Ilya Ilyitch Oblomov is a Russian landowner brought up to do nothing. As a child he was pampered by his parents, even to the point where a valet put on and took off his shoes and stockings for him. The elder Oblomovs lived a bovine existence. Their land, maintained by three hundred serfs, provided them with plenty of money. Their days were taken up with eating and sleeping; they did nothing until an absolute necessity arose.
The chief influence on Oblomov during his childhood came from a German, a steward on a neighboring estate, who acted also as a tutor. Young Oblomov went to school at his home and there found his only boyhood friend, the German’s son, Andrey Stolz. When the boys grew up, their lives seemed from the first destined to different ends. Stolz was sent off by his father with a few resources to make his way in the world, but among those resources was a great deal of practical experience. Within a few years, Stolz was able to amass considerable wealth for himself and to become a respected, vital businessman.
Oblomov, on the other hand, finished college after doing only enough work to get his diploma. He then became a clerk in a government office, one of the few positions considered an honorable post for a gentleman in Russia. Before three years elapsed he resigned from his post, ostensibly because of ill health but actually because he could not bring himself to accomplish all his duties; he felt that the work was simply too much trouble for a gentleman. Retiring from the government, he began to do nothing during the daytime. The indolence, spreading like a poison, finally made him extremely inactive.
By his thirtieth birthday Oblomov is no further along in life than he was at his twentieth; he is, in fact, much worse off than before. His rooms are filthy and unkempt, for he is unable to control his valet, Zakhar. Oblomov has no ambition whatever. He seldom leaves his rooms, so he has no social life. Even at home, he does nothing but lie around in a dressing gown and eat and sleep. How much money he gets from his estates in southern Russia he does not know, for it would be too much trouble to keep accounts. His bailiff, knowing his master will not stir out of Moscow, cheats Oblomov consistently, as does everyone else. Oblomov does not mind the cheating, so long as people do not disturb him.
At last two misfortunes, as Oblomov sees them, befall him. The bailiff reports by letter that only a few thousand rubles can be sent in the next year, and the landlord sends word that he needs Oblomov’s apartment for a relative. Help, in the form of a parasitical friend, Tarantyev, seems a godsend to Oblomov, for Tarantyev promises to find another apartment and to see what can be done about a new bailiff for the estates.
On the same day Stolz comes to visit his boyhood friend and is aghast at the state in which he finds Oblomov. His horror increases when he learns that the doctors tell Oblomov he has only a few years to live unless he begins to lead a more active life. Stolz hustles about, taking Oblomov with him everywhere and forcing his friend to become once more interested in life. When Stolz leaves on a trip to Western Europe, he makes Oblomov promise to meet him in Paris within a few more weeks.
Fate intervenes so that Oblomov never keeps his promise. Stolz introduces him to Olga Ilyinsky,...
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a sensitive, vivacious, and vital young woman. Oblomov falls in love with Olga and she with him. Visiting and planning their life together after marriage keeps both of them busy throughout the summer, during which Oblomov is partly reclaimed from his apathy, but as winter draws on, the actual wedding is no closer than it was months before. Even for his marriage, Oblomov cannot expend a great deal of effort; the habit of sloth is too deeply ingrained in him. Tarantyev finds an apartment for him in an outlying quarter of Moscow, with a thirty-year-old widow, and Oblomov lives there in comfort. He cannot give up the apartment; he signs the contract without reading it, and he is bound to keep the apartment at an exorbitant price.
Although concerned over his estates, Oblomov is unable to find anyone to set them in order, and he refuses to make the journey home. He tells himself he is too much in love to leave Olga; actually, he is too apathetic to travel twelve hundred miles to Oblomovka. Olga finally realizes that she is still in love with the man who Oblomov can be but that he will never become more than a half-dead idler. In a pathetic scene, she tells him goodbye.
Following his dismissal by Olga, Oblomov takes to his bed with a fever. His valet, the valet’s wife, and the landlady do all they can to help him, and so Oblomov slips again into the habit of doing nothing. He realizes the apathy of his mind and body and calls it shameful, giving it a name, Oblomovism. Tarantyev, the parasitical friend, and Mukhoyarov, the landlady’s brother, plan to keep Oblomov in his clutches. First, they send a friend to look after Oblomov’s estate, but most of the money goes into Tarantyev’s pockets. Second, they try to bring together the cowlike landlady and Oblomov; this second plot is easy, since the lowborn woman is already in love with her gentlemanly tenant.
Meanwhile, Olga goes with her aunt to France. In Paris they meet Stolz, who is there on business. Stolz, observing the great change in Olga, at last learns what happened in Russia after his departure. Always in love with Olga, he soon wins her over, and they are married. Realizing that Olga is still in love with Oblomov, however, Stolz returns to Russia and tries to aid Oblomov by renting the estates and sending the money to Oblomov. Tarantyev is furious and recoups his losses by making Oblomov appear as the seducer of his landlady. The landlady gives a promissory note to Tarantyev and her brother, and they get one on her behalf from Oblomov. Thus Oblomov’s income continues to pass into Tarantyev’s hands, until Stolz learns of the arrangement and puts an end to it.
Years pass. Olga asks her husband to look up Oblomov to find out if he ever recovered from his terrible apathy. Stolz does so; Oblomov, he learns, married his landlady and still does nothing. As the doctors warned, he suffered a slight stroke. He does ask Stolz to take care of his son, born of the landlady, after his death. Stolz agrees, and not long afterward, he receives word that he is to go for the boy. Oblomov passed away as he lived much of his life, sleeping.