Oblomov

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Oblomov
Oblomov 1915.jpg
Title page of the 1915 English translation by C. J. Hogarth
Author Ivan Goncharov
Original title Обломов
Translator C. J. Hogarth
Country Russia
Language Russian
Publication date
1859
Media type Print
Preceded by The Frigate Pallada

Oblomov (Russian: Обломов)[1] is a novel by Russian writer Ivan Goncharov, first published in 1859. Oblomov is the central character of the novel, portrayed as the ultimate incarnation of the superfluous man, a symbolic character in 19th-century Russian literature. 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 just manages to move from his bed to a chair in the first 50 pages.[2] The book was considered a satire of Russian nobility whose social and economic function was increasingly in question in mid-nineteenth century Russia.

The novel was popular when it came out in Russia and a number of its characters and devices have had an imprint on Russian culture and language.

Plot[edit]

The novel evolved and expanded from an 1849 short story or sketch entitled "Oblomov's Dream. An Episode from an Unfinished Novel", later incorporated as "Oblomov's Dream" ("Son Oblomova") as Chapter 9 in the completed 1859 novel. The novel focuses on the midlife crisis of the main character, Ilya Ilyich Oblomov, an upper middle class son of a member of Russia's nineteenth century landed gentry. Oblomov's distinguishing characteristic is his slothful attitude towards life. While a common negative characteristic, Oblomov raises this trait to an art form, conducting his little daily business apathetically from his bed. While clearly comedic,[citation needed] the novel also seriously examines many critical issues that faced Russian society in the nineteenth century. Some of these problems included the uselessness of landowners and gentry in a feudal society that did not encourage innovation or reform, the complex relations between members of different classes of society such as Oblomov's relationship with his servant Zakhar, and courtship and matrimony by the elite.

An excerpt from Oblomov's morning (from the beginning of the novel):

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 "Zakhar!" 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, master?"
"I called you, you say? Well, I cannot remember why I did so. Return to your room until I have remembered."

Oblomov spends the first part of the book in bed or lying on his sofa. He receives a letter from the manager of his country estate explaining that the financial situation is deteriorating and that he must visit the estate to make some major decisions, but Oblomov can barely leave his bedroom, much less journey a thousand miles into the country.

A flashback reveals a good deal of why Oblomov is so slothful; the reader sees Oblomov's upbringing in the country village of Oblomovka. He is spoiled rotten and never required to work or perform household duties, and he is constantly pulled from school for vacations and trips or for trivial reasons. In contrast, his friend Andrey Stoltz, born to a German father and a Russian mother, is raised in a strict, disciplined environment, reflecting Goncharov's own view of the European mentality as dedicated and hard-working.

As the story develops, Stoltz introduces Oblomov to a young woman, Olga, and the two fall in love. However, his apathy and fear of moving forward are too great, and she calls off their engagement when it is clear that he will keep delaying their wedding to avoid having to take basic steps like putting his affairs in order.

"Shall I tell you what you would have done had we married?" at length she said. "Day by day you would have relapsed farther and farther into your slough. And I? You see what I am—that I am not yet grown old, and that I shall never cease to live. But you would have taken to waiting for Christmas, and then for Shrovetide, and to attending evening parties, and to dancing, and to thinking of nothing at all. You would have retired to rest each night with a sigh of thankfulness that the day had passed so quickly; and each morning you would have awakened with a prayer that to-day might be exactly as yesterday. That would have been our future. Is it not so? Meanwhile I should have been fading away. Do you really think that in such a life you would have been happy?"
He tried to rise and leave the room, but his feet refused their office. He tried to say something, but his throat seemed dry, and no sound would come. All he could do was to stretch out his hand.
"Forgive me!" he murmured.
She too tried to speak, but could not. She too tried to extend her hand, but it fell back. Finally, her face contracted painfully, and, sinking forward upon his shoulder, she burst into a storm of sobbing. It was as though all her weapons had slipped from her grasp, and once more she was just a woman—a woman defenceless in her fight with sorrow.
"Good-bye, good-bye!" she said amid her spasms of weeping. He sat listening painfully to her sobs, but felt as though he could say nothing to check them. Sinking into a chair, and burying her face in her handkerchief, she wept bitter, burning tears, with her head bowed upon the table.
"Olga," at length he said, "why torture yourself in this way? You love me, and could never survive a parting. Take me, therefore, as I am, and love in me just so much as may be worthy of it."
Without raising her head, she made a gesture of refusal.

During this period, Oblomov is swindled repeatedly by his "friend" Taranteyev and Ivan Matveyevich, his landlady's brother, and Stoltz has to undo the damage each time. The last time, Oblomov ends up living in penury because Taranteyev and Ivan Matveyevich are blackmailing him out of all of his income from the country estate, which lasts for over a year before Stoltz discovers the situation and reports Ivan Matveyevich to his supervisor.

Olga leaves Russia and visits Paris, where she bumps into Stoltz on the street. The two strike up a romance and end up marrying.

However, not even Oblomov could go through life without at least one moment of self-possession and purpose. When Taranteyev's behavior at last reaches insufferable lows, Oblomov confronts him, slaps him around a bit and finally kicks him out of the house, in a scene in which all the noble traits that his social class was supposed to symbolize shine through his then worn out being. Oblomov has a child with his widowed landlady, Agafia Pshenitsina, whom he marries. They name the child Andrey, after Stoltz, who adopts the boy upon Oblomov's death. Oblomov spends the rest of his life in a second Oblomovka, being taken care of by Agafia Pshenitsina like he used to be as a child. She can prepare many a succulent meal, and makes sure that Oblomov doesn't have a single worrisome thought. Sometime before his death he had been visited by Stoltz, who had promised to his wife a last attempt at bringing Oblomov back to the world, but without success. By then Oblomov had already accepted his fate, and during the conversation he mentions "Oblomovitis" as the real cause of his demise. Oblomov's end is quiet, much like the rest of his life.

Oblomovism[edit]

The words Oblomovism and Oblomovitis (translations of Russian: обломовщина oblomovshchina) refer to the fatalistic slothfulness that Oblomov exhibits.

Nikolai Dobrolyubov, in his 1859 article "What is Oblomovism?",[3] described the word as an integral part of Russian avos'. Stolz suggests that Oblomov's death was the result of "Oblomovism".[citation needed]

A character named "Oblomov" in art patron Peggy Guggenheim's memoir Out of This Century was identified by poet Stephen Spender as Samuel Beckett, her one-time lover.[4]

Adaptations[edit]

Son of Oblomov, a comedy adaptation for the theatre, opened at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith, in 1964 and transferred to the Comedy Theatre in the West End the same year. It starred Spike Milligan, who used less and less of the original script until eventually the entire piece was improvised farce; also in the cast were Joan Greenwood, Bill Owen, and Valentine Dyall.

Oblomov was adapted to the cinema screen in the Soviet Union by Nikita Mikhalkov in 1979, as A Few Days from the Life of I.I. Oblomov (Несколько дней из жизни И. И. Обломова; 145 minutes). The Cast and Crew: Oleg Tabakov as Oblomov, Andrei Popov as Zakhar, Elena Solovei as Olga and Yuri Bogatyrev as Andrei; cinematography by Pavel Lebechev; screenplay by Mikhalkov and Aleksander Adabashyan; music by Eduard Artemyev; produced by Mosfilm Studio (Moscow).

In 1989 BBC TV made an English language dramatisation of the novel, with George Wendt in the title role.

In 2005 BBC Radio 4 made a two-part English language dramatisation, heralding the lead character as a tragic-comic hero for a couch potato generation. It was adapted by Stephen Wyatt, produced and directed by Claire Grove and starred Toby Jones as the lead, supported by Trevor Peacock, Claire Skinner, Clive Swift, Gerard McDermott, Nicholas Boulton, and Richenda Carey. Olga's singing voice was provided by Olivia Robinson, with Helen Crayford on piano.

In 2008 an adaptation was produced for the English service of the Russian national broadcaster, the Voice of Russia.[5]

English translations[edit]

  • C. J. Hogarth (1915)
  • Natalie Duddington (1929)
  • David Magarshack (1954)
  • Ann Dunnigan (1963)
  • Stephen Pearl (2006)
  • Marian Schwartz (2008), reviewed by Elaine Blair in The New York Review of Books, 19-aug-2010, pages 54–55.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Oblomov is pronounced [ɐˈbloməf], with the stress on the second syllable.
  2. ^ http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi/ivangont.htm
  3. ^ Добролюбов, Н. А. (1859). "Что такое обломовщина? (in Russian)". Отеч. записки (I–IV). Retrieved 9 November 2006. 
  4. ^ New York Times, October 12, 1958
  5. ^ http://english.ruvr.ru/radio_broadcast/2248881/2316652/

External links[edit]