Oblomov, p.60
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       Oblomov, p.60

           Ivan Goncharov

  ‘Do stop working, please; you’ll be tired,’ he besought her.

  ‘The Lord loves work,’ she answered, never taking her hands and eyes off her work.

  His coffee was as carefully and nicely served and as well made as at the beginning, when he had moved into the house several years before. Giblet soup, macaroni and parmesan cheese, meat or fish pie, cold fish and vegetable soup, home-grown chicken – all this followed each other in strict rotation and introduced pleasant variety into the monotonous life of the little house. From morning till evening bright sunshine filled the house, streaming in at the windows on one side and then on the other, there being nothing to impede it, thanks to the kitchen gardens all round. The canaries trilled gaily; the geraniums and the hyacinths the children occasionally brought from the count’s garden exuded a strong scent in the small room, blending pleasantly with the smoke of a pure Havana cigar and the cinnamon or vanilla which the landlady pounded, energetically moving her elbows. Oblomov lived, as it were, within a golden framework of life, in which, as in a diorama, the only things that changed were the usual phases of day and night and the seasons; there were no other changes, no serious accidents to convulse one’s whole life, often stirring up a muddy and bitter sediment. Ever since Stolz had saved Oblomovka from the fraudulent debts of the landlady’s brother, and Ivan Matveyevich and Tarantyev had completely disappeared, everything of a hostile nature had disappeared from Oblomov’s life, too. He was now surrounded by simple, kind, and loving people who all conspired to do their best to make his life as comfortable as possible, to help him not to notice it, not to feel. Agafya Matveyevna was in the prime of her life. She lived feeling that her life was full as it had never been before; but, as before, she would never be able to express it in words or, rather, it never occurred to her to do so. She merely prayed that God would prolong Oblomov’s life and save him from ‘sorrow, wrath, and want’, committing herself, her children, and her entire household to God’s will. But, as though to make up for it, her face always wore the same expression of complete and perfect happiness, without desires and therefore rare, and, indeed, impossible for a person of a different temperament. She had put on weight; there was a feeling of contentment about her ample bosom and shoulders, her eyes glowed with gentleness, and if there was an expression of solicitude in them, it concerned merely her household duties. She regained the calm and dignity with which she had ruled her house in the old days with obedient Anisya, Akulina, and the caretaker ready to take her orders. As before, she seemed to sail along rather than walk from the cupboard to the kitchen, and from the kitchen to the pantry, giving her orders in an unhurried, measured tone of voice, fully conscious of what she was doing.

  Anisya had grown livelier than before because there was more work for her to do; she was always on the run, moving and bustling about, working, carrying out Agafya Matveyevna’s orders. Her eyes had grown even brighter, and her nose, that speaking nose of hers, was thrust forward, glowing with cares, thoughts, and intentions, seeming to speak though her tongue was silent.

  Both women were dressed in accordance with the dignity of their several positions and their duties. Agafya Matveyevna had now a big wardrobe with a row of silk dresses, cloaks, and fur coats; she ordered her bonnets on the other side of the river, almost in Liteyny Avenue; she bought her shoes not in the market but in one of the fashionable shopping arcades, and her hat – just think of it! – in Morskaya Street. Anisya, too, having finished her work in the kitchen, put on a woollen dress, especially on Sundays. Akulina alone still walked about with her skirt tucked up at the waist, and the caretaker could not bring himself to do without his sheepskin even in the summer holidays. Zakhar, too, was of course as bad as ever: he had made himself a jacket out of his grey frock-coat, and it was impossible to say what colour his trousers were or of what material his tie was made. He cleaned boots, then went to sleep, or sat at the gates, gazing dully at the few passers-by, or, finally, spent his time sitting at the nearest grocery shop, where he did the same things and in the same way as he had done before, first at Oblomovka and then in Gorokhovaya Street.

  And Oblomov himself? Oblomov was the complete and natural reflection and expression of that repose, contentment, and serene calm that reigned all around him. Thinking about his way of living, subjecting it to a close scrutiny, and getting more and more used to it, he decided at last that he had nothing more to strive for, nothing more to seek, that he had attained the ideal of his life, though it were shorn of poetry and bereft of the brilliance with which his imagination had once endowed the plentiful and care-free life of a country squire on his own estate, among his peasants and house-serfs. He looked upon his present way of life as a continuation of the same Oblomov-like existence, except that he lived in a different place, and the times, too, were to a certain extent different. Here, too, as at Oblomovka, he managed to strike a good bargain with life, having obtained from it a guarantee of undisturbed peace. He triumphed inwardly at having escaped its annoying and agonizing demands and storms, which break from that part of the horizon where the lightnings of great joys flash and the sudden thunderclaps of great sorrows resound; where false hopes and magnificent phantoms of happiness are at play; where a man’s own thought gnaws at his vitals and finally consumes him and passion kills; where man is engaged in a never-ceasing battle and leaves the battlefield shattered but still insatiate and discontented. Not having experienced the joys obtained by struggle, he mentally renounced them, and felt at peace with himself only in his forgotten corner of the world, where there was no struggle, no movement, and no life. And if his imagination caught fire again, if forgotten memories and unfulfilled dreams rose up before him, if his conscience began to prick him for having spent his life in one way and not in another – he slept badly, woke up, jumped out of bed, and sometimes wept disconsolate tears for his bright ideal of life that had now vanished for good, as one weeps for the dear departed with the bitter consciousness that one had not done enough for them while they were alive. Then he looked at his surroundings, tasted the ephemeral good things of life, and calmed down, gazing dreamily at the evening sun going down slowly and quietly in the fiery conflagration of the sunset; at last he decided that his life had not just turned out to be so simple and uncomplicated, but had been created and meant to be so in order to show that the ideally reposeful aspect of human existence was possible. It fell to the lot of other people, he reflected, to express its troubled aspects and set in motion the creative and destructive forces: everyone had his own fixed purpose in life! Such was the philosophy that the Plato of Oblomovka had worked out and that lulled him to sleep amidst the stern demands of duty and the problems of human existence! He was not born and educated to be a gladiator for the arena, but a peaceful spectator of the battle; his timid and indolent spirit could not have endured either the anxieties of happiness or the blows inflicted by life – therefore he merely gave expression to one particular aspect of it, and it was no use being sorry or trying to change it or to get more out of it. As years passed, he was less and less disturbed by remorse and agitation, and settled quietly and gradually into the plain and spacious coffin he had made for his remaining span of life, like old hermits who, turning away from life, dig their own graves in the desert. He gave up dreaming about the arrangement of his estate and moving there with all his household. The manager engaged by Stolz sent him regularly every Christmas a very considerable income, the peasants brought corn and poultry, and the house flourished in abundance and gaiety. Oblomov even acquired a carriage and pair, but, with his habitual caution, the horses he bought were so quiet that they only started at the third blow of the whip, while at the first and second blow one horse staggered and stepped aside, then the other horse staggered and stepped aside, and only then, stretching out their necks, backs, and tails, did they move together and trot off, nodding their heads. They took Vanya to school on the other side of the Neva and Agafya Matveyevna to do her shopping. At Shrovetide and Easter the whole family and Oblomov
went for a ride and to the fair; occasionally they took a box at the theatre and went there, also all together. In summer they went for a drive in the country, and on St Elijah’s Day they drove to the Powder Works, and life went on peacefully, one ordinary event following upon another, bringing no destructive changes with it, if, that is, its blows had never reached such peaceful corners. Unfortunately, however, the thunderclap that shakes the foundations of mountains and vast aerial spaces reaches also the mousehole, less loudly and strongly, perhaps, but still quite perceptibly. Oblomov ate heartily and with an appetite, as at Oblomovka, walked and worked little and lazily, also as at Oblomovka. In spite of his advancing years he drank wine and currant vodka with complete unconcern, and he slept for hours after dinner with even greater unconcern.

  Suddenly all this was changed.

  One day, when he had had his after-dinner nap, he wanted to get up from the sofa and could not; he wanted to say something, but his tongue would not obey him. Terrified, he just waved his hand, calling for help. Had he been living with Zakhar alone, he could have gone on telegraphing with his hand till the morning and in the end died, and have been discovered only on the following day; but the landlady’s eye watched over him like Providence: it was her intuition rather than her intelligence that told her that there was something seriously wrong with Oblomov. And as soon as it had dawned on her, Anisya was sent off posthaste in a cab for a doctor, and Agafya Matveyevna put ice round his head and emptied her medicine cupboard of all its lotions and decoctions – of everything, in fact, that habit and hearsay prompted her to use in the emergency. Even Zakhar managed to put on one of his boots during that time and, forgetting all about his other boot, helped the doctor, Agafya Matveyevna, and Anisya to attend on his master.

  Oblomov was brought round, bled, and then told that he had had a stroke and that he would have to lead quite a different kind of life in future. Vodka, beer, wine, and coffee were forbidden him, except on a few rare occasions, as well as meat and all rich and spicy food; instead he was ordered to take exercise every day and sleep in moderation only at night.

  Without Agafya Matveyevna’s constant supervision, nothing of this would ever have been carried out, but she knew how to introduce this regime by making the whole household submit to it, and by cunning and affection distracted Oblomov from being tempted by wine, rich fish pies, and after-dinner naps. The moment he dropped off, a chair fell in the room, without apparently any reason whatever, or some old and useless crockery was smashed noisily in the next room, or the children would raise a clamour enough to drive one out of the house. If that did not help, her gentle voice was heard calling him and asking him some question. The garden path was extended into the kitchen garden, and Oblomov walked on it for two hours every morning and evening. Agafya Matveyevna walked with him, or, if she could not, Vanya or Masha, or his old friend Alexeyev, meek, submissive, and always ready to comply with any request.

  Here Oblomov was slowly walking down the path, leaning on Vanya’s shoulder. Vanya, almost a youth by now, wearing his school uniform, could hardly control his quick brisk steps and was trying hard to keep pace with Oblomov, who found it rather difficult to move one of his legs – an after-effect of the stroke.

  ‘Let’s go back to my room, Vanya, old man,’ Oblomov said.

  They set off towards the front door. Agafya Matveyevna met them on the doorstep.

  ‘Where are you going so soon?’ she asked, not letting them in.

  ‘It isn’t soon at all I We’ve walked twenty times up and down the path, and there’s about one hundred and thirty yards from here to the fence, so we must have done well over a mile.’

  ‘How many times have you walked?’ she asked Vanya, who seemed to hesitate with his reply. ‘Don’t you dare lie to me!’ she cried menacingly, looking into his eyes. ‘I can tell at once. Remember Sunday; I won’t let you go out.’

  ‘Really, Mummy, we did walk – about twelve times!’

  ‘Oh, you rascal,’ said Oblomov; ‘you kept tearing off the acacia leaves, but I counted every time…’

  ‘No, you’d better walk a little longer,’ Agafya Matveyevna decided. ‘The fish soup isn’t ready yet, anyway,’ and she slammed the door in their faces.

  Oblomov had willy-nilly to count another eight times, and only then went in.

  There he found the fish soup steaming on the big round table. Oblomov sat down in his usual place, alone on the sofa; to the right of him sat Agafya Matveyevna on a chair, to the left a child of about three on a small baby chair with a safety-catch. Masha, a girl of about thirteen by now, sat next to the child, then Vanya, and, finally, on that particular day, Alexeyev, who sat facing Oblomov.

  ‘Let me give you another helping of fish: I’ve found such a fat one!’ said Agafya Matveyevna, putting the fish on Oblomov’s plate.

  ‘A bit of pie would go down well with this,’ said Oblomov.

  ‘Dear me, I forgot all about it! I thought of it last night, but it went clean out of my mind! ‘Agafya Matveyevna said craftily. ‘And I’m afraid I forgot to cook some cabbage for your cutlets, Ivan Alexeyevich,’ she added, turning to Alexeyev. ‘I hope you don’t mind.’

  That, too, was just a trick.

  ‘It doesn’t matter,’ said Alexeyev; ‘I can eat anything.’

  ‘Why don’t you have some ham with green peas or a beefsteak cooked for him?’ asked Oblomov. ‘He likes it.’

  ‘I went to the shops myself, Ilya Ilyich, but I couldn’t find any good beef. I had some cherry-juice jelly made for you, though,’ she said, turning to Alexeyev; ‘I know you like it.’

  Fruit jelly could do no harm to Oblomov, and that was why Alexeyev, who was always ready to oblige, had to eat it and like it.

  After dinner nothing and no one could prevent Oblomov from lying down. He usually lay down on the sofa in the dining-room, but only to rest for an hour. To make sure that he did not fall asleep, Agafya Matveyevna poured out coffee sitting on the sofa beside him, the children played on the carpet, and Oblomov had willy-nilly to take part in it.

  ‘Don’t tease Andrey,’ he scolded Vanya, who had been teasing the little boy. ‘He’s going to cry any minute.’

  ‘Masha, my dear, mind Andrey doesn’t knock himself against the chair,’ he warned solicitously, when the child crawled under a chair.

  And Masha rushed to rescue her ‘little brother’, as she called him.

  All was quiet for a moment while Agafya Matveyevna went to the kitchen to see if the coffee was ready. The children grew quiet. A sound of snoring was heard in the room, first gentle and as though on the sly, then louder, and when Agafya Matveyevna appeared with a steaming coffee-pot, she was met by a snoring as loud as in a coachman’s shelter. She shook her head reproachfully at Alexeyev.

  ‘I tried to wake him, but he paid no attention,’ Alexeyev said in self-defence.

  She quickly put the coffee-pot on the table, seized Andrey from the floor, and put him quietly on the sofa beside Oblomov. The child crawled up to him, reached his face, and grabbed him by the nose.

  ‘What is it? Who’s this? Eh?’ Oblomov cried in alarm, waking up.

  ‘You dozed off and little Andrey climbed on the sofa and wakened you,’ Agafya Matveyevna said affectionately.

  ‘I never dozed off,’ Oblomov protested, taking the little boy in his arms. ‘Do you think I did not hear him crawling up to me on his little arms? I hear everything. Oh, you naughty boy! So you’ve caught me by the nose, have you? I’ll give you such a hiding! You just wait!’ he said, fondling and caressing the child. He then put him down on the floor and heaved a loud sigh. ‘Tell me something, Alexeyev,’ he said.

  ‘We’ve discussed everything, Ilya Ilyich. I’ve nothing more to tell you,’ Alexeyev replied.

  ‘Nothing more? Why, you always go about and meet people. Are you sure there isn’t any news? You read the papers, don’t you!’

  ‘Yes, sir, I do sometimes – or other people read and talk and I listen. Yesterday at Alexey Spiridonovich’
s his son, a university student, read aloud.’

  ‘What did he read?’

  ‘About the English, who seem to have sent rifles and gunpowder somewhere. Alexey Spiridonovich said there was going to be a war.’

  ‘Where did they send it to?’

  ‘Oh, to Spain or India – I don’t remember, but the ambassador was very much displeased.’

  ‘What ambassador?’ asked Oblomov.

  ‘Sorry, I’ve clean forgotten!’ said Alexeyev, raising his nose to the ceiling in an effort to remember.

  ‘With whom is the war going to be?’

  ‘With a Turkish pasha, I believe.’

  ‘Well,’ Oblomov said after a pause, ‘what other news is there in politics?’

  ‘They write that the earth is cooling down: one day it will be all frozen.’

  ‘Will it indeed? But that is not politics, is it?’ said Oblomov.

  Alexeyev was completely put out.

  ‘Dmitry Alexeyich,’ he said apologetically, ‘first mentioned politics and then went on reading without saying when he had come to an end with them. I know that after that he went on reading about literature.’

  ‘What did he read about literature?’ asked Oblomov.

  ‘Well, he read that the best authors were Dmitriyev, Karam-zin, Batyushkov, and Zhukovsky.’

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