Oblomov, p.59
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       Oblomov, p.59

           Ivan Goncharov
 

  A great many women have no need of anything of the kind: once married, they resignedly accept their husband’s good and bad qualities, reconcile themselves completely to the position and environment into which they have been placed, or as resignedly succumb to the first casual infatuation, finding it at once impossible or unnecessary to resist it. ‘It is fate,’ they say to themselves, ‘passion – woman is a weak creature,’ and so on. Even if the husband ranks above the crowd in intelligence, which is so irresistible an attraction in a man, such women pride themselves on their husband’s superiority as though it were some expensive necklace, and even then only if his intellect remains blind to their pitiful female tricks. But if he dares to see through the petty comedy of their sly, worthless, and sometimes vicious existence, they find his intellect hard and cramping.

  Olga did not know this logic of resignation to blind fate and could not understand women’s cheap passions and infatuations. Having once recognized the worth in her chosen man and his claims on her, she believed in him and therefore loved him, and if she ceased to believe, she would cease to love, as had been the case with Oblomov. But at that time her steps were still unsteady and her will shaky; she was only just beginning to observe life closely and meditate on it, to become conscious of her mind and character and to gather her materials. The work of creative endeavour had not yet begun and she had not yet decided on her path in life. But now her faith in Andrey was not blind but conscious, and her ideal of masculine perfection was embodied in it. The more deeply and more consciously she believed in him, the harder he found it to remain on the same height and to be the hero not only of her mind and heart but also of her imagination. But her faith in him was so strong that she recognized no intermediary between herself and him or any other court of appeal than God. That was why she would not have put up with the slightest lowering in the qualities she acknowledged in him; any false note in his mind or character would have produced a shattering discord. The demolished edifice of her happiness would have buried her under its ruins, or had her strength been preserved, she would have looked for – – but no, women like her do not make the same mistake twice. After the collapse of such faith and such love, no rebirth is possible.

  Stolz was profoundly happy in his full and exciting life, in which unfading spring was flowering, and he took care of it, tended and cherished it jealously, keenly, and energetically. He was horror-stricken only when he remembered that Olga had been within a hair’s-breadth of destruction; that they had merely stumbled on their right path in life, and their two lives, now merged into one, might have diverged; that ignorance of the ways of life might have led to a disastrous mistake, that Oblomov – – He shuddered. Good heavens, Olga in the sort of life Oblomov had been preparing for her! Olga leading a day-to-day existence, a country lady, nursing her children, a housewife, and – nothing more! All her questionings, doubts, the whole excitement of her life, would have been frittered away in household cares, preparations for feast-days, visitors, family reunions, birthdays, christenings, and her husband’s indolence and apathy! Marriage would have been a meaningless form, a means and not an end; it would have been merely a large and immutable framework for visits, entertainments of visitors, dinners and parties, empty chatter. How would she have endured such a life? At first she would have struggled, trying to find and solve the mystery of life, wept and suffered, and then she would have got used to it, grown fat and stupid, and spent her time eating and sleeping. No, it wouldn’t have been so with her: she would have wept, suffered, pined away, and died in the arms of her loving, kind, and helpless husband…. Poor Olga! And if the fire had not been extinguished and life had not come to an end, if her powers had held out and demanded freedom, if she had stretched forth her wings like a strong and keen-eyed eagle, checked for a moment by her weak arms, and flung herself on the high rock where she had seen an eagle who was stronger and more keen-eyed than she?… Poor Ilya!

  ‘Poor Ilya!’ Andrey cried one day as he recalled the past.

  At the sound of that name Olga suddenly dropped her hands and her embroidery into her lap, threw back her head, and sank into thought. His exclamation had brought back memories.

  ‘How is he getting on?’ she asked after a pause. ‘Can’t we find out?’

  Andrey shrugged. ‘One might think,’ he said, ‘that we were living at a time when there was no post, and when people who had gone their different ways regarded each other as lost and, indeed, lost all trace of each other.’

  ‘You might write again to some of your friends: we should at least find out something.’

  ‘We shouldn’t find out anything that we don’t know already: that he is alive and well and living in the same place – I know that without writing to my friends. As for how he is, how he is enduring his life, whether he is morally dead, or there still is a spark of life glowing in him – that no stranger could find out.’

  ‘Please don’t talk like that, Andrey: it frightens me and hurts me to hear you. I should like to know, and I’m afraid to find out.’

  She was ready to cry.

  ‘We shall be in Petersburg in the spring, and we shall find out for ourselves.’

  ‘That isn’t enough. We must do all we can.’

  ‘Haven’t I done so? Haven’t I tried my best to persuade him, to do everything I could for him, arranged his affairs for him – if only he had shown the slightest sign of appreciation! He’s ready to do anything when you see him, but as soon as you’re out of sight it’s good-bye – he’s gone to sleep again! It’s like trying to deal with a dipsomaniac!’

  ‘But why do you let him out of your sight?’ Olga said impatiently. ‘He must be dealt with resolutely: put him in the carriage and take him away. Now that we are going to move to our estate, he’ll be near us. We’ll take him with us….’

  ‘What trouble we have with him!’ Andrey said, walking up and down the room. ‘There’s no end to it!’

  ‘You don’t find it a burden, do you?’ said Olga. ‘That is news! It’s the first time I’ve heard you grumble about it.’

  ‘I’m not grumbling,’ replied Andrey. ‘I’m just thinking aloud.’

  ‘And why should you do that? You haven’t come to the conclusion that it is a bore and a nuisance, have you?’

  She looked searchingly at him. He shook his head.

  ‘No, not a nuisance, but a waste of time. I can’t help thinking that sometimes.’

  ‘Don’t say it, please!’ she stopped him. ‘I shall think of it all day again, as I did last week, and feel miserable. If your friendship for him is dead, you must try to do your best for him out of human feeling. If you grow tired, I’ll go to him myself, and I shan’t leave without him. I’m sure he will be moved by my entreaties. I can’t help feeling that I shall cry bitterly if I find him broken-down or dead. Perhaps, my tears – –’

  ‘Will bring him back to life, you think?’ Andrey interposed.

  ‘Well, if they don’t bring him back to active life, they might at least make him look round him and change his way of living for something better. He won’t live in squalor, but near those who are his equals, with us. I only saw him for a moment that time, and he at once came to himself and was ashamed.’

  ‘You don’t love him still, do you?’ Andrey asked, jestingly.

  ‘No!’ Olga replied in good earnest, thoughtfully, as though looking into the past. ‘I don’t love him still, but there is something in him that I love, something to which, I believe, I have remained faithful, and shall not change as other people do….’

  ‘Oh? Who are those other people? You aren’t thinking of me, are you? But you are mistaken. And if you want to know the truth, it is I who taught you to love him and nearly got you into trouble. But for me you would have passed him by without noticing him. It was I made you realize that he possessed no less intelligence than other people, only it was buried under a rubbish-heap and asleep in idleness. Shall I tell you why he is dear to you and what you still love in him?’

 
She nodded assent.

  ‘Because he possesses something that is worth more than any amount of intelligence – an honest and faithful heart! It is the matchless treasure that he has carried through his life unharmed. People knocked him down, he grew indifferent and, at last, dropped asleep, crushed, disappointed, having lost the strength to live; but he has not lost his honesty and his faithfulness. His heart has never struck a single false note; there is no stain on his character. No well-dressed-up lie has ever deceived him and nothing will lure him from the true path. A regular ocean of evil and baseness may be surging round him, the entire world may be poisoned and turned upside down – Oblomov will never bow down to the idol of falsehood, and his soul will always be pure, noble, honest…. His soul is translucent, clear as crystal. Such people are rare; there aren’t many of them; they are like pearls in a crowd! His heart cannot be bribed; he can be relied on always and anywhere. It is to this you have remained faithful, and that is why nothing I do for him will ever be a burden to me. I have known lots of people possessing high qualities, but never have I met a heart more pure, more noble, and more simple. I have loved many people, but no one so warmly and so firmly as Oblomov. Once you know him, you cannot stop loving him. Isn’t that so? Am I right?’

  Olga was silent, her eyes fixed on her work. Andrey pondered.

  ‘Is that all? What else is there? Oh,’ he added gaily as he came to himself, ‘I quite forgot his “dove-like tenderness ”…’

  Olga laughed, quickly threw down her sewing, and, running up to Andrey, flung her arms round his neck, gazed for a few minutes with shining eyes into his eyes, then, putting her head on her husband’s shoulder, sank into thought. There rose in her mind Oblomov’s gentle, dreamy face, his tender look, his submissiveness, then his pitiful, shamefaced smile with which he answered her reproach at parting – and she felt so unhappy, so sorry for him.

  ‘You won’t leave him?’ she said with her arms still round her husband’s neck. ‘You won’t abandon him, will you?’

  ‘Never! Not unless a gulf opens suddenly, or a wall rises between us.’

  She kissed her husband.

  ‘Will you take me to him in Petersburg?’

  He hesitated and was silent.

  ‘Will you? Will you?’ she asked, insisting on an answer.

  ‘Listen, Olga,’ he said, trying to free his neck from her embrace; ‘we must first – –’

  ‘No, say – yes! Promise, or I won’t leave you alone!’

  ‘All right,’ he replied, ‘only not the first, but the second time. I know very well what you will feel like if he – –’

  ‘Don’t say another word!’ she interrupted. ‘Yes, you will take me: together we shall do everything. Alone you won’t be able to – you won’t want to!’

  ‘Perhaps you’re right, only I’m afraid you will be upset, and perhaps for a long time,’ he said, not altogether pleased that Olga had forced him to consent.

  ‘Remember, then,’ she concluded, resuming her seat, ‘you will only give him up if “a gulf opens up or a wall rises between us.” I won’t forget those words.’

  9

  PEACE and quiet reigned over Vyborg, its unpaved streets, wooden pavements, meagre gardens, and ditches overgrown with nettles, where a goat with a frayed rope round its neck was busily grazing or drowsing dully beside a fence; at midday a clerk’s elegant high heels clattered along the pavement, a muslin curtain in some window moved aside, and the wife of some civil servant peeped out from behind the geraniums; or a girl’s fresh face suddenly appeared above the fence in some garden and at once disappeared again, followed by another girl’s face, which also disappeared, then again the first appeared, and was followed by the second; then the shrieks and laughter of the girls on the swings could be heard.

  All was quiet in Mrs Pshenitzyn’s house. You walked into the small courtyard and you were in the midst of a living idyll: cocks and hens were thrown into a commotion and ran off to hide in the corners; the dog began jumping on its chain and barking at the top of its voice; Akulina stopped milking the cow, and the caretaker left off chopping wood, and both eyed the visitor with interest. ‘Who do you want?’ the caretaker asked, and on being given the name of Oblomov or the landlady, he pointed silently to the front steps and started chopping wood again. The visitor walked down a clean, sand-strewn path to the front steps, covered with a plain, clean carpet, pulled the brightly polished brass handle of the bell, and the door was opened by Anisya, the children, and sometimes by the landlady herself or Zakhar – Zakhar being always the last.

  Everything in Mrs Pshenitzyn’s house bore the stamp of such abundance and prosperity as was not to be seen there even when Marfa Matveyevna kept house for herself and her brother. The kitchen, the pantries, the sideboard were full of crockery, large and small, round and oval dishes, sauce-boats, cups, piles of plates, and iron, copper, and earthenware saucepans and pots. In the cupboards was kept Agafya Matveyevna’s silver, redeemed long ago and never pawned since, side by side with Oblomov’s silver. There were whole rows of enormous, tiny and paunchy teapots and several rows of china cups, plain and gilt, painted with mottoes, flaming hearts, and Chinamen; there were huge glass jars of coffee, cinnamon, and vanilla, crystal teacaddies, cruets of oil and vinegar. Whole shelves were loaded with packets, bottles, boxes of household remedies, herbs, lotions, plasters, spirits, camphor, simple and fumigatory powders; there was also soap, material for cleaning lace, taking out stains, etc., etc. – everything, in fact, that a good housewife in the provinces keeps in her house. When Agafya Matveyevna suddenly opened the door of a cupboard full of all these articles, she was herself overcome by the bouquet of all these narcotic smells and had to turn her face away for a moment.

  In the larder hams were suspended from the ceiling, so that mice could not get at them, as well as cheeses, sugar-loaves, cured fish, bags of dried mushrooms, and nuts bought from Finnish pedlars. On the floor stood cases of butter, huge, covered earthenware jugs of sour cream, baskets of eggs, and lots of other things. One would need the pen of a second Homer to describe fully and in detail all that had been accumulated in all the corners and on all the shelves of this small shrine of domestic life. The kitchen was the true scene of action of the great housewife and her worthy assistant, Anisya. Everything they needed was in the house, and everything was handy and in its proper place; indeed, everywhere there was order and cleanliness – at least one might have said so had it not been for one corner in the house where no ray of light, nor breath of fresh air, nor Agafya Matveyevna’s eye, nor Anisya’s quick, all-sweeping hand, had ever penetrated. That was Zakhar’s room or den. His room had no window, and the perpetual darkness helped to turn a human habitation into a dark hole. If Zakhar sometimes found there Agafya Matveyevna with all sorts of plans for improving and cleaning the place, he firmly declared that it was not a woman’s business to decide when and how his brushes, blacking, and boots ought to be kept, that it was nobody’s business why his clothes lay in a heap on the floor and his bed in the corner behind the stove was covered in dust, and that it was he and not she who wore the clothes and slept on the bed. As for the besom, some planks, two bricks, the bottom of a barrel, and two logs of wood which he kept in his room, he could not do without them in his work – though he did not explain why; furthermore, dust and spiders did not disturb him, and, in a word, since he never poked his nose into their kitchen, there was no reason why they should interfere with him. When he found Anisya there one day, he treated her with such scorn and threatened her with his elbow so seriously that she was afraid to look in any more. When the case was taken to a higher court and submitted to his master’s decision, Oblomov went to have a look at Zakhar’s room with the intention of taking all the necessary measures and seeing them strictly carried out, but thrusting his head through Zakhar’s door and gazing for a moment at all that was there, he just spat and did not utter a word. ‘Well, have you got what you wanted?’ Zakhar said to Agafya Matveyevna and Anisya, who had come wi
th Oblomov in the hope that his interest might lead to some change. Then he smiled in his own manner across his whole face so that his eyebrows and whiskers moved apart.

  All the other rooms were bright, clean, and airy. The old faded curtains had gone and the windows and doors of the drawing-room and study were hung with green and blue draperies and muslin curtains with red festoons – all of it the work of Agafya Matveyevna’s hands. The pillows were white as snow and rose mountainously almost to the ceiling; the blankets were quilted and of silk. For weeks on end the landlady’s room was crowded with several card-tables, opened up and placed end to end, on which Oblomov’s quilts and dressing-gown were spread out. Agafya Matveyevna did the cutting out and quilting herself, pressing her firm bosom to the work, fastening her eyes and even her teeth upon it when she had to bite the thread off; she laboured with love, with indefatigable industry, comforting herself modestly with the thought that the dressing-gown and the quilted blankets would clothe, warm, caress, and delight the magnificent Oblomov. For days, as he lay on the sofa in his room, he admired the way her bare elbows moved to and fro in the wake of the needle and the cotton. As in the old days at Oblomovka, he more than once dozed off to the regular sound of the needle going in and out of the material and the snapping of the thread when bitten off.

 

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