Oblomov, p.49Ivan Goncharov
He was pacing his room and, turning to the landlady’s door, he saw that her elbows were quite amazingly active.
‘Always busy!’ he said, going in to her. ‘What is this?’
‘I’m grinding cinnamon,’ she replied, gazing into the mortar as though it were an abyss and clattering away mercilessly with the pestle.
‘And what if I won’t let you?’ he asked, taking hold of her elbows and preventing her from pounding.
‘Please, let me go! I must pound some sugar and pour out some wine for the pudding.’
He was still holding her by the elbows, and his face was close to the nape of her neck.
‘Tell me what if I – fell in love with you?’
‘Would you love me?’ he asked again.
‘Why not? God commanded us to love everyone.’
‘And what if I kissed you?’ he whispered, bending down so that his breath burnt her cheek.
‘It isn’t Easter week,’ she said with a smile.
‘Kiss me, please!’
‘If, God willing, we live till Easter, we’ll kiss each other then,’ she said, without being surprised, alarmed, or embarrassed, but standing straight and still like a horse when its collar is put on.
He kissed her lightly on the neck.
‘Please be careful, or I’ll spill the cinnamon and there won’t be any left for the pastry,’ she observed.
‘No matter,’ he replied.
‘Have you got another stain on your dressing-gown?’ she asked solicitously, taking hold of the skirt of the dressing-gown.
‘I believe it’s oil.’ She sniffed the stain. ‘Where did you get it? It didn’t drip from the icon lamp, did it?’
‘I’m afraid I don’t know where I can have acquired it.’
‘You must have caught it in the door,’ Agafya Matveyevna suddenly guessed. ‘The hinges were greased yesterday – they all creaked. Take it off and let me have it at once, I’ll take it out and wash the place: there will be nothing showing to-morrow.’
‘Kind Agafya Matveyevna,’ said Oblomov, lazily throwing the dressing-gown off his shoulders. ‘Do you know what? Let’s go and live in the country: that’s the place for housekeeping! You’ve got everything there: mushrooms, fruit, jam, the poultry yard, the dairy – –’
‘But why go there?’ she concluded with a sigh. ‘I’ve been born here, I’ve lived here all my life, and here I ought to die.’
He gazed at her with mild excitement, but his eyes did not shine or fill with tears, his spirit did not long for the heights or aspire to perform deeds of heroism. All he wanted was to sit on the sofa without taking his eyes off her elbows.
ST JOHN’S DAY was a great festive occasion. Ivan Matveyevich did not go to the office on the day before, he rushed about the town, each time bringing home a bag or a basket. Agafya Matveyevna had lived solely on coffee for three days, and only Oblomov had had a three-course dinner, the rest of the household living on anything that was available at any given hour of the day. On the eve of the great day Anisya did not go to bed at all. Zakhar alone slept enough for the two of them, regarding all these preparations almost with contempt.
‘In Oblomovka,’ he said to the two chefs who had been invited from the count’s kitchen, ‘we had such dinners cooked every holiday. There were five different kinds of sweet and more sauces than you could count! And they would be eating all day and the next day, too, and we would eat the left-overs for five days. And just as we would finish, new visitors would arrive, and the whole thing started all over again – and here it’s only once a year!’
At dinner he served Oblomov first and refused point-blank to serve some gentleman with a large cross round his neck.
‘Our master is a gentleman born and bred,’ he said proudly, ‘and these guests are a common lot!’
Tarantyev, who sat at the end of the table, he would not serve at all, or just threw as much food on the plate as he fancied! All Ivan Matveyevich’s colleagues, about thirty of them, were present. An enormous trout, stuffed chickens, quail, ice-cream, and excellent wine – it was a feast worthy of the great annual occasion. At the end of it the guests embraced each other, praised up to the skies their host’s good taste, and then sat down to play cards. Ivan Matveyevich bowed and thanked them, declaring that for the great pleasure of giving a dinner to his dear guests he had not been sorry to sacrifice a third of his yearly salary. The guests left towards morning, some in carriages and some on foot, but all hardly capable of standing up straight, and everything in the house grew quiet again until St Elijah’s Day, Oblomov’s name-day.
On that day the only people Oblomov had invited to his name-day dinner were Ivan Gerasimovich and Alexeyev, the silent and mild-mannered man who had, at the beginning of this story, invited Oblomov to accompany him to the First of May festival. Oblomov was determined not to be outshone by Ivan Matveyevich, and he did his best to impress his guests by the delicacy and daintiness of the dishes unknown in that part of the town. Instead of a rich pie there were pasties stuffed with air; oysters were served before soup; there were chickens in curling-papers stuffed with truffles, choice cuts of meat, the finest vegetables, English soup. In the middle of the table there was an enormous pineapple, surrounded by peaches, apricots, and cherries. There were flowers in vases on the table.
No sooner had they started on the soup and Tarantyev had cursed the pasties and the cook for the stupid notion of having no stuffing in them, than the dog began jumping on the chain and barking desperately. A carriage drove into the yard and somone asked for Oblomov. They all gaped in astonishment.
‘Someone of my last year’s friends must have remembered my name-day,’ said Oblomov. ‘Tell them I am not at home – not at home!’ he said in a loud whisper to Zakhar.
They were having dinner in the summer-house in the garden. Zakhar rushed off to carry out his master’s order and ran into Stolz on the path.
‘Andrey Ivanych,’ he wheezed joyfully.
‘Andrey!’ Oblomov addressed him in a loud voice and ran to embrace him.
‘I’m just in time for dinner, I see,’ said Stolz. ‘May I join you? I’m famished. It took me hours to find you.’
‘Come along, come along, sit down!’ Oblomov said fussily, making him sit down next to him.
At Stolz’s appearance, Tarantyev was the first to jump quickly over the fence into the kitchen garden; he was followed by Ivan Matveyevich, who hid behind the summer-house and then disappeared into his attic. The landlady also got up from her seat.
‘I’m afraid I’ve disturbed you,’ said Stolz, jumping up.
‘Where are you off to? What for?’ Oblomov shouted. ‘Ivan Matveyevich! Mikhey Andreyich!’
He made the landlady sit down again, but he could not recall the landlady’s brother or Tarantyev.
‘Where have you sprung from? Are you staying here long?’ Oblomov began firing questions at him.
Stolz had come for a fortnight on business and was then going to the country, to Kiev and all sorts of other places. He spoke little at table, but ate a lot; he evidently was really hungry. The others, it goes without saying, ate in silence. After dinner, when everything had been cleared away, Oblomov asked for champagne and soda-water to be left in the summer-house and remained alone with Stolz. They did not speak for a time. Stolz looked at Oblomov long and intently.
‘Well, Ilya?’ he said at last, but in so stern and questioning a voice that Oblomov dropped his eyes and made no answer.
‘So that it’s “never”?’
‘What is “never”?’ asked Oblomov, as though he did not understand.
‘Have you forgotten? “Now or never!”’
‘I’m not the same now – as I was then, Andrey,’ he said at last. ‘My affairs are in order, thank Heaven. I am not lying about idly, my plan is almost finished, I subscribe to the journals, I’ve read almost all the books you left….’
‘But why didn’t you go abroad?’ asked Stolz.
‘I was prevented from going abroad by – –’ he stopped short.
‘Olga?’ said Stolz, looking significantly at him.
‘What? Have you heard? Where is she now?’ he asked quickly, glancing at Stolz.
Stolz went on looking at him without replying, and he seemed to look deep into his soul.
‘I heard she’d gone abroad with her aunt,’ said Oblomov, ‘soon after – –’
‘– she had realized her mistake,’ Stolz finished the sentence for him.
‘Why, do you know?’ Oblomov said, overcome with confusion.
‘Everything,’ said Stolz, ‘even about the spray of lilac. And aren’t you ashamed, Ilya? Don’t you feel sorry? Aren’t you consumed with remorse and regret?’
‘Don’t speak of it – don’t remind me of it!’ Oblomov interrupted him hurriedly. ‘I fell dangerously ill when I saw what a gulf lay between her and me, when I realized that I was not worthy of her…. Oh, Andrey, if you love me, don’t torture me, don’t remind me of her. I pointed out her mistake to her long ago, but she refused to believe me – you see, I really am not very much to blame.’
‘I am not blaming you, Ilya,’ Stolz went on in a gentle and friendly tone of voice. ‘I have read your letter. I am to blame most of all, then she, and you least of all.’
‘How is she now?’ Oblomov asked timidly.
‘She? Why, she is overcome with grief, sheds floods of tears, and curses you.…’
Alarm, sympathy, horror, remorse appeared on Oblomov’s face with every word Stolz uttered.
‘What are you saying, Andrey?’ he said, getting up from his seat. ‘Let us go to her at once, for God’s sake! I’ll go down on my knees and beg her to forgive me….’
‘Sit still!’ Stolz interrupted, laughing. ‘She’s in high spirits. Why, I believe she’s really happy! She asked me to give you her regards. She wanted to write to you, but I advised her not to. I told her it might upset you.’
‘Well, thank God,’ Oblomov said, almost with tears. ‘I’m so glad, Andrey! Let me embrace you and let’s drink her health.’
They each drank a glass of champagne.
‘But where is she now?’
‘In Switzerland. In the autumn she and her aunt will go to her estate. That’s why I am here now: I must get it all settled in the courts. The baron did not finish the business: he took it into his head to propose to Olga.’
‘Did he? So it’s true, is it?’ said Oblomov. ‘Well, and what did she do?’
‘She refused him, naturally. He was hurt and left, and now I have to finish the business! It will be all settled next week. Well, and what about you? Why have you buried yourself in this God-forsaken hole?’
‘It’s peaceful here, Andrey. So quiet, no one interferes with you – –’
‘In my work.…’
‘Why, this is Oblomovka all over again, only much worse,’ said Stolz, looking round. ‘Let’s go to the country, Ilya.’
‘To the country – well, why not? They’ll be soon beginning to build my new house there. Only don’t rush me, Andrey. Let me think it over first.’
‘Again think it over! I know the way you think things over: just as you thought it over about going abroad two years ago. Let’s go next week.’
‘Next week? Why so suddenly?’ Oblomov defended himself. ‘You’re ready for the journey, but I have to make ready. All my things are here. I can’t leave them all, can I? I have nothing for the journey.’
‘But you want nothing. What do you want? Tell me!’
Oblomov made no answer.
‘I’m not feeling too well, Andrey,’ he said. ‘I am short of breath, I’ve been having styes again, first on one eye and then on the other, and my legs, too, are beginning to swell. And sometimes when I am fast asleep at night someone seems to strike me suddenly on the head or across the back, so that I jump up….’
‘Listen, Ilya, I tell you seriously, you must change your way of life if you don’t want to get dropsy or have a stroke. You can have no more hopes for a better future: if an angel like Olga could not carry you on her wings out of the bog in which you are stuck, I can do nothing. But to choose a small field of activity, put your small estate in order, settle the affairs of your peasants, build, plant – all this you can and must do…. I won’t leave you alone. Now it is not only your wishes I am carrying out, but also Olga’s will: she is anxious – do you hear? – that you should not die altogether, that you should not bury yourself alive, and I promised her to dig you out of your grave.’
‘She has not forgotten me yet!’ Oblomov cried with emotion. ‘Do I deserve it?’
‘No, she hasn’t forgotten you and, if you ask me, she never will: she is not that kind of a woman. She expects you to pay her a visit on her estate.’
‘Not now, for goodness’ sake, not now, Andrey! Let me forget. Oh, here there’s still – –’
He pointed to his heart.
‘What is there still? Not love, surely?’ Stolz asked.
‘No, shame and grief!’ Oblomov replied with a sigh.
‘All right, in that case let’s go to your estate. You must get on with your building now. It’s summer and precious time is being wasted.’
‘No, I have an agent. He is there now, and I can go later when I am ready and have thought it over.’
He began boasting to Stolz how excellently he had settled his affairs without stirring from the house. His agent was collecting information about the runaway peasants and selling his corn at a good price. He had already sent him 1,500 roubles, and he would probably collect and send him the peasants’ tax this year.
Stolz gasped with amazement at this tale.
‘Why, you’ve been robbed all round!’ he said. ‘Fifteen hundred from three hundred peasants! Who’s your agent? What kind of a man is he?’
‘More than fifteen hundred,’ Oblomov corrected him. ‘I paid him his fee out of the money he received for the sale of corn.’
‘I’m afraid I don’t remember. But I’ll show you. I have his accounts somewhere.’
‘Well, Ilya, you really are dead – you’re done for!’ he concluded. ‘Get dressed and come along to my place.’
Oblomov began to object, but Stolz took him away almost by force, wrote out a deed of trust in his own name, made Oblomov sign it, and told him that he would take Oblomovka on lease until Oblomov himself came to the country and got accustomed to farming.
‘You will be getting three times as much,’ he said, ‘only I shan’t be your tenant for long – I have my own affairs to manage. Let us go to the country now, or you can come after me. I shall be at Olga’s estate: it’s about three hundred miles from yours. I’ll call at your place, too. Get rid of your agent, make all the necessary arrangements, and then you must come yourself. I won’t leave you in peace.’
Oblomov sighed. ‘Life!’ he said.
‘What about life?’
‘It keeps disturbing you. Gives you no peace! I wish I could lie down and go to sleep – for ever!’
‘What you mean is that you would like to put out the light and remain in darkness! Fine sort of life! Oh, Ilya, why don’t you at least indulge in a little philosophy? Life will flash by like an instant, and you’d like to lie down and go to sleep! Let the flame go on burning! Oh, if only I could live for two or three hundred years!’ he concluded. ‘How much one could do then!’
‘You are quite a different matter, Andrey!’ replied Oblomov. ‘You have wings: you don’t live, you fly. You have gifts, ambition. You’re not fat. You don’t suffer from styes. You’re not overcome by constant doubts. You’re differently made, somehow.’
‘Don’t talk rubbish! Man has been created to arrange his own life and even to change his own nature, and you’ve grown a big belly and think that nature has sent you this burden! You had wings once, but you took them off.’
‘Wings? Where are they?’ Oblomov said gl
‘You mean you don’t want to know,’ Stolz interrupted. ‘A man who can’t do something doesn’t exist, I assure you.’
‘Well, I can’t,’ said Oblomov.
‘To listen to you one would think you couldn’t write an official letter to the town council or a letter to your landlord, but you wrote a letter to Olga, didn’t you? You didn’t mix up who and which in it, did you? And you found excellent note-paper and ink from the English shop, and your handwriting, too, was legible, wasn’t it?’
‘When you needed it, the ideas and the language in which to express them came of themselves. Good enough for any novel! But when you don’t need it, then you don’t know how to do it, and your eyes do not see and your hands are too weak! You lost your ability for doing things in your childhood, in Oblomovka among your aunts and nannies. It all began with your inability to put on your socks and ended by your inability to live.’
‘All this may be true, Andrey, but I’m afraid it can’t be helped – what’s done is done!’ Oblomov said with a sigh, decisively.
‘What do you mean – it’s done!’ Stolz retorted angrily. ‘What nonsense! Listen to me and do what I tell you and it won’t be done!’
But Stolz left for the country alone, and Oblomov stayed behind, promising to go there in the autumn.
‘What shall I tell Olga?’ Stolz asked Oblomov before he left.
Oblomov bowed his head and looked sad; then he sighed.
‘Don’t mention me to her,’ he said at last, looking embarrassed. ‘Tell her you’ve not seen or heard of me.’
‘She won’t believe it.’
‘Well, tell her I’m done for, dead, lost….’
‘She will cry and won’t be comforted for a long time: why upset her?’
Oblomov pondered, greatly moved. His eyes were moist.
‘Very well, then,’ Stolz concluded, ‘I’ll tell her a lie and say that you are living on your memories of her and are looking for some serious aim in life. Note, please, that life itself and work constitute the aim of life – not woman; that was the mistake you both made. How pleased she will be!’
Oblomov by Ivan Goncharov / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes