Oblomov, p.52Ivan Goncharov
She was unhappy and tried to find a way out of that situation, and saw no end to it, no purpose in it. All the future held for her was fear of his disappointment and of parting from him for ever. Sometimes it occurred to her to tell him everything and so bring to an end both his struggle and hers, but her courage failed her the moment she thought of it. She felt ashamed and unhappy. The strange thing was that since she had been inseparable from Stolz and he had taken possession of her life, she ceased to respect her past, and even began to be ashamed of it. If the baron, for instance, or anyone else had got to know about it, she would, of course, have felt embarrassed and uncomfortable, but she would not have tortured herself as much as she was doing now at the thought that Stolz might find out about it. She imagined with horror the expression of his face, how he would look at her, what he would say, and what he would think afterwards. She would suddenly appear so worthless to him, so weak and insignificant. No, no, not for anything in the world! She began observing herself, and she was horrified to discover that she was ashamed not only of her love affair, but also of its hero…. And she was consumed with remorse for being ungrateful for the deep devotion of her former lover. Perhaps she would have grown used to her shame and made the best of it – what doesn’t a person get used to? – if her friendship for Stolz had been free from any selfish thoughts and desires. But if she was successful in suppressing the artful and flattering whisper of her heart, she could not control the flight of her imagination: the shining image of this other love often appeared before her eyes; the dream of splendid happiness on the wide arena of many-sided life, with all its depths, sorrows, and delights – her happiness with Stolz and not in indolent drowsiness with Oblomov – grew more and more seductive. It was then that she shed tears over her past and could not wash it away. She recovered from her dream and sought refuge more than once behind the impenetrable wall of silence and friendly indifference that Stolz felt to be so unendurable. Then, forgetting herself, she was again carried away selflessly by the presence of her friend, and was charming, amiable, and trustful till the unlawful dream of happiness to which she had forfeited the right reminded her that the future was lost for her, that she had left her rosy dreams behind, and that the flower of life had withered. It is possible that, as the years passed, she would have become reconciled to her position and, like all old maids, would have renounced her dreams of the future and sunk into cold apathy or devoted herself to charitable works; but suddenly her unlawful dream assumed a more threatening aspect when from some words that escaped Stolz she realized that she had lost him as a friend and had acquired a passionate admirer. Friendship was lost in love.
She was pale on the morning she discovered it, she did not go out all day, she was agitated, she struggled with herself, wondering what she should do now and what her duty was – but could think of nothing. She merely cursed herself for not having overcome her shame and revealed her past to Stolz earlier, for now she had to overcome fear as well. At times, unable to bear the agony of her heartache any longer, she seemed to be filled with resolution and was ready to rush to him and tell him of her past love not in words but in sobs, convulsions, and fainting fits, so that he should see how great her repentance was. She heard how other women acted in similar cases. Sonia, for instance, told her fiancé about the lieutenant, that she had made a fool of him, that he was just a boy, that she purposely kept him waiting out in the frost till it pleased her to go to her carriage, and so on. Sonia would not have hesitated to say about Oblomov that she had made fun of him for amusement, that he was so ridiculous, that she could not possibly be in love with ‘such a clumsy lout’, that no one could possibly believe that. But such conduct might be excused by Sonia’s husband and many others, but not by Stolz. Olga might have been able to put the whole thing in a better light by saying that she only wanted to draw Oblomov out of the abyss and, to do that, made use of a friendly flirtation – to revive a dying man and then leave him. But this would have been too sophisticated and forced and, in any case, false. No, no, there was no way out!
‘Oh dear, what an awful mess I am in!’ Olga thought in an agony of despair. ‘To tell him! No, no! I don’t want him ever to know about it, not for a long time! But not to tell him is no better than stealing. It’s like deceiving him, like trying to ingratiate myself with him. O Lord, help me!’ But there was no help.
However much she enjoyed Stolz’s presence, there were times when she wished not to meet him again, to pass through his life as a hardly perceptible shadow, and not to darken his serene and rational existence by an illicit passion. She would grieve for her unhappy love, weep over her past, bury in her heart the memory of him, and then – then she would perhaps make ‘a respectable match’, of which there are so many, and become a good, intelligent, solicitous wife and mother, and would not live, but make the most of her life. Was it not what all women did?
But, unfortunately, it was not a question of her alone; someone else, too, was concerned in it, and he rested the last and ultimate hopes of his life on her.
‘Why did I – love?’ she asked herself in agony, recalling the morning in the park when Oblomov wanted to run away and she had thought that the book of her life would be closed for ever if he did. She had solved the question of love and life so boldly and so easily, everything had seemed so clear to her – and everything had got tangled up in a hopeless knot. She had tried to be too clever, she had thought it was enough to look simply at things and go straight ahead and life would spread out before her obediently like a carpet under her feet – and there she was! She had no one even to put the blame on: it was all her own fault.
Without suspecting what Stolz had come for, Olga got up light-heartedly from the sofa, put down her book, and went to meet him.
‘I’m not disturbing you?’ he asked, sitting down at the window of her room that overlooked the lake. ‘You’ve been reading?’
‘No, I had stopped,’ she replied, speaking gently, trustfully, and friendlily. ‘It’s getting dark. I was expecting you!’
‘So much the better,’ he observed gravely, drawing up another chair to the window for her. ‘I want to speak to you.’
She gave a start and turned numb. Then she sank mechanically into the chair and remained sitting in an agony of suspense with her head bowed and without raising her eyes. She wished she were a hundred miles away. At that moment her past flashed through her mind like lightning. ‘The hour of reckoning has come. One can’t play with life as one plays with dolls,’ she seemed to hear a voice saying. ‘Don’t trifle with it, or you’ll have to pay dearly for it.’
For several minutes neither of them spoke. He was evidently collecting his thoughts. Olga looked fearfully at his face that had grown thinner, his knit brows and compressed lips which expressed determination. ‘Nemesis!’ she thought, shuddering inwardly. Both seemed to be preparing for a duel.
‘I suppose,’ he said, looking questioningly at her, ‘you’ve guessed what I want to talk to you about.’
He was sitting with his back to the wall so that his face was in shadow, while the light from the window fell straight upon her, and he could read what she had in mind.
‘How am I to know?’ she replied softly.
Confronted by this dangerous opponent, she no longer possessed the will-power, strength of character, penetration, and self-control she had always displayed with Oblomov. She realized that if she had so far been successful in concealing herself from Stolz’s keen eyes and in carrying on the war against him, it was not due to her own powers, as in her struggle with Oblomov, but to Stolz’s obstinate silence and his reserve. In the open field the odds were not in her favour; by her question she therefore merely wanted to gain an inch of ground and a minute of time so as to force the enemy to show his hand more clearly.
‘You don’t know?’ he said ingenuously. ‘All right, I’ll tell you – –’
‘No, don’t!’ she cried involuntarily.
She seized him by the hand and looked at him as though
‘You see, I guessed that you knew!’ he said. ‘But why “don’t”?’ he added sadly afterwards.
She made no answer.
‘If you had foreseen that I should declare myself one day, you must have known, of course, what your answer would be, mustn’t you?’
‘Yes, I have foreseen it and it made me so unhappy!’ she said, leaning back in her chair and turning away from the light, offering up a silent prayer for the dusk to come to her aid so that he could not read the struggle of embarrassment and anguish in her face.
‘Unhappy? That is a terrible word,’ he said almost in a whisper. ‘It is Dante’s “Abandon all hope!” I have nothing more to say: it is all there! But I thank you for it, all the same,’ he added with a deep sigh. ‘I’ve come out of the confusion and the darkness, and I know at any rate what I have to do. My only salvation is to run away as soon as possible!’
He got up.
‘No, for God’s sake, no!’ she cried imploringly, in alarm, rushing up to him and seizing him again by the hand. ‘Have pity on me – what is to become of me?’
He sat down and so did she.
‘But I love you, Olga,’ he said, almost sternly. ‘You’ve seen what has been happening to me in the last six months. What more do you want: complete triumph? Do you want me to waste away or go off my head? Thank you very much!’
She turned pale.
‘You can go!’ she said with the dignity of suppressed injury and deep sorrow she was unable to conceal.
‘I am awfully sorry,’ he apologized. ‘Here we have already quarrelled without knowing what it is all about. I know that you cannot wish it, but you cannot enter into my position, and that is why you think that my impulse to run away is strange. A man sometimes unconsciously becomes an egoist.’
She shifted her position in the arm-chair, as though she were uncomfortable, but she said nothing.
‘Well, suppose I did stay – how would it help matters?’ he went on. ‘You will, of course, offer me your friendship, but it is mine as it is. If I were to go away and return in a year or two, it would still be mine. Friendship is a good thing, Olga, when it is love between a young man and a young woman or the memory of love between old people. But heaven help us if it is friendship on one side and love on the other. I know that you are not bored with me, but what do you think I feel when I am with you?’
‘Well, if that’s how you feel, you had better go!’ she murmured in a hardly audible whisper.
‘To stay?’ he reflected aloud. ‘To walk on the edge of a knife – some friendship!’
‘And do you think it is better for me?’ she retorted unexpectedly.
‘What do you mean?’ he asked quickly. ‘You – you don’t love.…’
‘I don’t know; I swear I don’t! But if you – I mean, if there should be some change in my present life, what’s going to happen to me?’ she added sombrely, almost to herself.
‘How am I to understand that? Explain yourself for God’s sake!’ he cried, drawing his chair nearer to her, taken aback by her words and the genuine, unfeigned tone of voice in which they were uttered.
He tried to make out her face. She was silent. She was deeply anxious to reassure him, to take back the word ‘unhappy’, or explain it differently from the way he understood it – she did not know herself, but she vaguely felt that both of them were labouring under a misapprehension, that they were in a false position, and that both were wretched because of it, and that only he, or she with his assistance, could bring order and clarity into the past and the present. But to do that she had to cross the gulf that separated her from him and tell him what had happened to her: how she prayed for and was afraid of – his verdict!
‘I don’t understand anything myself,’ she said. ‘I am more confused and more in the dark than you!’
‘Listen; do you trust me?’ he asked, taking her by the hand.
‘Entirely, as my mother – you know that,’ she replied weakly.
‘In that case tell me what has happened to you since we parted. You’re a closed book to me now, but before I could read your thoughts from your face. It seems to me this is the only way for us to understand each other. Do you agree?’
‘Oh, yes, yes, I must do that – I must end it somehow,’ she said, feeling wretched at the inevitable confession. ‘Nemesis! Nemesis!’ she thought, bowing her head.
She cast down her eyes and was silent. And he felt terrified at these simple words and still more at her silence.
‘She is suffering! Oh, Lord, what could have happened to her?’ he thought, turning cold and feeling that his hands and feet were trembling. He imagined something very dreadful. She was still silent and obviously struggling with herself.
‘Well – Olga – –’ he prompted her.
She was silent, except for again making some nervous movement he could not make out in the dark; he only heard the rustle of her silk dress.
‘I am plucking up my courage,’ she said at last. ‘If only you knew how hard it was!’ she added afterwards, turning away and trying to get the better of her fears. What she wanted was that Stolz should find everything out not from her, but by some miracle. Fortunately, it had grown darker and her face was already in shadow: only her voice could give her away, and she could not bring herself to speak, as though she could not make up her mind on which note to begin.
‘Oh dear, how much I must be to blame, if I feel so ashamed, so miserable!’ she thought agonizingly.
And not so long ago she was so confidently planning her own life and another one’s and was so strong and intelligent! And now the time had come for her to tremble like a little girl! Shame for her past, poignant regret for the present and her false position, tortured her – it was unbearable!
‘Let me help you – you – have loved?’ Stolz brought himself to say with an effort – his own words hurt him so much.
She confirmed it by her silence. And once more he felt terrified.
‘Who was it?’ he asked, trying to speak firmly, though he felt that his lips quivered. ‘It isn’t a secret, is it?’
She felt even more dreadful. She wished she could give him another name, invent another story. For a moment she hesitated, but there was nothing for it: like a man who in a moment of extreme danger jumps off a steep bank or throws himself into the flames, she suddenly said:
He was dumbfounded. For two minutes neither of them spoke.
‘Oblomov!’ he repeated in astonishment. ‘It’s not true!’ he added emphatically, lowering his voice.
‘It is true!’ she said calmly.
‘Oblomov!’ he repeated. ‘It’s impossible!’ he added confidently again. ‘There’s something wrong here: you did not understand yourself, Oblomov, or love!’
She was silent.
‘That was not love; it was something else, I tell you!’ he repeated insistently.
‘Yes, I suppose you think I flirted with him, led him by the nose, made him unhappy, and – am now starting on you!’ she said in a restrained voice in which, however, her feeling of resentment broke through.
‘Dear Olga, please don’t be angry. Don’t speak like that: it isn’t like you. You know I don’t think anything of the kind. But I’m afraid the whole thing is beyond me. I can’t understand how Oblomov – –’
‘But he is worthy of your friendship, isn’t he? You can’t speak highly enough of him. Why, then, shouldn’t he be worthy of love?’ she declared in self-defence.
‘I know,’ he said, ‘that love is less exacting than friendship. It is often blind, it cares nothing for merit – that is so. But something special is needed for love, sometimes just a trifle, something you cannot define or name and that my incomparable but clumsy Ilya has not got. That is why I am surprised. Listen,’ he went on, speaking with great animation. ‘We shall never get to the bottom of it – we shall never understand each other. Don’t be ashamed of details, don’t spare yourself for half an hour, tell me
Oblomov by Ivan Goncharov / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes