Ivan Goncharov Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Ivan Alexandrovich Goncharov (guhn-chuh-RAHF) was born into a well-to-do merchant family living the manorial life of Russian gentry. In 1822 Goncharov went to Moscow to study at the School of Commerce, where he became seriously interested in literature. He left the school in 1830 and entered the philological department of Moscow University, graduated in 1834, and began to work as a secretary to the governor of Simbirsk. In 1835 Goncharov left for St. Petersburg to work as a translator in the ministry of finance. Although he was, according to Leo Tolstoy, a thorough townsman, Goncharov demonstrated in his novels a profound concern for the disintegration of gentry traditions. His first novel, A Common Story, published when Goncharov was thirty-five years old, traces the disillusioning sentimental education of an idealist who makes the transition from an idyllic country estate to St. Petersburg and becomes a smug opportunist.

Between 1852 and 1854 Goncharov took part in an expedition to Japan on the military frigate Pallas. The cycle of essays The Voyage of the Frigate Pallada gives a brilliant, realistic account of this trip. On his return from the expedition Goncharov worked as a censor, an editor, and a member of the Council of the Press Affairs. In 1859 his second novel, Oblomov, was published. The hero, who gives the novel its title, is a cultured, intelligent man of generous impulses who is nevertheless hopelessly...

(The entire section is 425 words.)


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Ivan Goncharov was born Ivan Alexandrovich Goncharov on June 18, 1812, in remote Simbirsk (now Ulyanovsk) on a country estate of the type featured in his novels. After losing his merchant father at age seven, he was reared in the old tradition by his strong-willed mother and her landowning companion. This heritage of easygoing manor life and progressive mercantile activity characterizes Goncharov’s own outlook and that of his major fictional characters. Encouraged to follow in his father’s footsteps, he languished for eight years in a school of commerce without graduating. From 1831 to 1834, he attended Moscow University, without taking an active part in the famous philosophical student circles of the time. Instead, he entered the literary world as a tutor in the culturally sophisticated Maikov family, using this experience to produce his first poems and stories.

Goncharov’s rise to fame was slow, and he was trapped in a civil service career spanning more than thirty years, almost half of which was spent uneventfully as a translator in the finance ministry. Goncharov’s private existence turned out to be equally monotonous. Although he was attracted to a number of women, his courtships were not successful, and he never married. The frustrations of his relationships with women are prominently mirrored in all three novels.

The success of his first novel, A Common Story, did not alleviate Goncharov’s self-doubt, and he remained...

(The entire section is 532 words.)