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Oblomov Ivan Aleksandrovich Goncharov - Oblomov is the best known novel by Russian writer Ivan Goncharov, first published in 1859. Oblomov is also the central character of the novel, often seen as the ultimate incarnation of the superfluous man, a symbolic character in 19th-century Russian literature. Oblomov was compared to Shakespeare's Hamlet as answering 'No!' to the question "To be or not to be?" Oblomov is a young, generous nobleman who seems incapable of making important decisions or undertaking any significant actions. Throughout the novel he rarely leaves his room or bed and famously fails to leave his bed for the first 150 pages of the novel. The book was considered a satire of Russian nobility whose social and economic function was increasingly in question in mid-nineteenth century Russia.
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ONE morning, in a flat in one of the great buildings in Gorokhovaia Street, the population of which was sufficient to constitute that of a provincial town, there was lying in bed a gentleman named Ilya Ilyitch Oblomov. He was a fellow of a little over thirty, of medium height, and of pleasant exterior. Unfortunately, in his dark-grey eyes there was an absence of any definite idea, and in his other features a total lack of concentration. Suddenly a thought would wander across his face with the freedom of a bird, flutter for a moment in his eyes, settle on his half-opened lips, and remain momentarily lurking in the lines of his forehead. Then it would disappear, and once more his face would glow with a radiant insouciance which extended even to his attitude and the folds of his night-robe. At other times his glance would darken as with weariness or ennui. Yet neither the one nor the other expression could altogether banish from his countenance that gentleness which was the ruling, the fundamental, characteristic, not only of his features, but also of the spirit which lay beneath them. That spirit shone in his eyes, in his smile, and in his every movement of hand and head. On glancing casually at Oblomov a cold, a superficially observant person would have said, "Evidently he is good-natured, but a simpleton"; whereas a person of greater penetration and sympathy than the first would have prolonged his glance, and then gone on his way thoughtfully, and with a smile as though he were pleased with something.
Oblomov's face was neither reddy nor dull nor pale, but of an indefinite hue. At all events, that was the impression which it gave—possibly because, through insufficiency of exercise, or through want of fresh air, or through a lack of both, he was wrinkled beyond his years. In general, to judge from the extreme whiteness of his bare neck, his small, puffy hands, and his soft shoulders, one would conclude that he possessed an effeminate body. Even when excited, his actions were governed by an unvarying gentleness, added to a lassitude that was not devoid of a certain peculiar grace. On the other hand, should depression of spirits show itself in his face, his glance would grow dull, and his brow furrowed, as doubt, despondency, and apprehension fell to contending with one another. Yet this crisis of emotion seldom crystallized into the form of a definite idea—still less into that of a fixed resolve. Almost always such emotion evaporated in a sigh, and shaded off into a sort of apathetic lethargy.
Oblomov's indoor costume corresponded exactly with the quiet outlines of his face and the effeminacy of his form. The costume in question consisted of a dressing-gown of some Persian material—a real Eastern dressing-gown—a garment that was devoid both of tassels and velvet facings and a waist, yet so roomy that Oblomov might have wrapped himself in it once or twice over. Also, in accordance with the immutable custom of Asia, its sleeves widened steadily from knuckles to shoulder. True, it was a dressing-gown which had lost its pristine freshness, and had, in places, exchanged its natural, original sheen for one acquired by hard wear; yet still it retained both the clarity of its Oriental colouring and the soundness of its texture. In Oblomov's eyes it was a garment possessed of a myriad invaluable qualities, for it was so soft and pliable that, when wearing it, the body was unaware of its presence, and, like an obedient slave, it answered even to the slightest movement. Neither waistcoat nor cravat did Oblomov wear when indoors, since he loved freedom and space. For the same reason his slippers were long, soft, and broad, to the end that, whenever he lowered his legs from the bed to the floor without looking at what he was doing, his feet might fit into the slippers at once.
With Oblomov, lying in bed was neither a necessity (as in the case of an invalid or of a man who stands badly in need of sleep) nor an accident (as in the case of a man who is feeling worn out) nor a gratification (as in the case of a man who is purely lazy). Rather, it represented his normal condition. Whenever he was at home—and almost always he was at home—he would spend his time in lying on his back. Likewise he used but the one room—which was combined to serve both as bedroom, as study, and as reception-room—in which we have just discovered him. True, two other rooms lay at his disposal, but seldom did he look into them save on mornings (which did not comprise by any means every morning) when his old valet happened to be sweeping out the study. The furniture in them stood perennially covered over, and never were the blinds drawn up.
At first sight the room in which Oblomov was lying was a well-fitted one. In it there stood a writing-table of redwood, a couple of sofas, upholstered in some silken material, and a handsome screen that was embroidered with birds and fruits unknown to Nature. Also the room contained silken curtains, a few mats, some pictures, bronzes, and pieces of china, and a multitude of other pretty trifles. Yet even the most cursory glance from the experienced eye of a man of taste would have detected no more than a tendency to observe les convenances while escaping their actual observance. Without doubt that was all that Oblomov had thought of when furnishing his study. Taste of a really refined nature would never have remained satisfied with such ponderous, ungainly redwood chairs, with such rickety whatnots. Moreover, the back of one of the sofas had sagged, and, here and there, the wood had come away from the glue. Much the same thing was to be seen in the case of the pictures, the vases, and certain other trifles of the apartment. Nevertheless, its master was accustomed to regard its appurtenances with the cold, detached eye of one who would ask, "Who has dared to bring this stuff here?" The same indifference on his part, added to, perhaps, an even greater indifference on the part of his servant, Zakhar, caused the study, when contemplated with attention, to strike the beholder with an impression of all-prevailing carelessness and neglect. On the walls and around the pictures there hung cobwebs coated with dust; the mirrors, instead of reflecting, would more usefully have served as tablets for recording memoranda; every mat was freely spotted with stains; on the sofa there lay a forgotten towel, and on the table (as on most mornings) a plate, a salt-cellar, a half-eaten crust of bread, and some scattered crumbs—all of which had failed to be cleared away after last night's supper. Indeed, were it not for the plate, for a recently smoked pipe that was propped against the bed, and for the recumbent form of Oblomov himself, one might have imagined that the place contained not a single living soul, so dusty and discoloured did everything look, and so lacking were any active traces of the presence of a human being. True, on the whatnots there were two or three open books, while a newspaper was tossing about, and the bureau bore on its top an inkstand and a few pens; but the pages at which the books were lying open were covered with dust and beginning to turn yellow (thus proving that they had long been tossed aside), the date of the newspaper belonged to the previous year, and from the inkstand, whenever a pen happened to be dipped therein, there arose, with a frightened buzz, only a derelict fly.
On this particular morning Oblomov had (contrary to his usual custom) awakened at the early hour of eight. Somehow he looked perturbed; anxiety, regret, and vexation kept chasing one another across his features. Evidently he had fallen a prey to some inward struggle, and had not yet been able to summon his wits to the rescue. The fact of the matter was that, overnight, he had received from the starosta of his country estate an exceedingly unpleasant letter. We all know what disagreeable things a starosta can say in his letters—how he can tell of bad harvests, of arrears of debt, of diminished incomes, and so forth; and though this particular official had been inditing precisely similar epistles during the past three years, his latest communication had affected its recipient as powerfully as though Oblomov had received an unlooked-for blow. Yet, to do Oblomov justice, he had always bestowed a certain care upon his affairs. Indeed, no sooner had he received the starosta's first disturbing letter (he had done so three years ago) than he had set about devising a plan for changing and improving the administration of his property. Yet to this day the plan in question remained not fully thought out, although long ago he had recognized the necessity of doing something actually decisive.
Consequently, on awakening, he resolved to rise, to perform his ablutions, and, his tea consumed, to consider matters, to jot down a few notes, and, in general, to tackle the affair properly. Yet for another half-hour he lay prone under the torture of this resolve; until eventually he decided that such tackling could best be done after tea, and that, as usual, he would drink that tea in bed—the more so since a recumbent position could not prove a hindrance to thought.
Therefore he did as he had decided; and when the tea had been consumed he raised himself upon his elbow and arrived within an ace of getting out of bed. In fact, glancing at his slippers, he even began to extend a foot in their direction, but presently withdrew it.
Half-past ten struck, and Oblomov gave himself a shake. "What is the matter?," he said vexedly. "In all conscience 'tis time that I were doing something! Would I could make up my mind to—to—" He broke off with a shout of "Zahkar!" whereupon there entered an elderly man in a grey suit and brass buttons—a man who sported beneath a perfectly bald pate a pair of long, bushy, grizzled whiskers that would have sufficed to fit out three ordinary men with beards. His clothes, it is true, were cut according to a country pattern, but he cherished them as a faint reminder of his former livery, as the one surviving token of the dignity of the house of Oblomov. The house of Oblomov was one which had once been wealthy and distinguished, but which, of late years, had undergone impoverishment and diminution, until finally it had become lost among a crowd of noble houses of more recent creation.
For a few moments Oblomov remained too plunged in thought to notice Zakhar's presence; but at length the valet coughed.
"What do you want?" Oblomov inquired.
"You called me just now, barin?"
"I called you, you say? Well, I cannot remember why I did so. Return to your room until I have remembered."
Zakhar retired, and Oblomov spent another quarter of an hour in thinking over the accursed letter.
"I have lain here long enough," at last he said to himself. "Really, I must rise… . But suppose I were to read the letter through carefully and then to rise? Zakhar!"
Zakhar re-entered, and Oblomov straightway sank into a reverie. For a minute or two the valet stood eyeing his master with covert resentment. Then he moved towards the door.
"Why are you going away?" Oblomov asked suddenly.
"Because, barin, you have nothing to say to me. Why should I stand here for nothing?"
"What? Have your legs become so shrunken that you cannot stand for a moment or two? I am worried about something, so you must wait. You have just been lying down in your room haven't you? Please search for the letter which arrived from the starosta last night. What have you done with it?"
"What letter? I have seen no letter," asserted Zakhar.
"But you took it from the postman yourself?"
"Maybe I did, but how am I to know where you have since placed it?" The valet fussed about among the papers and other things on the table.
"You never know anything," remarked his master. "Look in that basket there. Or possibly the letter has fallen behind the sofa? By the way, the back of that sofa has not yet been mended. Tell the joiner to come at once. It was you that broke the thing, yet you never give it a thought!"
"I did not break it," retorted Zakhar. "It broke of itself. It couldn't have lasted for ever. It was bound to crack some day."
This was a point which Oblomov did not care to contest. " Have you found the letter yet?" he asked.
"Yes—several letters." But they are not what I want."
"I can see no others," asserted Zakhar.
"Very well," was Oblomov's impatient reply. "I will get up and search for the letter myself."
Zakhar retired to his room again, but had scarcely rested his hands against his pallet before stretching himself out, when once more there came a peremptory shout of "Zahar! Zakhar!"
"Good Lord!" grumbled the valet as a third time he made for the study. "Why should I be tormented in this fashion? I would rather be dead!"
"My handkerchief!" cried Oblomov. "Yes, and very quickly, too! You might have guessed that that is what I am wanting."
Zakhar displayed no particular surprise or offence at this reproachful command. Probably he thought both the command and the reproach natural.
"Who knows where the handkerchief is?" he muttered as he made a tour of the room and felt each chair (although he could not but have perceived that on them there was nothing whatsoever lying). "You lose everything," he added, opening the door into the parlour in order to see whether the handkerchief might not be lurking there.
"Where are you going?" exclaimed Oblomov. "'Tis here you must search. I have not been into those other rooms since the year before last. Be quick, will you?"
"I see no handkerchief," said Zakhar, spreading out his hands and peering into every corner. "There it is!" suddenly he croaked. "'Tis just underneath you. I can see its end sticking out. You have been lying on it all the time, yet you actually ask me to find it!" He hobbled away without waiting for an answer. For a moment or two Oblomov was taken aback, but soon found another means of putting his valet in the wrong.
"A nice way to do your cleaning!" he said. "What a lot of dust and dirt, to be sure! Look at those corners! You never bestir yourself at all."
"If I never bestir myself," retorted Zakhar offendedly, "at least I do my best, and don't spare myself, for I dust and sweep almost every day. Everything looks clean and bright enough for a wedding."
"What a lie!" cried Oblomov. "Be off to your room again!"
That he had provoked Zakhar to engage in this conversation was a fact which gave him small pleasure. The truth was he had forgotten that, once a delicate subject is touched upon, one cannot well avoid a fuss. Though he wished his rooms to be kept clean, he wished this task to be carried out invisibly, and apart from himself; whereas, whenever Zakhar was called upon to do even the least sweeping or dusting, he made a grievance of it.
After Zakhar had retired to his den Oblomov relapsed into thought, until, a few minutes later, the clock sounded a half-hour of some sort.
"What is that?" cried Oblomov in horror. "Soon the time will be eleven, yet I am not yet up and washed! Zakhar! Zakhar!"
"Are my washing things ready?" his master inquired.
"Yes, they have been ready a long time. Why do you not get up?"
"And why didn't you tell me that the things are ready? Had you done that, I should have risen long ago. Go along, and I will follow you; but at the moment I must sit down and write a letter."
Zakhar left the room. Presently he reappeared with a much-bescribbled, greasy account-book and a bundle of papers.
"If you are going to write anything," he said, "perhaps you would like to check these accounts at the same time? Some money is due to be paid out."
"What accounts? What money?" inquired Oblomov petulantly.
"The accounts sent in by the butcher, the greengrocer, the laundress, and the baker. All are wanting their money."
"Always money and worry!" grumbled Oblomov. "Why do you not give me the accounts at intervals instead of in a batch like this?"
"Because each time you have sent me away, and then put matters off until the morrow."
"Well, these accounts can wait until the morrow."
"No, they cannot, for the creditors are pressing, and say they are going to allow you nothing more on credit. To-day is the first of the month, you must remember."
"Ah! Fresh cares, fresh worries!" cried Oblomov gloomily. "Why are you standing there? Lay the table, and I will rise, wash, and look into the whole business. Is the water yet ready?"
Oblomov raised himself and grunted as though he really intended to get out of bed.
"By the way," said Zakhar, "whilst you were still asleep the manager of the building sent the dvornik to say that soon you must quit the flat, since he wants it for some one else."
"Very well, then. We must go. Why worry me about it? This is the third time you have done so."
"But they keep worrying me about it."
"Then tell them that we intend to go."
Zakhar departed again, and Oblomov resumed his reverie. How long he would have remained in this state of indecision it is impossible to say had not a ring at the doorbell resounded through the hall.
"Some one has called, yet I am not yet up!" exclaimed Oblomov as he slipped into his dressing-gown. "Who can it be?"
Lying down again, he gazed curiously towards the door.
THERE entered a young fellow of about twenty-five. Beaming with health and irreproachably dressed to a degree which dazzled the eye with its immaculateness of linen and gorgeousness of jewellery, he was a figure calculated to excite envy.
"Good morning, Volkov!"cried Oblomov. "And good morning to you," returned the radiant gentleman, approaching the bed and looking about him for a spot whereon to deposit a hat. However, perceiving only dust, he retained his headgear in his hand. Next he drew aside the skirts of his coat (preparatory to sitting down), but a hasty inspection of the nearest chair convinced him that he had far better remain standing.
"So you are not yet up?" he went on. "And why on earth are you wearing a nightshirt? They have quite gone out of fashion."
"'Tis not a nightshirt, it is a dressing-gown," said Oblomov, nestling lovingly into the ample folds of the garment. "Where are you from?"
"From the tailor's. Do you think this frock-coat a nice one?" And he turned himself round and round for Oblomov's inspection.
"Splendid! Made with excellent taste!" was the verdict. "Only why is it so broad behind?"
"The better to ride in it. It is a riding-coat. I ordered it for to-day for the reason that this is the first of May and I am to go to the Ekaterinhov with Gorunov. He has just got his promotion, and we intend to cut a dash on the strength of it. He has a roan horse—all the horses in his regiment are roans—and I a black. How are you going—in a carriage or on foot?"
"By neither method," replied Oblomov.
"What? To-day is the first of May, and you are not going to the Ekaterinhov? Why, every one will be there!"
"Not quite every one," Oblomov lazily remarked.
"You must go, though. Sophia Nikolaevna and Lydia will be occupying two of the seats in our carriage, but the seat facing them will be vacant. Come with us, I tell you."
"No, I do not intend to occupy the vacant seat. What sort of a figure should I cut on it?"
"Then, if you like, Mischa Gorunov shall lend you a horse."
"Of what is the fellow thinking?" said Oblomov as though to himself. "How come you and the Gorunov family to be so friendly with one another?"
"Give me your word of honour not to repeat what I may tell you, and I will explain."
"Herewith I give it."
"Very well. I am in love with Lydia."
"Splendid! Have you been in love with her long? She seems a charming girl."
"I have been in love with her for three weeks," said Volkov, with a sigh. "And Mischa, for his part, is in love with Dashenka."
"Who is Dashenka?"
"What! You do not know Dashenka? Why, the whole town is raving over her dancing. To-night I am going to the Opera with Mischa, and he is to throw her a bouquet. Well, I must be off to buy the necessary camelias for it."
"Come back, then, and take lunch with me. I should like to have a talk with you, for I have just experienced two misfortunes."
"Impossible, I fear, for I am lunching with Prince Tiumenev. All the Gorunovs—yes, and Lydia, too—are to be there. What a cheerful house it is! And so is Tiumenev's country place. I have heard that it is to be the scene of numberless dances and tableaux this summer. Are you likely to be one of the guests?"
"No—I think not."
"What hospitality the Prince dispenses! This winter his guests averaged fifty, and sometimes a hundred."
"How wearisome the whole thing must have been!"
"What! Wearisome? Why, the more the merrier. Lydia, too, used to be there—though in those days I never so much as noticed her. In fact, never once did I do so until one day I found myself vainly trying to forget her, vainly pitting reason in the lists with love.'" Volkov hummed the concluding words, and seated himself carelessly upon a chair. Almost instantly he leaped to his feet again, and brushed the dust from his trousers.
"What quantities of dirt you keep everywhere!" he remarked.
"'Tis Zakhar's fault, not mine," replied Oblomov.
"Well, now I must be off, as it is absolutely necessary that I should buy those camelias for Mischa's bouquet. Au revoir!"
"Come and have tea after the opera, and tell me all about it."
No, that is impossible, for I am promised to supper at the Musinskis'. It is their reception day, you know. However, meet me there, and I'll present you."
"What is toward at the Musinskis'?"
"What, indeed? Why, entertainment in a house where you hear all the news."
"Like everything else, it would bore me."
"Then go and call upon the Mezdrovs, where the talk centres upon one topic, and one topic alone—the arts. Of nothing else will you hear but the Venetian School, Beethoven, Bach, Leonardo da Vinci, and so forth."
"All of them boring subjects!" said Oblomov with a yawn. "What a lot of pedants the Mezdrovs must be! Do you never get tired of running about from house to house?"
"Tired? Why should I? Every morning I like to go out and learn the news (thank God, my official duties never require my actual presence, save twice a week, when they consist of lunching with and doing the civil to the General). After that I proceed to call upon any people upon whom I have not called for a long while. Next there will be some new actress—whether at the Russian theatre or at the French. Besides, always there is the Opera, to which I am a subscriber. Furthermore, I am in love, and Mischa is about to enjoy a month's leave from his regiment, and the summer is on the point of beginning, and Mischa and I intend to retire to his country house for a change of air. We shall have plenty of sport there, since he possesses excellent neighbours and they give bals champêtres. Also I shall be able to escort Lydia for walks through the woods, and to row her about in a boat, and to pluck flowers for her benefit. At the present moment I must leave you. Good-bye!"
Rising, he endeavoured to look at himself in a dust-coated mirror; after which he departed—though returning once more to show his friend the newest thing in Parisian gloves and an Easter card which Prince Tiumenev had recently sent him.
"What a life!" thought Oblomov, with a shrug of his shoulders. "What good can a man get out of it? It is merely a squandering and a wasting of his all. Of course, an occasional look into a theatre is not a bad thing, nor is being in love—for Lydia is a delightful girl, and pursuits like plucking flowers with her and rowing her about in a boat even I should enjoy; but to have to be in ten different places every day, as Volkov has—!"
He turned over on his back and congratulated himself that he at least cherished no vain social aspirations. 'Twas better to lie where he was and to preserve both his nerves and his human dignity… .
Another ring at the doorbell interrupted his reflections. This time the visitor turned out to be a gentleman in a dark frock-coat with crested buttons whose most prominent features were a clean-shaven chin, a pair of black whiskers around a haggard (but quiet and sensible) face, and a thoughtful smile.
"Good day, Sudbinski!" cried Oblomov cheerfully.
"Good day to you," replied the gentleman. "'Tis a long time since I last saw you, but you know what this devilish Civil Service means. Look at that bagful of reports which I have brought with me! And not only that, but I have had to leave word at the office that a messenger will find me here should I be wanted. Never do I get a single moment to myself."
"So you were on the way to your office? How come you to be going so late? Your usual hour used to be nine."
"Yes, it used to be nine, but now I go at twelve."
"Ah, I see: you have recently been made the head of a department. Since when?"
"Since Easter," replied Sudbinski, with a meaning nod. "But what a lot of work! It is terrible! From eight to twelve in the morning I am slaving at home; from twelve to five at the Chancellory; and all the evening at home again. I have quite lost touch with my acquaintances."
"Come and lunch with me to-day, and we will drink to your promotion," said Oblomov.
"No, to-day I am lunching with the Vice-Director, as well as have a report to prepare by Thursday. You see, one cannot rely upon provincial advices, but must verify every return personally. Are you going to the Ekaterinhov to-day?"
"No, for I am not very well," replied Oblomov, knitting his brows. "Moreover, like yourself, I have some work to do."
"I am very sorry," said Sudbinski; "for it is a fine day, and the only day on which I myself can hope for a little rest."
"And what news have you?" asked Oblomov.
"Oh, a good deal—of a sort. We are required no longer to write at the end of our official letters 'Your humble servant,' but merely 'Accept the assurance of my profound respect.' Also we have been told that we are to cease to make out formal documents in duplicate. Likewise, our office has just been allotted three new tables and a couple of confidential clerks. Lastly, the Commission has now concluded its sittings. There's a budget of news for you!"
"And what of our old comrades?"
"Nothing at present, except that Svinkin has lost his case."
"And to think that you work from eight to twelve, and from twelve to five, and again in the evening! Dear, dear!"
"Well, what should I do if I were not in the Service?" asked Sudbinski.
"You would just read and write on your own account."
"But it is not given to every one to be a littérateur. For example, you yourself write nothing."
"No, for I have some property on my hands," said Oblomov with a sigh. "But I am working out a new system for it; I am going to introduce reforms of various kinds. The affair worries me terribly."
"Well, for my part, I must work, in order to make a little money. Besides, I am to be married this coming autumn."
"Indeed! And to whom?"
"To Mademoiselle Murashina. Do you remember their country villa, next to mine? I think you came to tea with me and met her there?"
"No, I have no recollection of it. Is she pretty?
"Yes, charming. Suppose, one day, we go to lunch with her?"
Oblomov hesitated. "Very well," he said after a pause; "only—"
"What about next week?"
"Certainly. Next week let it be. But at the moment I have no suitable clothes… . Is your fiancée a financial catch?"
"Yes, for her father is a State councillor, and intends to give her ten thousand roubles, as well as to let us have half his official house (a house of twelve rooms—the whole being furnished, heated, and lighted at the public expense); so we ought to do very well. Herewith I invite you to be my best man at the wedding."
Once more the doorbell rang.
"Good-bye," said Sudbinski. "I am annoyed that, as I surmise, I should be wanted at the office."
"Then stay where you are," urged Oblomov. "I desire your advice, for two misfortunes have just befallen me."
"No, no; I had better come and see you another day." And Sudbinski took his leave.
"Plunged up to the ears in work, good friend!" thought Oblomov as he watched him depart. "Yes, and blind and deaf and dumb to everything else in the world! Yet by going into society and, at the same time, busying yourself about your affairs you will yet win distinction and promotion. Such is what they call 'a career'! Yet of how little use is a man like that! His intellect, his will, his feelings—what do they avail him? So many luxuries is what they are—nothing more. Such an individual lives out his little span without achieving a single thing worth mentioning; and meanwhile he works in an office from morning till night—yes, from morning till night, poor wretch!"
Certainly a modicum of quiet satisfaction was to be derived from the thought that from nine o'clock until three, and from eight o'clock until nine on the following day, he, Oblomov, could remain lying prone on a sofa instead of having to trot about with reports and to inscribe multitudes of documents. Yes, he preferred, rather, leisure for the indulgence of his feelings and imagination. Plunged in a philosophical reverie, he overlooked the fact that by his bedside there was standing a man whose lean, dark face was almost covered with a pair of whiskers, a moustache, and an imperial. Also the new-comer's dress was studied in its negligence.
"Good morning, Oblomov," he said.
"Good morning, Penkin," was the response. "I should like to show you a letter which I have just received from my starosta. Whence have you sprung?"
"From the newsagent's, near by. I went to see if the papers are yet out. Have you read my latest article?"
"Then you ought to do so."
"What is it about?" Oblomov asked with a faint yawn.
"About trade, about the emancipation of women, about the beautiful April days with which we have been favoured, and about the newly formed fire-brigade. How come you not to have read that article? In it you will see portrayed the whole of our daily life. Over and above anything else, you will read therein an argument in favour of the present realistic tendency in literature."
"And have you no other work on hand?" inquired Oblomov.
"Yes, a good deal. I write two newspaper articles a week, besides reviewing a number of books. In addition, I have just finished a tale of my own."
"What is it about?"
"It tells how, in a certain town, the governor used to beat the citizens with his own hand."
"The realistic tendency, right enough!" commented Oblomov.
"Quite so," said the delighted litteérateur. "In my tale (which is novel and daring in its idea) a traveller witnesses a beating of this kind, seeks an interview with the governor of the province, and lays before him a complaint. At once the said governor of the province orders an official who happens to be proceeding to that town for the purpose of conducting another investigation to inquire also into the truth of the complaint just laid, and likewise to collect evidence as to the character and behaviour of the local administrator. The official in question calls together the local citizens, on the pretext of a trade conference, and incidentally sounds them concerning the other matter. And what do you suppose they do? They merely smile, present their compliments, and load the governor of the town with praises! Thereafter the official makes extraneous inquiries, and is informed that the said citizens are rogues who trade in rotten merchandise, give underweight, cheat the Treasury, and indulge in wholesale immorality; wherefore the beatings have been a just retribution."
"Then you intend the assaults committed by the governor to figure in the story as the fatum of the old tragedians?"
"Quite so," said Penkin. "You have great quickness of apprehension, and ought yourself to tackle the writing of stories. Yes, it has always been my idea to expose the arbitrariness of our local governors, the decline of morality among the masses, the faulty organization existing among our subordinate officials, and the necessity of drastic, but legal, measures to counterbalance these evils. 'Tis a novel idea for a story, is it not?"
"Certainly; and to me who read so little a peculiarly novel one."
"True, I have never once seen you with a book in your hand. Nevertheless, I beseech you to read a poem which, I may say, is shortly to appear. It is called 'The Love of a Blackmailer for a Fallen Woman.' The identity of the author I am not at liberty to disclose—at all events yet."
"Pray give me an idea of this poem."
"It exposes, as you will see, the whole mechanism of the social movement—but a mechanism that is painted only in poetic colours. Each spring of that engine is touched upon, and each degree of the social scale held up to the light. We see summoned to the bar, as it were, a weak, but vicious, lord, with a swarm of blackmailers who are engaged in cheating him. Also various categories of fallen women are dissected—French women, German women, and others; the whole being done with vivid and striking verisimilitude. Certain extracts from the poem have come to my ears, and I may say that the author is a great man—one hears in him the notes both of Dante and of Shakespeare."
"And whence has he originated?" asked Oblomov, leaning forward in astonishment; but Penkin, perceiving that he had now said too much, merely repeated that Oblomov must read the poem, and judge for himself. This Oblomov declined to do.
"Why?" asked Penkin. "The thing will make a great stir and be much talked about."
"Very well: let people talk. 'Tis all some folks have to do. 'Tis their métier."
"Nevertheless, read it yourself, for curiosity's sake."
"What have I not seen in books!" commented the other. "Surely folk must write such things merely to amuse themselves?"
"Yes; even as I do. At the same time, what truth, what verisimilitude, do you not find in books! How powerfully some of them move one through the vivid portraiture which they contain! Whomsoever these authors take—a tchinovnik, an officer, or a blackmailer—they paint them as living creatures."
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