The look in her eyes was clear and intelligible. She seemed to have opened a certain page of a book on purpose and let him read the secret passage.
‘Then I may hope for – –’ he said suddenly, flushing with joy.
‘Everything! But – –’
‘Life, life is opening to me once more,’ he said, speaking as though in a delirium. ‘It is there – in your eyes, your smile, in this sprig of lilac, in Casta diva – it’s all there.’
She shook her head.
‘No, not all – half.’
‘Perhaps,’ she said.
‘But where is the other half? What else is there after this?’
‘Look for it.’
‘So as not to lose the first,’ she replied, taking his arm, and they went home.
He kept glancing, sometimes with delight and sometimes stealthily, at her pretty head, her figure, her curls, clasping the lilac twig in his hand.
‘It is all mine! Mine!’ he kept repeating musingly, unable to believe his own words.
‘You won’t be moving to Vyborg, will you?’ she asked when he was going home.
He laughed, and did not even call Zakhar a fool.
AFTER THAT there were no sudden changes in Olga. She was even-tempered and calm with her aunt and in company, but lived and felt that she was alive only with Oblomov. She no longer asked anyone what she ought to do or how she ought to behave, and did not appeal in her mind to Sonia’s authority. As the different phases in life – that is to say, feelings – opened before her, she keenly observed all that happened around her, listened intently to the voice of her instinct, checking her feelings by the few observations she had made, and moved forward cautiously, trying with her foot the ground on which she was going to tread. She had no one she could ask for advice. Her aunt? But she skimmed over such problems so lightly and dexterously that Olga never succeeded in reducing any opinion of hers to a maxim and in fixing it in her memory. Stolz was away. Oblomov? But he was a kind of Galatea whose Pygmalion she herself had to be. Her life was filled so quietly and imperceptibly that no one noticed it, and she lived in her new sphere without arousing attention and without any visible outbursts of passion and anxieties. She did the same things for the others as before, but she did them differently. She went to the French theatre, but the play seemed to have some sort of connexion with her life; she read a book, and there were invariably lines in it which struck sparks in her own mind, passages which blazed with her own feelings, words which she had uttered the day before, as though the author had overheard her heart beating. There were the same trees in the woods, but their rustle had a special meaning for her; there was a living concord between her and them. The birds were not just chirping and twittering, but saying something to one another; and everything around her was speaking, everything responded to her mood; if a flower opened, she seemed to hear it breathe. Her dreams, too, had a life of their own: they were filled with visions and images to which she sometimes spoke aloud – they seemed to be telling her something, but so indistinctly that she could not understand; she made an effort to speak to them and ask them some question, but she, too, said something incomprehensible. It was her maid Katya who told her in the morning that she had been talking in her sleep. She remembered Stolz’s words: he often told her that she had not begun to live, and she was sometimes offended that he should regard her as a child when she was twenty. But now she realized that he had been right, that she had only now begun to live.
‘When all the powers of your organism awaken,’ Stolz used to say to her, ‘then life around you will also awaken, and you will see what you do not notice now, you will hear what you do not hear now: your nerves will become attuned to the music of the spheres and you will listen to the grass growing. Wait, don’t be in a hurry. It will come of itself!’ he used to threaten her.
It had come.
‘This is, I suppose, my powers asserting themselves, my organism awakening,’ she repeated his words, listening intently to the unfamiliar tremor within her and watching keenly and timidly each new manifestation of the awakening force.
She did not give way to day-dreaming, she did not succumb to the sudden rustle of the leaves, the nightly visions, to the mysterious whispers, when someone seemed to bend over her and say something indistinct and incomprehensible in her ear.
‘Nerves!’ she would sometimes say with a smile, through tears, scarcely able to overcome her fear and bear the strain of the struggle between the awakening forces within her and her weak nerves. She got out of bed, drank a glass of water, opened the window, fanned her face with her handkerchief, and recovered from the visions that haunted her asleep and awake.
As soon as Oblomov awakened in the morning, the first image that arose before him was the image of Olga with a sprig of lilac in her hand. He thought of her when he went to sleep, and she was beside him when he went for a walk or when he read. He carried on an endless conversation with her in his mind by day and by night. He kept adding to the History of Discoveries and Inventions some fresh discoveries in Olga’s appearance or character, invented occasions for meeting her accidentally or sending her a book or arranging some pleasant surprise for her. After talking to her at one of their meetings, he would continue the conversation at home, so that when Zakhar happened to come in he said to him in the very soft and tender voice in which he had been mentally addressing Olga: ‘You’ve again forgotten to polish my boots, you bald-headed devil! Take care, or you’ll catch it good and proper one day!’
But from the moment she had first sung to him, he was no longer care-free. He no longer lived his old life when it did not make any difference to him whether he was lying on his back or staring at a wall, whether Alexeyev was sitting in his drawing-room or he himself was at Ivan Gerasimovich’s, in those days when he expected nothing and no one either by day or by night. Now day and night, every hour of the morning and the evening had its own shape and form, and was either filled with rainbow radiance or colourless and gloomy, according to whether he spent it in the presence of Olga or passed it dully and listlessly without her. All this had a great effect on him: his head was a regular network of daily and hourly considerations, conjectures, anticipations, agonies of uncertainty – all revolving round the questions whether he would see her or not, what she would say and do, how she would look, what commission she would give him, what she would ask him, would she be pleased or not. All these considerations had become questions of life and death to him. ‘Oh, if one could experience only this warmth of love without its anxieties!’ he mused. ‘No, life does not leave you alone. You get burnt wherever you go! How many fresh emotions and occupations have suddenly been crowded into it! Love is a most difficult school of life!’ He had read several books. Olga asked him to tell her what they were about, and listened to him with incredible patience. He wrote several letters to his estate, replaced his bailiff and got in touch with one of his neighbours through the good offices of Stolz. He would even have gone to Oblomovka if he had thought it possible to be away from Olga. He had no supper, and for the last fortnight he had not known what it meant to lie down in the daytime. In two or three weeks they had visited all the places round Petersburg. Olga and her aunt, the baron and Oblomov appeared at suburban concerts and fêtes. They talked of going to Imatra in Finland.
So far as Oblomov was concerned, he would not have stirred anywhere farther than the park, but Olga kept planning it all, and if he showed the slightest hesitation in accepting an invitation to go somewhere, the excursion was sure to take place. Then there was no end to Olga’s smiles. There was not a hill within a radius of five miles from his summer cottage that he had not climbed several times.
Meanwhile their attachment grew and developed and expressed itself in accordance with the immutable laws. Olga blossomed out as her feeling grew stronger. Her eyes were brighter, her movements more gr
‘You’ve grown prettier in the country, Olga,’ her aunt said.
The baron’s smile expressed the same compliment. Blushing, Olga put her head on her aunt’s shoulders, and her aunt patted her affectionately on the cheek.
‘Olga! Olga!’ Oblomov called cautiously, almost in a whisper, standing at the foot of a hill, where she had asked him to meet her to go for a walk.
There was no answer. He looked at his watch.
‘Olga Sergeyevna,’ he added in a loud voice.
Olga was sitting on the top of the hill. She had heard him call, but she suppressed her laughter and said nothing.
‘Olga Sergeyevna!’ he called, looking up to the top after having clambered half-way up between the bushes. ‘She told me to come at half-past five,’ he said to himself.
She could no longer refrain from laughing.
‘Olga! Olga! Why, you’re there!’ he said, and continued to climb up. ‘Ugh! What do you want to hide on a hill for?’ he said, sitting down beside her.
‘I suppose it’s because you want to make me suffer, but you make yourself suffer too, don’t you?’
‘Where do you come from? Straight from home?’ she asked.
‘No, I went to your place first. They told me you had gone out.’
‘What have you been doing to-day?’ she asked.
‘To-day – –’
‘Had a row with Zakhar?’ she finished for him.
He laughed as though it had been something utterly impossible.
‘No, I read the Revue. Listen, Olga,’ but he said nothing more and, sitting down beside her, sank into contemplation of her profile, her head, the up-and-down movement of her hand as she pulled the needle through the canvas. He fixed her with his eyes and was unable to take them off her. He did not move, only his glance moved to right and to left, following the movement of her hand. Everything within him was in a state of tremendous activity: his blood was racing through his veins, his pulse was beating twice as fast, his heart was seething – all this had such an effect on him that he breathed slowly and painfully, as people do before their execution or at the moment of the highest spiritual joy. He could not bring himself to speak or even to move; only his eyes, moist with deep-felt emotion, were fixed on her irresistibly.
Oblomov by Ivan Goncharov / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes