Oblomov, p.8
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       Oblomov, p.8

           Ivan Goncharov
 

  ‘What does that matter? We all go to school with someone or other!’

  ‘Well, if he’d been here,’ said Oblomov, ‘he’d long ago have solved my problems without asking for beer or champagne.’

  ‘Ah, so you blame me, do you? Well, to hell with you and with your beer and champagne! Here, take back your money! Where did I put it? Can’t remember what I did with the damned note!’

  He pulled out a greasy scrap of paper covered with writing.

  ‘No, that’s not it!’ he said. ‘Where did I put it?’

  He rummaged in his pockets.

  ‘Don’t bother to look for it,’ said Oblomov. ‘I’m not blaming you, but merely ask you to speak with more respect of a man who is a close friend of mine and who has done so much for me.’

  ‘So much!’ Tarantyev said spitefully. ‘You wait, he’ll do even more for you – you do as he says!’

  ‘Why do you say this to me?’ asked Oblomov.

  ‘I’m saying this so that you should know when that German of yours robs you of your last penny what it means to give up a neighbour of yours, a true Russian, for some tramp – –’

  ‘Listen, Tarantyev – –’ Oblomov began.

  ‘I’m not going to listen, I’ve listened enough, you’ve given me enough trouble as it is. God knows the insults I’ve had to bear – I suppose in Germany his father was starving and he comes here and turns up his nose at us!’

  ‘Leave the dead alone! How is his father to blame?’

  ‘They are both to blame: father and son,’ Tarantyev said gloomily with a wave of his hand. ‘It’s not for nothing my father warned me to beware of the Germans – and he knew all sorts of people in his time!’

  ‘But what have you against his father, pray?’ asked Oblomov.

  ‘What I have against him is that he came to our province in September with nothing but the clothes he had on and then left a fortune to his son – what does that mean?’

  ‘He only left his son some forty thousand roubles. Some of it was his wife’s dowry and he made the rest by giving lessons and managing an estate: he received a good salary. You must admit the father didn’t do anything wrong. Now what about the son? What wrong has he done?’

  ‘A nice fellow! All of a sudden he makes three hundred thousand out of his father’s forty and then becomes a Court Councillor, a man of learning – and now he is away travelling! The rogue has a finger in every pie! Would a good Russian, a real Russian, do all that? A Russian would choose one thing, and that, too, without rush or hurry, in his own good time, and carry on somehow or other – but this one – Good Lord! If he’d become a Government contractor, then at least one could understand how he had grown rich, but he did nothing of the kind – just got rich by some knavery! There’s certainly something wrong there! I’d prosecute a fellow like that! And now he’s knocking about goodness knows where!’ Tarantyev went on. ‘What does he go knocking about in foreign parts for?’

  ‘He wants to study, to see everything, to know!’

  ‘To study! Hasn’t he been taught enough? What does he want to learn? He’s telling you lies, don’t believe him: he deceives you to your face like a small child. Do grown-up people study anything? Hear what he says! Would a Court Councillor want to study? You studied at school, but are you studying now? And does he,’ Tarantyev pointed to Alexeyev, ‘study? Does that relative of his study? Can you think of any decent man who is studying? Do you imagine he is sitting in a German school and doing his lessons? Rubbish! I’ve heard he’s gone to look at some machine and order one like it: I suppose it is a press for printing Russian money! I’d put him in jail. Some sort of shares –– Oh, these shares – they make me sick!’

  Oblomov burst out laughing.

  ‘What are you laughing at?’ said Tarantyev. ‘Isn’t it true what I say?’

  ‘Let’s drop the subject,’ Oblomov interrupted him. ‘You’d better go about your business, and I’ll write the letters with Alexeyev and try to put down my plan on paper as quickly as possible – may as well do it all at once.’

  Tarantyev went out, but came back immediately.

  ‘I’ve quite forgotten!’ he began, not at all as brusquely as before. ‘I came to you on business this morning. I am invited to a wedding to-morrow: Rokotov is getting married. Lend me your frock-coat, old man. Mine, you can see, is rather shabby.’

  ‘But,’ said Oblomov, frowning at this new demand, ‘how can I? My coat won’t fit you.’

  ‘It will, of course it will!’ Tarantyev interrupted. ‘You remember I tried it on once: it might have been made for me! Zakhar! Zakhar! Come here, you old brute!’

  Zakhar growled like a bear, but did not come.

  ‘Call him, old man,’ Tarantyev pleaded. ‘What a funny chap he is!’

  ‘Zakhar!’ Oblomov called.

  ‘Oh, the devil take you!’ Zakhar could be heard saying from his room as he jumped off the stove.

  ‘Well, what do you want?’ he asked, addressing Tarantyev.

  ‘Fetch my black frock-coat,’ Oblomov ordered. ‘Mr Tarantyev wants to see if it fits him: he has to go to a wedding tomorrow.’

  ‘I won’t bring the coat, sir,’ Zakhar said firmly.

  ‘How dare you, when your master orders you to?’ Tarantyev shouted. ‘Why don’t you send him to the house of correction, old man?’

  ‘That would be a nice thing to do: send an old man to the house of correction!’ said Oblomov. ‘Don’t be obstinate, Zakhar, bring the coat.’

  ‘I won’t!’ Zakhar answered coldly. ‘Let him first return your waistcoat and shirt: he’s had them for five months. He borrowed them to go to a birthday party and we’ve never seen them since. A velvet waistcoat, too, and a fine cambric shirt; cost twenty-five roubles. I won’t give him the coat.’

  ‘Well, good-bye and to hell with both of you!’ Tarantyev said angrily turning to go and shaking his fist at Zakhar. ‘Remember, old man, I’ll take the flat for you – do you hear?’ he added.

  ‘All right, all right,’ Oblomov said impatiently, just to get rid of him.

  ‘And you write what I told you,’ Tarantyev went on, ‘and don’t forget to tell the Governor that you have twelve little children. And, mind, the soup is to be on the table at five sharp. Why haven’t you ordered a pie?’

  But Oblomov did not reply; he had not been listening and, closing his eyes, was thinking of something else.

  With Tarantyev’s departure a dead silence reigned in the room for about ten minutes. Oblomov was worried by the bailiff’s letter and the prospect of moving to another flat, and partly tired by Tarantyev’s loud chatter. At last he sighed.

  ‘Why don’t you write?’ Alexeyev asked quietly. ‘I’ll sharpen a pen for you.’

  ‘Do, and then please go away,’ said Oblomov. ‘I’ll do it myself and you can copy it out after dinner.’

  ‘Very good, sir,’ Alexeyev replied. ‘I was afraid I might be disturbing you. I’ll go now and tell them not to expect you in Yekaterinhof. Good-bye, Mr Oblomov.’

  But Oblomov was not listening to him; he almost lay down in the arm-chair, with his feet tucked under him, looking very dispirited, lost in thought or perhaps dozing.

  5

  OBLOMOV, a gentleman by birth and a collegiate secretary by rank, had lived in Petersburg without a break for the last twelve years.

  At first, while his parents were still alive, he had lived more modestly, occupying two rooms, and was satisfied with the services of Zakhar, whom he had brought with him from the country; but after the death of his father and mother he became the sole owner of 350 serfs, whom he had inherited in one of the remote provinces almost on the borders of Asia. Instead of 5,000 he had received from 7,000 to 10,000 roubles a year, and it was then that the manner of his life became different and much grander. He took a bigger flat, added a cook to his domestic staff, and even kept a carriage and pair. He was still young then, and while it could not be said that he was lively, he was at all events livelier than now; he was still full o
f all sorts of aspirations, still hoped for something, and expected a great deal from the future and from himself; he was still preparing himself for a career, for the part he was going to play in life, and, above all, of course for the Civil Service, which was the main reason for his arrival in Petersburg. Later he also thought of the part he was going to play in society; finally, in the distant future, at the turning point of youth and mature age, the thought of family happiness filled his imagination with agreeable expectations.

  But days and years passed – the soft down on his chin turned into a tough, stubbly growth, his eyes lost their brightness, his waist expanded, his hair had begun to thin out relentlessly, he turned thirty, and he had not advanced a step, but was still standing on the threshold of his career, just where he had been ten years before. Yet he was still hoping to start his life, he was still tracing in his mind the pattern of his future, but with every year that passed he had to change and rub out something in that pattern.

  In his opinion, life was divided into two halves: one consisted of work and boredom – those words were synonymous for him – and the other of rest and quiet enjoyment. This was why his chief pursuit in life – his career as a civil servant – proved to be an unpleasant surprise to him from the outset.

  Brought up in the wilds of the country, amid the gentle and kindly manners and customs of his native province, and passing for twenty years from the embraces of his parents to those of his friends and relations, he had become so imbued with the idea of family life, that his career in the Civil Service appeared to him as a sort of family occupation, such as, for instance, the unhurried writing down of income and expenditure in a note-book, which his father used to do. He thought that the civil servants employed in one department were one big, happy family, unremittingly concerned about one another’s peace and pleasure; that going to the office was not by any means a duty that must be performed day in and day out, and that rainy weather, heat, or a mere disinclination could always be given as a legitimate and sufficient excuse for not going to the office. One can easily imagine his disappointment when he discovered that nothing short of an earthquake could prevent a civil servant who was in good health from turning up at his office, and unfortunately there were no earthquakes in Petersburg; to be sure, a flood could also serve as an excuse, but even floods were rare occurrences. Oblomov grew still more worried when documents inscribed ‘Important’ and ‘Very Important’ began to flash before his eyes, when he was asked to make various inquiries, extracts from official documents, look through papers, write reports two inches thick, which were called, as though in jest, notes, and, what was even worse, everything had to be done in a hurry – everyone seemed to be rushing about without stopping to take breath; as soon as one case was finished, they threw themselves furiously upon another, as though that was the only thing that mattered, and when they had finished that, they forgot it and pounced upon a third – and so it went on and on! Twice he had been roused at night and made to write ‘notes ‘; a few times he was dragged out by a courier from visits to friends – always because of those notes. All this appalled him and bored him terribly. ‘But when am I going to live? When am I to live?’ he kept repeating.

  He had heard at home that the head of a department was a father to his subordinates and had therefore formed a most fanciful and homely idea of such a person. He imagined him to be something like a second father whose only concern was to reward his subordinates whether they deserved it or not, and to provide not only for their needs but also for their pleasures. Oblomov had thought that a superior was so eager to put himself in the place of his subordinate that he would inquire carefully how he had slept, why he was bleary-eyed, and whether he had a headache. But he was bitterly disappointed on his very first day at the office. With the arrival of the head of the department the office was in a turmoil; they began rushing about, they looked harassed, they ran into one another, some pulling their uniforms straight for fear that they were not tidy enough to appear before their chief. This happened, as Oblomov observed afterwards, because certain heads of departments were apt to regard the stupidly frightened face of a subordinate rushing out to meet them as a sign not only of his respect for them, but also of his zeal and sometimes of his ability for the service. Oblomov had no need to be afraid of his chief, a kindly and agreeable person, who had never done any harm to anyone and whose subordinates were highly satisfied and wished for nothing better. No one had ever heard him utter an unpleasant word or raise his voice; he never demanded, but always asked. If it was a question of doing some work, he asked one of his subordinates to do it; if he wanted to invite one to his house, he asked him; if he wanted to put him under arrest, he asked him. He was never familiar with anyone; he treated all individually and collectively with the utmost respect. But somehow all his subordinates quailed before him; they answered his kind questions in a voice that was different from their own, such as they never used in speaking to other people. Oblomov, too, suddenly quailed, without himself knowing why, when his chief entered his office and he, too, began to lose his voice and to speak in a different tone – a high, horrible falsetto – as soon as his chief addressed him.

  Oblomov was worn out with fear and anguish serving under a good and lenient chief; goodness only knows what would have become of him if he had had a stern and exacting one! He somehow or other managed to stay in the service for two years; he might have endured for a third and obtained a higher rank had not a particular incident forced him to send in his resignation. One day he sent an important paper to Arkhangelsk instead of to Astrakhan. The mistake was discovered and a search was made for the culprit. They all waited with interest for the chief to summon Oblomov and ask him coldly and calmly whether he had sent the paper to Arkhangelsk, and they all wondered in what kind of voice Oblomov would reply. Some surmised that he would not reply at all, that he would not be able to. Watching his colleagues, Oblomov became frightened himself, though like the others he knew that his chief would merely reprimand him; but his own conscience was much sterner than any reprimand. Oblomov did not wait for the punishment he deserved, but went home and sent in a medical certificate.

  The certificate was as follows: ‘I, the undersigned, certify, and affix my seal hereto, that the collegiate secretary Ilya Oblomov suffers from an enlarged heart and a dilation of its left ventricle ((Hypertrophia cordis cum dilatatione ejus ventriculi sinistri) and from a chronic pain in the liver (hetitis) which may endanger the patient’s health and life, the attacks, it may be presumed, being caused by his daily attendance at the office. Therefore, to prevent a repetition and an intensification of these morbid attacks, I consider it necessary that Mr Oblomov should stop going to the office for a time and, generally, prescribe an abstention from mental and any other activity.’

  But this helped for a time only; he had to become well again sooner or later, and then he would have to go to the office again every day. Oblomov could not stand it, and he sent in his resignation. That was the end of his work for the State, and it was never resumed again.

  His social career seemed to be more successful at first. During his early years in Petersburg the tranquil features of his face were more frequently animated, his eyes used to glow for hours with the fire of life, they shone with light, hope, and strength. He was as animated as other people, was full of hope, rejoiced at trifles, and also suffered from the same trifles. But that was long ago, when he was still at the tender age when a man regards every other man as his best friend and falls in love with almost every woman, ready to offer her his hand and heart – which some indeed succeed in doing, often to their profound regret for the rest of their lives. In those blissful days Oblomov, too, had his share of not a few tender, soft, and even passionate glances from the crowd of beauties, a lot of promising smiles, two or three stolen kisses, and many more friendly handshakes, that made him suffer and brought tears to his eyes. Still, he never surrendered entirely to a pretty woman and never became her slave, or even a faithful admirer, if only becau
se intimacy with a woman involves a great deal of trouble. Oblomov confined himself mostly to expressing his admiration from afar, from a respectable distance.

  Very seldom did fate throw him together with a woman so closely that he could catch fire for a few days and imagine himself to be in love. That was why his love adventures never developed into love affairs; they stopped short at the very beginning, and in their simplicity, innocence, and purity equalled the love-stories of a schoolgirl. He particularly avoided the pale, melancholy maidens, mostly with black eyes which reflected ‘tormenting days and iniquitous nights’, maidens with secret joys and sorrows, who always have something to confide, something to tell, and when they tell it, shudder, burst into tears, then suddenly throw their arms around their friend’s neck, gaze into his eyes, then at the sky, and declare that there is a curse on their life, and sometimes fall down in a faint. He avoided them fearfully. His soul was still pure and virginal; it was perhaps waiting for real love, for support, for overpowering passion, and then, as the years passed, seemed to have despaired of waiting.

  Oblomov parted still more coldly from his many friends. Immediately after receiving his first letter from the bailiff with news of arrears and failure of crops, he replaced his best friend, the chef, by a woman cook, then sold his horses and, finally, dismissed his other ‘friends’. There was hardly anything that attracted him in the town and he became more and more firmly attached to his flat. At first he found it a bit hard to remain dressed all day, then he felt too lazy to dine out except with intimate friends, mostly bachelors, who did not object to his divesting himself of his tie or unbuttoning his waistcoat, and even, if possible, lying down to have an hour’s sleep. Soon he got tired of parties, too: one had to put on a dress-suit and shave every day. He read somewhere that only morning mists were good for one and evening mists were bad, and he began to fear the damp. In spite of these, eccentricities, his friend Stolz succeeded in making him go out and call on people; but Stolz often left Petersburg for Moscow, Nizhny-Novgorod, the Crimea, and latterly abroad, too, and without him Oblomov was plunged up to the neck in solitude and seclusion, from which he could be dragged only by something unusual, something out of the ordinary events of life; but nothing of the sort ever happened or was likely to happen.

 
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