Oblomov, p.9Ivan Goncharov
Besides, as Oblomov grew older, he reverted to a sort of childish timidity, an expectation of danger and evil from everything that was outside the sphere of his daily experience, the result of getting out of touch with life. He was not afraid, for example, of the crack in his bedroom ceiling, he was used to it; nor did it ever occur to him that the stuffy atmosphere in the room and his constant sitting indoors was almost more perilous for his health than night dampness, that his daily over-indulgence at a meal was a kind of slow suicide, for he was used to it and felt no fear. He was not used to movement, to life, to crowds, and to bustle. He felt stifled in a crowd; he got into a boat fearing that he would not reach the other bank in safety; he drove in a carriage expecting the horse to bolt and smash it. Sometimes ha had an attack of nerves; he was afraid of the stillness around him or for a reason he did not understand a cold shiver ran down his spine. Sometimes he looked apprehensively at a dark corner, dreading lest his imagination should trick him into seeing a ghost there.
That was what his social life had come to. He lazily dismissed all the youthful hopes that had betrayed him or been betrayed by him, all the bitter-sweet, bright memories that sometimes make even an old man’s heart beat faster.
WHAT did he do at home, then? Did he read or write or study? Yes, if he chanced to pick up a book or a newspaper, he read it. If he heard of some remarkable work, he would feel an urge to become acquainted with it. He tried to get the book, asked for it, and if it was brought to him soon, he began it and formed some idea of what it was about; another step and he would have mastered it, but instead he lay looking apathetically at the ceiling, with the book lying beside him unfinished and not properly understood. He grew indifferent much faster than he had grown interested: he never went back to a book he had abandoned. And yet he had been educated like other people, like everyone, in fact – that is to say, till the age of fifteen he had been in a boarding-school, then his old parents had decided, after a long struggle, to send their darling boy to Moscow, where willy-nilly he had to follow the course of his studies to the end. His timid, apathetic nature prevented him from giving full play to his laziness and caprices among strangers at school, where no exceptions were made for spoiled children. He had to sit straight in his schoolroom and listen to what the teachers were saying, because there was nothing else he could do, and he learned his lessons with much labour, with sighs, in the sweat of his brow. All that he regarded as a punishment sent by heaven for our sins.
He never looked beyond the line which the teacher marked with his nail in setting the lesson; he never asked any questions and never required any explanations. He was quite satisfied with what was written in his note-book and showed no tiresome curiosity even when he failed to understand all that he heard and learned. If he managed somehow or other to master a book on statecraft, history, or political economy, he was perfectly satisfied. When Stolz brought him books, which he had to read in addition to what he had learned, he used to look at him in silence for a long time.
‘So you, too, Brutus, are against me?’ he said with a sigh, as he sat down to read them.
Such immoderate reading seemed hard and unnatural to him. Of what use were all those note-books which had taken up so much time, paper, and ink? What is the use of text-books? And, last but not least, why waste six or seven years of your life being cooped up in a school? Why put up with all the strict discipline, the reprimands, the boredom of sitting over lessons, the bans on running about, playing, and amusing yourself, when life is still ahead of him?
‘When am I to live?’ he asked himself again. ‘When am I at last to put into circulation all this capital of knowledge, most of which will be of no use to me in life anyway? Political economy, for instance, algebra, geometry – what am I going to do with them in Oblomovka?’
History, too, depressed him terribly: you learn and read that at a certain date the people were overtaken by all sorts of calamities and were unhappy, then they summoned up their strength, worked, took infinite care, endured great hardships, laboured in preparation for better days. At last they came – one would think history might take a rest, but no, clouds gathered again, the edifice crashed down, and again the people had to toil and labour… The bright days do not remain, they fly, and life flows on, one crisis follows upon another.
Serious reading tired him. Philosophers did not succeed in awakening in him a passion for speculative thought. The poets, on the other hand, touched him to the quick: like everyone else, he became young again. He, too, reached the happy time of life, which never fails anyone and which smiles upon all, the time when one’s powers are at their height, when one is conscious of life and full of hope and desire to do good, to show one’s prowess, to work, when one’s heart beats faster and the pulses quicken, when one thrills with emotion, makes enthusiastic speeches, and sheds sweet tears. His heart and mind grew clear: he shook off his drowsiness and longed for activity. Stolz helped him to prolong that moment as long as was possible for such a nature as his friend’s. He took advantage of Oblomov’s love of the poets and kept him for sixteen months under the spell of thought and learning. He made use of the ecstatic flight of his young friend’s fancy to introduce aims other than pure delight in the reading of poetry, pointed out the distant goals of his own and his friend’s life, and carried him off into the future. Both grew excited, wept, and exchanged solemn promises to follow the path of reason and light. Oblomov was infected by the youthful ardour of Stolz, and he was aflame with the desire to work and to reach his distant, but fascinating goal.
But the flower of life opened up and bore no fruit. Oblomov sobered down, and only occasionally, on Stolz’s advice, read one book or another, though not at once, and without hurry or eagerness, lazily scanning the lines. However absorbing the passage that engaged his attention might be, if it was time to have dinner or to go to bed, he put the book face downwards and went to have dinner or blew out the candle and went to sleep. If he was given the first volume of some work, he did not, after finishing it, ask for the second, but if it were brought to him, he read it through slowly. Later on he found even the first volume too much for him and spent most of his leisure with his elbow on the table and his head on his elbow; sometimes, instead of his elbow, he used the book Stolz insisted that he should read.
So ended Oblomov’s career as a student. The date on which he heard his last lecture was the utmost limit of his learning. The principal’s signature on his certificate, like his teacher’s nail-mark on his book in the old days, was the line beyond which our hero did not think it necessary to extend the field of his knowledge. His head was a complicated depository of past deeds, persons, epochs, figures, religions, disconnected political, economic, mathematical and other truths, problems, principles, and so on. It was like a library composed entirely of odd volumes of various branches of knowledge. His studies had a strange effect on Oblomov; there was for him a gulf between life and learning which he never attempted to cross. To him life was one thing and learning another. He had studied all the existing and the no longer existing systems of law, he had been through the course of practical jurisprudence, but when after a burglary in his house he had to write to the police, he took a sheet of paper and pen, spent a long time thinking over it, and in the end sent for a clerk. His estate accounts were kept by the bailiff. ‘What has learning to do with it?’ he asked himself in perplexity.
He returned to his seclusion without any store of knowledge which might have given a direction to his roving and idly slumbering thoughts. What did he do? Why, he went on drawing the pattern of his own life. He found in it, not without reason, so much wisdom and poetry that it provided him with an inexhaustible source of occupation even without any books and learning. Having given up the service and society, he began to solve the problem of existence in a different way; he began to ponder about the purpose of his life, and at last discovered that it was in himself that he had to look for its secret. He understood that family happiness and the care of
Oblomov’s father left the estate to his son as he had received it from his father. Though he had spent all his life in the country, he never tried to be clever or racked his brains over different improvements as landowners do nowadays: how to discover new sources of productivity of the land or to enlarge and increase the old sources, and so on. The fields were cultivated in the same way as in his grandfather’s time, and the methods of marketing the agricultural produce were the same. The old man, to be sure, was very pleased if a good harvest or a rise in prices provided him with a larger income than the year before: he called it a divine blessing. He had merely an aversion to making money in all sorts of new-fangled and devious ways.
‘Our fathers and forefathers were no stupider than we,’ he used to say in answer to what he regarded as harmful advice, ‘and yet they lived happily, and so shall we: God willing, we shall not starve.’
Receiving, without various cunning shifts, an income from the estate that was sufficient to provide a good dinner and supper for his family and guests, he thanked God and thought it a sin to try to get more than that. If his steward brought him 2,000 roubles, having put another 1,000 in his own pocket, and tearfully blamed the hail, drought, or bad harvest for it, old Oblomov crossed himself and said also with tears:
‘God’s will be done. I shall not argue with God. We must thank God for what there is.’
Since the death of Oblomov’s parents the affairs on the estate had not improved; on the contrary, as was evident from the bailiff’s letter, they had grown worse. It was obvious that Oblomov had to go there himself and find out on the spot the reason for the gradual decline in his income. He intended to do so, but kept delaying, partly because such a journey meant almost a new and unknown feat for him. In all his life he had made only one journey – in a big, old-fashioned coach, amidst featherbeds, chests, trunks, hams, loaves, all sorts of roasted and cooked beef and poultry, and accompanied by several servants. That was how he had made his only journey from the estate to Moscow, and this journey he took as the standard for all journeys. And now, he was told, one no longer journeyed like that: one travelled at breakneck speed. Again, Oblomov put off his journey because he was not yet ready to put his affairs in order. He was certainly not like his father and grandfather. He had studied and lived in the world: all that suggested all sorts of ideas that were new to him. He understood that acquisition was not a sin, but that it was the duty of every citizen to help to raise the general welfare by honest labour. That was why the greatest part of the pattern of life which he drew in his seclusion was devoted to a fresh plan for re-organization of the estate and dealing with the peasants in accordance with the needs of the times. The fundamental idea of the plan, its arrangement and its main parts had long been ready in his head; only the details, the estimates and the figures remained. He worked untiringly on the plan for several years, thinking it over continually as he was pacing his room or lying down or visiting friends; he kept adding to it or changing various items, recalling what he had thought of the day before and forgotten during the night; and sometimes a new, unexpected idea would flash like lightning through his mind and set it simmering – and the work would start all over again. He was not some petty executor of somebody else’s ready-made notions; he had himself created his own ideas and he was going to carry them out.
As soon as he got up in the morning and had taken his breakfast, he lay down at once on the sofa, propped up his head on his hand and plunged into thought without sparing himself till at last his head grew weary from the hard work and his conscience told him that he had done enough for the common welfare. Only then did he permit himself to rest from his labours and change his thoughtful pose for another less stern and business-like and a more comfortable one for languorous day-dreaming. Having done with the cares of business, Oblomov liked to withdraw into himself and live in the world of his own creation. He was not unacquainted with the joys of lofty thoughts; he was not unfamiliar with human sorrows. Sometimes he wept bitterly in his heart of hearts over the calamities of mankind and experienced secret and nameless sufferings and anguish and a yearning for something far away, for the world, perhaps, where Stolz used to carry him away.… Sweet tears flowed from his eyes.
It would also happen that sometimes he would be filled with contempt for human vice, lies, and slanders, for the evil that was rife in the world, and he was consumed by a desire to point out to man his sores, and suddenly thoughts were kindled in him, sweeping through his head like waves of the sea, growing into intentions, setting his blood on fire, flexing his muscles, and swelling his veins; then his intentions turned to strivings; moved by a spiritual force, he would change his position two or three times in one minute, and half-rising on his couch with blazing eyes, stretch forth his hand and look around him like one inspired.… In another moment the striving would turn into an heroic act – and then, heavens! What wonders, what beneficent results might one not expect from such a lofty effort!
But the morning passed, the day was drawing to its close, and with it Oblomov’s exhausted energies were crying out for a rest: the storms and emotions died down, his head recovered from the spell of his reverie, and his blood flowed more slowly in his veins. Oblomov turned on his back quietly and wistfully and, fixing a sorrowful gaze at the window and the sky, mournfully watched the sun setting gorgeously behind a four-storied house. How many times had he watched the sun set like that!
Next morning there was life once more, new excitements and dreams! He liked to imagine himself sometimes as some invincible general, compared with whom not only Napoleon, but also Yeruslau Lazarevich dwindled into insignificance; he invented a war and a cause for it, such as, for instance, an invasion of Europe by the peoples of Africa, or he organized new crusades, and fought to settle the fate of nations, devastating cities, showing mercy, putting to death, performing deeds of goodness and magnanimity. Or he would choose to be a thinker or a great artist: everyone worshipped him, he was crowned with laurels, the crowd ran after him, shouting: ‘Look, look, here comes Oblomov, our famous Ilya Ilyich!’ At bitter moments he suffered greatly, tossed from side to side, lay face downwards, and sometimes lost heart completely; then he rose from his bed, knelt down and began to pray ardently, zealously, imploring heaven to avert the storm that threatened him. After entrusting the care of his future to Providence, he grew calm and indifferent to everything in the world – let the storm do its worst!
This was how he used his spiritual powers, after spending days in a state of agitation and only recovering with a deep sigh from an enchanting dream or an agonizing anxiety when the day was drawing to a close and the sun began to set gorgeously in an enormous ball behind the four-storied house. Then he once more watched it with a wistful look and a sorrowful smile and rested peacefully from his emotional exertions.
No one saw or knew this inner life of Oblomov; they all thought that there was nothing special about him, that he just lay about and enjoyed his meals, and that that was all one could expect from him; that it was doubtful whether he was able to form any coherent thoughts in his head. That was what the people who knew him said about him. Only Stolz knew and could testify as to his abilities and the volcanic work that was going on inside his ardent head and humane heart; but Stolz was hardly ever in Petersburg.
Only Zakhar, whose whole life centred round his master, knew his inner life even better than Stolz; but he was convinced that both he and his master were doing useful work and living a normal life, as they should, and that they could not possibly live otherwise.
ZAKHAR was over fifty. He no longer belonged to the direct descendants of those Russian Calebs, the knights of the servants’ hall without fear and without reproach, who were full of selfless loyalty to their masters and who
Moreover, Zakhar was a gossip. In the kitchen, in the shop, and at all the meetings at the gate he complained everyday of his hard life. He claimed that there had never been a worse master, that Oblomov was capricious, stingy, and bad-tempered, that there was no pleasing him – that, in short, he would rather be dead than go on living with him. Zakhar did these things not out of malice and not out of a desire to injure his master, but just because he had inherited from his father and grandfather the habit of abusing the master at every favourable opportunity.
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