0117 | Oblomov – Ivan Goncharov



Context: started this on a walk in the country in Portugal with my family.

Never heard of this and would never have done if it wasn’t for the 1001 list. It’s books like this that justify lists like these. It’s not Tolstoy and it’s not Solzhenitsyn (rest his soul,) but it is Russian literature and it had quite a lot in common with both Tolstoy and Dostoevsky which I appreciated.

Goncharov was a contemporary of Tolstoy so it was hardly surprising that their styles were similar. In fact, if you’ve read Anna Karenina and enjoyed it, there’s a lot you’ll like about Oblomov.

Oblomov himself reminded me a great deal of Jake Donaghue, the protagonist (or not!) of Under the Net which I reviewed recently. He doesn’t do a great deal at all despite the constant encouragement of those around him to do so.

Where he differs is that while Jake actually theorises and talks about doing stuff which he never gets round to, Oblomov doesn’t even think this is worthwhile.

But he’s not an unlovable character at all. I had a lot of sympathy for him in some respects. He’s right that life is not worth tiring yourself out with. Especially in this day and age that’s good to hear. I felt I needed, in my own life, a bit more of his attitude in regard to compulsion to get as much done as I can day by day.

And the different depictions of human love in the book are very worthwhile. After a passionate but pointless emotional dead end with Olga, Oblomov finds himself with another, much less outwardly desirable woman who he comes to love. Goncharov’s description of this is perfect:

[Oblomov’s] eyes did not shine or fill with tears, his spirit did not yearn for the heights, for heroic deeds. All he wanted to do was to sit on the sofa and watch her elbows.

It’s so prosaic it must be real. It demonstrates that the deep things which really impact us in life are so often down to earth we can take them for granted. Oblomov was someone who did not.

So, a novel very worth reading and a must read if you are at all interested in Russian literature of any generation.

Ilya Ilyitch Oblomov was lying in bed one morning in his flat in Gorohovy Street, in one of the big houses that had almost as many inhabitants as a whole country town.

And he told him what is written here.

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