Ivan Goncharov Analysis

Other literary forms

The early stories and poems of Ivan Goncharov (gon-chah-RAHF) were considered mediocre by the author himself as well as the public and have long been out of print. Goncharov’s first significant piece was the sketch “Ivan Savich Podzhabrin,” available in Sobranie sochinenii (1883, 1888, 1952; collected works). Still widely published and read is the travelogue Fregat Pallada (1858; The Voyage of the Frigate Pallada, 1965). During the final two decades of his life, Goncharov concentrated on critical essays, reminiscences, and polemical articles. “Mil’yon terzaniy” (1872), his analysis of Alexander Griboyedov’s Gore ot uma (1825, 1831; English translation, 1857), and his autobiographical memoir “Luchshe pozdno, chem nikogda” (1879; better late than never) have limited circulation, even among literary specialists.


Ivan Goncharov’s novels mark the transition from Russian Romanticism to a much more realistic worldview. They appeared at a time when sociological criteria dominated analysis and when authors were expected to address the injustices of Russian life. The critic Nikolay Dobrolyubov derived the term Oblomovism from Goncharov’s most famous novel, using it to denote the physical and mental sluggishness of Russia’s backward country gentry. Thus, Goncharov is credited with exposing a harmful national type: the spendthrift serf-holding landowner who contributed nothing to the national economy and resisted progress for fear of destroying his carefree existence.

By presenting this type in his rather ordinary surroundings and endeavors, stripped of the Romantic aura with which Alexander Pushkin’s classical and Mikhail Lermontov’s Romantic verse had imbued him, Goncharov gained renown as a critical realist. While all three of his novels remain popular classics in his homeland, only Oblomov has found a wide readership and critical acclaim abroad. Emphasis on that work has caused modern Western scholars to value Goncharov as highly for his artful psychological portraits of stunted adults adrift in a changing world as for his sociological contribution.

Oblomov’s “return to the womb” predates Sigmund Freud by several decades. On the artistic level, Goncharov far transcends the realistic label often applied to him. His talent for transforming an endlessly mundane provincial existence into a delicate poetic network of pre-Petrine Russian values set standards for the budding Russian novel; his stream-of-consciousness approach points ahead to James Joyce and Marcel Proust. Goncharov has firmly established a place for himself within the genre of the modern psychological novel.


Diment, Galya. Goncharov’s “Oblomov”: A Critical Companion. Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 1998. Provides criticism and interpretation of Goncharov’s novel.

Diment, Galya. “The Two Faces of Ivan Goncharov: Autobiography and Duality in Obyknovennaia Istorija.” Slavic and East European Journal 32 (Fall, 1988). Discusses Goncharov’s use of autobiographical facts in his writings.

Ehre, Milton. Oblomov and His Creator: The Life and Art of Ivan Goncharov. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1973. An excellent starting point for research, with its detailed literary biography and deep analysis of Goncharov’s work.

Kuprianova, Nina. “I Used to Have My Own Field.” Soviet Literature 7 (July, 1987). Brief biographical survey and literary analysis of Goncharov’s novels.

Lavrin, Janko. Goncharov. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1954. Brief biographical survey and literary analysis of Goncharov’s novels.

Lyngstad, Alexandra, and Sverre Lyngstad. Ivan Goncharov. New York: Twayne, 1971. Provides a psychological sketch of the author and a discussion of his literary works.

Reeve, F. D. The Russian Novel. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1966. Places Goncharov in the context of Russian literary history.

Setchkarev, Vsevolod. Ivan Goncharov: His Life and His Works. Würzburg: Jal-Verlag, 1974. Brief biographical survey and literary analysis of Goncharov’s novels.