Oblomov, p.61Ivan Goncharov
‘What about Pushkin?’
‘Never mentioned him. I, too, wondered why he wasn’t mentioned. Why, he was a genius!’ said Alexeyev, pronouncing the g in genius hard.
There was a silence. Agafya Matveyevna brought her sewing and began plying her needle busily, glancing now and then at Oblomov and Alexeyev, and listening with her sharp ears for any commotion or noise in the house, to make sure Zakhar was not quarrelling with Anisya in the kitchen, that Akulina was washing up, that the gate in the yard had not creaked – that is, that the porter had not gone out to the ‘tavern’ for a drink.
Oblomov slowly sank into silence and a reverie: he was neither asleep nor awake, but let his thoughts roam at will light-heartedly, without concentrating them on anything, listening quietly to the regular beating of his heart and blinking from time to time like a man who was not looking at anything in particular. He fell into a vague, mysterious state, a sort of hallucination. There are rare and brief and dream-like moments when a man seems to be living over again something he has been through before at a different time and place. Whether he dreams of what is going on before him now, or has lived through it before and forgotten it, the fact remains that he sees the same people sitting beside him again as before and hears words that have already been uttered once: imagination is powerless to transport him there again and memory does not revive the past, and merely brings on a thoughtful mood. The same thing happened to Oblomov now. A stillness he had experienced somewhere before descended upon him; he heard the ticking of a familiar clock, the snapping of a bitten-off thread; the familiar words were repeated once more, and the whisper: ‘Dear me, I simply can’t thread the needle: you try it, Masha, your eyes are sharper!’ Lazily, mechanically, almost unconsciously he looked into Agafya Matveyevna’s eyes, and out of the depths of his memory there arose a familiar image he had seen somewhere before. He tried to think hard where and when he had heard it all… and he saw before him the big, dark drawing-room in his parents’ house, lighted by a tallow candle, and his mother and her visitors sitting at a round table; they were sewing in silence; his father was walking up and down the room in silence. The present and the past had merged and intermingled. He dreamt that he had reached the promised land flowing with milk and honey, where people ate bread they had not earned and wore gold and silver garments…. He heard the stories of dreams and signs, the clatter of knives, and the rattle of crockery. He clung to his nurse and listened to her old shaky voice: ‘Militrissa Kirbityevna!’ she said, pointing to Agafya Matveyevna. It seemed to him that the same cloud was sailing in the blue sky as then, the same breeze was blowing in at the window and playing with his hair; the Oblomovka turkey cock was strutting about and raising a great clamour under the window. Now a dog was barking: a visitor must have arrived. Was it Andrey and his father who had come from Verkhlyovo? It was a great day for him. It really must be he: his footsteps were coming nearer and nearer, the door opened…. ‘Andrey!’ he cried. Andrey was, indeed, standing before him, but no longer a boy – he was a middle-aged man.
Oblomov came to: before him stood the real Stolz, not a hallucination, but large as life.
Agafya Matveyevna quickly seized the baby, grabbed her sewing from the table, and took the children away; Alexeyev, too, disappeared. Stolz and Oblomov were left alone, looking silently and motionlessly at each other. Stolz seemed to pierce him with his gaze.
‘Is it you, Andrey?’ asked Oblomov in a voice that was almost inaudible with emotion, as a lover might ask his sweet-heart after a long separation.
‘It’s me,’ Andrey said softly. ‘Are you all right?’
Oblomov embraced him and clung closely to him.
‘Ah!’ he said in reply in a drawn-out voice, putting into that Ah all the intensity of the sorrow and gladness that had lain hidden in his heart for a great many years and that had never, not perhaps since their parting, been released by anyone or anything.
They sat down and again looked intently at each other.
‘Are you well?’ asked Andrey.
‘Yes, I’m all right now, thank God.’
‘But you’ve been ill, have you?’
‘Yes, Andrey; I had a stroke.’
‘Really? Good Lord!’ Andrey cried with alarm and sympathy. ‘No after effects?’
‘No, except that I can’t use my left leg freely,’ replied Oblomov.
‘Oh, Ilya, Ilya! What is the matter with you? You’ve gone to seed completely. What have you been doing all this time? Do you realize we haven’t seen each other for almost five years?’
Oblomov fetched a sigh.
‘Why didn’t you come to Oblomovka? Why didn’t you write?’
‘What shall I say to you, Andrey? You know me, so don’t, please, ask me any more,’ Oblomov said sadly.
‘And all the time here in this flat?’ Stolz said, looking round the room. ‘You never moved?’
‘No, I’ve lived here all the time. I’ll never move now.’
‘Do you really mean it? Never?’
‘I really do mean it, Andrey.’
Stolz looked at him intently, fell into thought, and began pacing the room.
‘And Olga Sergeyevna? Is she all right? Where is she? Does she still remember me?’
He broke off.
‘She’s all right, and she remembers you just as though you had parted only yesterday. I’ll tell you presently where she is…’
‘And your children?’
‘They are well too. But tell me, Ilya, are you serious about staying here? You see, I’ve come for you, to take you to us, to the country….’
‘No, no!’ Oblomov cried, lowering his voice and glancing apprehensively at the door, as though he were alarmed. ‘No, please don’t mention it – don’t talk of it.’
‘Why not? What is the matter with you?’ Stolz began. ‘You know me: I’ve set myself this task long ago, and I’m not going to give it up. Till now I’ve been prevented by all sorts of business, but now I am free. You must live with us, near us. That is what Olga and I have decided and that is what it is going to be. Thank God I have found you as you are and not worse. I hadn’t hoped… Come along, then! I’m quite ready to take you away by force! You must live differently – you know how…’
Oblomov listened to this tirade with impatience.
‘Please don’t shout,’ he begged. ‘Speak softly… there – –’
‘What do you mean, “there”?’
‘I mean, they may hear there and – and my landlady may think that I really want to go away.’
‘What does it matter? Let her!’
‘Oh, I can’t possibly do that!’ Oblomov interrupted. ‘Listen, Andrey,’ he added suddenly in a determined tone Stolz had never heard him use before; ‘don’t waste your time trying to persuade me: I shall stay here!’
Stolz looked at his friend in surprise. Oblomov met his look calmly and resolutely.
‘You’re done for, Ilya!’ he said. ‘This house, this woman – the whole of this way of living…. It’s impossible! Come on, let’s go!’
He seized him by the sleeve and was dragging him towards the door.
‘Why do you want to take me away? Where to?’ said Oblomov, resisting him.
‘Out of this pit, this bog, into the light, into the open, to a normal life!’ Stolz insisted sternly, almost imperiously. ‘Where are you? What has become of you? Come to your senses! Is this the sort of life you have been preparing yourself for – to sleep like a mole in its burrow? You’d better cast your mind back!…’
‘Don’t remind me, don’t disturb the past, for you will never bring it back,’ Oblomov said, looking fully aware of what he was saying and determined to do as he thought fit. ‘What do you want to do with me? I’ve broken completely with the world into which you are dragging me: you cannot weld together two halves that have come apart. I am attached to this hole with the most vulnerable part of my body – if you try to drag me away, I shall die!’
‘But for goodness’ sake, man, hav
‘I know, I am aware of it…. Oh, Andrey, I am aware of everything and I understand everything: I have for a long time been ashamed to live in the world! But I can’t go on the same road as you even if I wanted to. Last time you were here it might perhaps have been possible, but now’ – he dropped his eyes and paused for a moment – ‘now it is too late. You go and don’t wait for me. I am worthy of your friendship, God knows, but I’m not worth your trouble.’
‘No, Ilya, you’re hiding something from me. I tell you I’m determined to take you away just because I suspect you. Listen,’ he said; ‘put on some clothes and let’s go to my place. Spend an evening with me. I’ve got lots to tell you: you don’t know the exciting things that are happening in our part of the country now. You have not heard, have you?’
Oblomov looked questioningly at him.
‘I forgot, you never see people: come along, I’ll tell you everything. Do you know who is waiting for me in the carriage at the gate? I’ll call her!’
‘Olga!’ Oblomov suddenly cried in alarm, and he even turned pale. ‘For God’s sake, don’t let her come in here. Please, go away. Good-bye, good-bye, for God’s sake!’
He was almost pushing Stolz out of the room; but Stolz did not move from his place.
‘I can’t go to her without you. I gave her my word – do you hear, Ilya? If not to-day, then to-morrow – you will only put it off, you won’t drive me away…. To-morrow or the day after – but we shall meet again!’
Oblomov was silent, bowing his head and not daring to look at Stolz.
‘When is it to be? Olga is sure to ask me.’
‘Oh, Andrey,’ he said in a tender, beseeching voice, embracing him and putting his head on Stolz’s shoulder, ‘please leave me altogether – forget me – –’
‘What, for ever?’ Stolz asked in amazement, freeing himself from Oblomov’s embrace and looking into his face.
‘Yes,’ whispered Oblomov.
Stolz stepped back from him.
‘Is it you, Ilya?’ he said reproachfully. ‘You are pushing me away, and for her – for that woman! Good Lord,’ he almost cried out, as though with sudden pain; ‘this child I saw here just now – Ilya, Ilya! Run – run from here! Let’s go this minute! How you have fallen! That woman – what is she to you?’
‘She’s my wife,’ Oblomov said calmly.
Stolz was dumbfounded.
‘And that child is my son! His name is Andrey, I called him after you!’ Oblomov concluded his confession and breathed freely, having thrown off the burden of his secret.
It was now Stolz’s turn to change colour. He looked round with bewildered almost senseless eyes. The ‘gulf’ suddenly ‘opened up’ before him and the ‘stone wall’ rose up and Oblomov did not seem to be there any longer, just as though he had vanished from his sight or sunk through the floor; he only felt that burning anguish a man feels when he hastens in excitement to meet a friend after a long separation and learns that the friend had long been dead.
‘Done for!’ he whispered mechanically. ‘What am I going to tell Olga?’
Oblomov heard the last words and was going to say something, but could not. He held out both his arms to Andrey, they embraced firmly and in silence, as people embrace before a battle, before death. This embrace stifled their words, their tears, their feelings.
‘Don’t forget my Andrey!’ were Oblomov’s last words, which he uttered in a faint voice.
Andrey walked out of the house slowly and in silence, walked slowly and thoughtfully across the courtyard, and stepped into the carriage, while Oblomov sat down on the sofa and, leaning his elbows on the table, buried his face in his hands.
‘No, I shall not forget your Andrey,’ Stolz thought sadly as he walked across the yard. ‘You’re done for, Ilya: it is useless to tell you that your Oblomovka is no longer in the wilds, that its turn has come, and that the rays of sunshine have at last fallen upon it! I shall not tell you that in another four years there will be a railway station there, that your peasants will be working on the line, and that later on your corn will be carried by train to the quayside. And then – schools, education, and after that – but no! You will be frightened of the dawn of new happiness; it will hurt your eyes that are unaccustomed to the bright light. But I shall lead your Andrey to where you would not go, and I will carry out your youthful dreams together with him. Good-bye, old Oblomovka! he said, looking back for the last time at the windows of the little house. ‘You’ve had your day!’
‘What’s happening there?’ Olga asked with a fast-beating heart.
‘Nothing!’ Andrey replied dryly and curtly.
‘Is he alive and well?’
‘Yes,’ Andrey replied reluctantly.
‘Why have you come back so soon? Why didn’t you call me there or bring him here? Let me go to him!’
‘You can’t go to him!’
‘What is happening there?’ Olga asked in alarm. ‘Has “the gulf opened up”? Are you going to tell me?’
He was silent.
‘But what on earth is going on there?’
‘Oblomovitis!’ Andrey replied gloomily, and in spite of Olga’s questions preserved a sullen silence till they got home.
FIVE years had passed. There had been many changes in Vyborg: the empty street leading to Mrs Pshenitzyn’s house was full of newly built summer cottages, and among them rose a long brick Government building which prevented the sunshine from pouring in gaily through the windows of the peaceful refuge of tranquillity and indolence. The little house itself had become a little dilapidated and looked rather grimy and untidy, like a man who has not shaven and washed. The paint had peeled off, the rainpipes were broken in places, and there were, therefore, big puddles in the yard across which, as in the old days, a narrow plank was laid. When someone went in at the gate, the old black dog did not jump vigorously on the chain, but barked hoarsely and lazily without coming out of the kennel.
And the changes inside the house! Another woman was ruling over it and different children were playing about there. The red, drunken face of the rowdy Tarantyev appeared there again from time to time, and the gentle and meek Alexeyev was no longer to be seen there. Neither was Zakhar or Anisya to be seen: a new, fat woman cook was in charge of the kitchen, reluctantly and rudely carrying out the quiet orders of Agafya Matveyevna, and the same Akulina, the hem of her skirt tucked in at the waist, was washing troughs and earthenware jars; the same sleepy caretaker in the same sheepskin was idly spending the remaining years of his life in his dark hovel. Ivan Matveyevich’s figure again darted past the trellised fence at the appointed hours of early morning and dinner-time with a big parcel under his arm and goloshes on his feet, in winter and summer.
What has become of Oblomov? Where is he? Where? His body is resting under a modest urn, surrounded by shrubs, in a lonely corner of the nearest graveyard. Branches of lilac, planted by a friendly hand, slumber over his grave, and the wormwood spreads its sharp scent in the still air. The angel of peace himself seems to be guarding his sleep. However keenly the loving eyes of his wife kept watch over every moment of his life, perpetual rest, perpetual stillness, and the indolent passage of time slowly brought the mechanism of life to a standstill. Oblomov passed away apparently without pain, without suffering, just like a clock that has stopped because it has not been wound up. No one witnessed his last moments or heard his last groan. He had another stroke a year after the first, and again he recovered from it, but then he grew weak and pale, ate little, hardly ever went out into the garden, and grew more and more taciturn and thoughtful; sometimes he even wept. He had a feeling that death was near, and he was afraid of it. He had several dizzy spells, but these passed off. One morning Agafya Matveyevna brought him his coffee as usual, and found him resting as gently in death as he had rested in sleep, except that his head had slipped off the pillow and his hand was convulsively pressed to his heart, where apparently a blood v
Agafya Matveyevna had been a widow for three years; during that time everything had gone back to what it had used to be before. Her brother had been dealing in Government contracts, but had gone bankrupt and managed in all sorts of devious ways to obtain his old job of secretary in the office ‘where peasants were registered’; and again he walked to the office, bringing back fifty, twenty-five, and twenty copeck pieces to deposit them in his well-hidden box. Once more, as in the old days before Oblomov’s arrival, they had the same plain and coarse, but rich and plentiful meals. The leading role in the house was now occupied by Ivan Matveyevich’s wife, Irina Panteleyevna – that is, she reserved the right to get up late, drink coffee three times a day, change her dress three times a day, and see to one thing only in the house, namely, that her petticoats were starched as stiffly as possible. She did not concern herself with anything else, and Agafya Matveyevna was, as before, the live wire in the house: she looked after the kitchen and the meals, poured out tea and coffee for the whole family, mended their clothes, kept an eye on the washing, and the children, Akulina, and the caretaker. But why did she do that? Wasn’t she Mrs Oblomov, a landowner? Couldn’t she have lived by herself, independently and without being in need of anything or anybody? What could have made her assume the burden of other people’s housekeeping, of looking after other people’s children, and all those trifles to which a woman devotes herself either for love, for the sacred duty of family ties, or for the sake of a livelihood? Where were Zakhar and Anisya, her servants by every right? Where, finally, was the living pledge left her by her husband, little Andrey? Where are her children by her first marriage?
Her children are settled in life – that is to say, Vanya has finished his course of studies and has got a job in the Civil Service; Masha has married the superintendent of some Government office, and little Andrey is being brought up by Stolz and his wife, at their earnest request, and is being treated by them as a member of their family. Agafya Matveyevna never thought of little Andrey’s future as in any way comparable to the future of her older children, though in her heart she unconsciously perhaps gave an equal place to them all. But little Andrey’s education, manner of living, and future she considered to be altogether different from the lives of Vanya and Masha.
Oblomov by Ivan Goncharov / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes