... One man is
discontented through idleness, another because people don't love him.
And Goncharov thought that in this sphere there is no end of variety."
In fact, his greatest success was the portrait of Oblomov in the novel
of that name, which was at once recognised as a peculiarly national
character—a man of thirty-two years, careless, bored, untidy, lazy, but
gentle and good-natured. In the present work, now translated for the
first time into English, the type reappears with some differences.
Raisky seems to have been "born tired." He has plenty of intelligence,
some artistic gifts, charm, and an abundant kindliness, yet he achieves
nothing, either in work or in love, and in the end fades ineffectually
out of the story. "He knew he would do better to begin a big piece of
work instead of these trifles; but he told himself that Russians did not
understand hard work, or that real work demanded rude strength, the use
of the hands, the shoulders, and the back," "He is only half a man,"
says Mark Volokov, the wolfish outlaw who quotes Proudhon and talks
about "the new knowledge, the new life." This rascal, whose violent
pursuit of the heroine produces the tragedy of the book, is a much less
convincing figure, though he also represents a reality of Russian life
then, and even now.
The true contrast to Raisky of which Goncharov had deep and sympathetic
knowledge is shown in the splendid picture of the two women—Vera, the
infatuated beauty, and Aunt Tatiana, whose agony of motherly concern and
shamed remembrance is depicted with great power. The book is remarkable
as a study in the psychology of passionate emotion; for the western
reader, it is also delightful for the glimpses it gives of the old
Russian country life which is slowly passing away. The scene lies beside
one of the small towns on the Volga—"like other towns, a cemetery ...
the tranquillity of the grave. What a frame for a novel, if only he knew
what to put in the novel.... If the image of passion should float over
this motionless, sleepy little world, the picture would glow into the
enchanting colour of life...