Oblomov, p.40
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       Oblomov, p.40

           Ivan Goncharov

  When Oblomov dined at home, the landlady helped Anisya, that is, indicated with a finger or a word whether or not it was time to take out the roast meat, whether red wine or some cream should be added to the sauce, and what was the right way of boiling the fish…. And, dear me, how many useful household tips they obtained from each other, not only about the culinary art but also about linen, yarn, sewing, washing clothes, cleaning blond-lace and lace and gloves, removal of stains from various materials, as well as using all sorts of home-made medicines and herbs – everything, in fact, that an observant mind and lifelong experience had contributed to that particular sphere of life!

  Oblomov got up about nine o’clock in the morning, occasionally catching sight through the trellis of the fence of the landlady’s brother going to work with the paper parcel under his arm; then he applied himself to his coffee. The coffee was as excellent as ever, the cream was thick, the rolls rich and crisp. Then he lighted a cigar and listened attentively to the cackling of the broody hen, the chirping of the chicks, the trilling of the canaries and siskins. He did not order their removal.

  ‘They remind me of the country, of Oblomovka,’ he said.

  Then he sat down to finish reading the books he had begun at his summer cottage, and sometimes casually lay down with a book on the sofa. There was perfect silence all around; only occasionally, perhaps a soldier or a small crowd of peasants with axes stuck in their belts walked down the street. Very rarely indeed a pedlar penetrated into this remote suburb and, stopping in front of the trellised fence, shouted for half an hour: ‘Apples, Astrakhan water-melons,’ so that you could not help buying something. Sometimes Masha, the landlady’s little daughter, came in with a message from her mother to the effect that there were different varieties of mushrooms for sale and asked if he would like to order a barrel for himself; or he called in Vanya, the landlady’s son, and asked him what he had been learning, and made him read and write to see how well he could do it. If the children forgot to close the door behind them, he caught sight of the landlady’s bare neck and her elbows and back. She was always busy, always ironing something, pounding, polishing, no longer standing on ceremony with him and putting on her shawl when she noticed him looking at her through the half-open door; she merely smiled and went on pounding, ironing, and polishing on the large table. Sometimes he walked to the door with a book, looked in and talked to her.

  ‘You’re always busy!’ he said to her once.

  She smiled and went on carefully turning the handle of the coffee-mill, her elbow describing circles with such rapidity that Oblomov felt dizzy.

  ‘You’ll get tired,’ he went on.

  ‘No, I’m used to it,’ she replied, rattling the coffee-mill.

  ‘And what do you do when there is no work?’

  ‘No work? Why, there is always something to do,’ she said. ‘In the morning there is dinner to cook, after dinner there is some sewing to do, and in the evening there is supper.’

  ‘Do you have supper?’

  ‘Why, of course we have supper. On Christmas Eve we go to vespers.’

  ‘That’s good,’ Oblomov commended her. ‘What church do you go to?’

  ‘The Church of the Nativity; it’s our parish church.’

  ‘Do you read anything?’

  She looked at him with a vacant expression and said nothing.

  ‘Have you any books?’ he asked.

  ‘My brother has some, but he never reads. We get our newspapers from the inn, and my brother sometimes reads aloud – and Vanya, of course, has lots of books.’

  ‘But don’t you ever have a rest?’

  ‘No, I never do!’

  ‘Don’t you go to the theatre?’

  ‘My brother goes at Christmas.’

  ‘And you?’

  ‘Me? Why, I have no time. Who would get supper ready?’ she asked, casting a sidelong glance at him.

  ‘The cook could do without you.’

  ‘Akulina!’ she retorted in surprise. ‘Good heavens, no! She could do nothing without me. The supper wouldn’t be ready by the morning. I have all the keys.’

  Silence. Oblomov gazed admiringly at her plump, round elbows.

  ‘What lovely arms you have,’ Oblomov said suddenly. ‘One could paint them just as they are!’

  She smiled and blushed a little.

  ‘Sleeves are such a nuisance,’ she remarked apologetically. ‘Nowadays the dresses are made in such a way that one cannot help getting the sleeves dirty.’

  She fell into silence. Oblomov did not speak either.

  ‘Must finish grinding the coffee,’ the landlady whispered to herself. ‘Then I must break the sugar. Mustn’t forget to send out for some cinnamon.’

  ‘You ought to get married,’ said Oblomov. ‘You’re such an excellent housewife.’

  She smiled and began pouring the coffee into a big glass jar.

  ‘Really,’ Oblomov added.

  ‘Who would marry me with my two children?’ she replied, and began counting something in her mind. ‘Two dozen,’ she said thoughtfully. ‘Will she be able to put it all in?’

  And putting the jar into the cupboard, she rushed into the kitchen. Oblomov went back to his room and began reading.

  ‘What a fresh and healthy woman, and what an excellent housewife! She really ought to get married,’ he said to himself, and was lost in thoughts – of Olga.

  On a fine day Oblomov put on his cap and took a stroll in the neighbourhood; after getting stuck in the mud in one place and having an unpleasant meeting with dogs in another, he returned home. At home the table was already laid and the food was so good and so well served. Sometimes a bare arm would be thrust through the door with the offer to try some of the landlady’s pie on a plate.

  ‘It’s nice and quiet here,’ Oblomov said as he drove off to the opera, ‘but rather dull.’

  One night, returning late from the theatre, he and the cabby knocked for almost an hour at the gate; the dog lost its voice with barking and jumping on the chain. He got chilled and angry and vowed that he would leave the very next day. But the next day and the day after and a whole week passed – and still he did not leave.

  He missed Olga greatly on the days he could not see her, or hear her voice, or read in her eyes the same unchanging affection, love, and happiness. On the days he could see her, however, he lived as he had done in the summer, was enchanted by her singing or gazed into her eyes; and in the company of other people one look of hers, indifferent to all, but deep and significant for him, was enough for him. With the approach of winter, though, they found it more and more difficult to see each other alone. The Ilyinskys always had visitors, and for days together Oblomov did not succeed in saying two words to her. They exchanged glances. Her glances sometimes expressed weariness and impatience. She looked at all the visitors with a frown. Once or twice Oblomov felt rather bored, and one day after dinner he was about to pick up his hat.

  ‘Where are you going?’ Olga asked in surprise, coming suddenly upon him and taking hold of his hat.

  ‘I’d like to go home.’

  ‘Why?’ she asked, raising one eyebrow higher than the other. ‘What are you going to do?’

  ‘Oh, I don’t know – –’ he said, hardly able to keep his eyes open.

  ‘You don’t think I’ll let you, do you?’ she asked, looking at him sternly first into one, then into the other eye. ‘You’re not thinking of going to sleep, are you?’

  ‘Good Lord, sleep in the daytime!’ Oblomov replied quickly. ‘I’m just bored!’

  And he let her take his hat from him.

  ‘We’re going to the theatre to-day,’ she said.

  ‘But we shall not be in the same box, shall we?’ he added with a sigh.

  ‘Does it matter? Is it nothing that we shall see each other, that you will come in during the interval, wait for me at the end, and offer me your arm to take me to the carriage? Mind you come!’ she added imperiously. ‘What’s all this nonsense?’

p; There was nothing to be done about it: he went to the theatre, yawned as though he were going to swallow the stage, scratched his head, and kept crossing and re-crossing his legs. ‘Oh, if only it were all over and I could sit beside her, and not have to drag myself all the way here,’ he thought. ‘It’s absurd that we should have to meet furtively and by chance after such a summer and that I should have to play the part of a lovesick boy…. To tell the truth, I wouldn’t have gone to the theatre to-day had we been married: I’ve heard this opera six times already.’

  In the interval he went to Olga’s box, and could hardly squeeze his way in between two unknown elegantly dressed men. Five minutes later he slipped away and stopped in the crowd at the entrance to the stalls.

  The next act had begun and people were hurrying to their seats. The two dandies from Olga’s box were there too, but they did not see Oblomov.

  ‘Who was the fellow in the Ilyinskys’ box just now?’ one of them asked the other.

  ‘Oh,’ the other one replied casually, ‘someone by the name of Oblomov.’

  ‘What is he?’

  ‘He’s – er – a landowner, a friend of Stolz’s.’

  ‘Oh!’ the other cried significantly. ‘A friend of Stolz’s, is he? What is he doing here?’

  ‘Goodness knows,’ the other one replied, and they went to their seats.

  But Oblomov was greatly disconcerted by this trifling conversation.

  ‘Who was the fellow – someone by the name of Oblomov – what is he doing here? – goodness knows!’ all this kept hammering in his brain. ‘Someone – –! What am I doing here? Why, I am in love with Olga: I am her – –. However, so they are already asking what I am doing here – they have noticed me. Oh dear, I must do something!’

  He no longer saw what was taking place on the stage, what knights and ladies appeared there; the orchestra thundered away, but he never heard it. He looked round to see how many people he knew in the theatre – there and there – they were everywhere, and all of them were asking: ‘Who was the fellow in Olga’s box?’ and they all replied: ‘Oh, someone called Oblomov!’

  ‘Yes,’ he thought, timidly and gloomily, ‘I am just someone! People know me because I am a friend of Stolz’s. Why am I at Olga’s? Goodness knows! Those two dandies are looking at me and then at Olga’s box!’

  He looked at the box. Olga’s binoculars were fixed on him.

  ‘Goodness,’ he thought, ‘she doesn’t take her eyes off me! What fascination can she have found in me? A fine treasure! Now she seems to be motioning to me to look at the stage – I believe those two dandies are looking at me and laughing – – Oh dear, oh dear!’

  In his excitement he scratched his head again and once more crossed his legs. She had invited the dandies to tea after the theatre, promised to sing the Cavatina, and told him to come too.

  ‘No, I’m not going there to-day again. I must settle this thing as soon as possible and then – – Why doesn’t my agent send me an answer from the country? I should have left long ago, and become engaged to Olga before going…. Oh, she’s still looking at me! Oh, this is awful!’

  He went home without waiting for the end of the opera. Gradually the impression of that evening at the opera was erased from his mind, and he once more looked at Olga with a tremor of happiness when he was alone with her, listened with suppressed tears of rapture to her singing when others were present, and on returning home lay down on the sofa – without Olga’s knowledge – but he lay down not to sleep, not to lie there like a log, but to dream of her, play at happiness, and to contemplate with a thrill of excitement his peaceful life in his future home, where Olga would shine and everything near her would shine too. Looking into the future, he sometimes involuntarily and sometimes deliberately looked through the half-open door at the landlady’s rapidly moving elbows.

  One day there was perfect silence both at home and in nature: no rattling of carriages, no slamming of doors; in the entrance hall the clock was ticking away regularly and the canaries were singing; but that did not disturb the silence, merely adding a touch of life to it. Oblomov lay carelessly on the sofa, playing with his slipper, dropping it on the floor, throwing it up into the air, turning it over, and catching it with his foot when it fell. Zakhar came in and stopped in the doorway.

  ‘What do you want?’ Oblomov asked in a casual tone of voice.

  Zakhar said nothing, looking not sideways, but almost straight at him.

  ‘Well?’ asked Oblomov, glancing at him in surprise. ‘Is the pie ready?’

  ‘Have you found a flat, sir?’ Zakhar asked in his turn.

  ‘Not yet. Why?’

  ‘I haven’t sorted everything out yet – crockery, clothes, trunks – it’s all still in a heap in the box-room, sir. Ought I to sort it out?’

  ‘Wait,’ Oblomov said absent-mindedly, ‘I’m waiting for a letter from the country.’

  ‘So, I suppose, sir, your wedding will be after Christmas?’ Zakhar added.

  ‘What wedding?’ Oblomov asked, getting up suddenly.

  ‘Yours, of course!’ Zakhar replied emphatically, as though the whole thing had long been settled. ‘You are getting married, aren’t you, sir?’

  ‘I’m getting married? Who to?’ Oblomov asked in horror, glaring at Zakhar in amazement.

  ‘Why, sir, to the Ilyinsky young lady – –’ Before Zakhar had time to utter the last word, Oblomov almost pounced on him.

  ‘What are you talking about, you unhappy wretch?’ Oblomov cried pathetically in a restrained voice, advancing closer and closer on Zakhar. ‘Who has put this idea into your head?’

  ‘I’m not an unhappy wretch, sir, I’m sure,’ Zakhar said, retreating towards the door. ‘Who told me? Why, the Ilyinsky servants told me in the summer.’

  ‘Sh-sh-sh…’ Oblomov hissed at him, raising his finger and shaking it threateningly. ‘Not another word!’

  ‘I didn’t invent it, did I?’ Zakhar said.

  ‘Not a word!’ Oblomov repeated, looking sternly at him and pointing to the door.

  Zakhar went out, heaving so loud a sigh that it could be heard all over the house.

  Oblomov was staggered; he remained in the same position, gazing in horror at the spot where Zakhar had stood, then clasped his head in despair and sank into an arm-chair.

  ‘The servants know!’ the thought recurred again and again in his head. ‘They are gossiping about it in kitchens and servants’ halls! That is what it has come to! He had the cheek to ask me when the wedding would be. And her aunt still suspects nothing, and if she does suspect it is perhaps something else, something bad…. Dear, dear, what will she think? And I? And Olga? Unhappy wretch, what have I done?’ he said, turning over on the sofa and burying his face in a cushion. ‘Wedding! This poetic moment in the life of lovers, this crown of happiness, is being discussed by footmen and coachmen, when nothing has been decided, when no reply has been received from the country, when I haven’t a penny in my purse, when I haven’t found a flat – –’

  He began analysing the poetic moment, which suddenly lost all its glamour as soon as Zakhar had spoken of it. He became aware of the reverse side of the medal, and kept turning painfully from side to side, lay on his back, jumped up suddenly, took three turns round the room, and lay down again.

  ‘There’s going to be trouble,’ Zakhar thought fearfully in the hall. ‘What the devil made me say it?’

  ‘How do they know?’ Oblomov kept asking himself. ‘Olga never breathed a word, and I never dared to utter my thoughts aloud, and in the servants’ hall they have settled everything! That’s what comes of tête-à-tête meetings, the poetry of sunrises and sunsets, passionate glances, and enchanting singing! Oh, those love-poems lead to no good! One must be married first, and then float in a roseate atmosphere – – Oh dear, oh dear, what shall I do? Run to her aunt, take Olga by the hand and say: “This is my fiancée!” But nothing is ready, no reply from the country, no money, no flat! Yes, first of all I must get the idea out of Zakhar
s head, kill the rumours as one puts out a flame, so that they shouldn’t spread, so that there shouldn’t be either smoke or fire! Wedding! What is a wedding?’

  He smiled, recalling his former poetic vision of the wedding: a long veil, orange blossom, the murmur of the crowd…. But the colours were no longer the same: in the crowd he could see the coarse, dirty Zakhar and all Ilyinskys’ house serfs, a number of carriages, the cold and curious eyes of strangers…. And then he kept imagining all sorts of tiresome and dreadful things….

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