Oblomov, p.47
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       Oblomov, p.47

           Ivan Goncharov

  He shook his head.

  ‘Are you convinced that there is nothing left for us – no hope at all?’

  ‘Yes, he said, ‘that’s true, but,’ he added irresolutely, ‘perhaps in a year’s time – –’

  He had not the heart to deal a decisive blow to his happiness.

  ‘Do you really think that in a year’s time you would put your affairs and your life in order?’ she asked. ‘Think!’

  He sighed and pondered, struggling with himself. She read the struggle in his face.

  ‘Listen,’ she said, ‘I’ve been looking at my mother’s portrait and, I believe, I obtained advice and strength from her eyes. If, like an honourable man, you will now – – Remember, Ilya, we’re not children and we’re not joking: it is a matter that concerns our whole life! Ask yourself conscientiously and tell me – I will believe you, I know you: would you be able to keep it up all your life? Would you be for me what I want you to be? You know me, you therefore understand what I want to say. If boldly and deliberately you say, ‘yes,’ I take back my decision: here is my hand, and let us go where you will – abroad, to the country, even to Vyborg!’

  He said nothing.

  ‘If you knew how I love you – –’

  ‘What I want is not protestations of love but a brief answer,’ she interrupted him almost dryly.

  ‘Don’t torture me, Olga!’ he implored her disconsolately.

  ‘Well, Ilya, am I right or not?’

  ‘Yes,’ he said, distinctly and resolutely, ‘you are right.’

  ‘In that case we had better part,’ she decided, ‘before anyone finds you here and sees how upset I am.’

  But he still did not go.

  ‘Even if we had married, what would have come of it?’ she asked.

  He made no answer.

  ‘You would sink deeper and deeper into sleep every day, wouldn’t you? And I? You see the sort of person I am, don’t you? I shall never grow old or tire of life. And with you I should be living from day to day, waiting for Christmas, then for Shrovetide, go visiting, dancing, and not thinking of anything. We’d go to bed and thank God that the day had passed so quickly, and in the morning we’d wake up wishing that to-day would be like yesterday. That would be our future, wouldn’t it? Is that life? I’d pine away and die – what for, Ilya? Would you be happy?’

  He cast an agonizing look at the ceiling, wanted to move, to run away, but his legs would not obey him. He wanted to say something – his mouth was dry, his tongue would not move, his voice failed him. He held out his hand to her.

  ‘So – –’ he began in a faint voice, but broke off and finished his sentence with his eyes: ‘Good-bye!’

  She, too, wanted to say something, but could not; she held out her hand to him, but the hand dropped before it touched him; she, too, wanted to say ‘good-bye’, but her voice failed her in the middle of the word and broke off on a false note; a spasm passed over her face, she put her hand and head on his shoulder and burst into sobs. It was as though her weapons had been snatched out of her hands. The woman of intelligence was gone and in her place was simply a woman who was powerless against grief.

  ‘Good-bye, good-bye,’ the words escaped her between her sobs.

  He was silent, listening in horror to her weeping and not daring to interfere with it. He did not feel any pity either for her or for himself; he was wretched himself. She sank into an arm-chair and, pressing her handkerchief to her face, leaned against the table and wept bitterly. Her tears flowed not as an irresistible hot stream released by a sudden and temporary pain, as in the park in summer, but coldly and cheerlessly, like autumn rain pitilessly watering the meadows.

  ‘Olga,’ he said at last, ‘why do you torture yourself? You love me, you won’t be able to bear the parting! Take me as I am, love whatever is good in me.’

  She shook her head without raising it.

  ‘No, no,’ she made an effort to speak, ‘don’t be afraid for me and for my grief. I know myself: I will cry it out and then I will cry no more. And now, don’t interrupt my tears – go away.… No, wait, please! God is punishing me! Oh, it hurts me – it hurts me awfully – here, near my heart….’

  Her sobs were renewed.

  ‘And what if the pain doesn’t stop,’ he said, ‘and your health suffers? Such tears are deadly. Olga, my darling, don’t cry – forget it all….’

  ‘No, let me cry! I am not crying about the future, but about the past,’ she brought out with difficulty. ‘It has “faded away”, it has “gone”…. It isn’t I who am crying, but my memories! The summer – the park – do you remember? I’m sorry for our avenue, the lilac…. It has all grown into my heart: it hurts me to tear it out!’ She shook her head in despair and sobbed, repeating: ‘Oh, how it hurts – how it hurts!’

  ‘What if you should die?’ he suddenly cried in horror. ‘Think, Olga – –’

  ‘No,’ she interrupted, raising her head and trying to look at him through her tears; ‘I have only lately realized that I loved in you what I wanted you to have, what Stolz pointed out to me, what we both invented. I loved the Oblomov that might have been! You are gentle and honest – you are tender like – a dove; you hide your head under your wing – and you want nothing more; you are ready to spend all your life cooing under the roof…. Well, I am not like that; that isn’t enough for me; I want something else, but what it is I don’t know! You cannot tell me, you cannot teach me what it is that I want, give it all to me so that I – – and as for tenderness – you can find it anywhere!’

  Oblomov’s legs gave way under him; he sat down in an armchair and wiped his hands and forehead with his handkerchief. It was a cruel thing to say, and it hurt him deeply: it seemed to have scorched him inwardly, while outwardly it was like the breath of ice-cold air. He smiled pitifully and painfully shamefacedly in reply, like a beggar reproached for his nakedness. He sat there with that helpless smile, weak with agitation and resentment; his eyes, from which the light seemed to have gone, said clearly: ‘Yes, I am poor, pitiful, abject – hit me, hit me!…’

  Olga suddenly realized how harsh her words were; she rushed to him impetuously.

  ‘Forgive me, my friend!’ she said tenderly, with tears in her voice. ‘I don’t know what I am saying. I am mad! Forget everything. Let us be as before – let everything remain as it was….’

  ‘No,’ he said, getting up suddenly and rejecting her impulsive offer with a resolute gesture. ‘It cannot remain as it was! Don’t be upset because you’ve spoken the truth: I deserve it,’ he added dejectedly.

  ‘I am a dreamer, a visionary! ‘she said; ‘I’m an awful character. Why are other women, why is Sonia so happy?’ She wept. ‘Go away!’ she said, making up her mind and twisting her wet handkerchief again. ‘I can’t stand it. The past is too dear to me.’ She again buried her face in her handkerchief, trying to stifle her sobs. ‘Why has it all been ruined?’ she asked suddenly, raising her head. ‘Who laid a curse on you, Ilya? What have you done? You are kind, intelligent, tender, honourable, and – you are going to wrack and ruin! What has ruined you? There is no name for that evil….’

  ‘There is,’ he said in a hardly audible whisper.

  She looked at him questioningly with her eyes full of tears.

  ‘Oblomovitis!’ he whispered; then he took her hand, wanted to kiss it and could not; he just pressed it tightly to his lips and hot tears fell on her fingers. He turned round without raising his head or showing her his face, and walked out of the room.


  GOODNESS only knows where he wandered, what he did the whole day, but he returned home late at night. The landlady was the first to hear him knocking at the gate, and she woke Anisya and Zakhar, telling them that their master had come back.

  Oblomov hardly noticed how Zakhar undressed him, took off his boots, and threw over his shoulders his – dressing-gown!

  ‘What’s this?’ he asked, merely glancing at the dressing-gown.

  ‘The landlady brought it to-day
, sir,’ said Zakhar. ‘She washed and mended your dressing-gown.’

  Oblomov remained sitting in the arm-chair. Everything around him had sunk into sleep and darkness. He sat leaning on his hand, without noticing the darkness and without hearing the clock strike. His mind was plunged into a chaos of vague, shapeless thoughts; they scudded along like clouds in the sky, without aim or connexion – he did not catch a single one. His heart was dead: life had ceased there for a time. The return to life and order, to the regular flow of the accumulated vital forces, which had been dammed up, took place slowly. The pressure was very severe, and Oblomov was not conscious of his body, of being tired, of having any needs. He could have lain like a stone for a whole day and night, or walked, or driven, or moved about like a machine. Man becomes resigned to his fate slowly and painfully, in which case his body gradually resumes all its normal functions, or he is crushed by grief, in which case he will rise no more – all depending on the intensity of the grief, and on the man himself. Oblomov did not remember where he was sitting or whether he was sitting at all: he watched the day break mechanically and without being aware of it; he could not tell whether or not he heard the old woman’s dry cough, the caretaker chopping wood in the yard, the noise and clatter in the house; he saw and yet did not appear to notice the landlady and Akulina going to the market and the landlady’s brother with his paper parcel darting past the fence. Neither the cocks, nor the barking of the dogs, nor the creaking of the gate could rouse him from his stupor. The cups rattled, the samovar began to hiss.

  At last, soon after nine o’clock, Zakhar opened the door into the study with the tray, kicked the door, as usual, in order to shut it and, as usual, missed it, keeping the tray intact, however – he had grown expert at it from long practice, and, besides, he knew that Anisya was keeping an eye on him from behind the door and that if he dropped something she would at once rush to pick it up and put him to shame. His beard pressed into the tray which he hugged tightly, he reached the bed safely and was about to put the cups on the bedside table and waken his master, when he noticed that the bed had not been slept in and that the master was not in it! He gave a start and a cup flew on to the floor, followed by the sugar-basin. He tried to catch them in the air, the tray swayed, and the other things fell too. He succeeded in keeping only one spoon on the tray.

  ‘What’s all this?’ he said, watching Anisya pick up lumps of sugar, broken pieces of the cup and the bread. ‘Where is the master?’

  The master was sitting in the arm-chair, looking terribly ill. Zakhar looked at him open-mouthed.

  ‘Why did you sit in the chair all night, sir, instead of going to bed?’ he asked.

  Oblomov slowly turned his head, looked vacantly at Zakhar, at the spilt coffee, at the scattered sugar on the carpet.

  ‘And why did you break the cup?’ he said, and walked up to the window.

  It was snowing heavily, the big flakes thickly covering the ground.

  ‘Snow, snow, snow!’ he kept repeating senselessly, looking at the snow which lay in a thick layer on the railings, the trellis fence, and the kitchen-garden. ‘It has covered everything!’ he whispered desperately, lay down on the bed and sank into a leaden, comfortless sleep.

  It was past twelve o’clock when he was wakened by the creak of the landlady’s door: a bare arm holding a plate was thrust through the door – on the plate lay a piece of steaming hot pie.

  ‘It’s Sunday to-day,’ said a tender voice, ‘and we’ve been baking a pie. Won’t you have some?’

  But he made no answer: he was in a high fever.



  A YEAR had passed since Oblomov’s illness. The year had brought many changes in different parts of the world: here an insurrection had broken out, there it had been put down; here a world-famous luminary had set, there another one had risen; here the world had solved a new mystery of life, there houses and whole generations had been reduced to ashes. Where the old life lay shattered, the new one, like young verdure, began to show….

  Though at the house of the widow Pshenitzyn, in Vyborg, days and nights passed peacefully without any sudden violent changes in its monotonous existence, and though the four seasons followed each other as regularly as ever, life did not stand still, but was constantly undergoing a change; but the change was slow and gradual as are the geological changes of our planet: in one place a mountain slowly crumbled away, in another the sea was washing up silt or receding from the shores and forming new land.

  Oblomov had recovered. His agent, Zatyorty, had gone to the country and sent the full amount of the money received for the sale of corn, his fares, his living expenses, and his fee being paid out of it. As for the taxes, Zatyorty wrote that it was impossible to collect the money because the peasants were either ruined or had gone away to different places and their whereabouts were unknown – he was making energetic inquiries on the spot. There was no particular hurry so far as the road and the bridges were concerned, since the peasants preferred trudging over the hill and through the ravine to the large village where the market was held, to working on constructing a new road or building bridges. In short, the information and the money received were satisfactory, and, seeing no need for going himself to the country, Oblomov was reassured on that score till the next year.

  The agent had also taken steps with regard to the building of the house: having estimated with the help of the provincial architect the quantity of the materials required, he left an order with the bailiff to begin carting timber early in spring and to build a shed for bricks, so that all that remained for Oblomov to do was to arrive in the spring and, with God’s blessing, start building. By that time the taxes were to be collected and the estate mortgaged – there would be enough money therefore to cover expenses.

  After his illness Oblomov was for a long time gloomy; he sat brooding for hours and sometimes did not answer Zakhar’s questions, did not notice his dropping cups on the floor or his failing to dust the table, or, coming in with the pie on feast-days, the landlady would find him in tears. Then gradually dumb indifference took the place of deep grief. Oblomov gazed for hours at the snow falling and forming snowdrifts in the yard and in the street, covering the stacks of logs, the hen-houses, the kennel, the little garden, and the kitchen garden; he watched the posts of the fence being transformed into pyramids of snow and everything around dying and being wrapped in a shroud. He listened for hours to the rattling of the coffee-mill, the barking of the dog and its jumping on the chain, to Zakhar polishing boots, and the measured ticking of the clock. The landlady came into his room as before to ask if he would like to buy something or if he would have something to eat; the landlady’s children ran in; he spoke to her with kindly unconcern, set lessons for the children, listened to their reading, and smiled rather listlessly and reluctantly at their childish prattle.

  But the mountain gradually crumbled away, the sea receded from the shore or encroached upon it, and Oblomov was gradually resuming his normal life. Summer, autumn, and winter passed dully and listlessly, but Oblomov was again waiting for spring and dreamed about his departure for the country. In March fancy rolls in the shape of larks were baked, and in April the double windows were taken out in his rooms, and he was told that the ice on the Neva had broken up and that spring had come. He walked in the garden. Then vegetables were planted in the kitchen garden; the different feast-days came and went: Whitsuntide, Commemoration Thursday, and the first of May – all these were marked by the traditional birches and wreaths; they had their tea in the copse. At the beginning of summer they began talking in the house about the two great festivals to come: St John’s Day, the name-day of the landlady’s brother, and St Elijah’s Day – Oblomov’s name-day; these were the two important dates to bear in mind. When the landlady happened to buy or see in the market an excellent quarter of veal, or whenever her pies turned out to be particularly good, she said: ‘Oh, if only I could find such veal or bake such a pie on St John’s or St Elijah’s Day!’ T
hey talked of St Elijah’s Friday and the annual outing to the Powder Works, and of the festival at the Smolensk Cemetery at Kolpino. The deep clucking of the broody hen and the chirping of a new generation of chicks were heard under the windows again; chicken pies with fresh mushrooms and freshly salted cucumbers were served at dinner once more; soon strawberries and raspberries appeared on the table. ‘Giblets aren’t good now,’ the landlady told Oblomov. ‘Yesterday they asked seventy copecks for two lots of small ones, but there is fresh salmon – we could have cold fish and vegetable soup every day, if you like.’ The meals in Mrs Pshenitzyn’s house were so excellent not only because Agafya Matveyevna was such a model housewife or because that was her vocation, but also because her brother, Ivan Matveyevich Mukhoyarov, was a great epicure in affairs of gastronomy. He was more than careless about his clothes and linen: he wore a suit for years and was highly annoyed when he had to spend money on a new one; nor did he hang it up carefully, but threw it in a heap in the corner. He changed his underwear, like a labourer, only on Saturdays, but he spared no expense on food. In this he was guided to a certain extent by a principle he had enunciated at the time of his entry into the Civil Service: ‘No one can see what’s inside my belly and they won’t tell tales about it; but a heavy watch-chain, a new frock-coat, and patent-leather boots – all this gives rise to unnecessary talk.’ That was why the Pshenitzyns had first-class veal, amber-coloured sturgeon, and white hazel-grouse. Sometimes he went round the market or the shops himself, sniffing the air like a setter, and brought home under his coat the best capon, and he did not grudge four roubles for a turkey. He bought his wine from the wholesaler’s and kept it under lock and key; no one ever saw anything but a decanter of vodka infused with black-currant leaves on the table; he drank the wine in his own attic room. When he went fishing with Tarantyev there was always a bottle of excellent Madeira hidden in his coat and when they had tea at the ‘tavern’, he brought his own rum.


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