Oblomov, p.31Ivan Goncharov
From time to time she threw a deep glance at him, read the all-too-obvious meaning written on his face, and thought: ‘Dear God, how he loves me! How tender he is to me, how tender!’ and she felt proud and looked with admiration at the man brought to her feet by her own power. The time of symbolic hints, meaningful smiles, and sprigs of lilac had irrevocably passed. Love had become severer, more exacting, and was beginning to be transformed into a sort of duty; they felt that they possessed rights over each other. Both revealed more and more of themselves: misunderstandings and doubts disappeared or gave way to more positive and clearer questions. At first she taunted him with slightly sarcastic remarks for the years he had wasted in idleness; she passed a severe sentence on him and condemned his apathy more deeply and effectively than Stolz; then, as she grew more intimate with him, she gave up taunting him for his flabby and listless existence and began to manifest her despotic will over him, reminding him courageously of the purpose and the duties of life and sternly demanded a change in his state of mind, constantly arousing it from its torpor either by involving him in a subtle discussion of some vital problem that was familiar to her or by approaching him with a problem that was not clear to her and that she could not grasp. He struggled, racked his brains, did his best not to lower himself in her estimation and to help explain some knotty problem to her, or else boldly set it aside. All her feminine tactics were pervaded by tender sympathy; all his attempts to keep in step with the workings of her mind were inspired by passion. But more often he lay down at her feet exhausted, put his hand to his heart and listened to its beating without taking his wide-open, amazed, rapturous eyes from her. ‘How he loves me!’ she kept saying at those moments, looking admiringly at him. If she sometimes noticed some of Oblomov’s old traits still lurking in his soul – and she could look deep into it – such as the least weariness or barely perceptible inertness of spirit, she overwhelmed him with reproaches, in which there was occasionally a touch of bitter regret and fear of having made a mistake. Sometimes, just when he was about to open his mouth in a yawn, he was struck by her look of astonishment and he immediately shut his mouth with a snap. She would not permit the faintest shadow of somnolence on his face. She asked him not only what he had been doing, but also what he was going to do. What made him sit up even more than her reproaches was the realization that his weariness made her weary too, and she became cold and indifferent. Then he became full of life, strength, and activity, and the shadow disappeared once more, and their feeling for one another was again full of strength and vigour. But all these troubles did not so far go beyond the magic circle of love. His activity was of a purely negative character: he did not sleep, he read, he sometimes thought about writing his plan for managing his estate, he walked and drove a lot. But what he was to make of his life, what he was to do with himself – that was still a matter of mere intentions.
‘What other sort of life and activity does Andrey want?’Oblomov said, opening his eyes wide after dinner so as not to fall asleep. ‘Isn’t this life? Isn’t love service? Let him try it! Every day means a good seven-mile walk! I spent last night in a wretched inn in town without undressing, only took off my boots, and Zakhar was not there to help me, either – and all because I had to carry out some commissions for her!’
What he dreaded most was when Olga put some abstruse questions to him and demanded a fully satisfactory answer, as though he were some professor: and that happened often with her, not out of pedantry, but out of a desire to know what it was all about. She sometimes even forgot her aims with regard to Oblomov and was entirely carried away by the question itself.
‘Why aren’t we taught that?’ she said with thoughtful vexation, as she listened eagerly to some desultory talk of a subject that was not considered necessary to women. One day she began worrying Oblomov with questions about double stars: he was unwise enough to refer to Herschel, and was at once sent to town for a book which he had to read and then tell her about till she was satisfied. Another time, in a conversation with the baron, he again unwisely said something about schools of painting – and again he had a whole week’s work: reading books and telling Olga about what he had read; then they went to the Hermitage, and there he had once more to illustrate to her what he had read. If he said anything at random, she would see through it at once and start pestering him. Then he spent a week going to different shops in search of engravings of the best pictures. Poor Oblomov had to look up again what he had once learnt, or rush to bookshops for new works, and sometimes spent a sleepless night rummaging among books and reading something up so as to be able to reply with a casual air to a question she had asked him the day before. She put her questions not with feminine want of thought and not because the idea came suddenly into her head, but insistently and impatiently, and if Oblomov did not answer, she punished him by a long, searching glance. How he used to tremble under that glance!
‘Why don’t you say something?’ she said. ‘Why are you silent? One might think you were bored.’
‘Oh,’ he said, as though coming to after a fainting fit, ‘how I love you!’
‘Really? If you hadn’t said so, I should never have thought so.’
‘But don’t you feel what is going on inside me?’ he began.
‘You know, I find it difficult to speak. Here – give me your hand – here something doesn’t let me, first as if something heavy – some heavy stone – lay there, as though I were in deep sorrow, and yet – strange to say – the same kind of process occurs in one’s organism both in joy and in sorrow: one finds it hard, almost painful, to breathe and one feels like crying! If I cried, I’d feel just as if I had been unhappy: tears would make me feel easier.…’
She looked at him silently, as though checking the truth of his words, comparing it with what was written on his face, and smiled: she was satisfied with the result. Her face was full of the breath of happiness, peaceful happiness which nothing apparently could disturb. It was clear that her heart was not heavy, but tranquil as everything in nature on that peaceful morning.
‘What is the matter with me?’ Oblomov asked hesitantly, as though speaking to himself.
‘Shall I tell you?’
‘You’re in love.’
‘Yes, of course,’ he replied, snatching her hand away from her embroidery and not kissing it, but just pressing her fingers to his lips and apparently intending to keep them there for ever.
She tried to take her hand away gently, but he held it firmly.
‘Let me go,’ she said. ‘There, that’s enough.’
‘And you?’ he asked. ‘Aren’t you in love?’
‘In love – no, I don’t like that expression: I love you!’ she said and gazed at him for some time as though making sure that she really loved him.
‘L-love!’ Oblomov said. ‘But one may love one’s mother, father, nurse, and even one’s dog: all this is covered by the general, collective term “I love” as by an old – –’
‘– dressing-gown?’ she asked ironically. ‘By the way, where is your dressing-gown?’
‘What dressing-gown? I never had one.’
She looked at him with a reproachful smile.
‘There you go again, Olga,’ he said. ‘My dressing-gown! I am waiting, I am all of a quiver to hear you tell me about the deepest experience of your life and what name you will give it and you – good Lord, Olga! Yes, I am in love with you and I assert that without it there is no true love: one does not fall in love with one’s father, mother, or nurse, but loves them.’
‘I don’t know,’ she said reflectively, as though listening to what was going on deep inside her, ‘I don’t know whether I am in love with you. If I’m not, then perhaps the right moment has not come yet; all I know is that I never loved my father, my mother, or my nurse like this.’
‘What is the difference?’ he tried to get her to answer. ‘Do you feel anything special?’
‘Do you want to know?’ she asked slyly.
‘But why do you want to know?’
‘So as to be able to live by it every minute: to-day, all night, to-morrow – till I meet you again. This is the only thing I live for.’
‘Well, you see, you have to renew the supply of your tenderness every day! This is the difference between the person who is in love and the person who loves. I – –’
‘Yes?’ He waited impatiently.
‘I love differently,’ she said, leaning back on the seat and gazing vacantly at the moving clouds. ‘I am bored without you, I feel sorry to part from you for a short time, and it would grieve me if I were to part from you for a long time. I know and believe, once and for all, that you love me, and I am happy, though you may never tell me again that you love me. I cannot love more or better than this.’
‘It might be – Cordelia speaking,’ thought Oblomov, looking passionately at Olga.
‘If you – died,’ she went on hesitantly, ‘I’d wear mourning for you all my life and I’d never smile again. If you fell in love with another, I should not blame or curse you, but wish you happiness in my heart.… For me this love is the same as – life, and life – –’
She was looking for a word.
‘Well, what is life, do you think?’
‘Life is duty, obligation, and hence love is duty, too: I feel as though God has sent it me,’ she concluded, raising her eyes to the sky, ‘and commanded me to love.’
‘Cordelia!’ Oblomov cried aloud. ‘And she is twenty-one! So that is love in your opinion!’ he added thoughtfully.
‘Yes, and I think I shall have enough strength to live and love all my life.’
‘Who could have suggested such an idea to her?’ Oblomov thought, gazing at her almost with veneration. ‘She could not have reached this clear and simple understanding of love and life through experience, torture, fire, and smoke.’
‘But have you no intense joys – have you no passions?’ he asked.
‘I don’t know,’ she said. ‘I have not experienced them and I don’t understand them.’
‘Oh, how I understand it now!’
‘Perhaps I, too, will feel it in time, perhaps I, too, will feel the same powerful emotions as you, and I shall look at you as you do at me, as though I did not believe that it was really you.… That must be awfully funny, I expect!’ she added gaily. ‘How you look at me sometimes! I’m sure Auntie notices it.’
‘Then what happiness do you find in love if you don’t feel the intense joy I feel?’
‘What happiness! Why, this!’ she said, pointing to him, to herself, and to the solitude around them. ‘Isn’t that happiness? Have I ever lived like that? Before I should not have sat here among these trees for a quarter of an hour alone without a book or without music.… Talking to any man except Mr Stolz used to bore me. I had nothing to say to them. All I wanted was to be left alone. But now – why, I am happy even if we never say a word to each other.’
She looked round at the trees and the grass, then fixed her gaze on him, smiled and held out her hand to him.
‘Won’t I feel awful when you go away?’ she added. ‘Won’t I be glad to hurry off to bed and go to sleep so as not to see the tedious night? Won’t I send a message to you in the morning? Won’t I – –’
With every ‘won’t I’ Oblomov’s face beamed more and more and his eyes shone more brightly.
‘Yes, yes,’ he echoed; ‘I, too, wait for the morning, and the night is tedious to me, and I, too, will send a message to you tomorrow not because I have anything to tell you, but just for the sake of uttering your name another time and hearing the sound of it, of learning something about you from the servants and envying them for having seen you already. We think, live, and hope in the same way. I’m sorry I doubted you, Olga. I am quite convinced that you love me as you never loved your father or your mother or – –’
‘– my lapdog,’ she said with a laugh. ‘You must trust me, then,’ she concluded, ‘as I trust you, and don’t have any doubts, do not disturb this happiness by empty doubts or it will fly away. I shall never give back what I have once called my own, unless it is taken away from me. I know this: I may be young, but – – Do you know,’ she said with confidence in her voice, ‘for the month during which I have known you I have thought and felt a great deal. It is as though I had read a big book all by myself a little at a time.… So, please, don’t have any doubts.…’
‘I can’t help having doubts,’ he interrupted. ‘Don’t ask me that. Now, while I am with you I am certain of everything: your eyes, your voice – everything tells me not to doubt. You look at me as though you wished to say: I do not need words, I can read everything in your eyes. But when you are not with me I am plunged into such agonizing doubts and questions that I have to run to you again just to have a look at you, for otherwise I do not believe. Why is that?’
‘And I believe you: how is that?’
‘I should think so! You have a lunatic before you who has been infected by passion. I expect you can see yourself in my eyes as in a mirror. Besides, you are twenty. Have a good look at yourself: what man could fail to pay you the meed of admiration, though only by a glance? To know you, to listen to you, to look at you for hours, to love you – – Oh, that’s enough to drive one mad! And you are so calm, so placid, and if two or three days pass and I don’t hear you say “I love you,” I feel awful here,’ he pointed to his heart.
‘I love you, I love you, I love you – there’s a three-days’ supply for you!’ she said, getting up from the seat.
‘You’re always joking,’ he said with a sigh, walking down the hill with her, ‘but it’s no joking matter to me.’
So the same motif was played by them in different variations. Their meetings, their conversations – it was all one song, one light which burnt brightly; only its rays were broken up into rose, amber, and green, shimmering in the surrounding atmosphere. Every day and every hour brought new sounds and new colours, but the light and the tune were the same. Both he and she listened to these sounds and, having caught them, hastened to sing to each other what they heard without suspecting that next day new sounds would be heard, new rays would appear, and forgetting the next day that the song was different from that of the day before. She clothed the outpourings of her heart in the colours with which her imagination glowed at the moment, and firmly believed that they were true to nature, and hastened with innocent and unconscious coquetry to appear before her friend in that beautiful guise. He had even greater faith in those magic sounds and the entrancing light, and hastened to appear before her in the full armour of passion, to show her all the splendour and power of the fire that was consuming his soul. They did not lie to themselves or to each other: they were merely expressing what the heart dictated, and its voice was coloured by the imagination. It did not really matter to Oblomov whether Olga appeared as Cordelia and remained true to that image or followed a new path and was transformed into another vision, so long as she appeared in the same colours as those in which she was enshrined in his heart and so long as he was happy. Neither did Olga inquire whether her passionate friend would pick up her glove if she threw it into the mouth of a lion or would jump into an abyss for her, so long as she could see the symptoms of his passion and so long as he remained true to her ideal of a man – and one who awakened to life through her: so long as the light of her eyes and her smile kept alive the flame of courage in him and he did not cease to regard her as the sole purpose of his life. That is why the fleeting image of Cordelia, the fire of Oblomov’s passion reflected only one moment, one ephemeral breath of their love, only one of its fanciful patterns. And to-morrow – to-morrow will glow with a different light, a light as beautiful, perhaps, but a different one for all that.…
OBLOMOV was like a man who has just been watching a summer sunset and enjoying its crimson afterglow, unable to tear his eyes away from the sky and turn back to see the approaching night
Next morning Oblomov got up looking pale and gloomy; his face bore the traces of a sleepless night, his forehead was furrowed, his eyes dull and phlegmatic. His pride, his gay and cheerful look, the deliberate, sober movements of a busy man had all gone. He drank his tea listlessly, and without opening a single book or sitting down to his desk, he thoughtfully lit a cigar and sat down on the sofa. Formerly he would have lain down, but he had lost the habit of that now and he felt no compulsion to put his head on a pillow. He did, however, lean his elbow on it – a symptom of his former inclination. He was in a dismal mood. From time to time he sighed, shrugged his shoulders suddenly, or shook his head bitterly. Something was agitating him violently, but it was not love. Olga’s image was before him, but it seemed to be far away, in a haze, without radiance, a stranger to him; he gave it a sickly look and sighed.
‘Live as God commands and not as you would like is a wise rule, but – –’ And he sank into thought. ‘No, you can’t live as you like, that’s clear,’ some morose, cantankerous voice began speaking within him. ‘You will fall into a chaos of contradictions which no human intellect, however profound and daring, can unravel! One day you desire something, next day you get what you have so passionately desired, and the day after you blush at the thought of having desired it, and then you curse life because it has been fulfilled – that is what comes from your arrogant and independent striding into life, from your wilful I want to. A man has to grope his way through life; he must close his eyes to many things and not dream of happiness or dare to murmur if it escapes him – that is life! Whose idea was it that it was happiness or enjoyment? The madmen! “Life is life, it is duty,” Olga says – an obligation, and an obligation may be hard. Let us, then, do our duty.…’ He sighed. ‘I’m not going to see Olga again – Lord, you have opened my eyes and shown me my duty,’ he said, looking up at the sky, ‘but where am I to get the necessary strength for it? To part! I can still do it now, though it may hurt. I shall not curse myself afterwards for not having parted from her. And one of her servants may come at any moment, for she said she would send me a message.… She doesn’t expect – –’
Oblomov by Ivan Goncharov / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes