Oblomov, p.32Ivan Goncharov
What was the cause of all this? What ill wind had suddenly blown on Oblomov? What clouds had it brought? And why did he assume so sorrowful a burden? The day before he seemed to have looked into Olga’s soul and seen a bright world and a bright future there, had read his horoscope and hers. What had happened then?
He must have had supper or lain on his back, and his poetic mood gave way to horrors. It often happens that one goes to sleep on a quiet, cloudless summer evening under the twinkling stars, thinking how lovely the fields will be in the bright morning sunshine! How refreshing it will be to take a walk deep into the forest to escape from the heat! And suddenly one awakens to the patter of the rain, to grey, melancholy clouds; it is cold and damp.… In the evening Oblomov had been listening to the beating of his heart as usual, felt with his hand to make sure that it had not grown larger or had hardened, then, finally, he started analysing his happiness and suddenly came upon a drop of bitterness which poisoned him. The poison acted quickly and violently. He ran through his whole life in his mind: for the hundredth time repentance and belated regret for the past filled his heart. He imagined what he would have been now if he had gone boldly forward, how much fuller and more varied his life would have been if he had been active, and then passed over to the question of what he was now, and how Olga could possibly love him. What could she love him for? Was it not a mistake? The thought suddenly flashed through his mind like lightning, and the lightning struck him right in the heart and shattered it. He groaned. ‘A mistake! Yes – that’s what it is!’ he could not help thinking.
‘I love you, I love you, I love you,’ it came back to him, and his heart began to grow warmer, but was suddenly chilled again. Olga’s thrice-repeated ‘I love you’ – what did it mean? Did her eyes deceive her? Did her heart beguile her? It was not love, but merely a presentiment of love! That voice would sound one day, and so powerfully, with such a tremendous crash of chords, that the whole world would be startled! The aunt and the baron would know of it, and the echo of that voice would resound far and wide! That feeling would not meander as gently as a brook concealed in the grass with hardly an audible murmur. She loved now just as she embroidered: the pattern came to light slowly, and she unfolded it even more lazily and, after admiring it for a moment, put it down and forgot all about it. Yes, that was only a preparation for love, it was only an experiment, and he chanced to have turned up as the first fairly tolerable subject for the experiment.… For was it not chance that had brought them together? She would not have noticed him otherwise. Stolz had pointed him out to her and infected her young, impressionable heart with his own sympathy; she was sorry for him, was fired with the ambition to rouse him from his sleep, and then she would leave him. ‘That’s what it is!’ he muttered in horror, getting out of bed and lighting a candle with a trembling hand. ‘There has never been anything more than that! She was ready for love, her heart was waiting for it eagerly, and she met me accidentally, by chance.… Let another man appear – and she will recognize her mistake with horror! How she will look at me then! How she will turn away! Awful! I’m taking what doesn’t belong to me! I’m a thief! What am I doing? How blind I have been – my God!’
He looked at himself in the mirror: he was pale, yellow, his eyes were lustreless. He thought of those lucky young men whose eyes were moist and dreaming but, like Olga’s, had a deep and forceful look in them and sparkled tremulously, whose smile was confident of victory, whose step was bold, and whose voice was strong and ringing. And one day one of them might come: she would flush suddenly, look at him and Oblomov and – burst out laughing!
He looked at himself in the glass again.
‘Women don’t love men like me!’ he said.
Then he lay down and buried his face in the pillow.
‘Good-bye, Olga,’ he concluded. ‘Be happy.’
‘Zakhar!’ he called in the morning. ‘If a servant comes from the Ilyinskys for me, say I am not at home, that I’ve gone to town.’
‘Very good, sir.’
‘Yes – no, I’d better write to her,’ he said to himself, ‘or she’ll think it strange that I’ve suddenly disappeared. I have to offer some explanation.’
He sat down to the table and began writing quickly, eagerly, with feverish haste, quite differently from the way he had written to his landlord at the beginning of May. Not once was there an unpleasant collision between two whichs and two thats.
‘You may find it strange, Olga Sergeyevna,’ (he wrote) ‘to get this letter instead of seeing me, when we meet each other so often. Read it to the end and you will see that I could not have done otherwise. I ought to have begun by writing it, then we should have both been saved a great deal of self-reproach in the future; but it is not too late even now. We fell in love with one another so suddenly and so quickly, as though we both had fallen ill, and this prevented me from coming to my senses sooner. Besides, looking at you and listening to you for hours on end, who would willingly have undertaken the hard task of recovering from the enchantment? How could one have sufficient caution or will-power to be able to stop at any moment at every slope instead of sliding down it? Every day I thought: “I am not going to let myself be carried away any further – I am going to stop here and now – it all depends on me,” and I was carried away, and now comes the struggle in which I must ask you to help me. It is only to-day, or rather last night, that I realized how fast I was sliding down: it was only yesterday that I succeeded in looking deeper into the abyss into which I am falling, and I decided to stop.
‘I am speaking only of myself – not out of egoism, but because when I am lying at the bottom of this abyss you will still be soaring high above it like a pure angel, and I doubt whether you will want to cast a glance into it. Listen, let me put it plainly and frankly and without circumlocution: you do not love me and you cannot love me. Trust my experience and believe me absolutely. For my heart began beating long ago; it may have been beating wrongly and out of tune, but that is what taught me to distinguish its regular from its irregular beat. You cannot but I can and should know how to recognize truth from error, and I am in duty bound to warn one who has not had time to recognize it. And so I am warning you: you are in error, turn back!
‘So long as our love took the form of a light, smiling vision, so long as it sounded in the Casta diva, came to us in the scent of a sprig of lilac, in unexpressed sympathy, in a shy glance, I did not trust it, taking it for a mere play of the imagination and the whisper of vanity. But the time for innocent play has passed; I have fallen ill with love, I have felt the symptoms of passion; you have grown thoughtful and serious; you have devoted your leisure to me, you are in a state of nerves, you have grown restless, and it was then – I mean, it is now, that I am frightened and feel that it is my duty to stop and tell you what it is.
‘I have told you that I love you, and you said the same to me – don’t you hear how discordant this sounds? You don’t? Well, you will hear it later when I am already in the abyss. Look at me, think carefully of what my life is like: is it possible for you to love me? Do you love me? “I love you, I love you, I love you” – you said yesterday. “No, no, no!” I answer firmly.
‘You do not love me, but – I hasten to add – you are not lying, nor are you deceiving me; you cannot say yes, when everything in you is saying no. I only want to prove to you that your present “I love you” is not real love, but only the expectation of love in the future; it is merely an unconscious need of love which, for lack of proper food, for lack of fire, burns with a false flame, without warmth, which with some women finds expression in fondling a child and with others simply in fits of crying or hysterics. From the very beginning I ought to have said to you sternly: “You have made a mistake. The man you have longed for and dreamed of is not before you. Wait, he will come, and then you will come to yourself and you will be vexed and ashamed of your mistake, and your shame and vexation will hurt me.” That’s what I should have said to you, had I been more perceptive and more courageo
‘Now I think differently. What will happen when I grow deeply attached to her, when seeing her is no longer a luxury but a necessity, when love digs deep into my heart (it’s not for nothing that I feel a lump there)? How shall I be able to tear myself away then? Shall I be able to survive the pain? I shall have a bad time then. Even now I cannot think of it without horror. If you were older and more experienced, I should have blessed my happiness and given you my hand for ever. But now – –
‘Why, then, do I write? Why haven’t I come to tell you straight that my desire to see you grows stronger every day and yet I ought not to see you. But, I’m afraid, I have not the courage to say it to your face. You know that yourself! Sometimes I feel like saying something of the kind, but I say something quite different. Perhaps you would look sad (if it is true that you haven’t been bored with me), or, having misunderstood my good intentions, you would be offended: I could not bear either, I would again say something different, and my honourable intentions would crumble into dust and end in an arrangement to meet next day. Now, away from you, it is quite different: your gentle eyes, your kind, pretty face is not before me; the paper is silent and does not mind, and I write calmly (this isn’t true): we shall never see each other again (this is true).
‘Another man might have added: I write this in a flood of tears, but I am not trying to show off before you, I do not parade my grief, because I do not want to make the pain worse, to aggravate regret and sorrow. All such showing off generally conceals the intention of making the feeling strike deeper roots, and I want to destroy its seeds in both you and me. Besides, tears are suitable either to seducers who try to capture a woman’s imprudent vanity by phrases, or to languid dreamers. I am saying this, parting from you as one parts from a good friend who sets out on a long journey. In another three weeks or in another month it would be too late: love makes incredible progress, it is a kind of gangrene of the soul. Now I am in as bad a state as can be, I don’t count time by hours and minutes, I know nothing of sunrise and sunset, but only by whether I have seen you or have not seen you, whether I shall or shall not see you, whether you have been or not, whether you will come.… All this is all right for youth, which bears easily pleasant and unpleasant sensations; what I want is peace and quiet, however dull and somnolent, for it is familiar to me; for I cannot weather storms.
‘Many people would be surprised at my action. “Why is he running away?” some will say, and others will laugh at me. Well, I can put up with this, too. If I can put up with not seeing you, I can put up with anything.
‘I am comforted a little in my deep anguish by the thought that this brief episode of our lives will for ever leave so pure and fragrant a memory in my mind that it alone will be sufficient to prevent me from sinking into my former state of torpor, and without harming you, will serve you as a guiding principle for your normal life in future. Good-bye, my angel; make haste and fly away as a frightened bird flies from a branch on which it has alighted by mistake, and do it as lightly, cheerfully, and gaily!’
Oblomov was writing with inspiration; his pen was flying over the pages. His eyes shone and his cheeks were flushed. The letter turned out to be long, like all love-letters: lovers are terribly long-winded.
‘Funny! I don’t feel bored or depressed any more!’ Oblomov thought. ‘I am almost happy. Why is that? Probably because I’ve got a load off my mind by writing the letter.’
He read the letter over, folded and sealed it.
‘Zakhar,’ he said, ‘when the servant comes give him this letter for the young lady.’
‘Very good, sir,’ said Zakhar.
Oblomov really felt almost cheerful. He sat down on the sofa with his feet tucked under him and even asked if there was anything for lunch. He ate two eggs and lighted a cigar. His heart and his mind felt at ease: he was living. He imagined how Olga would receive his letter, how she would be surprised, what she would look like reading it! What would happen afterwards? He was enjoying the prospects of the day and the newness of the position. He listened with a sinking heart for a knock at the door, wondering if the servant had been, if Olga was already reading his letter. No, all was quiet in the entrance hall.
‘What can it mean?’ he thought anxiously. ‘No one has called. Why is that?’
A secret voice whispered to him: ‘What are you so worried about? You want to break off all relations with her, don’t you?’ But he stifled that voice.
Half an hour later he at last succeeded in calling in Zakhar, who had been sitting in the yard with the coachman.
‘Hasn’t anyone been?’ he asked. ‘Hasn’t the servant called?’
‘He has called, sir,’ Zakhar replied.
‘Well, what did you do?’
‘I said you were not at home – you had gone to town.’
Oblomov glared at him.
‘Why did you say that?’ he asked. ‘What did I tell you to do when the man came?’
‘But it was a maid, sir, not a man,’ Zakhar answered with unruffled calmness.
‘Did you give her the letter?’
‘No, sir. You told me first to say you were not at home and then give the letter. When the man-servant comes, I’ll give it to him.’
‘Why, you – you’re a murderer! Where’s the letter? Give it me!’
Zakhar brought the letter, which was considerably soiled by then.
‘Why don’t you wash your hands?’ Oblomov cried angrily, pointing to a stain. ‘Look at it!’
‘My hands are clean, sir,’ Zakhar replied, looking away.
‘Anisya! Anisya!’ cried Oblomov.
Anisya thrust her head and shoulders in at the door.
‘Look what Zakhar has done!’ he complained to her. ‘Take this letter and give it to the maid or the man-servant who calls from the Ilyinskys, for the young lady. Do you hear?’
‘Yes, sir. Let me have it, I’ll see that it’s delivered.’
But as soon as she left the room Zakhar snatched the letter out of her hands.
‘Go along,’ he shouted, ‘and mind your own business.’
Soon the maid came again. Zakhar was opening the door to her, and when Anisya was about to go up to it, he glared furiously at her.
‘What do you want here?’ he asked hoarsely.
‘I’ve just come to hear what you – –’
‘All right, all right,’ he thundered, threatening her with his elbow. ‘Out you go!’
She smiled and went out, but watched through a crack in the door to see if Zakhar was carrying out his master’s orders.
Hearing the noise, Oblomov himself rushed out into the hall.
‘What is it, Katya?’ he asked.
‘My mistress, sir, sent me to ask where you have gone but it seems you haven’t gone anywhere. You’re at home. I’ll run and tell her,’ she said, turning to go.
‘Of course I’m at home,’ said Oblomov. ‘Zakhar is always talking nonsense. Here, give this letter to your mistress.’
‘Yes, sir, I will.’
‘Where is she now?’
‘She’s gone for a walk in the village, sir. She asked me to tell you, sir, if you’d finished the book, to come to the park at two o’clock.’
Katya went away.
‘I won’t go,’ Oblomov thought, walking towards the village. ‘Why exacerbate one’s feelings when all should be over?’
From a distance he saw Olga walking up the hill; he watched Katya overtaking her and giving her the letter; he saw Olga stop for a moment, glance at the letter, think it over, then nod to Katya and turn into the avenue leading to the park.
‘She’s bound to pass here,’ he thought. ‘I’ll just peep at her unobserved, see how she is, and then go away for ever.’
He listened for the sound of her footsteps with a sinking heart. No – all was quiet. Nature carried on with her never-ceasing work: all around him unseen, tiny creatures were busy while everything seemed to be enjoying a solemn rest. In the grass everything was moving, creeping, bustling. Ants were running in different directions, looking very busy and engrossed in their work, running into one another, scampering about, hurrying – it was just like looking from a height at a busy marketplace: the same small crowds, the same crush, the same bustle. Here a bumble-bee was buzzing about a flower and crawling into its calyx; here hundreds of flies were clustering round a drop of resin running out of a small crack in a lime-tree; and somewhere in the thicket a bird had long been repeating one and the same note, perhaps calling to its mate. Two butterflies, flying round and round one another, danced off precipitately as in a waltz among the tree trunks. The grass exuded a strong fragrance; an unceasing din rose from it.
Oblomov by Ivan Goncharov / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes