Goncharov, Ivan Alexandrovich
Ivan Alexandrovich Goncharov 1812-1891
(Also transliterated as Aleksandrovich; also transliterated as Gontcharoff, Gontcharov, Gončarov, Goncharóff, Gontchareff) Russian novelist, travel writer, short story and sketch writer, critic, essayist, and translator.
For further information on Goncharov's works and career, see
Considered a central force in the development of the realist tradition in his native language, Goncharov is largely remembered for the authentic depiction of mid-nineteenth century Russia in his esteemed trilogy: Obyknovennaya istoriya (1847; A Common Story), Oblomov (1859), and Obryv (1869; The Precipice). Of these, Oblomov is generally thought to be his masterpiece and, like the other novels in the series, features a type of the superfluous man, the lazy and idle landowner Ilya Ilyich Oblomov—a figure that Goncharov used to portray the social and psychological torpor of life in provincial Russia. Additionally, the work illustrates the characteristic simplicity and objectivity of Goncharov's style, while revealing the skill in evoking mood and character that furnish the enduring appeal of his fiction.
Goncharov was born in Simbirsk, the son of a well-to-do merchant raised to the nobility. He attended Moscow University in the early 1930s, at the same time as such great figures of Russian literary and political thought as Mikhail Lermontov, V. G. Belinsky, Alexander Herzen, and Mikhail Bakunin, but he remained largely unaffected by the radical ideas of this young generation. Upon his graduation, he secured a position as a civil servant in St. Petersburg, working first for the Ministry of Finance and later as a censor. Among his earliest literary works were several translations and short stories, works that were eclipsed in importance by the publication of his novel A Common Story in 1847. Envisioned as the first of a trilogy of novels about Russian life, A Common Story proved to be a considerable success, winning the approval of the esteemed critic Belinsky. Soon after its publication, Goncharov produced a short sketch entitled "Oblomov's Dream," which he later incorporated into the second novel of the series, Oblomov—a work that required more than ten years to complete. In the interim, Goncharov served as secretary to a Russian admiral and traveled to Japan in 1852. This singular act of adventure, in vivid contrast to his quiet early life, is chronicled in Fregat Pallada (1858; The Voyage of the Frigate Pallada). His return to St. Petersburg and the widely hailed publication of Oblomov had solidified Goncharov's reputation in Russia. Even before the appearance of this second novel, however, Goncharov had begun to amass ideas for his last novel, The Precipice, published a decade after Oblomov. The last twenty years of Goncharov's life were spent in isolation and growing senility. In his late autobiographical essay "Neobyknovennaya istoriya" (not published until 1924) he claimed that Ivan Turgenev had stolen his ideas, and that even the works of such European writers as Gustave Flaubert and Berthold Auerbach were little more than the reworking of his original concepts. Goncharov went so far as to accuse Turgenev of plagiarism. Turgenev was exonerated, however, following a trial brought about at the insistence of Goncharov. Tormented by his persecution mania and growing madness, Goncharov wrote little in the years remaining before his death in 1891.
A Common Story dramatizes the theme that was to reappear in each of Goncharov's novels: the troubled relationship between a naïve, dreamy character and a sophisticated, active protagonist. In A Common Story this conflict arises as the young and idealistic Alexander Aduyev leaves his provincial town and is introduced to the ways of the city by his practical and successful uncle, Pyotr Ivanovich Aduyev. Goncharov adumbrated the theme of his second novel in the sketch "Oblomov's Dream," a nostalgic and lyrical evocation of childhood, suffused with a soporific warmth that mirrors the peaceful, unchanging life of the Russian landed gentry in the era of serfdom. As the sketch grew into the full-length novel Oblomov, Goncharov created a character type of the idle Russian aristocrat that was immediately recognizable to his countrymen in the figure of Ilya Ilyich Oblomov. Critics, including the radical N. A. Dobrolyubov, alighted upon the term "oblomovism," which Goncharov himself uses in the novel, eventually giving it common currency among Russians. Dobrolyubov specifically construed the term to represent the moral and social malaise brought about by serfdom. Yet other commentators acknowledged that Oblomov presents more than a condemnation of an existence of sloth and social blindness, observing that Goncharov also reveals his sympathy and yearning for the old patriarchal way of life in the work. Severely didactic in tone—much more so than its predecessors—The Precipice contains portraits of the directionless dilettante-artist Boris Raisky and the nihilistic Mark Volokhov. Overall, the work reveals most clearly Goncharov's largely conservative literary and social views.
In addition to his three novels, Goncharov also wrote several short stories and enough essays, criticism, and other prose to fill the eight volumes of his Sobranie sochineniy, or collected works (1952-55). In large part, critics have seen Goncharov's early fiction as secondary to the major novels, though many acknowledge that these works provide valuable insights into the development of his style. General opinion holds that Goncharov's literary fame rests upon his evocation of Russian character and society in A Common Story, Oblomov, and The Precipice. The last of these, Goncharov believed, would be remembered as his masterpiece, but since its publication in 1869 critics have been inclined to disagree, saving this praise instead for the brilliant simplicity and incisiveness of Oblomov.
*Obyknovennaya istoriya [A Common Story; also published as The Same Old Story] (novel) 1847
Fregat Pallada [The Voyage of the Frigate Pallada] (travel essays and short stories) 1858
Oblomov (novel) 1859
Obryv [The Precipice', also published as The Ravine] (novel) 1869
"Luchshe pozdno, chem nikogda" ["Better Late Than Never"] (autobiographical essay) 1879; published in journal Russkaya rech'
"Neobyknovennaya istoriya" (autobiographical essay) 1924; published in Sbornik Rossiskoy Publichnoy biblioteki
Sobranie sochineniy. 8 vols. (novels, short stories, poetry, translations, essays, criticism, letters, travel essays, and reminiscences) 1952-55
*The 1957 translation of this work also includes excerpts from Goncharov's essay "Better Late than Never."
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SOURCE: A Preface to A Common Story: A Novel, by Ivan Gontcharoff, translated by Constance Garnett, London Book Co., 1906, pp. v-xii.
[In the following essay, Gosse describes Goncharov's literary influences and the lasting appeal of his novels.]
It is a disadvantage to Gontcharoff to be introduced for the first time to English readers who are already acquainted with the writings of his more thrilling and vivid successors, Tourgenieff, Dostoieffsky and Tolstoi. In the rapid development of the Russian realistic novel, Gontcharoff takes the second place in point of time. He was the first man to be roused by the example of Gogol, who wrote, shortly before he died in 1852: "I have pursued life in its reality, not in dreams of the imagination, and I have thus reached Him who is the source of life." So could those later masters whom I have mentioned say, but Gontcharoff, who came a little before them, and was the first to take up the challenge thrown down by Gogol, if he had not penetrated to the sacred essence of things, could at least maintain that he had studied life in its reality. And this is why, although he is no poet, and cannot rend the heart like the young men who came after him, he is deserving of all recognition as an element in modern Russian literature.
Ivan Alexandrovitch Gontcharoff was born at Simbirsk, on the Volga, on the 18th of June, 1813. His father, a rich merchant, died...
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SOURCE: "Concerning a Monistic Conception of Goncharov's Art," in Soviet Studies in Literature, Vol. XXII, No. 2-3, Spring-Summer, 1986, pp. 90-122.
[In the following essay originally published in Literaturovedenie. Sbornik statei in 1928, Pereverzev presents a unified assessment of Goncharov's novels, identifying the common traits of his heroes as manifestations of the bourgeois "smart operator" at a time of dramatic social and cultural change in Russia.]
One of the most essential tasks in the scholarly analysis of a writer's artistic corpus consists in clarifying the links among his images and their mutual interdependence, the inner logic of their concatenation. Only by clarifying such links can we reach an understanding of the essence of a writer's art and only thus can we achieve a monistic view of the writer and reveal the fundamental unity in the many and varied images in his works.
Serious criticism has always striven for a monistic explanation of artistic phenomena. It was Belinsky who considered the basic task of critical analysis to be the revelation of the "pathos" of art. However, we cannot avoid noting that the results critics achieved in this regard were usually of a rather doubtful nature. This was because critics lacked a scientific method, resorting instead to an "intuitive" understanding of an artist's "pathos," which always smacked of magic, not of science....
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SOURCE: "Oblomov and Oblomovism," and "The Ravine," in Goncharov, Yale University Press, 1954, pp. 27-37, 37-47.
[In the following excerpt, Lavrin studies style, theme, plot, and character in Oblomov and The Ravine, and provides a critical summary of both works.]
Oblomov and Oblomovism
The general theme of Goncharov's Oblomov is similar to that of A Common Story, but here it is deepened into a tragedy of passivity and of that peculiar type of indolence which soon became connected with the name of Oblomov not only in Russia but also in other parts of the world. There were several Russian authors, including Gogol, who had tried to portray the lazybones in fiction, yet none of them was able to endow him with the roundness and reality typical of Goncharov's hero. For Oblomov is not only a picture of a passive, vegetative existence—it is also a great character study of arrested development; of that absolute inability (as well as unwillingness) to adapt oneself to life which instinctively shuns all effort and tends to keep the individual on the level of a child in a well-protected nursery. The impression it leaves is the stronger because of the humorous inflection peculiar to the author, mixed with an atmosphere of inevitable doom. Then there is Goncharov's usual skill at painting...
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SOURCE: "Goncharov," in Nineteenth-Century Russian Literature: Studies of Ten Russian Writers, edited by John Fennell, University of California Press, 1973, pp. 130-42.
[In the following essay, Gifford analyzes Goncharov's A Common Story, Oblomov, and The Precipice, comparing these novels with the works of Goncharov's Russian contemporaries and examining critical opinion on the trilogy.]
Outside Russia Ivan Aleksandrovich Goncharov (1812-91) is known as the author of one classic novel published in 1859, Oblomov. In Russia too his reputation depends principally on this work; but he always insisted that it formed part of a trilogy, with A Common Story (Obyknovennaya istoriya) (1847), and the long-delayed successor to Oblomov, The Precipice (Obryv) (1869). Three periods of Russian life were meant to find their reflection in these novels 'as in a drop of water'.1 It is certainly true that the images for The Precipice were taking shape while he was still at the beginning of Oblomov,2 and the same patient, even tranquil imagination shows in all three works. Goncharov, once having found his manner, developed into the mature novelist of Oblomov. Thereafter he was, like Krylov in an earlier day, one of the rare static figures on the Russian literary scene....
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SOURCE: "Life and How to Live It," an introduction to The Same Old Story, by Ivan Goncharov, translated by Ivy Litvinova, Progress Publishers, 1975, pp. 7-14.
[In the following essay, Rozov explores two contrasting views of life—the idealistic and the pragmatic—dramatized in Goncharov's The Same Old Story (A Common Story).]
The author explores life by two means—the intellectual, which begins with reflections on life's phenomena, and the artistic, the aim of which is to fathom the same phenomena and grasp them not with the mind (or, rather, not only with the mind) but with all one's being, intuitively as it is called.
The former, intellectual, means requires the author to logically render the material he has studied, while the latter, artistic means allows him to express the essence of the same phenomena through a system of artistic imagery. A fiction writer gives us a picture of life, not simply a copy of life but a picture transformed into a new artistic reality, and as a result the happenings that have attracted his interest are brought in sharp relief by the brilliant light of his genius or talent, and sometimes we can even see through them.
Presumably, a real writer shows life only in its artistic representation. But in actual fact these "pure" writers are not so very many, and it may even be that there are none at all. More often than...
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SOURCE: "Time After Time: The Temporal Ideaology of Oblomov," in Slavic and East European Journal, Vol XXXVIII, No. 4, Winter, 1994, pp. 561-73.
[In the following essay, Borowec discusses Goncharov's thematic and structural use of cyclic and linear-progressive time in his novel Oblomov.]
Ilya Oblomov, Goncharov's most famous literary creation and the central figure of the novel Oblomov, represents a particular social class at a specific moment in Russian history. Oblomov epitomizes the obsolete, feckless aristocracy made possible by serfdom in Russia in the mid-nineteenth century. Critical appraisals contemporary to the novel, including Nikolaj Dobroljubov's famous essay, "What is Oblomovka?",1 often focused on the historical issues Oblomov raises—the economic divisions inherent in serfdom itself and the concomitant social injustices as they are embodied in the novel's eponymous character. And, on one level of interpretation, the story of Ilya Oblomov does indeed comprise the story of the Russian aristocracy at a turning point in Russia's social development, when serfdom was about to be abolished. That this topical aspect of the novel, first published in 1859, should have been the focus of Goncharov's contemporaries hardly requires explanation. Nonetheless, the enduring popularity of Oblomov in and outside Russia for well over a century after...
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SOURCE: "Goncharov and the Russian Autobiographical Tradition," and "'Heart' vs. 'Mind' in A Common Story" in The Autobiographical Novel of Co-Consciousness: Goncharov, Woolf and Joyce, University Press of Florida, 1994, pp. 13-23, 24-40.
[In the following two chapters from her book-length study, Dimeni examines Goncharov's use of autobiographical material in his novel A Common Story, surveying the history of autobiography in Russia and discussing possible influences on Goncharov's work]
1. Goncharov and the Russian Autobiographical Tradition
A Common Story (Obyknovennaia istoriia, alternately translated as The Same Old Story) may be "transparent," but the fact that it is an autobiographical novel is one of the better-kept secrets in Russian, Soviet, and even Western criticism, where there exists a long-standing tradition of viewing Ivan Goncharov as a coolheaded writer who created broad, realistic epics with maximum objectivity. The tradition started with Vissarion Belinsky, who characterized Goncharov's artistic temperament as "pure talent" with no emotions,1 and grew in strength throughout subsequent generations of critics. But this prevalent view is only half-right. For while no one should dispute Goncharov's desire to objectify his fictional presentations, the picture of Goncharov as nothing but an impersonal artist...
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Setchkarev, Vsevolod. Ivan Goncharov: His Life and His Works, Wòrzburg, Germany: Jal-Verlag, 1974, 339 p.
Critical biography of Goncharov designed to "provide an introduction to the life and work of this undeservedly neglected writer."
Ehre, Milton. Oblomov and His Creator: The Life and Art of Ivan Goncharov. Princeton, N. J.: Princeton University Press, 1973, 295 p.
Comprehensive study of Goncharov's career and works, highlighting stylistic and structural elements of his writings as they relate to the understanding of his oeuvre.
Kropotkin, P. "Goncharóff." In Ideals and Realities in Russian Literature, pp. 151-62. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1919.
Examines Goncharov's novel Oblomov, particularly the all-consuming lethargy, or "oblomovism," of its title character.
Lyngstad, Alexandra and Sverre. "The Art of Goncharov." In Ivan Goncharov, pp. 149-66. Twayne Publishers, Inc., 1971.
Examines the artistic method of Goncharov's novels and evaluates the place of these works in European literature.
Manning, Clarence A. "Ivan Aleksandrovich Goncharov." The South...
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