Portrait of Ivan Goncharov by Ivan Kramskoi (1874)
|Born||Ivan Aleksandrovich Goncharov
18 June 1812
|Died||27 September 1891
Saint Petersburg, Russia
|Notable work(s)||Oblomov (1859)|
Ivan Alexandrovich Goncharov (Russian: Ива́н Алекса́ндрович Гончаро́в, Ivan Aleksandrovič Gončarov; 18 June [O.S. 6 June] 1812 – 27 September [O.S. 15 September] 1891) was a Russian novelist best known as the author of Oblomov (1859).
Ivan Goncharov was born in Simbirsk (now Ulyanovsk). His father Alexander Ivanovich Goncharov was a wealthy grain merchant and a respectable state official who several times has been elected a mayor of Simbirsk. The family's big stone manor in the town center occupied a vast territory and had all the characteristics of a rural manor, with huge barns (packed with wheat and flour) and numerous stables. Alexander Ivanovich died when the boy was seven years old. First mother Avdotya Matveevna, then his godfather Nikolay Nikolayevich Tregubov, a nobleman and a former Russian Navy officer, took it upon themselves to give a boy a good education. Tregubov, described as a man of liberal views and a secret Masonic lodge member, who knew personally some of the Decembrists, and who was one of the most popular men amongst Simbirsk intelligentsia, has later been cited as the major early influence upon Goncharov, especially with his sea-faring stories he used to tell the boy. With Tregubov around, Goncharova could engage herself in domestic affairs. "His servants, cabmen, the whole household merged in with ours, that was a single family. All the practical issues now were mother's, and she proved to be an excellent housewife. All the intellectual duties were his," Ivan Goncharov remembered.
In 1820-1822 Goncharov was studying at the private boarding-school owned by Rev. Fyodor S. Troitsky. It was here that he learned the French and German languages and started reading European writers' original texts, borrowing books from Troitsky's vast library. Goncharova wanted her both sons to follow their late father's steps, and in August 1822 Ivan was sent to Moscow and joined a college of commerce. There he spent eight unhappy years, detesting dismal quality of education and nonsensically severe discipline, taking solace in self-education. "My first humanitarian and moral tutor was Karamzin," he remembered. Then Pushkin came as a revelation, with Evgeny Onegin, published serially, capturing young man's imagination. In 1830, Goncharov decided to quit the college and in 1831 (missing one year because of a cholera outbreak in Moscow) he enrolled into the Moscow University's philological faculty to study literature, Arts and architecture.
At the University with its atmosphere of intellectual freedom and lively debate, Goncharov's spirit thrived. One episode proved to be especially memorable: when his then-idol Alexander Pushkin arrived as a guest lecturer to have a public debate with professor M.T.Katchenovsky on the issue of Slovo o polku Igoreve’s authenticity. "It was as if sunlight lit up the auditorium. I was enchanted by his poetry at the time... It was his genius that formed my aesthetic background - although the same, I think, could be said of all the young people of the time who were interested in poetry," Goncharov wrote. Unlike Hertzen, Belinsky, or Ogaryov, his fellow Moscow University students of the time, Goncharov remained indifferent to the ideas of political and social change that were gaining popularity at the time. Reading and translating were his main occupations. In 1832, the Telescope magazine published two chapters of Eugene Sue's novel Atar-Gull (1831), translated by Goncharov. This was his debut publication. 
In 1834, Goncharov graduated from the University and returned home to enter Simbirsk governor A. M. Zagryazhsky's chancellery. A year later, he moved to Saint Petersburg and started working as a translator at the Finance Ministry's Foreign commerce department. Here in the Russian capital, he became friends with the Maykov family and was both Apollon and Valerian's tutor for a while, teaching the boys Latin and Russian literature). He became a member of the elitist literary circle based in the Maykovs’ house and attended by people like Ivan Turgenev, Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Dmitry Grigorovich. Maykovs' home-made Snowdrop almanac featured many of young Goncharov's poems, but soon he stopped dabbling in poetry altogether. Some of those early verses were later incorporated into A Common Story novel as Aduev's writings, a sure sign the author stopped treating them seriously.
Literary career 
It was in one of Maykovs' Snowdrop compilations that Goncharov's first piece of prose appeared, a satirical novelet called Evil Illness (1838) ridiculed romantic sentimentalism and 'void fantasizing'. Another mini-novel, A Fortunate Blunder, a "high-society drama" in the tradition set by Marlinsky, Vladimir Odoevsky and Vladimir Sollogub, tinged with comedy, appeared an another home-made almanac, Moonlit Nights, in 1839. In 1842 Goncharov wrote an essay called Ivan Savvich Podzhabrin, a naturalist psychological sketch. Published in Sovremennik only six years later, it failed to make any impact, being very much a period piece, but later scholars reviewed it positively, as something in the vein of a Gogol-inspired genre known as "physiological essay", marked with fine style and precision in depicting life of a common man in the city. It transpired later that in the early 1840s Goncharov was working on a novel called The Old People; manuscripts of it have been lost.
A Common Story 
In 1847 Goncharov's first novel, A Common Story, was published in Sovremennik (March and April issues). It dealt with the conflicts between the excessive Romanticism of a young Russian nobleman who’s just arrived to Saint Petersburg from the province, and the emerging commercial class of the Imperial capital with its sober pragmatism. A Common Story polarized the critics and made its author famous. Being a direct response to Vissarion Belinsky's call for exposing a new 'curiosity type', that of a complacent romantic, common at the time, it was lavishly praised by the famous critic as one of the best Russian books of the year. The novelty term aduyevschina (after Aduyev, its main character) became popular with reviewers who saw it as synonymous with vain romantic aspirations. Leo Tolstoy, who liked the novel too, though, used the same word to describe social egotism and inability of some people to see beyond their immediate interests.
In 1849 Sovremennik published Oblomov's Dream, a would-be extract from Goncharov's second novel (known under the working title The Artist at the time), which worked well on its own, as a fine short story. Again, Sovremennik stuff lauded it. Slavophiles, while giving the author credit for being a fine stylist, reviled the irony aimed at the patriarchal Russian ways. The novel itself, though, appeared only ten years later, preceded by some extraordinary events in Goncharov's life.
In 1852 Goncharov embarked upon a round-the-world journey through England, Africa, Japan, and back to Russia, on board frigate Pallada, as a secretary for Admiral Yevfimy Putyatin, whose mission was to inspect Alaska and other Empire's outer reaches, and also establish trade relations with Japan. The log-book which it was Goncharov's duty to keep served as a basis for his future book. On February 25, 1855, through Siberia and Ural (this continental leg of the journey lasted six months) he returned to Saint Petersburg. Goncharov’s travelogue, The Frigate Pallada (The Frigate Pallas; "Pallada" is the Russian spelling of "Pallas"), started to appear, first in Otechestvennye zapiski (April, 1855), then in The Sea Anthology and other magazines.
In 1858 The Frigate Pallada was published as a separate book; it received favourable reviews and became very popular. For a mid-19th century Russian readership the book came as a revelation, providing new insight into the world, hitherto unknown. Goncharov, a well-read man and a specialist in the history and economics of the countries he visited, proved to be a competent and insightful writer. He warned against seeing his work as any kind of political or social statement, insisting it was a subjective piece of writing, but critics praised the book as a well-balanced, unbiased report, containing valuable ethnographical material, but with it, some social critique, too. Again, anti-romantic tendency here prevailed: it looked as part of the polemic with those Russian authors who tended to romanticize "pure and unspoiled" life of the uncivilized world. According to Nikolay Dobrolyubov, Frigate Pallada was "bearing the hallmark of an epic novelist' gift".
Throughout the 1850s Goncharov was working on his second novel, but the process was slow for many reasons. In 1855 he accepted the post of a censor in the Saint Petersburg censorship committee. In this capacity, he helped publish important works by Ivan Turgenev, Nikolay Nekrasov, Aleksey Pisemsky and Fyodor Dostoyevsky, the fact that brought on resentment from some of his bosses. According to Pisemsky, Goncharov was officially reprimanded for permitting his A Thousand Souls novel to be published. Despite all this, Goncharov found himself a target of many satires and received a negative mention in Hertzen's Kolokol. "One of the best Russian authors shouldn’t have taken upon himself this sort of a job," critic Aleksander Druzhinin wrote in his diary. In 1856, as the official line in the publishing policy hardened, Goncharov quit the job.
In the summer of 1857 Goncharov went to Marienbad to take some medical courses. There he wrote the novel, almost in its entirety. "It might seem strange, even impossible that in the course of one month the whole of the novel might be written... But it’d been growing in me for several years, so what I had to do now was just sit and write everything down," he later remembered. Goncharov's second novel Oblomov was published in 1859 in Otechestvennye zapiski. It evolved from "Oblomov's Dream. An Episode from an Unfinished Novel" ("Son Oblomova"), a short story, published earlier in Sovremennik (No. 4, 1849) which was later incorporated into the finished novel as "Oblomov's Dream" ("Son Oblomova"), Chapter 9. The novel caused much discussion in the Russian press, introduced another new term, oblomovshchina, to the literary lexicon and in retrospect is regarded as a Russian classic. In his essay What Is Oblomovshchina? Nikolay Dobrolyubov provided an ideological background for the type of Russia's 'new man' Goncharov exposed. The critic argued that, while several famous classic Russian literary characters - Onegin, Pechorin, and Rudin - bore symptoms of the 'Oblomov malaise', for the first time ever one single feature, that of social apathy, a self-destructive kind of laziness and total unwillingness to even try and lift the burden of all-pervading, killing dourness, had been brought to the fore and subjected to such a thorough analysis.
Fyodor Dostoyevsky, among others, considered Goncharov a noteworthy author of high stature. Anton Chekhov is quoted as stating that Goncharov was "...ten heads above me in talent." Turgenev, who fell out with Goncharov after the latter accused him of plagiarism (specifically of having used some of the characters and situations from The Precipice, whose plan Goncharov had disclosed to him in 1855, in Home of the Gentry and On the Eve), nevertheless declared: "As long as there is even just one Russian alive, Oblomov will be remembered!"
The Precipice 
A moderate conservative at heart, Goncharov greeted the 1861 reforms, embraced the well-publicized notion of the government’s readiness to "be now at the helm of the [social] progress", and found himself in opposition to the whole of the revolutionary democrats' camp. In the summer of 1862 he became an editor of Severnaya potchta (The Northern Post), an Interior ministry's official newaspaper, and a year later returned to the censorship committee. Second time round, Goncharov proved to be a harsh censor: he's brought serious trouble upon Nekrasov's Sovremennik and Russkoye Slovo, where Dmitry Pisarev was becoming now a leading figure. Condemning openly 'nihilistic' tendencies and what he called "pathetic, imported doctrines of materialism, socialism and communism", Goncharov found himself a target of heavy criticism. In 1863 he became a member of the State publishing council and two years later joined the Russian government's Department of publishing. All the while he was working on his third novel which again came out, previewed by extracts: Sophia Nikolayevna Belovodova (a piece he himself later was more than skeptical about), Grandmother and Portrait.
In 1867, Goncharov retired from his censorial office to devote himself entirely to writing The Precipice, a book he later called "my heart's child", which took him twenty years to finish. Towards the end of this tormenting process Goncharov was speaking of the novel as a "burden" and "insurmountable task" that totally blocked his development and made him unable to move any further as a writer. In a letter to Turgenev he confessed that, after finishing Part 3 he toyed with the idea of abandoning the whole project for good.
In 1869 The Precipice, the story of a romantic rivalry among three men, condemning nihilism as subverting the religious and the moral values of Russia, was published in Vestnik Evropy (##1-5). Later critics came to see it as the final part of a trilogy, each part introducing a character typical to the Russian high society of a certain period: first Aduev, then Oblomov and finally Raisky, a gifted man, aborted in his artistic development by the "lack of direction". According to scholar S.Mashinsky, as a social epic, The Precipice was superior to both A Common Story and Oblomov.
The novel had massive success, but the leftist press turned against its author. Saltykov-Shchedrin in Otechestvennye zapiski (The Street Philosophy, #6, 1869), compared it unfavorably to Oblomov. While the latter "had been driven by ideas that's been prompted to its author by the best men of 1840s", The Precipice featured "just a bunch of people wandering to and fro without any sense of direction, their lines of actions having neither beginning nor end," according to the critic. Yevgeny Utin in Vestnik Evropy argued that Goncharov, like all writers of his generation, had lost touch with the new Russia. Controversial proved to be the Mark Volokhov character which, as leftist critics saw it, had been concocted just so as to condemn 'nihilism' once again, thus making the whole novel 'tendentious'. Yet, as Vladimir Korolenko wrote later, "Volokhov and all things related to him will be forgotten, as Gogol’s Correspondence has been forgotten now, while huge Goncharov's characters will remain in history, towering over all of those spiteful disputes of old."
Later years 
Goncharov was planning a fourth novel, set in the 1870s, but it never materialized. Instead he became a prolific critic himself, providing numerous theater and literature reviews, his Myriad of Agonies (Milyon terzaniy, 1871) still regarded as one of the best ever essays on Griboyedov's Woe from Wit. Goncharov also wrote short stories: his Servants of an Old Age cycle as well as "Irony of Fate", "Ukha" and others, described life of rural Russia. In 1880 the first edition of Complete Goncharov was published. Years later after the writer's death, it transpired that he'd burnt many of his latter years manuscripts.
Towards the end of his life Goncharov wrote an unusial piece of memoirs called An Uncommon Story, in which he accused his literary rivals, first and foremost Ivan Turgenev, of having plagiarized his works and prevented him from achieving the European fame. The book which some critic claimed to be the product of an unstable, unhappy mind, while others praised as an eye-opening, even if controversial piece of writing, hasn’t been published until 1924.
Goncharov, who never married, spent his last days absorbed in lonely and bitter recriminations because of the negative criticism some of his work received. He died in loneliness, in Saint Petersburg on September 24, 1891, of pneumonia. He was buried at the Novoye Nikolskoye cemetery of the Alexander Nevsky Lavra. In 1956 his ashes were moved to the Volkovo Cemetery in Leningrad.
Selected bibliography 
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Ivan Goncharov|
- A Common Story (Обыкновенная история, 1847)
- Ivan Savich Podzhabrin (1848)
- The Frigate Pallada (Фрегат "Паллада", 1858)
- "Oblomov's Dream. An Episode from an Unfinished Novel", short story, later Chapter 9 in the 1859 novel as "Oblomov's Dream" ("Сон Обломова", 1849)
- Oblomov (1859)
- The Precipice (Обрыв, 1869)
- Potanin, G.N. "Remembering I.A.Goncharov. Commentaries. Pp. 263-265". I.A.Goncharov Remembered by Contemporaries. Leningrad, 1969. Retrieved 2011-10-10.
- Mashinsky, S. Goncharov and His Legacy. Foreword to The Works of I.A.Goncharov in 6 Volumes. Ogonyok's Library. Pravda Publishers. Moscow, 1972. Pp. 3-54
- "I.A.Goncharov. Biobibliography". Russian Writers. Biobibliographical dictionary. Ed. P.A.Nikolayev. Vol.1 Мoscow, Prosveshcheniye Publishers. 1990. Retrieved 2011-10-10.
- Goncharov, I.A. The Works of... Moscow, 1980. Vol. 7. P. 241).
- Moskvityanin. 1849. No.11. Vol.1. Section 4.
- Gayla Diment's Introduction to Stephen Pearl's translation of Oblomov. New York: Bunim & Brown, 2006)
- Quoted in N. F. Budanova, "Ispoved' Goncharova - Neobyknovennaia istoriia", Literaturnoe nasledstvo, 102 (2000): 202.
- Pritchett, V.S. (7). "Saint of Inertia". New York Review of Books.
- Utin, Ye.I. Literature Debates of Our Times. Vestnik Evropy.1869. No 11.
- "Ivan Alexandrovich Goncharov". Gale Encyclopedia of Biography. Retrieved 2011-10-10.
- "The Uncommon Story. The True Facts. Preface be ed. N.F.Budanova". feb-web.ru. Retrieved 2011-10-10.
- D. S. Mirsky, A History of Russian Literature (New York: Vintage, 1958)
- A Common Story. From Google Books
- Oblomov. From Google Books
- The Precipice. From Archive.org
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