Oblomov, p.5
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       Oblomov, p.5

           Ivan Goncharov
 

  ‘No, no, not everything,’ Oblomov cried, suddenly working himself up into a passion. ‘Depict a thief, a prostitute, a defrauded fool, but don’t forget that they, too, are human beings. Where’s your feeling of humanity? You want to write with your head only!’ Oblomov almost hissed. ‘Do you think that to express ideas one doesn’t need a heart? One does need it – they are rendered fruitful by love; stretch out a helping hand to the fallen man to raise him, or shed bitter tears over him, if he faces ruin, but do not jeer at him. Love him, remember that he is a man like you, and deal with him as if he were yourself, then I shall read you and acknowledge you,’ he said, lying down again comfortably on the couch. ‘They describe a thief or a prostitute,’ he went on, ‘but forget the human being or are incapable of depicting him – what art and what poetic vein do you find in that? Expose vice and filth, but please don’t pretend that your exposures have anything to do with poetry.’

  ‘According to you, then, all we have to do is to describe nature – roses, nightingales, frosty mornings – while everything around us is in a continuous state of turmoil and movement? All we want is the bare physiology of society – we have no time for songs nowadays.’

  ‘Give me man – man!’ Oblomov said. ‘Love him!’

  ‘Love the money-lender, the hypocrite, the thieving or dull-witted official? Surely you can’t mean that? One can see at once that you’re not a literary person!’ Penkin said heatedly. ‘No, sir, they must be punished, cast out from civil life, from society.’

  ‘Cast out from society?’ Oblomov suddenly cried, as though inspired, jumping to his feet and facing Penkin. ‘That means forgetting that there was a living spirit in this unworthy vessel; that he is a depraved man, but a man none the less like yourself. Cast him out! And how do you propose to cast him out from human society, from nature, from the mercy of God!’ he almost shouted, his eyes blazing.

  ‘Going a bit too far, aren’t you?’ Penkin said in his turn with surprise.

  Oblomov realized, too, that he had overstepped the mark. He fell silent suddenly, stood still for a moment, yawned, and slowly lay down on the couch.

  Both lapsed into silence.

  ‘What do you read then?’ asked Penkin.

  ‘Me? Oh, books of travel mostly.’

  Again silence.

  ‘But you will read the poem when it comes out, won’t you?’ Penkin asked. ‘I’d bring it to you…”

  Oblomov shook his head.

  ‘Well, shall I send you my story?’

  Oblomov nodded.

  ‘I’m afraid I must really be off to the printers,’ said Penkin. ‘Do you know why I called? I came to ask you to go to Yeka-terinhof with me. I have a carriage. I have to write an article to-morrow about the festival, and we could watch it together. You could point out to me what I failed to notice. It would be more jolly. Let’s go!’

  ‘No, thank you, I don’t feel well,’ said Oblomov, frowning and pulling the blankets over himself. ‘I’m afraid of the damp. The ground hasn’t dried up yet. But why not come and have dinner with me to-day? We could have a talk. Two awful things have happened to me…’

  ‘I’m sorry but the whole of our editorial staff dine at St George’s to-day. We shall go to the festival from there. And I must get my article ready during the night and send it off to the printers before the morning. Good-bye.’

  ‘Good-bye, Penkin.’

  ‘Writes articles at night,’ Oblomov mused. ‘When does he sleep? And yet he probably earns five thousand a year. It’s his bread and butter. But to keep on writing, wasting his mind and soul on trifles, to change his convictions, sell his intelligence and imagination, do violence to his nature, be in a perpetual state of excitement and turmoil, knowing no rest, always rushing about.… And write and write, like a wheel or a machine – write to-morrow, write the day after – the holidays, summer will come – always writing, writing! When is he to stop and have a rest? Poor wretch!’

  He turned his head towards the table, where everything was so bare, the ink dried up, and no pen to be seen, and he was glad that he lay as free of care as a new-born babe, without trying to do too many things at once, without selling anything.

  ‘And the bailiff’s letter? And the flat?’ he remembered suddenly, and sank into thought again.

  But presently there was another ring at the front door.

  ‘I seem to be holding a regular reception to-day,’ said Oblomov and waited to see who his new visitor was.

  A man of indefinite age and of an indefinite appearance came into the room; he had reached the age when it was difficult to say how old he was; he was neither ugly nor handsome, neither tall nor short, neither fair nor dark; nature had not bestowed on him a single striking or outstanding characteristic, neither good nor bad. Some called him Ivan Ivanich, others Ivan Vassilyevich, and still others Ivan Mikhaylovich. People were also uncertain about his surname: some said it was Ivanov, some called him Vassilyev or Andreyev, and others thought he was Alexeyev. A stranger, meeting him for the first time and being told his name, immediately forgot it, as he forgot his face, and never noticed what he said. His presence added nothing to society and his absence took nothing away from it. His mind possessed no wit or originality or other peculiarities, just as his body possessed no peculiarities. He might have been able to tell everything he had seen or heard, and entertain people at least in that way, but he never went anywhere; he had been born in Petersburg and never left it, so that he merely saw and heard what others knew already. Is such a man attractive? Does he love or hate or suffer? It would seem that he ought to love and hate and suffer, for no one is exempt from that. But somehow or other he managed to love everyone. There are people in whom, however hard you try, you cannot arouse any feeling of hostility, revenge, etc. Whatever you do to them, they go on being nice to you. To do them justice, however, it is only fair to say that if you were to measure their love by degrees, it would never reach boiling point. Although such people are said to love everybody and are therefore supposed to be good-natured, they do not really love anybody and are good-natured simply because they are not ill-natured. If people were to give alms to a beggar in the presence of such a man, he, too, would give him a penny, and if they should scold the beggar or drive him away and laugh at him, he, too, would scold him or laugh at him. He cannot be called wealthy, because he is rather poor than rich; but he cannot be called poor either, if only because there are many people poorer than he. He has a private income of about 300 roubles a year, and, besides, has some unimportant post in the Civil Service, for which he receives a small salary; he is never in need, nor does he ever borrow money, nor, needless to say, would it ever occur to anyone to borrow money from him. He has no special or regular job in the service, because neither his superiors nor his colleagues could ever discover if there were any one thing he did better or worse in order to decide what he was particularly fit for. If he were told to do one thing or another, he did it in such a way that his superior was unable to say whether he had done it badly or well. He would just look at his work, read it through a few times and say: ‘Leave it, I’ll look it through later, and, anyway, it seems to be perfectly all right.’ No trace of worry or strong desire could be detected on his face, nor anything that would show that he was at that moment thinking of something; nor would you ever see him examining anything closely to show that he took a particular interest in it. If he happened to meet an acquaintance in the street and was asked where he was going, he would reply that he was going to his office or to a shop or to see some friend. But if his acquaintance asked him to go with him instead to the post office or to his tailor or just for a walk, he would go with him to the post office, the tailor, or for a walk, though it might mean going in the opposite direction.

  It is doubtful if anyone except his mother noticed his advent into the world, and indeed very few people are aware of him while he lives, and it is quite certain that no one will miss him when he is gone. No one will inquire after him, no one will pity him, no on
e rejoice at his death. He has neither friends nor enemies, but lots of acquaintances. Quite likely only his funeral procession will attract the attention of a passer-by, who will for the first time honour this obscure individual by a show of respect, namely a low bow; and perhaps some curious fellow will run in front of the procession to find out the dead man’s name, and immediately forget it.

  This Alexeyev, Andreyev, Vassilyev, or whatever his name is, seems to be a sort of incomplete and impersonal reminder of the human crowd, its dull echo, its pale reflection.

  Even Zakhar, who in his candid talks with his cronies at the gate or in the shops gave all sorts of characterizations of his master’s visitors, always felt perplexed when they came to talk of this – let us say, Alexeyev. He would reflect a long time, trying to catch some prominent feature in the face, the looks or the manners or the character of this man, to which he might be able to hold on, and at last had to give it up with the words: ‘Oh, that one is neither fish, flesh, nor good red herring.’

  ‘Oh, that’s you, Alexeyev?’ Oblomov greeted him. ‘Good morning. Where do you come from? Don’t come near – don’t come near, I won’t shake hands – you’re straight from the cold street!’

  ‘Good Lord, it isn’t cold at all!’ said Alexeyev. ‘I hadn’t intended to call on you to-day, but I met Ovchinin and he carried me off to his place. I’ve come to fetch you, Oblomov.’

  ‘Where to?’

  ‘Why, to Ovchinin’s, of course. Matvey Andreyich Alyanov, Kasimir Albertovich Pkhailo, and Vassily Sevastyanych Koly-myagin are there.’

  ‘What are they doing there and what do they want me for?’

  ‘Ovchinin invites you to dinner.’

  ‘Oh, to dinner,’ Oblomov repeated without enthusiasm.

  ‘And then we’re all going to Yekaterinhof; they told me to ask you to hire a carriage.’

  ‘And what are we going to do there?’

  ‘What do you mean? There’s a fête there to-day. Don’t you know? It’s the first of May.’

  ‘Sit down, please; we’ll think about it,’ said Oblomov.

  ‘Do get up! It’s time you were dressed.’

  ‘Wait a little; we’ve plenty of time.’

  ‘Plenty of time! They are expecting us at twelve, we’ll have dinner early, at two o’clock, and go to the festival. Do hurry up! Shall I ask Zakhar to help you to dress?’

  ‘Dress? I haven’t washed yet!’

  ‘Well, wash, then!’

  Alexeyev began pacing the room, then he stopped before a picture he had seen a thousand times before, cast a quick glance out of the window, picked up some knick-knack from the bookcase, turned it round in his hand, examined it thoroughly, put it back, and began pacing the room again, whistling to himself so as not to interfere with Oblomov’s getting up and washing. Ten minutes passed in this way.

  ‘What on earth are you doing?’ Alexeyev suddenly asked Oblomov.

  ‘Why?’

  ‘But you’re still lying down!’

  ‘Should I have got up, then?’

  ‘Why, of course! They’re waiting for us. You wanted to go, didn’t you?’

  ‘Go? Where? I didn’t want to go anywhere.’

  ‘But, my dear fellow, you’ve just been saying that we were going to dine at Ovchinin’s and then go to the festival.’

  ‘Go there in this damp weather?’ Oblomov said lazily. ‘What do you expect to see there? It’s going to rain, too, it’s so dull outside.’

  ‘There’s not a cloud in the sky and you talk of rain! It looks so dull because your windows haven’t been cleaned for ages! Look at the dirt on them! You can’t see a thing here, and one curtain is almost closed.’

  ‘I daresay, but just try to say a word about it to Zakhar and he’ll at once suggest engaging charwomen and driving me out of the house for a whole day!’

  Oblomov sank into thought, and Alexeyev sat at the table drumming on it with his finger-tips and gazing absent-mindedly at the walls and the ceiling.

  ‘So what are we going to do?’ he asked a few minutes later. ‘Are you going to dress or do you stay as you are?’

  ‘Why?’

  ‘What about Yekaterinhof?’

  ‘What on earth are you so anxious about Yekaterinhof for – really!’ Oblomov cried vexatiously. ‘Can’t you stay here? Are you cold here or is there a bad smell in the room that you’re so anxious to get out?’

  ‘Why, no,’ said Alexeyev; ‘I’m not complaining. I’m always very happy here.’

  ‘Well, if you are, why are you so anxious to be somewhere else? Why not stay here with me for the day? We’ll have dinner and in the evening you may go where you like. Oh dear, I’ve forgotten: I can’t possibly go out! Tarantyev is coming to dinner: it’s Saturday.’

  ‘Well, of course, I don’t mind. I’ll do as you wish,’ said Alexeyev.

  ‘I haven’t told you anything about my affairs, have I?’ Oblomov asked quickly.

  ‘What affairs? I don’t know anything,’ said Alexeyev, staring at him in surprise.

  ‘Why do you think I haven’t got up all this time? You see, I’ve been lying here trying to find some way out of my troubles.’

  ‘What’s the matter?’ asked Alexeyev, trying to look alarmed.

  ‘Two misfortunes! I don’t know what to do.’

  ‘What misfortunes?’

  ‘They’re driving me out of my flat. Just imagine it – I must move: the upset, the breakages-the mere thought of it frightens me – I have lived here for eight years, you know. My landlord has played a dirty trick on me. Hurry up and move, he says.’

  ‘Hurry up! That means he wants your flat badly. Moving is a great nuisance – a very troublesome business,’ said Alexeyev. ‘They’re sure to lose and break things – such an infernal nuisance! And you have such a nice flat.… What rent do you pay?’

  ‘Where am I to find another such flat?’ Oblomov went on; ‘and in a hurry, too? Dry and warm; a nice quiet house; we’ve had only one burglary here. The ceiling, it is true, doesn’t look quite safe – the plaster is bulging – but it hasn’t come down yet.’

  ‘Fancy that!’ said Alexeyev, shaking his head.

  ‘I wonder if there is anything I could do so that I – needn’t move?’ Oblomov remarked pensively, as though speaking to himself.

  ‘Have you got your flat on a lease?’ Alexeyev asked, examining the room from floor to ceiling.

  ‘Yes, but the lease has expired: I’ve been paying the rent monthly for some time – don’t remember for how long.’

  ‘Well, what do you intend to do?’ Alexeyev asked after a short pause. ‘Are you going to move or not?’

  ‘I don’t intend to do anything,’ said Oblomov. ‘I don’t want even to think of it. Let Zakhar think of something.’

  ‘But, you know, some people like moving,’ said Alexeyev. ‘Changing flats seems to be their only pleasure in life.’

  ‘Well, let them move, then,’ Oblomov retorted. ‘For my part, I can’t stand any changes! But the flat’s nothing – you’d better have a look at what my bailiff writes to me! Here, I’ll show you his letter – where the devil is it? Zakhar! Zakhar!’

  ‘Mother of God!’ Zakhar wheezed to himself, jumping off his stove. ‘When will the good Lord put an end to my troubles?’ He came in and looked dully at his master.

  ‘Why haven’t you found the letter?’

  ‘Where am I to find it, sir? I don’t even know which letter you want. I can’t read, can I?’

  ‘Never mind, look for it,’ said Oblomov.

  ‘You were reading some letter last night, sir,’ said Zakhar, ‘but I haven’t seen it since.’

  ‘Where is it then?’ Oblomov asked with vexation. ‘I haven’t swallowed it, have I? I remember very well that you took it from me and put it somewhere. There it is – look!’

  He shook the blanket and the letter fell on the floor out of its folds.

  ‘Aye, I’m always the one what gets the blame for everything!’

  ‘All righ
t, all right,’ Oblomov and Zakhar shouted at each other at the same time. ‘Go – go!’

  Zakhar went out, and Oblomov began reading the letter, which seemed to have been written in kvas on grey paper and sealed with brownish sealing-wax. Enormous pale letters followed in solemn procession, without touching each other, along an oblique line from the top to the bottom corner of the page. The procession was occasionally interrupted by a huge pale blot.

  ‘Dear Sir,’ Oblomov began, ‘our father and benefactor –’ Here he omitted several greetings and good wishes and went on from the middle: ‘I am glad to inform you, Sir, that everything on your estate is in good order. There has been no rain for five weeks and I daresay, Sir, the good Lord must be angry with us not to send us rain. The old men don’t remember such a drought, Sir. The spring crops have all been burnt up as if by a devouring fire; the winter crops have been ruined, some by the worm and some by early frost; we have ploughed it over for spring crops, but we can’t be sure if it will be any good. Let us hope, Sir, that merciful heaven will spare you; we do not care what happens to us – let us all starve to death. On St John’s Eve three more peasants ran away: Laptev, Balochov, and Vasska, the blacksmith’s son, who ran off by himself. I sent the women after their husbands, but they never came back, and are living at Cholki, I am told. A relative of mine went to Cholki from Verkhlyovo, the estate manager sent him there to inspect a foreign plough. I told him about the runaway peasants. He said he had been to see the police inspector who told him to send in a written statement, after which everything would be done to send the peasants back to their places of domicile. He said nothing except that, and I fell at his feet and begged him with tears in my eyes, but he bawled at me at the top of his voice: “Be off! Be off with you! I’ve told you it will be done if you send in your signed statement!” But I never did send in the statement. There is no one I can hire here; all have gone to the Volga, to work on the barges – the people here have all become so stupid, Sir. There will be no linen of ours at the fair this year: I have locked up the drying and the bleaching sheds and put Sychuga to watch them day and night; he never touches a drop, and to make sure he don’t steal any of his master’s goods, I watch over him day and night. The other peasants drink a lot and they are all anxious to pay rent for their land instead of working on your land without any payment. Many of them have not paid up their arrears. This year, Sir, we will send you about two thousand less than last year, unless the drought ruins us completely, otherwise we shall send you the money as promised.’

 
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