Oblomov, p.45Ivan Goncharov
Oblomov paced the room for a long time, too absorbed in his thoughts to hear that the carriage, which carried away his happiness and everything that was dear to him in life, had stopped crunching on the snow, his nervousness disappeared, his head and back straightened, the look of inspired radiance returned to his face, and his eyes were moist with happiness and emotion. A feeling of warmth, freshness, and high spirits spread through his body. And again, as many times before, he felt like being everywhere at once, far, far away: to go around with Stolz, accompanied by Olga; to go to the country, to the fields and woods; to shut himself up in his study and busy himself with his work; to travel to Rybinsk harbour, to construct the new road; to read the new book which had just been published and which everybody was talking about; to go to the opera – to-day…. Yes, she had been to see him to-day, and he would go to see her and then – to the opera. What a full day it had been! How easy it was to breathe in the sort of atmosphere Olga lived in, in the rays of her virginal brilliance, her high spirits, and her young but subtle, deep, and sound intelligence! He felt as though he were not walking, but flying, as though he were being wafted about the room.
‘Forward, forward!’ Olga had said. ‘Higher, higher, to that boundary where the power of grace and tenderness loses its rights and where man’s kingdom begins!’ How clearly she saw life! How easily she had found her way in that intricate book and had guessed instinctively his way in it too! Their two lives, like two rivers, must merge: he was to be her guide, her leader! She saw his powers, his abilities, she knew how much he could do, and was waiting submissively for him to assert his dominion over her. Wonderful Olga! A cool, brave, simple, but resolute woman, natural as life itself!
‘How disgusting this place really is!’ he said, looking round. ‘And this angel descended into a swamp and sanctified it with her presence!’
He looked lovingly at the chair on which she had been sitting, and suddenly his eyes shone: beside the chair, on the floor, he saw a tiny glove.
‘A pledge! Her hand: it’s a portent! Oh!’ he moaned passionately, pressing the glove to his lips.
The landlady thrust her head through the door to ask him if he would like to have a look at some linen: it had been brought for sale and he might like to buy some. But he thanked her dryly, without thinking of glancing at her elbows, said he was sorry, but he was very busy. Then he became absorbed in the recollections of the summer, went over all the details, remembered every tree, bush, and seat, every uttered word, and found it all more charming than it had been at the time when he was enjoying it. He seemed to have lost all control of himself. He sang, spoke kindly to Anisya, joked about her having no children, and promised to stand godfather to her first baby. He played so noisily with Masha that the landlady looked in and sent Masha away so that she should not interfere with their lodger’s ‘work’.
He spent the rest of the day indulging in even madder dreams: Olga was gay and sang, then there was more singing at the opera, then he had tea with them, and the conversation at the tea-table between him, the aunt, the baron, and Olga was so sincere and cordial that Oblomov felt absolutely a member of this small family. He need no longer live a solitary life: he had a home, his life was now built on firm foundations – he had warmth and light – and how lovely life was!
He slept little that night: he was reading the books Olga had sent him and read a volume and a half.
‘To-morrow the letter from the country is sure to come,’ he thought, and his heart beat fast – fast. ‘At last!’
NEXT day Zakhar, while tidying the room, found a small glove on the writing-desk. He examined it for some time, grinned, and then gave it to Oblomov.
‘I suppose, sir, the Ilyinsky young lady must have left it behind,’ he said.
‘You devil!’ Oblomov thundered, snatching the glove from his hand. ‘Nonsense! There was no Ilyinsky young lady! It was the dressmakers who came from the shop with some shirts for me. How dare you make up such stories?’
‘What sort of devil am I, sir? I am making up stories, am I? You should hear what they are saying at the landlady’s…’
‘What are they saying?’ asked Oblomov.
‘Why, sir, that the Ilyinsky young lady was here with her maid.’
‘Good God!’ Oblomov said in horror. ‘How do they know that it was the Ilyinsky young lady? You or Anisya must have told them.’
At this moment Anisya thrust her head through the door.
‘Aren’t you ashamed to talk such nonsense, Zakhar?’ she said. ‘Don’t listen to him, sir. No one has been telling anyone, no one knows anything, I swear…’
‘All right, all right,’ Zakhar wheezed at her, raising his elbow as though to hit her in the chest. ‘Don’t you poke your nose where you’re not wanted!’
Anisya disappeared. Oblomov shook both fists at Zakhar, then quickly opened the door into the landlady’s part of the house. Agafya Matveyevna was sitting on the floor sorting out some junk in an old trunk; all round her lay heaps of rags, cottonwool, old clothes, buttons, and bits of fur.
‘I say,’ Oblomov said kindly, but in an agitated voice, ‘my servants talk all sorts of nonsense. Don’t believe them, for goodness’ sake.’
‘I haven’t heard anything,’ said the landlady. ‘What are they saying?’
‘About yesterday’s visit,’ Oblomov went on. ‘They say that some young lady came to see me….’
‘It is none of our business what visitors our tenant may have, is it?’ said the landlady.
‘But, please, don’t believe it: the whole thing is a slanderous story! I have had no visit from a young lady. It was the dressmaker who is making some shirts for me. She came to fit me….’
‘Where have you ordered the shirts?’ the landlady asked quickly. ‘Who is making them for you?’
‘In the French shop,’ Oblomov muttered.
‘Show me when they bring them. I know two girls who are excellent sempstresses. They stitch better than any French-woman. I saw their work myself; they brought it to show me. They are sewing for Count Metlinsky. No one could sew better. Your shirts, those you are wearing, can’t be compared with those they make.’
‘Thank you, I’ll remember that. Only, for heaven’s sake, don’t think it was a young lady.’
‘It’s none of my business who comes to see my tenant, is it? Even if it was a young lady – –’
‘No, no!’ Oblomov denied it vehemently. ‘Why, the young lady Zakhar is talking about is very tall and speaks in a low voice, and this one, the dressmaker, I mean, has a very high, clear voice – you must have heard her yourself, didn’t you? She has a lovely voice. Please don’t think – –’
‘It’s none of our business, is it?’ the landlady said as he was about to go. ‘So please don’t forget to tell me when you want some shirts made: the girls I know stitch so wonderfully – they are called Lisaveta Nikolaevna and Maria Nikolaevna.’
‘All right, I shan’t forget, only, please, don’t think – –’
He went out, then he dressed and drove to Olga’s. On his return home in the evening, he found on his table a letter from his neighbour in the country. He rushed to the lamp, read the letter – and his heart sank.
‘I should be greatly obliged,’ the neighbour wrote, ‘if you would transfer my power of attorney to some other person, for I have so great an accumulation of business that, to be quite frank, I cannot look after your estate as I should. It would be best for you to come here yourself, and better still to settle on your estate. It is a good estate, but it has been badly neglected. First of all, you must decide carefully which of your peasants are to pay an annual tax and which are to work your land three days a week. It is impossible to do that without you: the peasants have got out of hand, they take no notice of the new bailiff, and the old one is a rogue who must be carefully watched. It is impossible to tell you what your income amounts to. In the present rather confused state of affairs you will hardly receive more than three thousand, and t
A statement on the number of bushels harvested, threshed, stored, and for sale, and similar business details, was enclosed with the letter.
‘Not a penny in cash, three months, must go myself, sort out the peasants’ affairs, find out what income to expect, stand for elections’ – all this crowded round Oblomov like so many phantoms. He felt as though he were in a forest at night when one seems to see a robber or a corpse or a wild beast in every bush. ‘But the whole thing is disgraceful: I am not going to give in!’ he kept repeating, trying to get better acquainted with these phantoms, just like a coward who tries to look at phantoms through half-closed eyes but only feels a chill at the heart and a weakness in the arms and legs. What had Oblomov been hoping for? He had thought that the letter would say definitely what his income would be and that, of course, it would be as much as possible, say, six or seven thousand; that the house was still in good repair, so that, if the worst came to the worst, he could still live there while the new one was being built; that, finally, his neighbour would send him three or four thousand – in short, that he would find in the letter the same laughter, high spirits, and love as in Olga’s notes. He no longer walked on air in his room, he no longer joked with Anisya, or indulged in hopes of happiness – they had to be postponed for three months – no! in three months he would do no more than sort out his affairs, get to know his estate. As for the wedding – ‘It’s no use thinking of the wedding before a year,’ he said timidly. ‘Yes, yes, in a year’s time – not before!’ He still had to finish writing his plan, settle with the architect, then – then – he sighed. ‘Borrow the money!’ it flashed through his mind, but he rejected the idea. ‘It’s impossible! What if I can’t repay it in time? If things go badly, the creditors will take out a summons, and the name of Oblomov, so far pure and untarnished – –’ God forbid! For then it would be good-bye to his peace of mind, his pride – no, no! People who borrowed money rushed about, worked, lost their sleep, just as if they were possessed by a demon. Yes, a debt was a demon, a devil who could only be exorcised by money! There were, of course, clever fellows who lived all their lives at other people’s expense; they grabbed right and left and did not care a damn! How they could sleep in peace, how they could eat their dinner was just beyond him. A debt! Its consequence was either the never-ending labour of a galley-slave or dishonour. To mortgage the estate? But was it not the same sort of debt, a debt that was irrevocable and that could not be set aside? He would have to pay every year – and for all he knew there would not be enough left to live on. To postpone his happiness for another year! Oblomov uttered a painful moan and sank down on his bed, but he rapidly recollected himself and got up. And what did Olga say? Had she not appealed to him as a man? Had she not trusted to his strength? She was waiting for him to go forward until he reached the height from which he would hold out his hand to her and lead her after him, show her the way! Yes, yes! But what was he to begin with? He thought it over carefully, then suddenly slapped his forehead and went to see his landlady.
‘Is your brother at home?’ he asked her.
‘Yes, but he has gone to bed.’
‘Will you please ask him to come in to see me to-morrow,’ asked Oblomov. ‘I should like to see him.’
THE landlady’s brother came into the room in the same way as before, sat down on a chair, carefully hid his hands in his sleeves, and waited for what Oblomov had to say.
‘I have received a very unpleasant letter from the country in reply to the deed of trust I sent – you remember, don’t you?’ said Oblomov. ‘Will you read it, please?’
Ivan Matveyevich took the letter from the country, his eyes running quickly along the lines, while his hands trembled slightly. Having read it, he put the letter on the table and his hands behind his back.
‘What do you think I ought to do now?’ asked Oblomov.
‘Your neighbour advises you to go there,’ said Ivan Matveyevich. ‘Well, sir, a thousand miles isn’t such a very long journey. In another week the roads will be fit for sleighing, so, I suppose, you’d better go.’
‘I dislike travelling intensely – I’m not used to it, you see, and I’d find it very difficult in winter in particular. I’d rather not go. Besides, it’s very boring to be in the country by yourself.’
‘Have you many peasants who pay you a tax?’ asked Ivan Matveyevich.
‘Well, I don’t really know. You see, it’s so long since I went to my estate.’
‘You ought to know that, sir. You couldn’t very well carry on without it, could you? For one thing, you could never find out what your income was.’
‘Yes, I ought to,’ Oblomov repeated, ‘and my neighbour, too, writes so, but unfortunately it’s winter….’
‘And how much does the tax bring in?’
‘The tax? I believe – er – I had a bit of paper here somewhere. Stolz drew it up for me, but I’m afraid I can’t find it. Zakhar must have put it away somewhere…. I’ll show you it later – I believe it’s thirty roubles per peasant.’
‘What sort of peasants have you got?’ Ivan Matveyevich asked. ‘How do they live? How many of them work for you?’
‘Look here,’ Oblomov said, walking up to him and taking him trustfully by the lapels of his uniform, ‘look here,’ he repeated slowly, almost in a whisper. ‘I don’t know anything about the peasants who have to work for me; I don’t know what agricultural labour is, or when a peasant is rich or poor; I don’t know what a quarter of rye or oats means, or what it costs in different months, or how and when corn is harvested and sold; I don’t know if I am rich or poor, if I shall have enough to eat in a year’s time or be a beggar – I don’t know anything!’ he concluded dejectedly, letting go the lapels of Ivan Matveyevich’s uniform, ‘and therefore I’d be glad if you would speak to me and advise me as you would a child….’
‘But, of course, sir, you ought to know, for if you don’t, you won’t be able to make head or tail of anything,’ Ivan Matveyevich said with an obsequious smile, getting up and putting one hand behind his back and the other inside his coat. ‘A landowner must know his estate and how to manage it,’ he said edifyingly.
‘But I don’t know. Teach me if you can.’
‘I’m afraid it isn’t a subject I’ve had much experience in, sir. I shall have to consult those who have. And here, sir,’ he went on, pointing with his middle finger, nail downwards, to the page of the letter, ‘they tell you in the letter to stand for election. That’s not such a bad idea, you know! You’d live there, serve as magistrate in the district court, and meanwhile learn all about farming.’
‘I don’t know what a district court is, what one is supposed to do there, and how one holds office there,’ Oblomov said emphatically, but in an undertone, walking right up to Ivan Matveyevich’s nose.
‘You’ll get used to it, sir. You’ve been a member of the Civil Service here, haven’t you? Well,
‘I don’t know how things are done in a Government office,’ Oblomov declared monotonously.
Ivan Matveyevich threw his enigmatic glance at Oblomov and was silent.
‘I expect, sir, you did nothing but read books,’ he observed with the same obsequious smile.
‘Books!’ Oblomov retorted bitterly and stopped short.
He had not enough courage to bare his soul before a low-grade civil servant, and, besides, there was no need for him to do so.
‘I haven’t the faintest idea of books, either,’ he thought uneasily, but he would not bring himself to utter the words and merely sighed mournfully.
‘But you did do something, sir, didn’t you?’ Ivan Matveyevich added humbly, as though divining Oblomov’s answer about the books. ‘It’s impossible not to – –’
‘It is possible, sir, and I am the living proof of it. Who am I? What am I? Go and ask Zakhar, and he will tell you that I am a “gentleman”. Yes, I am a gentleman and I can’t do anything! Please do it for me, if you know how, and help me, if you can. Take anything you like for your trouble – that is what knowledge is for!’
He began pacing the room, while Ivan Matveyevich remained standing where he was, slightly turning his body in Oblomov’s direction. Both of them were silent for some time.
‘Where have you been educated?’ asked Oblomov, stopping before him once more.
Oblomov by Ivan Goncharov / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes