By: Ivan Goncharov
Format/Source: eBook; my copy
Written with sympathetic humor and compassion, this masterful portrait of upper-class decline made Ivan Goncharov famous throughout Russia on its publication in 1859. Ilya Ilyich Oblomov is a member of Russia’s dying aristocracy—a man so lazy that he has given up his job in the Civil Service, neglected his books, insulted his friends, and found himself in debt. Too apathetic to do anything about his problems, he lives in a grubby, crumbling apartment, waited on by Zakhar, his equally idle servant. Terrified by the activity necessary to participate in the real world, Oblomov manages to avoid work, postpones change, and—finally—risks losing the love of his life.
I’ve had this book sitting on my eReader for a number of years now; I can’t remember if I first came across it from the 1001 books you must read list or from browsing GoodReads but I decided to check it out and add it to my list. I heard good things about the book and it’s always nice to read a classic Russian author outside of the big well-knowns (Doestoevsky, Tolstoy, etc.). After stumbling across this list some time ago, I decided to move it up my reading list–it was about time I got to it 🙂
There’s a lot more to Oblomov than meets the eye. On the one hand it’s a pretty hilarious read as the titular character takes forever getting out of bed and is bombarded by a stream of visitors. His first encounter with Olga was also pretty hilarious, like it was straight out of a comedy sitcom. Their gradual relationship was sort of bumbling but sweet in its own way, I was really rooting for them to work things out.
And yet at the same time this novel is extremely sad: it is about a man who has all of this potential, all of these dreams and ideas and yet can’t bring himself to go through with him plans and gradually succumb to his own fear and failures about himself and the world around him. You can see the allusions made in reference to the declining Russian aristocracy of the 19th century, perhaps even allusions to Russia’s unfulfilled potential. Regardless of whoever the commentary was directed to, it was sad to see Oblomov lose faith, doubt himself and ultimately give up. He was an interesting character whom I felt rather protective of; while Olga and Stoltz had good intentions in trying to get Oblomov out of his depressed rut, you can feel the difference between the three of them in a sense that Oblomov was such a dreamer, fragile and lofty while the others were more firmly grounded in reality and more rational and thinking ahead.
I don’t know what else I could say about this novel, really, as it is fairly short but also something to read for yourself. The way the narrative focuses on Oblomov’s thoughts and line of thinking was very interesting and there’s a lot of great lines here and there. Finishing this novel, it certainly went up there with Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons (review), Chekhov’s short stories and Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina (review) as a favourite Russian classic.