Oblomov, p.48
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       Oblomov, p.48

           Ivan Goncharov

  The gradual silting up or raising of the sea-bed and the crumbling away of the mountain affected everybody and, incidentally, Anisya too: the mutual sympathy between Anisya and the landlady had turned into an indissoluble partnership, into one existence. Seeing how interested the landlady was in his affairs, Oblomov proposed to her once as a joke to take full charge of his board and save him from all trouble. Her face lit up with joy; she smiled quite vivaciously. How the field of her activity had widened: two households instead of one, or one – but how big! Besides, she acquired Anisya! The landlady had talked it over with her brother, and the next day everything from Oblomov’s kitchen was removed to Mrs Pshenitzyn’s; his silver and crockery were put into her sideboard, and Akulina was degraded from being a cook to looking after the poultry and the kitchen garden. Everything was done on a big scale: the buying of sugar, tea, and provisions, the pickling of cucumbers, the preserving of apples and cherries, jam-making – everything now assumed enormous proportions. Agafya Matveyevna seemed to have grown taller, Anisya spread out her arms like an eagle its wings, and everything went full speed ahead.

  Oblomov dined with the family at three o’clock, with the exception of the landlady’s brother, who dined separately later on, mostly in the kitchen, because he came back very late from the office. Tea and coffee were brought in to Oblomov by the landlady herself and not by Zakhar. The latter dusted the room if he was so disposed, and if he was not Anisya flew in like a whirlwind and, partly with her apron and partly with her bare arm, almost with her nose, flicked and blew away everything in a trice, pulled things straight, set them to rights, and disappeared; or else the landlady herself, when Oblomov went out into the garden, looked into his room, and finding it in disorder, shook her head, and muttering something under her breath, beat up the pillows, examined the pillow-cases, again whispered to herself that they needed changing, took them off, cleaned the windows, looked behind the sofa, and went out.

  The gradual silting up of the sea-bed, the crumbling away of the mountain, and the occasional volcanic explosions had taken place mostly in Agafya Matveyevna’s life, but no one, least of all herself, was aware of it. It became noticeable only as a result of its manifold, unexpected, and endless consequences.

  Why had she not been herself for some time? Why was it that before, if the roast was over-done, the fish boiled too long, the vegetables not put into the soup, she sternly reprimanded Akulina, but with dignity and without losing her temper, and forgot all about it afterwards; but now if something of the kind happened she jumped up from the table, rushed into the kitchen, overwhelmed Akulina with bitter reproaches, and was sulky with Anisya, and the following day made quite sure herself that the vegetables were put into the soup and the fish was not boiled too long. It will be said that she was perhaps ashamed to be shown up before a stranger as incompetent in such a matter as housekeeping on which her vanity and activity were concentrated. Very well. But why was it that before, she could hardly keep her eyes open at eight o’clock in the evening, and after having put the children to bed and seen that the fire had been put out in the kitchen stove, the flues closed, and everything put away, she used to go to bed at nine, and a cannon could not have wakened her till six o’clock in the morning? But now, if Oblomov went to the theatre or stayed a little longer at Ivan Gerasimovich’s and was late in coming home, she could not sleep, turned over from side to side, crossed herself, sighed, closed her eyes – but could not fall asleep in spite of everything! The moment there was a knocking in the street, she raised her head and sometimes even jumped out of bed, opened the little ventilating window and listened – was it he? If there was a knock at the gate, she threw on her skirt and rushed to the kitchen, roused Zahkar or Anisya and sent them to open the gate. It will be said perhaps that this merely showed that she was a conscientious housewife who did not like to have any disorder in her house and to have her lodger wait in the street at night till the drunken caretaker heard him and opened the gate and, last but not least, that she was afraid that any prolonged knocking might awaken the children. Very well. But why, when Oblomov fell ill, did she not let anyone into his room? Why did she cover the floor in it with felt and rugs, draw the curtains, and fly into a rage – she who was so kind and gentle – if Vanya or Masha uttered the least shout or laughed loudly? Why did she sit by his bedside all night, not trusting Zakhar and Anisya, without taking her eyes off him, till early Mass, and then, throwing on her coat and writing‘Ilya’ in big letters on a piece of paper, run to the church, put the paper on the altar so that a prayer might be offered up for his recovery, and withdrawing to a corner, kneel down and lie for a long time with her face on the ground; then she hurried off to the market, and returning home fearfully, threw a glance at the door and asked Anisya in a whisper: ‘Well, how is he?’ It will be said that it was nothing more than pity and compassion, which are the predominant elements of a woman’s heart. Very well. But why was it that when Oblomov, while convalescing from his illness, was gloomy all winter, hardly spoke to her, did not look into her room, was not interested in what she was doing, did not joke or laugh with her, she grew thin and cold and indifferent to everything: she might be grinding coffee and not know what she was doing, or she would put in such a lot of chicory that no one could drink it, but she could not taste the difference, as though she had no palate. If Akulina did not cook the fish properly and her brother grumbled and left the table, she did not seem to hear anything, just as though she had been turned to stone. Before, no one had ever seen her thoughtful, which, indeed, did not suit her at all, for she was a very active person who never missed anything, but now she sat motionless with the mortar on her knees, just as if she were asleep; then she would suddenly begin pounding with the pestle so loudly that the dog barked, thinking someone was knocking at the gate. But no sooner did Oblomov come to life, no sooner did he begin to smile kindly, no sooner did he start looking at her as before, looking into her room affectionately and joking, than she put on weight again, and she set to work again in her old active, cheerful, and gay manner, but with one little – though significant – difference: in the old days she used to be moving about all day, like a well-constructed machine, smoothly and regularly, she walked with a light step, spoke neither too loud nor too low; she ground coffee, chopped up a sugar loaf, sieved, sat down to her sewing, her needle moving as regularly as a pendulum; then she got up without bustle or fuss, stopped half-way to the kitchen, opened a cupboard, took something out, carried it away – all machine-like. But ever since Oblomov became a member of the family, she pounded and sieved differently. She had almost forgotten her lace. She would start sewing, settling comfortably in a chair, when Oblomov would suddenly shout to Zakhar to fetch his coffee – and in a trice she was in the kitchen, looking round her as keenly as though she were taking aim, seized a spoon, poured three spoonfuls of coffee out against the light to see if it was quite ready and if it had settled, and if there were not any dregs in it or any skin on the cream. If his favourite dish was being cooked, she watched the saucepan, lifted the lid, sniffed, tasted, then seized the pan herself and held it over the fire. If she grated almonds and pounded something for him, she did it with such enthusiasm and such vigour that she was thrown into a perspiration. All her household duties – pounding, ironing, sieving, etc., – had acquired a new vital significance; Oblomov’s peace and comfort. Before, she regarded it as her duty; now, it became a delight. She began to live, in her fashion, a full and varied life. But she did not know what was happening to her; she never asked herself the question, but assumed this sweet burden absolutely, without resistance and without being swept off her feet, without trepidation, passion, vague forebodings, languor or the play and music of the nerves. It was as though she had suddenly gone over to another faith and begun professing it without wondering what kind of faith it was, what its dogmas were, but obeying its laws blindly. It seemed to have imposed itself upon her without her knowledge, and she seemed to have treated it as a cloud which she had neithe
r tried to avoid nor run to meet; she fell in love with Oblomov as simply as though she had caught a cold or contracted an incurable fever. She never suspected anything herself: if she had been told, it would have been news to her and she would have smiled and blushed with shame. She accepted her duties towards Oblomov in silence, learned what every shirt of his looked like, counted the holes in his socks, knew with what foot he got out of bed, noticed when he was about to have a stye on his eye, knew what dish he liked best and how many helpings of it he had, whether he was cheerful or bored, whether he slept much or little, as though she had been doing so all her life, without asking herself why she did it or what Oblomov was to her, and why she should take so much trouble. Had she been asked if she loved him, she would again have smiled and said yes, but she would have given the same reply when Oblomov had lived no more than a week at her house. Why had she fallen in love with him and no one else? Why had she married without love and lived without falling in love till she was thirty, when it seemed to have come upon her suddenly? Though love is declared to be a capricious, unaccountable feeling that one contracts like an illness, it has, like everything else, causes and laws of its own. And if these laws have hitherto been so little studied, it is because a man, stricken with love, is hardly in a position to watch with scientific detachment how an impression steals into his soul, how it benumbs his senses as though with sleep, how at first he loses his sight, how and at which moment his pulse and then his heart begin beating faster, how he becomes suddenly compelled to declare his devotion till death, to desire to sacrifice himself, how his ‘I’ gradually disappears and becomes transformed into ‘him’ or ‘her’, how his intellect becomes extraordinarily dull or extraordinarily subtle, how his will is surrendered to that of another, how his head becomes bowed, his knees tremble, how the tears and the fever appear….

  Agafya Matveyevna had not met many people like Oblomov before, and if she had it was from a distance, and she may have liked them, but they lived in a different sphere and she had no chance of getting to know them more intimately. Oblomov did not walk like her husband, the late Collegiate Secretary Pshenitzyn, with small, quick, business-like steps, he did not write endless documents, he did not shake with fear at being late at the office, he did not look at people as though begging them to saddle him and ride on his back, but he looked at everything and everybody openly and fearlessly, as though expecting them to obey him. His face was not coarse nor ruddy, but white and tender; his hands were hot like her brother’s hands – they did not shake, they were not red, but white and small. When he sat down, crossed his legs, leaned his head on his hand, he did it all with such effortless ease, so calmly and so beautifully; he spoke in a way that was different from her brother and Tarantyev and not as her husband used to speak; a great deal of what he said she did not even understand, but she felt that it was clever, excellent, and extraordinary; and even the things she did understand he spoke differently from other people. He wore fine linen, he changed it every day, he washed with scented soap, he cleaned his fingernails – he was all so nice and so clean, there was no need for him to do anything – other people did everything for him: he had Zakhar and 300 other Zakhars! He was a gentleman: he dazzled, he scintillated! And, besides, he was so kind; he walked so softly, his movements were so exquisite; if he touched her hand, it was like velvet, and whenever her husband had touched her, it was like a blow! And he looked and talked so gently, with such kindness…. She did not think all these things, nor was she consciously aware of it all, but if anyone had tried to analyse and explain the impression made on her mind by Oblomov’s coming into her life, he would not be able to give any other explanation.

  Oblomov understood what he meant to all of them in the house, from the landlady’s brother down to the watchdog, which was now getting three times as many bones as before; but he did not understand how much he meant to them and what an unexpected conquest he had made of his landlady’s heart. In her bustling solicitude for his meals, linen, and rooms he saw a manifestation of the main trait of her character he had noticed already during his first visit when Akulina suddenly brought into the room the fluttering cock and the landlady, though embarrassed by the cook’s misplaced zeal, managed to tell her not to give the shopkeeper that cock but the grey one. Agafya Matveyevna herself was not only incapable of flirting with Oblomov and revealing to him by some sign what was going on inside her, but, as has already been said, she was never aware of it or understood it herself; she had, in fact, forgotten that a short time ago nothing of the sort had been happening to her, and her love only found expression in her absolute devotion to him. Oblomov was blind to the true nature of her attitude towards him, and he went on thinking that it was her character. Mrs Pshenitzyn’s feeling, so normal, natural, and disinterested, remained a mystery to Oblomov, to the people around her, and to herself. It was, indeed, disinterested because she put up a candle in the church and had prayers said for his health because she wanted him to recover, and he knew nothing of it. She had sat by his bedside at night and left it at dawn, and nothing was said about it afterwards. His attitude towards her was much simpler: he saw in Agafya Matveyevna, with her regularly moving elbows, her watchful, solicitous eyes, her perpetual journeys from the cupboard to the kitchen, from the kitchen to the pantry, and from there to the cellar, her thorough knowledge of housekeeping and all home comforts, the embodied ideal of a life of boundless and inviolate repose, the picture of which had been ineradicably imprinted on his mind in childhood, under his father’s roof. As in Oblomovka his father, his grandfather, the children, the grandchildren, and the visitors sat or lay about in idle repose, knowing that there were in the house unsleeping eyes that watched over them continually and never-weary hands that sewed their clothes, gave them food and drink, dressed them, put them to bed, and closed their eyes when they were dead, so here, too, Oblomov, sitting motionless on the sofa, saw something nimble and lively moving for his benefit, and that if the sun should not rise to-morrow, whirlwinds hide the sky, a hurricane blow from one end of the earth to the other, his soup and roast would be on his table, his linen would be fresh and clean, the cobwebs would be brushed off the walls, and he would not even know how it was all done; that before he had taken trouble to think what he would like, his wish would be divined and it would be put before him, not lazily and rudely by Zakhar’s dirty hands, but with a cheerful and gentle glance, a smile of deep devotion, white hands, and bare elbows.

  He was getting more and more friendly with his landlady every day: the thought of love never entered his head, that is, the sort of love he had recently experienced as if it were some sort of small-pox, measles, or fever, and which he shuddered at every time he recalled it. He was getting closer to Agafya Matveyevna just as one does to a fire which makes one feel warmer and which one cannot love. After dinner he gladly stayed in her room and smoked a pipe, watching her put away the silver in the dresser, take out the cups, pour out the coffee, and having washed and wiped one cup with meticulous care, pour out his coffee first of all, hand it to him, and look to see if he liked it. He gladly rested his eyes on her plump neck and round elbows, when the door of her room was opened, and even when it was not opened for a long time, he gently opened it himself with a foot, and joked with her and played with her children. But he did not miss her if the morning passed and he did not see her; instead of remaining with her after dinner, he often went to his room for two hours’ sleep; but he knew that as soon as he woke his tea would be ready, nay, that it would be ready at the very moment he awoke. And, above all, it was all done without any fuss: he had no swelling in his heart, he never once had to ask himself anxiously whether he would see his landlady or not, what she would think, what he would say to her, how to reply to her question, how she would look at him – it was nothing, nothing of the kind. There were no yearnings, no sleepless nights, no sweet or bitter tears. He sat smoking, watching her sewing; sometimes he said something and sometimes he didn’t, and yet he felt at peace with himself, he did
not want anything, he did not feel like going anywhere, just as though everything he needed were there. Agafya Matveyevna made no demands on him, nor did she coax him to do anything. Neither did he have any ambitious desires or impulses, nor any aspirations for performing heroic deeds, nor any agonizing qualms of conscience about the way he was wasting his time and destroying his powers, about not doing anything, neither good nor evil, about being idle and vegetating and not living. It was as though some unseen power had placed him like a precious plant in the shade as a protection from the heat and under a roof to shelter him from the rain, and looked after him and cherished him.

  ‘How deftly you move your needle past your nose, Agafya Matveyevna,’ said Oblomov. ‘You pick up the thread so quickly from underneath that I’m really afraid you might stitch your nose to your skirt.’

  She smiled. ‘Let me first finish stitching this seam,’ she said, almost as though she were speaking to herself, ‘and then we’ll have supper.’

  ‘And what is there for supper?’

  ‘Sauerkraut and salmon,’ she said. ‘I’m afraid there isn’t any sturgeon to be had anywhere. I’ve been to all the shops, and my brother asked for it, but there isn’t any. Of course, if a live sturgeon is caught – a merchant from the Coaching Arcade had ordered one – I am promised a piece of it. Then there is veal and fried buckwheat-meal.’

  ‘That’s excellent! How nice of you to have remembered! I only hope Anisya won’t forget.’

  ‘And what am I here for? Can you hear it sizzling?’ she replied, opening the kitchen door a little. ‘It’s being fried already!’

  She finished sewing, bit off the thread, folded her work, and carried it to her bedroom.

  And thus he drew nearer to her as to a warm fire, and once he drew very near, so that there was nearly a conflagration or, at any rate, a sudden blaze.

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