Oblomov, p.33Ivan Goncharov
‘What a row is going on here,’ he thought, watching intently all this bustle and listening to the faint noises of nature. ‘And outside everything is so still, so quiet.’
But there was no sound of footsteps. At last – yes! ‘Oh,’ Oblomov sighed, quietly parting the branches, ‘it is she – she… But what’s this? She’s crying! Good heavens!’
Olga walked slowly along, wiping her tears with a handkerchief; but no sooner had she wiped them, than fresh tears came. She was ashamed of them, she tried to swallow them, to hide them from the very trees, but she could not. Oblomov had never seen Olga cry; he did not expect it, and her tears seemed to burn him, but in a way that made him feel warm, not hot. He walked quickly after her.
‘Olga, Olga!’ he called tenderly, as he followed her.
She gave a start, looked round, gazed at him in surprise, then turned away and walked on.
He walked beside her.
‘You’re crying?’ he said.
Her tears flowed faster than ever. She could no longer keep them back and, pressing her handkerchief to her face, she burst into sobs and sat down on the nearest seat.
‘What have I done!’ he whispered in dismay, taking her hand and trying to draw it away from her face.
‘Leave me, please!’ she said. ‘Go away. Why are you here? I know I ought not to cry. For what is there to cry about? You are right: yes, anything might happen!’
‘What can I do to make you stop crying?’ he asked, going down on his knees before her. ‘Tell me, command me. I am ready for anything.’
‘You’ve made me cry, but it’s not in your power to stop my tears. You’re not so strong as all that! Let me go, sir!’ she said, fanning her face with her handkerchief.
He looked at her and cursed himself inwardly.
‘The stupid letter!’ he said penitently.
She opened her work-basket, took out the letter and gave it him.
‘Take it,’ she said, ‘and carry it away with you so that I don’t cry any longer looking at it.’
He put it in his pocket silently and sat beside her, hanging his head.
‘At any rate you will do justice to my intention, Olga, won’t you?’ he said softly. ‘It proves how dear your happiness is to me.’
‘Yes, it does,’ she said, sighing. ‘I’m afraid, Mr Oblomov, you must have begrudged me my peaceful happiness and you hastened to destroy it.’
‘Destroy it! So you haven’t read my letter? I’ll repeat it to you…’
‘I haven’t read it to the end because I could not see it for tears: I’m still so silly. But I guessed the rest. Please, don’t repeat it, for you will only make me cry again.’
Her tears began to flow again.
‘But,’ he began, ‘am I not giving you up because of your future happiness? Am I not sacrificing myself? Do you think I am doing this cold-bloodedly? Am I not weeping inwardly? Why do you think I am doing it?’
‘Why?’ she repeated, turning to him and leaving off crying suddenly. ‘For the same reason that you hid in the bushes to see whether I would cry and how I would cry – that’s why! Had you sincerely meant what you have written, had you been convinced that we ought to part, you would have gone abroad without seeing me.’
‘What an idea!…’he said reproachfully, and fell silent.
He was struck by her suggestion because he suddenly realized that it was true.
‘Yes,’ she confirmed, ‘yesterday you wanted me to say “I love you,” to-day you wanted to see me cry, and to-morrow you may want to see me die.’
‘Olga, how can you say a thing like that! Surely, you must know that I’d gladly give half my life now to hear you laugh and not to see your tears.’
‘Yes, perhaps now when you have already seen a woman weeping for you, No,’ she added, ‘you have no pity. You say you didn’t want my tears. Well, if you really meant it, you wouldn’t have made me cry.’
‘But I didn’t know, did I?’ he cried, pressing both his hands to his chest.
‘A loving heart has its own way of reasoning,’ she replied. ‘It knows what it wants, and knows what is going to happen. Yesterday I shouldn’t have come here because we had some visitors who arrived suddenly, but I knew how upset you would have been waiting for me and that you might have slept badly: so I came because I did not want you to suffer.… And you – you are glad because I am crying. Well, look at me and be happy!’
And she began to cry again.
‘I have slept badly as it is, Olga. I had an awful night.…’
‘So you were sorry that I slept well, that I didn’t have an awful night, were you?’ she interrupted. ‘Had I not been crying now, you would have slept badly to-night, wouldn’t you?’
‘What am I to do now?’ he said with submissive tenderness. ‘Say I am sorry?’
‘Only children do that, or people who tread on a person’s toes in a crowd – it’s no good your being sorry,’ she said, fanning her face with her handkerchief again.
‘But what if it’s true, Olga? I mean, what if I am right and our love is a mistake? What if you fall in love with another and blush when you look at me?’
‘Well, what if I do?’ she asked, looking at him with such deep, piercing, ironical eyes that he felt embarrassed.
‘She is out to get something from me!’ he thought. ‘Take care, Oblomov!’
‘What do you mean – “if I do?”’ he repeated mechanically, looking at her anxiously and at a loss to know what was at the back of her mind and how she would explain her question, since it was obvious that it was impossible to justify their love if it was a mistake.
She looked at him with such conscious deliberation and confidence that it was clear that she knew what she was talking about.
‘You are afraid,’ she replied bitingly, ‘of falling “to the bottom of the abyss”. You are afraid of being made a fool of if I should cease loving you. “It will go badly with me,” you write.’
He still did not quite understand her.
‘But don’t you see if I fell in love with another man, I should be happy, shouldn’t I? And don’t you say that you know I shall be happy in future and that you are ready to sacrifice everything, even your life, for me?’
He looked intently at her, blinking from time to time.
‘So that’s her logic!’ he whispered. ‘I must say I didn’t expect that.…’
And she looked him up and down with such annihilating irony.
‘And what about the happiness that is driving you mad?’ she went on. ‘And these mornings and evenings, this park, my “I love you” – isn’t this all worth something, some sacrifice, some pain?’
‘Oh, I wish I could sink through the ground!’ he thought, feeling miserable, as he grasped Olga’s meaning more and more.
‘And what if you grew tired of this love,’ she began warmly with another question, ‘as you have grown tired of books, of your work at the Civil Service, of society? What if in due course, even if I have no rival, if you don’t fall in love with some other woman, you just drop asleep beside me as on your sofa, and even my voice won’t waken you? If that lump in your heart disappears, if not even another woman, but your dressing-gown becomes dearer to you than I?’
‘Olga, that’s impossible!’ he interrupted, displeased, and drew away from her.
‘Why is it impossible?’ she asked, ‘You say that I am mistaken, that I will fall in love with somebody else, and I can’t help feeling sometimes that you will simply fall out of love with me. And what then? How shall I justify myself for what I am doing now? What shall I say to myself, let alone to other people or society? I, too, sometimes spend sleepless nights because of this, but I do not torture you with conjectures about the future because I believe that everything will be for the best. With me happiness overcomes fear. I think it is something if your eyes begin to shine because of me, when you climb hills in search of me, when you forget your indolence and rush off in the heat to town for some flowers or a book for me, when I see that
‘Do go on being happy!’ Oblomov besought her.
‘And you see nothing but gloom ahead; happiness is nothing to you. This,’ she went on, ‘is ingratitude. It isn’t love, it is – –’
‘– egoism!’ Oblomov finished the sentence for her, not daring to look at Olga or to speak or to ask her forgiveness.
‘Go,’ she said softly, ‘where you wanted to go to.’
He looked at her. Her eyes were dry. She was looking down thoughtfully and drawing in the sand with her parasol.
‘Lie down on your back again,’ she added, ‘You won’t be making a mistake then, you won’t “fall into an abyss”.’
‘I’ve poisoned myself and poisoned you instead of being happy simply and openly,’ he murmured penitently.
‘Drink kvas: it won’t poison you,’ she taunted him.
‘Olga, that’s not fair!’ he said. ‘After I’ve been punishing myself with the consciousness of – –’
‘Yes, in words you punish yourself, throw yourself into an abyss, give half your life, but when you are overwhelmed by doubt and spend sleepless nights how tender you become with yourself, how careful and solicitous, how far-seeing!’
‘How true and simple it is!’ thought Oblomov, but he was ashamed to say it aloud. Why had he not understood it himself, but had to wait for a woman who had scarcely begun to live to explain it to him? And how quickly she had grown up! Only a short time ago she had seemed such a child!
‘We’ve nothing more to say to each other,’ she concluded, getting up. ‘Good-bye, and keep your peace of mind. That’s your idea of happiness, isn’t it?’
‘Olga, no, for God’s sake, no! Don’t drive me away now everything has become clear again,’ he said, taking her hand.
‘But what do you want of me? You are not sure whether my love for you is a mistake and I cannot dispel your doubts. Perhaps it is a mistake – I don’t know.’
He let go her hand. Again the knife was raised over him.
‘You don’t know? But don’t you feel?’ he asked, looking doubtful once more. ‘Do you think – –’
‘I don’t think anything. I told you yesterday what I felt, but I don’t know what’s going to happen in a year’s time. And do you really think that one happiness is followed by another and then by a third just like it?’ she asked, looking open-eyed at him. ‘Tell me, you’ve had more experience than I.’
But he was no longer anxious to confirm her in the idea, and he was silent, shaking an acacia branch with one hand.
‘No,’ he said, like a schoolboy repeating a lesson, ‘one only loves once!’
‘There, you see: I believe it too,’ she added. ‘But if it is not so, then perhaps I shall fall out of love with you, perhaps I shall suffer from my mistake and you too, perhaps we shall part!… To love two or three times – no.… I don’t want to believe it!’
He sighed. The perhaps damped his spirits and he walked slowly and thoughtfully after her. But he felt more lighthearted at every step; the mistake he had invented at night seemed so far away. ‘Why,’ it occurred to him, ‘it is not only love, all life is like this. And if every opportunity is to be rejected as a mistake, when is one to be sure that one is not making a mistake? What was I thinking of? I seem to have gone blind.…’
‘Olga,’ he said, barely touching her waist with two fingers (she stopped), ‘you’re wiser than I am.’
She shook her head.
‘No,’ she said, ‘I’m simpler and more courageous. What are you afraid of? Do you seriously think one may fall out of love?’ she asked, with proud confidence.
‘Now I’m not afraid, either!’ he said cheerfully. ‘With you I do not fear the future.’
‘I’ve read that phrase somewhere recently – in Sue, I think,’ she suddenly said, with irony, turning towards him, ‘only there, it’s a woman who says it to a man.…’
‘Olga,’ he implored, ‘let everything be as yesterday. I’ll never be afraid of mistakes.’
She said nothing.
‘Well?’ he asked timidly.
She said nothing.
‘Well, if you don’t want to say it, give me some sign – a sprig of lilac.…’
‘The lilac – is over!’ she replied. ‘You can see for yourself – it’s all withered.’
‘It’s over – withered!’ he repeated, looking at the lilac. ‘It’s all over with the letter, too!’ he said suddenly.
She shook her head. He walked after her, thinking about the letter, yesterday’s happiness, the withered lilac.
‘The lilac is certainly withered!’ he thought. ‘Why did I send that letter? Why didn’t I sleep all night and why did I write it in the morning? Now that my mind is at rest again’ (he yawned) ‘… I feel awfully sleepy. If I hadn’t written the letter, nothing of this would have happened: she wouldn’t have cried, everything would have been as yesterday, we should have sat quietly in this avenue, looking at each other and talking of happiness. And it would have been the same to-day, and tomorrow…’ he gave a big yawn.
Then he suddenly began to wonder what would have happened if his letter had achieved its object, if she had agreed with him, if she had been afraid of mistakes and future distant storms, if she had listened to his so-called experience and common sense and agreed that they should part and forget each other. Heaven forbid! To say good-bye, to return to town, to a new flat! To be followed by an interminable night, a dull tomorrow, an unbearable day after to-morrow, and a long succession of days, each more colourless than the last.… He could not allow that to happen! That was death! And it would most certainly have happened! He would have fallen ill. He had never wanted to part from her, he could not have endured it, he would have come and implored her to see him.
‘Why, then, did I write that letter?’ he asked himself.
‘Olga Sergeyevna,’ he said.
‘What do you want?’
‘I must add one more confession – –’
‘Why, there was no need for that letter at all!’
‘Oh yes, there was,’ she decided.
She looked round and laughed when she saw the face he made, how his drowsiness had suddenly vanished, and how he opened his eyes wide with astonishment.
‘Was there?’ he repeated, slowly fixing his gaze at her back, with surprise.
But all he could see were the two tassels of her cloak. What, then, was the meaning of her tears and reproaches? It was not cunning, was it? But Olga was not cunning – he saw that clearly. It was only women of comparatively low mentality who were cunning or subsisted on cunning. Possessing no real intelligence, they set the springs of their petty, everyday lives in motion by means of cunning, and wove, like lace, their domestic policies without suspecting the existence of the main currents of life, their points of intersection and their direction. Cunning was like a small coin with which one could not buy a great deal. Just as a small coin could keep one going for an hour or two, so cunning might help to conceal or distort something or to deceive someone, but it was not sufficient to enable one to scan a far horizon or to survey a big event from beginning to end. Cunning was short-sighted: it saw well only what was happening under its nose, but not at a distance, and that was why it was often caught in the trap it had set for others. Olga was simply intelligent: how easily and clearly she had solved the problem to-day, and, indeed, any problem! She grasped the true meaning of events at once and she reached it by a direct road. While cunning was like a mouse, running rou
‘Why was the letter necessary?’ he asked.
‘Why?’ she repeated, turning round to him quickly with a gay face, delighted that she could nonplus him at every step. ‘Because,’ she began slowly,’ you did not sleep all night and wrote it all for me. I too am an egoist! This is in the first place – –’
‘Then why did you reproach me just now, if you now agree with me?’ Oblomov interrupted.
‘Because you invented these torments. I did not invent them, they simply came, and I am glad that they have gone, but you prepared them and enjoyed it all beforehand. You’re wicked! That is why I reproached you. Then – your letter shows feeling and thought – last night and this morning you lived not in your usual way, but as your friend and I wanted you to live – that’s in the second place; thirdly – –’
She walked up so close to him that the blood rushed to his heart and his head; he began to breathe hard, with excitement. She looked him straight in the eyes.
‘Thirdly, because in this letter is reflected as in a mirror your tenderness, your solicitude, your care for me, your fear for my happiness, your pure conscience – everything Mr Stolz pointed out to me in you, that made me love you and forget your laziness – your apathy. You revealed yourself in your letter without wishing to do so. You’re not an egoist, you didn’t write it because you wanted to part from me – you did not want that, but because you were afraid to deceive me. It was your honesty that spoke in it, otherwise your letter would have offended me and I should not have cried – from pride! You see, I know why I love you, and I am not afraid of a mistake: I am not mistaken in you!’
She looked radiant and magnificent as she said this. Her eyes shone with the triumph of love, with the consciousness of her power; her cheeks were flushed. And he – he was the cause of it! It was an impulse of his honest heart that had kindled this fire in her soul, inspired this outburst of feeling, this brilliance.
‘Olga, you’re better than any woman in the world, you’re one of the best!’ he said, ecstatically, and, beside himself, put out his arms and bent over her. ‘For God’s sake – one kiss as a pledge of ineffable happiness,’ he whispered as in a delirium.
Oblomov by Ivan Goncharov / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes