IN the Veaborg Quarter peace and quietness reigned supreme. They reigned
in its unwashed streets, with their wooden sidewalks, and in its lean
gardens amid the nettle-encumbered ditches, where a goat with a ragged cord
around its neck was diligently engaged in cropping the herbage and snatching
dull intervals of slumber. At midday, however, the high, smart boots of a
clerk clattered along a sidewalk, the muslin curtain at a window was pulled
aside to admit the features of a Civil Service official's lady, and for a
brief moment there showed itself over a garden fence the fresh young face of
a girl—then the face of a companion—then the face which had first
appeared, as two maidens laughed and tittered during the process of swinging
each other on a garden swing.
Also in the abode of Oblomov's landlady all was quiet. Had you entered
the little courtyard, you would have happened upon an idyllic scene. The
poultry would have started running hither and thither in fussy alarm, and
the dogs given tongue in furious accents, while Akulina would have paused in
her pursuit of milking the cow, and the dvornik in his task of
chopping firewood, in order that they might gaze unhampered at the visitor.
"Whom do you wish to see?" the dvornik would have inquired; and on
your mentioning Oblomov's name, or that of the mistress of the house, he
would have pointed to the steps of the front door, and then resumed his task
of wood-chopping; whereupon the visitor would have followed the neat, sanded
path to the steps (which he would have found covered with a plain, clean
carpet of some sort), and, reaching for the brightly polished knob of the
doorbell, would have had the door opened to him by Anisia, one of the
children, the landlady herself, or Zakhar. Everything in Agafia Matvievna's
establishment smacked of an opulence and a domestic sufficiency which had
been lacking in the days when she had shared house with her brother,
Tarantiev's bosom friend. The kitchen, the lumberroom, and the pantry were
alike fitted with cupboards full of china, crockery, and household wares of
every sort; while in cases were set out Oblomov's plate and articles of
silver (long ago redeemed, and never since pledged). In short, the place
abounded in such commodities as are to be found in the abode of every frugal
housewife. Also, so carefully was everything packed in camphor and other
preservatives that when Agafia Matvievna went to open the doors of the
cupboards she could scarcely stand against the overwhelming perfume of
mingled narcotics which came forth, and had to turn her head aside for a few
moments. Hams hung from the ceiling of the storeroom (to avoid damage by
mice), and, with them, cheeses, loaves of sugar, dried fish, and bags of
nuts and preserved mushrooms. On a table stood tubs of butter, pots of sour
cream, baskets of apples, and God knows what else besides, for it would
require the pen of a second Homer to describe in full, and in detail, all
that had become accumulated in the various corners and on the various floors
of this little nest of domestic life. As for the kitchen, it was a veritable
palladium of activity on the part of the mistress and her efficient
assistant, Anisia. Everything was kept indoors and in its proper place;
throughout there prevailed a system of orderliness and cleanliness ; and
only into one particular nook of the house did a ray of light, a breath of
air, the good housewife's eye, and the nimble, all-furbishing hand of the
domestic never penetrate. That nook was Zakhar's den. Lacking a window, it
was so constantly plunged in darkness that its resemblance to a lair rather
than to a human habitation was rendered the more complete. Whenever Zakhar
surprised in his den the mistress of the house (come thither to plan a
cleaning or various improvements) he explained to her, in forcible terms,
that it was not a woman's business to sweep out a place where faggots,
blacking, and boots ought to lie, and that it mattered not a jot that
clothes should be tossed in a heap on the floor, or that the bed in the
stove corner had become overspread with dust, seeing that it was he, and not
she, whose function it was to repose upon that bed. As for a besom, a few
planks, a couple of bricks, the remains of a barrel, and two blocks of wood
which he always kept in his room, he could not, he averred, get on in his
domestic duties without them (though why that was so he left to the
imagination). Finally, according to his own statement, neither the dust nor
the cobwebs in the least inconvenienced him—to which he begged to add a
reminder that, since he never obtruded his nose into the kitchen, he should
be the more pleased if he could be left alone by those to whom the kitchen
was at all times open. Once, when he surprised Anisia in his sanctum, he
threatened her so furiously with uplifted fist that the case was referred to
the court of superior instance—that is to say, to Oblomov himself, who
walked supinely to the door of the den, inserted his head therein, scanned
the apartment and its contents, sneezed, and returned mutely to his own
"What have you gained by it all?" said Zakhar to the mistress and her
myrmidon, who had accompanied Oblomov, in the hope that his participation in
the affair would lead to a change of some sort. Then the old valet laughed
to himself in a way which twisted his eyebrows and whiskers askew.
In the other rooms of the house, however, everything looked bright and
clean and fresh. The old stuff curtains had disappeared, and the doors and
windows of the drawing-room and the study were hung with blue and green
drapery and muslin curtains—the work of Agafia Matvievna's own hands.
Indeed, for days at a time Oblomov, prone upon his sofa, had watched her
bare elbows flicker to and fro as she plied needle and thread; nor had he
once gone to sleep to the sound of thread being alternately inserted and
bitten off, as had been his custom in the old days at Oblomovka.
"Enough of work," he had nevertheless said to her at intervals, "Pray
cease your labours for a while."
"Nay," she had always replied, "God loves those who toil."
Nor was his coffee prepared for him with less care, attention, and skill
than had been the case before he had changed his old quarters for his
present ones. Giblet soup, macaroni with Parmesan cheese, soup concocted of
kvass and herbs, home-fed pullets—all these dishes succeeded one
another in regular rotation, and by so doing helped to make agreeable breaks
in the otherwise monotonous routine of the little establishment. Nor did the
sun, whenever shining, fail to brighten his room from morning till
night—thanks to the fact that the market-gardens on either side of the
building prevented that luminary's rays from being shaded off by any
obstacle. Outside, ducks quacked cheerfully, while, within, a geranium,
added to a few hyacinths which the children had brought home, filled the
little apartment with a perfume which mingled pleasantly with the smoke of
Havana cigars and the scent of the cinnamon or the vanilla which the
mistress of the house would be preparing with bare, energetic arms.
Thus Oblomov lived in a sort of gilded cage—a cage within which, as in a
diorama, the only changes included alternations of day and night and of the
seasons. Of changes of the disturbing kind which stir up the sediment from
the bottom of life's bowl—a sediment only too frequently both bitter and
obnoxious—there were none. Ever since the day when Schtoltz had cleared him
of debt, and Tarantiev and Tarantiev's friend had taken themselves off for
good, every adverse element had disappeared from Oblomov's existence, and
there surrounded him only good, kind, sensible folk who had agreed to
underpin his existence with theirs, and to help him not to notice it, nor to
feel it, as it pursued its even course. Everything was, as it were, at
peace, and of that peace, that inertia, Oblomov represented the complete,
the natural, embodiment and expression. After passing in review and
considering his mode of life, he had sunk deeper and deeper therein, until
finally he had come to the conclusion that he had no farther to go, and
nothing farther to seek, and that the ideal of his life would best be
preserved where he was—albeit without poetry, without those finer shades
wherewith his imagination had once painted for him a spacious, careless
course of manorial life on his own estate and among his own peasantry and
Upon his present mode of life he looked as a continuation of the
Oblomovkan existence (only with a different colouring of locality, and, to a
certain extent, of period). Here, as at Oblomovka, he had succeeded in
escaping life, in driving a bargain with it, and ensuring to himself an
inviolable seclusion. Inwardly he congratulated himself on having left
behind him the irksome, irritating demands and menaces of mundane
existence—on having placed a great distance between himself and the horizon
where there may be seen flashing the lightning-bolts of keen pleasure, and
whence come the thunder-peals of sudden affliction, and where flicker the
false hopes and the splendid visions of average happiness, and where
independence of thought gradually engulfs and devours a man, and where
passion slays him outright, and where the intellect fails or triumphs, and
where humanity engages in constant warfare, and leaves the field of battle
in a state of exhaustion and of ever-unsatisfied, ever-insatiable desire.
Never having experienced the consolations to be won in combat, he had none
the less renounced them, and felt at ease only in a remote corner to which
action and fighting and the actual living of life were alike strangers.
Yet moments there were when his imagination stirred within him again, and
when there recurred to his mind forgotten memories and unrealized dreams,
and when he felt in his conscience whispered reproaches for having made of
his life so little as he had done. And whenever that occurred he slept
restlessly, awoke at intervals, leaped out of bed, and shed chill tears of
hopelessness over the bright ideal that was now extinguished for ever. He
shed them as folk shed them over a dead friend whom with bitter regret they
recognize to have been neglected during his lifetime. Then he would glance
at his surroundings, hug to himself his present blessings, and grow
comforted on noting how quietly, how restfully, the sun was rising amid a
blaze of glory. Thus he had come to a decision that not only was his life
compounded in the best manner for expressing the possibilities to which the
idealistic-peaceful side of human existence may attain, but also that it had
been expressly created for, and preordained to, that purpose. To others, he
reflected, let it fall to express life's restless aspects ; to others let it
be given to exercise forces of construction and destruction; to each man be
allotted his true métier.
Such the philosophy which our Plato of Oblomovka elaborated for the
purpose of lulling himself to sleep amid the problems and the stern demands
of duty and of destiny. He had been bred and nourished to play the part, not
of a gladiator in the arena but of a peaceful onlooker at the struggle.
Never could his diffident, lethargic spirit have faced either the raptures
or the blows of life. Hence he expressed only one of its aspects, and had no
mind either to succeed in it, or to change anything in it, or to repent of
his decision. As the years flowed on both emotion and repining came to
manifest themselves at rarer and rarer intervals, until, by quiet,
imperceptible degrees, he became finally interned in the plain, otiose tomb
of retirement which he had fashioned with his own hands, even as desert
anchorites who have turned from the world dig for themselves a material
sepulchre. Of reorganizing his estate, and removing thither with his
household, he had given up all thought. The steward whom Schtoltz had placed
in charge of Oblomovka regularly sent him the income therefrom, and the
peasantry proffered him flour and poultry at Christmastide, and everything
on the estate was prospering.
Meanwhile he ate heartily and much, even as he had done at Oblomovka.
Also, he walked and worked sluggishly and little—again, as he had done at
Oblomovka. Lastly, in spite of his advancing years, he drank beer and
vodka à raisin with complete insouciance, and took to
sleeping ever more and more protractedly after dinner.
But suddenly a change occurred. One day, after his usual quota of slumber
and day dreams, he tried to rise from the sofa, but failed, and his tongue
refused to obey him. Terrified, he could compass only a gesture when he
tried to call for help. Had he been living with Zakhar alone, he might have
continued to signal for assistance until next morning, or have died, and not
been found there till the following day; but, as it was, the eyes of his
landlady had been watching over him like the eyes of Providence itself, and
it cost her no skill of wit, but only an instinct of the heart, to divine
that all was not well with Oblomov. No sooner had the instinct dawned upon
her than Anisia was dispatched in a cab for a doctor, while Agafia Matvievna
herself applied ice to the patient's head, and extracted from her medicine
chest the whole armoury of smelling-bottles and fomentations which custom
and report had designated for use at such a juncture. Even Zakhar managed to
get one of his boots on, and, thus shod, to fuss around his master in
company with the doctor, the mistress of the house, and Anisia.
At length, blood having been let, Oblomov returned to consciousness, and
was informed that he had just sustained an apoplectic stroke, and that he
must adopt a different course of life. Henceforth, vodka, beer,
wine, coffee, and rich food were, with certain exceptions, to be prohibited,
while in their place there were prescribed for him daily exercise and a
regular amount of sleep of an exclusively nocturnal nature. Even then these
remedies would have come to nothing but for Agafia Matvievna's watchfulness;
but she had the wit so to introduce the system that the entire household
involuntarily assisted in its working. Thus, partly by cunning and partly by
kindness, she contrived to wean Oblomov from his attractive indulgences in
wine, postprandial slumber, and fish pasties. For instance, as soon as ever
he began to doze, either a chair would be upset in an adjoining room, or, of
its own volition, some old and worthless crockery would begin flying into
splinters, or the children would start making a noise, and be told,
fortissimo, to be gone. Lastly, should even this not prove
effective, her own kindly voice would be heard calling to him, in order to
ask him some question or another.
Also, the garden path was lengthened, and on it Oblomov accomplished,
morning and evening, a constitutional of some two hours' duration. With him
there would walk the landlady—or, if she could not attend, one of the
children, or his old friend, the irresponsible and to every man both humble
and agreeable Alexiev. One morning Oblomov, leaning on the boy Vania's arm,
slowly paced the path. By this time Vania had grown into almost a youth, and
found it hard to restrict his brisk, rapid step to Oblomov's more tardy
gait. As the elder man walked he made little use of one of his legs, which
was a trace of the stroke which he had recently sustained.
"Let us go indoors now, Vaniushka," he said; wherefore they directed
their steps towards the door. But to meet them there issued Agafia
"Why are you coming in so early?" she inquired.
"Early, indeed? Why, we have paced the path twenty times each way, and
from here to the fence is a distance of fifty sazhens; wherefore we
have covered two versts in all."
"And how many times do you say you have paced it?" she inquired
"Do not lie, but look me straight in the face," she continued, fixing him
with her gaze. "I have been watching you the whole time. Remember next
Sunday. Possibly I might not let you go to the party that night."
"Well, mother," the boy said at length, "we have paced the path only
"Ah, you rogue!" exclaimed Oblomov. "You were nipping off acacia-leaves
all the time, whereas I was keeping the most careful account."
"Then you must go and do some more walking," decided the landlady.
"Besides, the fish soup is not yet ready." And she closed the door upon the
Oblomov, much against his will, completed another eight pacings of the
path, and then entered the dining-room. On the large round table the fish
soup was now steaming, and all hastened to take their usual seats—Oblomov
in solitary state on the sofa, the landlady on his right, and the rest in
"I will help you to this herring, as it is the fattest," said
"Very well," he remarked. "Only, I think that a pie would go well with
"Oh dear! I have forgotten the pies! I meant to make some last night, but
my memory is all gone to pieces!" The artful Agafia Matvievna! "Besides, I
am afraid that I have forgotten the cutlets and the cabbage. In fact, you
must not expect very much of a dinner to-day." This was addressed ostensibly
"Never mind," he replied. "I can eat anything."
"But why not cook him some pork and peas, or a beef-steak?" asked
"I did go to the butcher's for a beefsteak, but there was not a
single morsel of good beef left. However, I have made Monsieur Alexiev a
cherry compôte instead. I know he likes that." The truth was that
cherry compôte was not bad for Oblomov wherefore the
complacent Alexiev had no choice but both to eat it and to like it.
After dinner no power on earth could prevent Oblomov from assuming a
recumbent position; so, to obviate his going to sleep, the landlady was
accustomed to place beside him his coffee, and then to inspire her children
to play games on the floor, so that, willy-nilly, Oblomov should be forced
to join in their sport. Presently she withdrew to the kitchen to see if the
coffee was yet ready, and, meanwhile, the children's clatter died away.
Almost at once a gentle snore arose in the room—then a louder one—then one
louder still; and when Agafia Matvievna returned with the steaming
coffee-pot she encountered such a volume of snoring as would have done
credit to a post-house.
Angrily she shook her head at Alexiev.
"It is not my fault," he said deprecatingly. "I tried to stir up the
children, but they would not listen to me."
Swiftly depositing the coffee-pot upon the table, she caught up little
Andriusha from the floor, and gently seated him upon the sofa by Oblomov's
side; whereupon the child wriggled towards him, climbed his form until he
had reached his face, and grasped him firmly by the nose.
"Hi! Hullo! Who is that?" cried Oblomov uneasily as he opened his eyes.
"You had gone to sleep, so Andriusha climbed on to the sofa and awoke
you," replied the landlady kindly.
"I had gone to sleep, indeed?" retorted Oblomov, laying his arm around
the little one. "Do you think I did not hear him creeping along on all
fours? Why, I hear everything. To think of the little rascal
catching me by the nose! I'll give it him! But there, there."
Tenderly embracing the child, he deposited him on the floor again, and
heaved a profound sigh. "Tell us the news, Ivan Alexiev," he said.
"You have heard it all. I have nothing more to tell."
"How so? You go into society, and I do not. Is there nothing new in the
"It is being said that the earth is growing colder every day, and that
one day it will become frozen altogether."
"Away with you! Is that politics?"
A silence ensued. Oblomov quietly relapsed into a state of coma that was
neither sleeping nor waking. He merely let his thoughts wander at will,
without concentrating them upon anything in particular as calmly he listened
to the beating of his heart and occasionally blinked his eyes. Thus he sank
into a vague, enigmatical condition which partook largely of the nature of
hallucination. In rare instances there come to a man fleeting moments of
abstraction when he seems to be reliving past stages of his life. Whether he
has previously beheld in sleep the phenomena which are passing before his
vision, or whether he has gone through a previous existence and has since
forgotten it, we cannot say; but at all events he can see the same persons
around him as were present in the first instance, and hear the same words as
were uttered then.
So was it with Oblomov now. Gradually there spread itself about him the
hush which he had known long ago. He could hear the beating of the
well-known pendulum, the snapping of the thread as it was bitten off, and
the repetition of familiar whispered sentences like "I cannot make the
thread go through the eye of the needle. Pray do it for me, Masha—your
eyesight is keener than mine."
Lazily, mechanically he looked into his landlady's face; and straightway
from the recesses of his memory there arose a picture which, somewhere, had
been well known to him.
To his vision there dawned the great, dark drawing-room in the house of
his youth, lit by a single candle. At the table his mother and her guests
were sitting over their needlework, while his father was silently pacing up
and down. Somehow the present and the past had become fused and
interchanged, so that, as the little Oblomov, he was dreaming that at length
he had reached the enchanted country where the rivers run milk and honey,
and bread can be obtained without toil, and every one walks clad in gold and
Once again he could hear the old legends and the old folk-tales, mingled
with the clatter of knives and crockery in the kitchen. Once again he was
pressing close to his nurse to listen to her tremulous, old woman's voice.
"That is Militrissa Kirbitievna," she was saying as she pointed to the
figure of his landlady. Also, the same clouds seemed to be floating in the
blue zenith that used to float there of yore, and the same wind to be
blowing in at the window, and ruffling his hair, and the same cock of the
Oblomovkan poultry-yard to be strutting and crowing below. Suddenly a dog
barked. Some other guest must be arriving! Would it be old Schtoltz and his
little boy from Verklevo? Yes, probably, for to-day is a holiday. And in
very truth it is they—he can hear their footsteps approaching nearer and
nearer! The door opens, and "Andrei!" he exclaims excitedly, for there, sure
enough, stands his friend—but now grown to manhood, and no longer a little
boy! . . .