Oblomov, p.6Ivan Goncharov
There followed expressions of loyalty and the signature: ‘Your bailiff and most humble slave, Sir, Prokofy Vytyagush-kin, has put his hand to it with his own hand.’ Being illiterate he put a cross under the letter. ‘Written from the words of the said bailiff by his brother-in-law, Dyomka the One-Eyed.’
Oblomov glanced at the end of the letter. ‘No month or year,’ he said. ‘I suppose the letter must have been lying about at the bailiff’s since last year – St John’s Eve and the drought! Just woken up to it!’ He sank into thought. ‘Well?’ he went on. ‘What do you make of it? He offers to send me about two thousand less – how much will that leave? How much do you think I received last year?’ he asked, looking at Alexeyev. ‘I didn’t mention it to you at the time, did I?’
Alexeyev raised his eyes to the ceiling and pondered.
‘I must ask Stolz when he comes,’ Oblomov continued. ‘Seven or eight thousand, I believe – I should have made a note of it! So now he puts me down to six! Why, I shall starve! How can I live on it?’
‘Why worry?’ said Alexeyev. ‘A man must never give way to despair. It will all come right in the end.’
‘But did you hear what he said? He doesn’t send me the money – oh no! He doesn’t say anything to put my mind at rest. All he is thinking of is to cause me unpleasantness, and he does it deliberately! Every year the same story! I simply don’t know what to do! Two thousand less!’
‘Yes, it’s a great loss!’ said Alexeyev. ‘Two thousand is no joke! Alexey Login, I understand, also got twelve instead of seventeen thousand this year.’
‘Twelve thousand isn’t six thousand,’ Oblomov interrupted him. ‘The bailiff has thoroughly upset me! If all this is really true – I mean, the bad harvest and the drought, then why has he to worry me before the proper time?’
‘Well, of course,’ Alexeyev began, ‘he shouldn’t have done that. But you can’t expect a peasant to have nice feelings, can you? That sort of man doesn’t understand anything.’
‘But what would you do in my place?’ asked Oblomov, looking questioningly at Alexeyev in the vain hope that he might think of something to allay his fears.
‘This requires careful thought,’ said Alexeyev. ‘It’s impossible to decide at once.’
‘Ought I to write to the Governor, I wonder?’ Oblomov said, musingly.
‘Who is your Governor?’ asked Alexeyev.
Oblomov did not reply and sank into thought. Alexeyev fell silent and also pondered.
Crumpling the letter in his hands, Oblomov propped up his head on them and, resting his elbows on his knees, sat like that for some time, tormented by an onrush of profitless thoughts.
‘I wish Stolz would hurry up and come,’ he said. ‘He writes to say he’s coming soon, meanwhile he’s rushing about goodness only knows where. He’d settle it all!’
He again stared sadly about him. They were both silent a long time. Oblomov was the first to rouse himself at last.
‘That’s what has to be done,’ he said resolutely and almost got out of bed. ‘And it must be done as soon as possible. No use wasting any more time. First – –’
At that moment there was a desperate ring at the front door, so that Oblomov and Alexeyev both gave a start and Zakhar at once jumped off the stove.
AT HOME’ someone in the hall asked loudly and gruffly.
‘Where would he go at this hour?’ Zakhar replied, more gruffly still.
A man of about forty came into the room. He was of massive build, tall, broad-shouldered, bulky, with a large head and big features, a short, thick neck, large protruding eyes, and full lips. A glance at him made one think of something coarse and untidy. It was clear that he made no attempt at dressing elegantly. It was not often that one saw him clean-shaven. But he did not seem to care; he was not ashamed of his clothes, and wore them with a kind of cynical dignity.
It was Mikhey Andreyich Tarantyev, a country neighbour of Oblomov.
Tarantyev looked at everything morosely, with ill-disguised contempt and open hostility towards the world at large; he was ready to abuse everyone and everything as though he had suffered some injustice or had been offended in his dignity, or like a man of strong character persecuted by destiny and submitting to it under protest and unwillingly. His gestures were bold and sweeping; he spoke in a loud voice, glibly and almost always angrily; listening to him from a distance one got the impression of three empty carts going over a bridge. He was never put out by anyone’s presence, was never at a loss for a word, and was generally rude to everyone, including his friends, as though making it clear that he bestowed a great honour on a person by talking to him or having dinner or supper at his place.
Tarantyev was a man of quick and cunning intelligence; no one could solve some practical question or some complicated legal problem better than he; he would at once devise his own theory of how it was best to act in the circumstances and would adduce very subtle arguments in favour of it, and in conclusion almost always be rude to the person who had asked his advice.
And yet, having obtained the job of a clerk in some government office twenty-five years before, he remained there in the same post till his hair began to turn grey. It never occurred to him or to anyone else that he might get higher up in the service.
The trouble was that Tarantyev was good only at talking; in words he settled everything simply and easily, especially where other people were concerned; but as soon as he had to move a finger or stir from his place – in short, apply his own theory in practice and show efficiency and expedition – he became an entirely different person; he was unable to rise to the occasion, he suddenly became dejected or unwell or awkward, or he found he had something else to do, which he did not do, either; or if he did, he made an unholy mess of it. He behaved just like a child: he overlooked something, or showed himself to be ignorant of the merest trifles, or was late for an appointment, or threw up the business half-way, or began at the wrong end and bungled it in such a way that it was quite impossible to put it right – and finally he would blame everybody but himself for his own incompetence.
His father, an old-fashioned provincial lawyer, had meant his son to inherit his skill and experience of looking after other people’s affairs and his professional ability at the Bar; but fate decided otherwise. The father, who was too poor to pay for a good education, did not want his son to lag behind the times and wished him to learn something besides the tricky business of legal practice. He sent him for three years to a priest to learn Latin.
The boy was gifted by nature, and in three years he mastered Latin grammar and syntax and had just begun to construe Cornelius Nepos when his father decided that he had already acquired enough knowledge to give him an enormous advantage over the older generation and that, indeed, any further studies might interfere with his practice in court.
Not knowing what to do with his Latin, the sixteen-year-old Mikhey began to forget it in his father’s house, but in the meantime, while waiting for the honour of attending the rural or the district court, he went to all his father’s merry parties, and in this school, amid the frank exchanges of opinions, the young man’s mind developed most thoroughly. He listened with the impressionability of youth to the stories told by his father and his cronies of various civil and criminal actions and of curious cases which passed through the hands of these old-fashioned lawyers. But all this led to nothing. Mikhey did not become a business man and a pettifogging lawyer in spite of his father’s efforts, which would of course have been successful had not fate ruined all his well-laid plans. Mikhey certainly mastered the whole theory on which his father’s talks were based; he had merely to put it into practice, but his father’s death prevented him from qualifying for the Bar and he was taken to Petersburg by some benefactor who found him a clerk’s job in a government office and then forgot all about him.
So Tarantyev remained a mere theoretician all his life. In his Petersburg office he had no use for Latin, or for his clever theory of twisting
He was a bribe-taker at heart, on principle, and not having any official business with people, he contrived to take bribes from his colleagues and friends, goodness only knows for what services; he forced them either by bullying or cunning to entertain him whenever and wherever they could; he demanded to be treated with undeserved respect and constantly found fault with everybody. He was never ashamed of his threadbare clothes, but he could not help being worried if in the course of the day he could not look forward to an enormous dinner with a proper quantity of wines and spirits.
That was why among his friends he played the part of a big watchdog, which barks at everybody and allows no one to stir, but at the same time catches a piece of meat in the air, from whatever direction it may come.
Such were Oblomov’s two most assiduous visitors. Why did these two Russian proletarians come to him? They knew very well why: to eat, to drink, to smoke good cigars. They found a warm and comfortable place of refuge at his flat and met always with the same, if not cordial, then indifferent, reception.
But why did Oblomov let them come? That he could hardly tell himself. Quite possibly it was for the same reason that even to this day, in our remote Oblomovkas, every well-to-do house is crowded with the same sort of men and women, penniless, without a trade, with no abilities for any productive work, but with hungry mouths and almost always of some rank and standing.
There are still sybarites who need such accessories to life: they are bored without superfluous people. Who would hand them the snuff-box they had mislaid or pick up their handkerchief from the floor? To whom complain of their headache and from whom expect sympathy as a right, or tell a bad dream and demand an interpretation of it? Who would read a book to them at bedtime and help them go to sleep? And sometimes such a proletarian would be sent to the nearest town on an errand or put to help in the household – they could not be expected to bother with such tasks themselves, could they?
Tarantyev made a lot of noise and got Oblomov out of his immobility and boredom. He shouted, argued, and formed a sort of one-man show, making it unnecessary for his lazy host to speak or act. Into the room where sleep and peace reigned, Tarantyev brought life and movement and sometimes news from the outside world. Oblomov could listen and look, without lifting a finger, at something that was alive, moving and talking in front of him. Besides, he was still simple-minded enough to believe that Tarantyev could really give him some good piece of advice.
Oblomov put up with Alexeyev’s visits for another, no less important, reason. If he wanted to live in his own way – that is to say, lie without uttering a word, doze or pace the room – Alexeyev did not seem to be there at all; he, too, was silent, dozed or pretended to read a book, or looked lazily at the pictures and knick-knacks, yawning till tears came into his eyes. He could go on like that for three days on end. If, on the other hand, Oblomov tired of being by himself and felt the need for expressing his thoughts, for talking, reading, arguing, showing emotion – he had always at his side an obedient and ready listener who shared with equal willingness his silence, his conversation, his excitement, and his trend of thoughts, whatever it might be.
Other visitors came seldom and only for a short time, as the first three visitors had done; with all of them he was getting more and more out of touch. Sometimes Oblomov was interested in some piece of news, in a conversation lasting about five minutes, then, his curiosity satisfied, he fell silent. But they had to be entertained in turn – they expected him to take part in what interested them. They enjoyed being among a crowd of people; every one of them understood life in his own way, not as Oblomov understood it, and they kept dragging him into it: he resented it all, disliked it, and was antagonized by it.
There was one man only whom he was fond of; he, too, gave him no peace; he liked the latest news, and society, and learning, and life as a whole, but, somehow, more deeply and sincerely – and though Oblomov was kind to everyone, he loved only him and trusted him alone, perhaps because they were brought up, educated, and had lived together. This man was Andrey Karlovich Stolz. He was away, but Oblomov was expecting him back any moment.
‘MORNING, old man,’ said Tarantyev abruptly, holding out a hirsute hand to Oblomov. ‘Why are you lying like a log at this hour?’
‘Don’t come near, don’t come near, you’re straight from the cold street,’ said Oblomov, covering himself up with a blanket.
‘Good Lord, from the cold street!’ Tarantyev roared. ‘There, take my hand, if I give it to you! It’ll soon be twelve o’clock and he’s still lounging about!’
He was going to drag Oblomov from the bed, but Oblomov forestalled him by putting his feet quickly on the floor and getting into both his slippers at once.
‘I was just about to get up myself,’ he said, yawning.
‘I know how you get up! You’d have lain there till dinner. Hey, there, Zakhar! Where are you, you old fool? Help your master to dress and be quick about it!’
‘You’d better get a Zakhar of your own first, sir, and then start calling him names!’ said Zakhar, coming into the room and looking spitefully at Tarantyev. ‘Look at the mess you’ve made on the floor – just like a hawker,’ he added.
‘No backchat from you, my lad,’ said Tarantyev, lifting his foot to kick Zakhar as he walked past him; but Zakhar stopped, turned round, and scowled.
‘Just try to touch me,’ he wheezed furiously. ‘What do you think you’re doing? I’ll go back,’ he said, walking back to the door.
‘Good heavens, Tarantyev, what a cantankerous fellow you are! Why can’t you leave him alone?’ said Oblomov. ‘Give me my clothes, Zakhar.’
Zakhar came back and, looking askance at Tarantyev, darted past him.
Leaning on Zakhar, Oblomov reluctantly rose from his bed like a man who was very tired and as reluctantly walked to an arm-chair, sank into it, and sat still. Zakhar took the pomatum, a comb and brushes from a small table, greased Oblomov’s hair, parted it, and then brushed it.
‘Will you wash now, sir?’ he asked.
‘I’ll wait a little,’ Oblomov replied. ‘You can go now.’
‘Oh, you’re here too, are you?’ Tarantyev said suddenly to Alexeyev while Zakhar was brushing Oblomov’s hair. ‘I never saw you. Why are you here? What a swine that relative of yours is! I’ve been meaning to tell you – –’
‘What relative? I have no relative,’ Alexeyev said timidly, staring in surprise at Tarantyev.
‘Why, that fellow – what do you call him? The fellow who’s in the Civil Service – Afanasyev. You don’t mean to say he’s no relative of yours? Of course he is!’
‘But I’m not Afanasyev – I’m Alexeyev,’ said Alexeyev. ‘I have no relatives.’
‘What do you mean – no relative? Why, he’s just as poor a specimen as you are – and his name’s also Vassily Nikolayevich.’
‘I swear he’s no relation of mine.
‘Makes no difference. He looks like you. But he’s a swine. You tell him so when you see him.’
‘I don’t know him,’ said Alexeyev, opening his snuff-box. ‘Never seen him.’
‘Let’s have a pinch of your snuff,’ said Tarantyev. ‘Why, yours is ordinary snuff, not French! Yes, so it is,’ he said, taking a pinch. ‘Why isn’t it French?’ he added sternly. ‘I’ve never met a swine like that relative of yours,’ he went on. ‘I borrowed fifty roubles from him about two years ago. Fifty roubles – not such a big sum, is it? You might have expected him to forget it. But not at all – he remembered. A month later he began pestering me, asking me every time he met me: “What about that loan?” I got sick and tired of the sight of him. And as if that wasn’t enough, he barged into my office yesterday. “I expect,” he said, “you’ve got your salary to-day and can repay me now.” My salary, indeed! I told him off properly in front of everybody and he was glad to get out, I can tell you. “I’m a poor man,” he said, “I need the money!” As if I didn’t need it! Who does he take me for? A rich man, to give him fifty roubles every time he asks for it? Let’s have a cigar, old man!’
‘You’ll find the cigars in the box there,’ replied Oblomov, pointing to a bookcase.
He was sitting pensively in the arm-chair in his customary picturesquely lazy pose, not noticing what was happening round him or listening to what was being said. He was examining his small white hands and stroking them lovingly.
Oblomov by Ivan Goncharov / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes