Oblomov, p.62Ivan Goncharov
‘Those two,’ she said indifferently, ‘are street arabs like myself. They were born for a hard life; but this one,’ she added, almost with respect, fondling little Andrey, if not with timidity, then with care, ‘is a little gentleman! See how fair his skin is – like a ripe peach! Such tiny hands and feet and hair like silk. He’s the spit and image of his father!’
That was why she had agreed without protest, and even with a certain joy, to Stolz’s proposal to bring up little Andrey with his own children, believing that his proper place was there, and not in her house, among ‘the rabble’, with her dirty nephews, her brother’s children.
For about six months after Oblomov’s death she lived with Zakhar and Anisya in the house, giving herself up to grief. She had trodden a path to her husband’s grave and wept her eyes out, hardly ate or drank anything, and lived chiefly on tea; she scarcely closed her eyes at night and was completely worn out. She never complained to anyone about anything and as time passed she seemed to become more and more absorbed in herself, in her sorrow, and shut everyone out, even Anisya. Nobody knew what she really felt.
‘Your mistress is still weeping for her husband,’ the grocer said to the cook.
‘Still sorrowing for her husband,’ the churchwarden remarked, pointing her out to the woman who baked the host for the cemetery church, where the disconsolate widow came every week to weep and pray.
‘She’s still wasting away with grief,’ they said in her brother’s house.
One day the entire family of her brother’s, the children, and even Tarantyev, suddenly descended upon her house under the pretext of offering condolences. They overwhelmed her with vulgar consolations and entreaties ‘to spare herself for the sake of her children’ – all that had been said to her fifteen years ago, when her first husband had died, and it had had the desired effect at that time; but now, for some reason it made her feel disgusted and wretched. She was relieved when they changed the subject and told her that now they could live together again and that it would be better for her because ‘she would be wretched among her own people’, and for them because no one could look after the house as well as she. She asked for time to think it over, and after grieving for another two months, she at last agreed to share the house with them. It was at that time that Stolz took little Andrey to live with him, and she was left alone.
Wearing a dark dress and with a black woollen shawl round her neck, she would walk from her room to the kitchen like a shadow, opened and closed cupboards as before, sewed, ironed lace, but slowly and without energy; she spoke, as it were, reluctantly, and in a low voice, and she no longer as before looked about her unconcernedly with eyes that never remained fixed in one place, but with an expression of concentration on her face and a hidden meaning in her eyes. This thought seemed to have imperceptibly settled on her face at the moment when she gazed intently and for a long time at her husband’s dead face, and had never left her since. She moved about the house, did all that was necessary, but her mind was not on her work. Over her husband’s dead body, and after she had lost him, she seemed suddenly to have grasped the whole meaning of her life and pondered over it – and ever since that thought lay brooding over her face like a shadow. Having sobbed out her intense grief, she concentrated on the sense of her loss: the rest was dead for her, except little Andrey. It was only when she saw him that she seemed to show signs of life and her features revived, her eyes filled with a joyful light and then with the tears of remembrance. She lost interest in all that happened around her: if her brother was angry because an extra rouble had been spent, or the roast was slightly burnt, or the fish was not quite as fresh as he liked; if her sister-in-law sulked because her petticoat had not been starched stiffly enough or her tea was weak or cold; if the cook was rude to her – Agafya Matveyevna did not notice anything, just as though they were not talking of her, and as though she never heard the sarcastic whisper: ‘A lady, a land-owner!’ Her answer to it all was contained in the dignity of her sorrow and in her resigned silence. On the other hand, at Christmas or on Easter Sunday, or on the gay parties at Shrovetide, when everyone in the house was rejoicing, singing, eating, and drinking, she would suddenly burst into tears amid the general merry-making and hide herself in her room. Then she would withdraw into herself again and sometimes even look at her brother and his wife, as it were, with pride and pity. She realized that joy and laughter had gone out of her life, that God had breathed a soul into her and taken it away again, that the sun that had shone over her had set for ever…. For ever, it is true; but her life, too, had gained a meaning for ever: for now she knew why she had lived and that she had not lived in vain.
She had loved so much and so utterly: she had loved Oblomov as a lover, as a husband, and as a born gentleman; but, as before, she could never tell this to anyone. And no one around her would have understood her. Where would she have found the right words? No such words were to be found in her brother’s, Tarantyev’s, or her sister-in-law’s vocabulary, because they all lacked the ideas those words expressed; only Oblomov would have understood her, but she never told him, because at the time she did not understand it herself and did not know how to express it. As the years passed, she understood her past better and better and hid it more deeply within herself, becoming more taciturn and reserved. The seven years that had flown by like a moment shed their soft light over her whole life, and there was nothing more for her to desire, nowhere farther to go. Only when Stolz came to Petersburg for the winter, she ran to his house and looked eagerly at little Andrey, caressing him with timid tenderness; she would have liked to say something to Stolz, to thank him, to lay before him all that was pent up in her heart and was locked up there for ever – he would have understood her, but she did not know how to, and she merely rushed to Olga, pressed her lips to her hands, and burst into such a flood of scalding tears that Olga could not help weeping with her too, and Andrey, greatly agitated, hurried out of the room. They were all bound by the same feeling, the same memory of the crystal-clear soul of their dead friend. They tried to persuade her to go to the country with them and live with them, near little Andrey, but she always replied: ‘Where one was born and bred, there one must die.’ In vain did Stolz give her an account of his management of her estate and sent her the income due to her. She returned it all and asked him to keep it for little Andrey.
‘It is his, not mine,’ she repeated obstinately. ‘He will need it, he is a gentleman, and I can manage without it.’
Two gentlemen were walking along the wooden pavements of Vyborg about twelve o’clock one day; a carriage slowly followed them. One of them was Stolz, and the other a friend of his, a writer, a stout man with an apathetic face and with pensive and, as it were, sleepy eyes. They came to a church; morning mass was over and people were pouring into the street, preceded by a large crowd of beggars of all sorts.
‘I should like to know where the beggars come from,’ said the writer, looking at the beggars.
‘Where they come from? Why, from all sorts of nooks and crannies.’
‘I don’t mean that,’ the writer answered. ‘I should like to know how one becomes a beggar – how does one get to such a position? Does it happen suddenly or gradually? Is it true or false?’
‘What do you want to know that for? Not going to write Mystères de Petersbourg, are you?’
‘Maybe,’ the writer replied, yawning lazily.
‘Well, here’s your chance: ask any one of them, and for a rouble he’ll sell you the story of his life. You can write it down and sell it at a profit. Here’s an old man who seems to be a most ordinary type of beggar. I say, old man, come here a moment, will you?’
The old man turned at the call, took off his hat and walked up to them.
‘Kind sir,’ he wheezed, ’help a poor old soldier, badly wounded in thirty battles – –’
‘Zakhar!’ Stolz cried in surprise. ‘Is that you?’
Zakhar fell silent suddenly, then, screening his eyes f
‘I’m sorry, sir, I can’t recognize you at all, I’m afraid – I’m quite blind, sir.’
‘You haven’t forgotten Stolz, your master’s friend, have you?’ Stolz said reproachfully.
‘Why, Mr Stolz, sir! I must be as blind as a post, sir! I’m sorry, sir!’
He tried to catch Stolz’s hand, and in his excitement missed it and kissed the skirt of his coat.
‘Praise be to God, sir, for letting a miserable cur like me live to see such a joyful day,’ he shouted, half crying and half laughing.
All his face, from forehead to chin, seemed to have been branded with purple. His nose had, besides, a bluish tint. He was quite bald; his whiskers were as big as before, but they were tangled into a thick mat, and each looked as though a lump of snow had been put in it. He wore a threadbare and completely faded overcoat, one side of which was torn off, a pair of old and worn goloshes on his bare feet, and in his hand he held a worn fur cap.
‘The dear Lord, sir, has done me a real favour this morning on account of its being a feast-day, I suppose.’
‘Why are you in such a state? Aren’t you ashamed?’
‘Good Lord, sir, what was I to do?’ Zakhar began, heaving a deep sigh. ‘I have to keep body and soul together, sir. Now, you see, sir, when Anisya was alive, I didn’t knock about the streets, for I had enough to eat, but when she died during the cholera – God rest her soul – the mistress’s brother refused to keep me – called me a parasite, he did, and Mr Tarantyev always tried to kick me from behind as I walked past him. Oh, sir, it wasn’t much of a life, I can tell you. The names they called me, sir! Would you believe it, sir, things came to such a pass that I couldn’t eat a bite – lost my appetite I have. If it wasn’t for the mistress – God bless her! – I’d have perished long ago in the frost. She gives me some clothes for the winter and as much bread as I want, and she used to give me a corner on the stove, too, bless her heart, but they began nagging at her on my account, so I just walked out of the house, sir. Aye, sir, it’ll be two years soon since I began leading this wretched life…’
‘Why didn’t you take a job?’ asked Stolz.
Why, sir, you can’t find jobs so easily nowadays. I had two situations, sir, but I didn’t give satisfaction. It’s all different now, not like it was in the good old days, sir. It’s much worse. A footman must know how to read and write, and great noblemen, sir, haven’t their entrance halls crammed with servants as they used to. All they want is one footman or at most two. They take their boots off themselves, seem to have invented some special machine for that,’ Zakhar went on mournfully. ‘It’s a blooming shame and a disgrace, sir! There won’t be any gentry left soon!’
He heaved a sigh.
‘You see, sir, I got a job with one of them German merchants to sit in the hall. All went well till he sent me to wait at table. It’s not really my line of business, sir, is it? I was carrying some crockery one day – Bohemian china, it was – and the floors were slippery, damn them! Well, sir, my feet suddenly slid apart and all the crockery – the whole blooming lot, sir, tray and all – crashed to the floor. Well, of course, sir, they gave me the sack. Another time an old countess liked the look of me. “You seem respectable,” she says to me, and gave me the job of hall porter. It’s a good old-fashioned sort of job, sir. All you have to do is to sit on a chair and look important, cross your legs, and just swing one foot slowly like, and if anyone comes you mustn’t answer at once, but first you must give a growl and then let him in or kick him out, all according. And, of course, if important visitors come you must salute them with your staff, like that, sir!’ Zakhar showed with his arm how to salute. ‘It’s a fine job, sir, and no mistake. But her ladyship was difficult to please – very difficult indeed! One day she looked into my room, saw a bug, and kicked up such an unholy row, sir, just as if I had invented bugs! What house is without bugs, sir? Anyway, another time she walked past me and thought that I smelt of vodka. Now, I ask you, sir! And she sacked me….’
‘You certainly reek of vodka, and very strongly, too!’ said Stolz.
‘Aye, sir, I have a drop now and again to drown my sorrows; aye, sir, to drown my sorrows,’ Zakhar wheezed, screwing up his face in bitter resentment of his fate. ‘I tried being a cab-driver, too, sir. Hired myself out to a cab-owner, I did, but I had my feet frozen. Aye, sir, lost my strength, I have; getting old, that’s the trouble! Got a real beast of a horse too. One day it rushed under a carriage and nearly threw me off my box. Another time I ran over an old woman and got dragged off to the police station….’
‘There, that’ll do! Now, listen; don’t drink and don’t knock about the streets, but come to me and I’ll find some place for you in my house – you can come to the country with us – do you hear?’
‘Yes, sir, but – –’
He heaved a sigh.
‘You see, sir, I shouldn’t like to go away from here – from his grave, I mean! Our dear master Ilya Ilyich,’ he cried. ‘I’ve said a prayer for him again to-day, God rest his soul! What a master the good Lord has taken away from me, sir. He just lived to make everybody happy – aye, he should have lived a hundred years, he should, sir,’ Zakhar, said, whimpering and screwing up his face. ‘Been to his grave to-day, I have, sir. Whenever I happen to be in them parts, sir, I goes straight to his grave. Sits there for hours, I does, with tears streaming from my eyes, sir. Sometimes I falls to thinking, it is very quiet all round, and suddenly I fancies he’s calling me: “Zakhar! Zakhar!” Oh dear, it fairly gives me the creeps, so it does, sir! Aye, I shan’t have another master like him – that’s certain! And how he loved you, sir, the Lord bless his soul!’
‘Well, come and have a look at little Andrey. I’ll tell them to give you a meal and decent clothes, and then you can do as you like,’ said Stolz, giving him some money.
‘I’ll come, sir; of course I’ll come to have a look at the master’s little boy! I expect he’s grown up by now! Dear me, what a joyful day this has been! Yes, sir, I’ll come; may the Lord keep you in good health and grant you many more years to live,’ Zakhar growled, as the carriage drove away.
‘Well, you’ve heard the story of this beggar, haven’t you?’ Stolz said to his friend.
‘Who is this Ilya Ilyich he mentioned?’ asked the writer.
‘Oblomov: I’ve often spoken to you about him.’
‘Yes, I remember the name, he was your friend and school-fellow. What became of him?’
‘He’s dead. He wasted his life!’
Stolz sighed and fell into thought.
‘And he was as intelligent as anybody, his soul was pure and clear as crystal – noble, affectionate, and – he perished!’
‘But why? What was the reason?’
‘The reason – what a reason! Oblomovitis!’ said Stolz.
‘Oblomovitis?’ the writer repeated in bewilderment. ‘What’s that?’
‘I’ll tell you in a moment: let me collect my thoughts and memories. And you write it down: someone may find it useful.’
And he told him what is written here.
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Ivan Goncharov, Oblomov
Oblomov by Ivan Goncharov / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes