OFTEN Oblomov's old school friend had endeavoured—though in vain—to
wean his comrade from the state of inertia in which he (Oblomov) was
plunged. The pair were discussing the same subject in Oblomov's study.
"Once upon a time," said Schtoltz, "I remember you a slim, lively young
fellow. Have you forgotten our joint readings of Rousseau, Schiller, Göethe,
"Have I forgotten them?" re-echoed Oblomov. "No. How could I forget them?
How I used to dream over those books, and to whisper to myself my hopes for
the future, and to make plans of all sorts!—though I kept them from you for
fear lest you would laugh at them. But that expired at Verklevo; and never
since has it been repeated. What is the reason, I would ask? Never have I
gone through any great mental tempest or upheaval, my conscience is as clear
as a mirror, and no adverse stroke of fortune has occurred to destroy my
self-conceit. Yet for some reason or another I have gone to pieces." He
sighed. "You see, Andrei, at no point in my life have I been touched with a
fire which could either save me or destroy me. I have lived a life different
from that of others. With me it has not been a morning dawn which, gradually
broadening to a sultry, bustling noon, has faded, imperceptibly, naturally,
into eventide. No, I began life with a quenching of the light of
day, and, from the first moment that I realized myself, realized also that I
was on the wane. I realized that fact as I sat at my desk in the
chancellory, as I read, as I consorted with friends, as I squandered my
means upon Minia, as I lounged on the Nevski Prospect, as I attended
receptions where I was welcomed as an eligible parti, as I wasted
my life and brains in fluctuating between town and country. Even my
self-conceit—upon what was it flung away? Upon figuring in clothes made by
a good tailor, upon gaining the entrée to well-known houses, upon
having my hand shaken by Prince P—-! Yet self-conceit ought to be the very
salt of life. Whither is mine gone? Either I have never understood the life
of which I speak or it was never suited to me. Oh, that I had never known or
seen it, that no one had ever pointed it out to me For yourself, you entered
and left my orbit like a bright, swift comet; and when you were gone I
forgot everything, and began to fade."
As Schtoltz listened to Oblomov's words there was no trace of a
contemptuous smile on his features.
"Not long ago," resumed Oblomov, "you said that my face had lost its
freshness and colour. Yes, that is so. I am like a ragged, cast-off
garment—though less from the effect of weather and wear and tear than from
the fact that during the past twelve years there has lain within me a light
that has ever been seeking an outlet, but has been doomed to illumine only
its own prison. Now, therefore, unable to gain its freedom, it is becoming
altogether extinguished. Am I alone in this, however? Look around you. The
name of the tribe to which I belong is legion."
"Nevertheless, I intend to take you travelling with me," remarked
Schtoltz, rising. "We will start to-morrow. It must be done now or never."
With that he went to bed.
"Now or never." Somehow to Oblomov the words seemed a sort of threat. He
approached his dusty writing-table, and took up a pen. Of ink there was
none, nor yet a single scrap of writing-paper. Mechanically and at random he
traced some letters in the dust with his finger. There resulted the word Oblomovstchina. He obliterated it with a quick
movement of his sleeve. Often in his dreams had he seen the word written in
letters of fire on the ceiling, even as once Belshazzar saw characters
traced on the wall of his banqueting-room. "Now or never." Oblomov listened
to this last despairing call of his reason and his energy, and, weighing in
the balance what little volition still remained to him, considered to what
end he could best devote that sorry fragment. Which was he to do? To go
forward or to stand still? To go forward would mean divesting, not only his
shoulders, but also his intellect, his soul, of his dressing-gown; it would
mean sweeping away, not only from his chamber walls, but also from his eyes,
the dust and the cobwebs. Yet how was he to take the first step necessary?
Where was he to begin? He remembered Schtoltz's words : "Go to Oblomovka,
and there learn what sowing and grinding mean, and why the peasant is poor
or rich. Walk the fields, attend the local elections, visit the mills, and
linger by the river wharves."
Yes, that was what Schtoltz had said. But it would mean going forward,
and going forward unceasingly. In that case farewell to the poetic ideal of
life! Such a course would connote work in a smithery rather than life: it
would entail a continual round of heat and of clatter. What would be the
good of it? Would it not be better to stand still? To stand still would
merely mean occasionally putting on a shirt inside out, dinners with
Tarantiev, thinking as little as possible of anything, leaving "A Voyage to
Africa" unread to the end, and attaining a peaceful old age in the flat of
which Tarantiev had spoken. "Now or never." "To be or not to be." Oblomov
rose from his chair, but, failing at once to insert his foot into a slipper,
sat down again.
Two weeks later Schtoltz departed for England, after exacting from
Oblomov a pledge to join him later in Paris, Oblomov even went to the length
of procuring a passport, ordering an expensive travelling coat, and
purchasing a cap. The furniture of the flat was to be removed to the
quarters of Tarantiev's crony in the Veaborg Quarter, and stored in the
three rooms until its owner's return.
A month went by—three months; yet Oblomov still did not start. Schtoltz,
who had reached Paris long ago, continued to send him letter after letter,
but they remained unanswered. Why so? Was it because the ink in the inkstand
had become dried up and no writing-paper was available? No; both ink, pens,
and paper were present in abundance. Indeed, more than once Oblomov sat down
to write, and did so fluently, and, at times, as expressively and eloquently
as he had done in the days when, with Schtoltz, he had dreamed of the
strenuous life, and of travelling. Likewise he had taken to rising at seven
o'clock in the morning, and to reading, and to carrying books about with
him. Also, his face had lost its look of dreaminess, weariness,
ennui—there was colour in his cheek, a sparkle in his eye, and an
air almost of adventurousness—at least, almost of self-assurance—about his
whole bearing. Lastly, no longer was the dressing-gown to be seen, for
Tarantiev had carried it off to his friend's flat, along with the rest of
Oblomov's effects. Thus Oblomov wore better clothes than had been his wont,
and even sang cheerfully as he moved about. Why so? The reason was that
there had come into his life two friends of Schtoltz's, in the shape of a
pretty girl named Olga Sergievna Ilyinitch and her aunt. On his first visit
to them he was overcome with constraint. "How gladly I would take off my
gloves!" he thought to himself. "And how hot the room is! And how unused to
this sort of thing I have grown!"
"Besides, she will keep looking at me," was his further
reflection as diffidently he scanned his clothes. He even wiped his face
with his handkerchief, lest a smut should have settled on his nose. Also, he
touched his tie, to make sure that its folds had not come undone, as had
sometimes happened with him. But no—all was as it should be. Yet she would
persist in regarding him attentively. Next, a footman tendered him a cup of
tea, with a plate of biscuits. He tried to subdue his nervousness, and to
unbend; but in the act of unbending he seized such a handful of cracknels,
biscuits, and sugared buns that the girl tittered and the rest of those
present gazed at the pile with unconcealed interest.
"My God, she is still looking at me!" he thought to himself. "What on
earth am I to do with all these biscuits?"
Without looking, he could tell that Olga had risen from her seat and
moved to another corner. This helped to relieve his breast of a certain
amount of weight. None the less she continued to contemplate him, in order
to see what he would do with the confectionery.
"Probably I had best eat them as quickly as possible," he thought; with
which he fell to hurriedly selecting one after another. Luckily all were of
the sort which melts in the mouth. When only two of them remained he heaved
a sigh of relief, and decided to glance towards the corner where he knew
Olga to be seated. Horrors! She was standing by a bust, with one hand
resting on its pedestal, and her eyes closely observing him! Nay, she had
even come out of her corner to get a closer view of him! Without doubt she
must have noted his awkwardness with the biscuits!
True, at supper she sat at the other end of the table, and ate and talked
as though she were in no way concerned with him; yet never once did he throw
a timid glance in her direction (in the hope that she was not looking his
way) but straightway he encountered her gaze—a gaze which, though
good-humoured, was also charged with curiosity. That was enough. He hastened
to take leave of her aunt, who invited him to come and dine another day. He
bowed, and moved away across the drawing-room without raising his eyes.
Presently he encountered a screen, with behind it, the grand piano. He
looked again—and behold, behind the screen was seated Olga! She was still
gazing at him with intent curiosity. Also, she seemed to him to be smiling.
"Certainly Andrei has often told me that I put on pairs of odd socks, and
my shirt inside out," he reflected as he drove home. From that moment he
could not get Olga's glance out of his head. In bed he lay on his back and
tried to adopt the most comfortable attitudes; yet still he could not sleep.
. . .
One fine morning Tarantiev came and carried off the rest of Oblomov's
furniture; with the result that its owner spent three such days as he had
never before experienced—days during which he was bedless and sofa-less,
and therefore driven to dine at the house of Olga's aunt. Suddenly he
noticed that opposite the aunt's house there stood an untenanted villa.
Consequently he hired it (furnished) at sight, and went to live there.
Thereafter he spent his whole time with Olga—he read with her, he culled
flowers with her, he walked by the lake and over the hills with her. Yes,
he, Oblomov! How came this about? It came about thus.
On the evening of the fateful dinner-party at the aunt's house Oblomov
experienced the same torture during the meal as he had done on the previous
occasion. Every word that he spoke he uttered with an acute sense that over
him, like a searchlight, there was hovering that glance, and that it was
burning and irritating him, and that it was stimulating his nerves and
blood. Surely, on the balcony, he thought, he would be able, when ensconced
behind a cloud of tobacco smoke, to succeed in momentarily concealing
himself from that silent, that insistent gaze?
"What does it all mean?" he said to himself as he rocked himself to and
fro. "Why, it is sheer torture! Have I made myself ridiculous? At no one
else would she dare to stare as she does at me. I suppose it is because I am
quieter than the rest. However, I will make an agreement with her. I will
tell her, in so many words, that her eyes are dragging my very soul out of
Suddenly she appeared on the threshold of the balcony. He handed her a
chair, and she took a seat beside him.
"Are you so very ennuyé?" she inquired. "Ennuyé,
yes—but not much so. I have pursuits of my own."
"Ah? Schtoltz tells me that you are engaged in drawing up a scheme of
"Yes. I want to live upon my estate, and am making a few preparations for
"And you are going abroad?"
"Undoubtedly—as soon as ever Schtoltz is ready to accompany me.
"Shall you be very glad to go?"
He looked at her. A smile was hovering on her face, and illuminating her
eyes, and gradually spreading over her cheeks. Only her lips remained as
pressed together as usual. He lacked the spirit to continue his lies calmly.
"However, I—I am rather a lazy person, he began. "But, but—"
Suddenly he felt vexed to think that she should have extracted
from him a confession of his lethargy. "What is she to me?" he thought. "Am
I afraid of her?"
"Lazy?" she exclaimed with a scarcely perceptible touch of archness.
"What? A man be lazy? That passes my comprehension."
"Why should it?" was his inward comment. "It is all simple enough. I have
taken to sitting at home more and more, and therefore Schtoltz thinks that
"But I expect you write a great deal?" she went on. "And have you read
much?" Somehow her gaze seemed very intent.
"No, I cannot say that I have." The words burst from him in a sudden fear
lest she should see fit to put him through a course of literary examination.
"What do you mean?" she inquired, laughing. Then he too laughed.
"I thought that you were going to cross-question me about some novel or
another," he explained. "But, you see, I never read such things."
"Then you thought wrong. I was only going to ask you about a few books of
He glanced at her quickly. Her lips were still compressed, but the rest
of her face was smiling.
"I must be very careful with her," he reflected.
"What do you read?" she asked with seeming curiosity.
"It happens that I am particularly fond of books of travel," he replied.
"Travels in Africa, for instance?" There was quiet demureness in the
tone. He reddened at the not wholly unreasonable conjecture that she was
aware not only of what he read but of how he read.
"And are you also musical?" she continued, in order to relieve him of his
embarrassment. At this moment Schtoltz (who had now returned from abroad)
appeared on the scene.
"Ha, Ilya!" he cried. "I have told Olga Sergievna that you adore music,
and that to-night she must sing something— 'Casta Diva,' for example."
"Why did you speak for me at all?" protested Oblomov. "I am by no means
an adorer of music."
"What?" Schtoltz exclaimed. "Why, the man is offended! I introduce him as
a person of taste, and here is he stumbling over himself to destroy his good
"I am only declining the rôle of connoisseur," said Oblomov. "'Tis too
difficult and risky a rôle. Sometimes I can listen with pleasure to a
cracked barrel-organ, and its tunes stick in my memory; while at other times
I leave the Opera before the piece is half over. It all depends upon the
mood in which I am. In fact, there are moments when I could close my ears
even to Mozart."
"Then it is clear that you do love music," said Olga.
"Sing him something," requested Schtoltz.
"But suppose that Monsieur Oblomov were, at this very moment, to be
feeling inclined to close his ears?" she said as she turned to him.
"I suppose I ought to utter some compliment or another," he replied. "But
I cannot do so, and I would not, even if I could."
"Because," was Oblomov's naïve rejoinder, "things would be so awkward for
me if I were to find that you sing badly."
"Even as, the other day, you found things awkward with the biscuits?" she
retorted before she could stop herself. The next moment she reddened as
though she would have given worlds to have been able to recall her words.
"Pardon me," she added. "I ought not to have said that."
Oblomov had been unprepared, and was quite taken aback.
"That was a cruel advantage," he murmured.
"No—only a small revenge (and an unpremeditated one) for your failure to
have had a compliment ready."
"Then perhaps I will have one ready when I have heard you sing."
"You wish me to sing, then?"
"No; he wishes it." Oblomov pointed to Schtoltz.
"But what of yourself?"
Oblomov shook his head deprecatingly.
"I could not wish for what I have not yet experienced," he said.
"You are very rude, Ilya," put in Schtoltz. "See what comes of lolling
about at home and confining your efforts to having your socks put on for
"Pardon me," said Oblomov quickly, and without giving him time to finish.
"I should find it no trouble to say: 'I shall be most glad, most delighted,
to hear you sing, for of course you sing perfectly.' So," he went on, 'it
will afford me the very greatest possible pleasure.' But do you really think
"At least you might express a desire that I should sing—if only out of
"I dare not do so," replied Oblomov. "You are not an actress."
"Then it shall be for you that I will sing," she said to
"While you, Ilya," he added, "can be getting your compliment ready."
Evening was closing in, and the lamp had been lit. Moonlike, it cast
through the ivy-covered trellis a light so dim that the dusk still veiled
the outlines of Olga's face and figure—it still shrouded them, as it were,
in crêpe; while the soft, strong voice, vibrating with nervous tension, came
ringing through the darkness with a note of mystery. At Schtoltz's prompting
she sang several arias and romances, of which some expressed suffering, with
a vague forecast of joy, while others expressed joy, coupled with a lurking
germ of sorrow.
As Oblomov listened he could scarcely restrain his tears or the cry of
ecstasy that was almost bursting from his soul. In fact, he would have
undertaken the tour abroad if thereby he could have remained where he was at
that moment, and then gone.
"Have I pleased you to-night?" she inquired of Schtoltz.
"Ask, rather, Oblomov," he replied. "Confess now, Ilya: how long is it
since you felt as you are feeling at this moment?"
"Yet he might have felt like that this morning if 'a cracked
barrel-organ' had happened to pass his window," put in Olga—but so kindly
as to rob the words of their sarcasm.
"He never keeps his windows open," remarked Schtoltz. "Consequently he
could not possibly hear what is going on outside."
That night Oblomov was powerless to sleep. He paced the room in a mood of
thoughtful despondency, and at dawn left the house to roam the city, with
his head and his heart full of God only knows what feelings and reflections
Three days later he called again at the aunt's.
"I want you," said Olga, "to feel thoroughly at home here."
"Then pray do not look at me as you are doing now, and as you have always
Instantly her glance lost its usual expression of curiosity, and became
wholly softened to kindness.
"Why do you mind my looking at you so much?" she asked.
"I do not know. Somehow your gaze seems to draw from me everything that I
would rather people did not learn—you least of all."
"Why so? You are a friend of Schtoltz's, and he is a friend of mine, and
"And therefore there is no reason why you should know as much about me as
he does," concluded Oblomov.
"No, there is no reason. But at least there is a
possibility that I may do so."
"Yes—thanks to his talkativeness! Indeed a poor service!"
"Have you, then, any secrets to conceal—or even crimes?" With a little
laugh she edged away from him.
"Perhaps," he said with a sigh.
"Yes, to put on odd socks is a grave crime," she remarked with demure
Oblomov seized his hat.
"I will not stand this!" he cried. "Yet you want me to feel at home here!
As for Schtoltz, I detest him! He told you about the socks, I
"Nay, nay," she said. "Pardon me this once, and I will try to look at you
in quite a different way. As a matter of fact, 'tis you who are
looking at me in rather an odd fashion."
True enough, he was gazing into her kindly, grey-blue eyes—he was doing
so simply because he could not help it—and thinking to himself that never
in all the world had he seen a maiden so beautiful.
"Something seems to pass from her into myself," he reflected. "And that
something is making my heart beat and boil. My God, what a joy to the eye
"The important question," she went on, "is how to preserve you from
"You can do that by singing to me again."
"Ah, I was expecting that compliment!" The words came from her in a
sudden burst as of pleasure. "Do you know, had you not uttered that gasp
after I had finished singing the other evening, I should never have slept
all night—I should have cried my very eyes out."
"Why?" he asked.
"I do not know. I merely know that that time I sang as I had never done
before. Do not ask me to sing now, however—I could not do it."
Nevertheless she did sing to him again; and, ah! what did that song not
voice? It seemed to be charged with her very soul.
As she finished, his face was shining with the happiness of a spirit
which has been moved to its utmost depths.
"Come!" she said. "Why do you look at me like that?"
Yet she knew why he was doing so, and a modest touch of triumph that she
could so greatly have affected him filled her soul.
"Look at yourself in the mirror," she went on, "and you will see that
your eyes are shining, and that—yes, really!—they have tears in them. How
deeply you must feel music!"
No—it is not music that I am feeling," he replied slowly; "but—but
Her glance met his, and instantly she saw that he had uttered the word in
spite of himself, that the word had got him in its power, and that the word
had voiced the truth.
Recovering himself, he picked up his hat, and left the room. When he had
gone she remained standing like a statue by the piano—her eyes cast down,
and her breast rising and falling tumultuously.
[Oblomovstchina:] The disease of Oblomovka. See