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Monday: June 18, 2012

Happy Birthday, Ivan Alexandrovich

Filed under: — site admin @ 7:57 PM GMT-0500

I’d been thinking of tackling some long novel I’d never read over the summer break, and having trouble deciding which of the many such books to begin with, when I noticed that today is Ivan Goncharov’s 200th birthday. That settled it. Here are some of the bits that caught my eye in the first three chapters of Oblomov (Everyman edition, translated by Natalie Duddington):

1. I had thought that this famous passage was the opening of the novel, but it actually comes on the second page (4):

“Lying down was not for Ilya Ilyitch either a necessity as it is for a sick or a sleepy man, or an occasional need as it is for a person who is tired, or a pleasure as it is for a sluggard:it was his normal state. When he was at home – and he was almost always at home – he was lying down, and invariably in the same room, the one in which we have found him and which served him as bedroom, study, and reception-room.”

3. Just a little further on, after mentioning the dirty plate left (as always) from last night’s dinner (5):

“If it had not been for this plate and for a freshly smoked pipe by the bed, and for the owner himself lying in it, one might have thought that the room was uninhabited – everything was so dusty and faded and devoid of all traces of human presence. It is true that there were two or three open books and a newspaper on the chiffoniers, an inkstand and pens on the bureau; but the open pages had turned yellow and were covered with dust – evidently they had been left so for weeks; the newspaper dated from last year, and if one dipped a pen into the inkstand a startled fly might perhaps come buzzing out of it.”

3. Nice work if you can get it – Oblomov’s friend Volkov (28):

“I have a post that doesn’t oblige me to go the office, thank goodness; I only go twice a week to see the general and have dinner with him.”

There is much more on the banal horrors of bureaucracy – too much to quote here. I’m surprised that LanguageHat, with his love for Russian literature, has not mentioned the anniversary.