“Oblomov’s Dream,” which Ivan Goncharov called the overture to the complete novel Oblomov, was published in 1849. It took the writer ten years more to finish the whole book. When it appeared in 1859, three years before the emancipation of the serfs, Oblomov had an immediate and clamorous success. The period was one of growing political activity in feudal Russia. Progressive democratic forces preached an awakening from inertia and stagnation and expressed general hope for reforms. Although Goncharov had no political goals in mind, his realistic depiction of Russian life of about four decades of the first half of the nineteenth century opened the eyes of those who did not want to see the dangers of serfdom and the necessity of cardinal changes. Goncharov showed how and why the Russian gentry were in gradual decline and proved the necessity of strong, active leaders to rise up and to bring in a new epoch in which the laziness and stagnation would be overcome.
Ilya Ilyitch Oblomov, the main character of the novel, is a product and a victim of a disintegrated Russian culture and primitive natural economy. His life is a terrible process of spiritual and moral degradation. A curious and lively boy, he falls prey to the charms of Oblomovka, his family estate, where work and boredom are synonyms and where food and sleep are all that matter. There is no need for him to exercise any initiative, since hundreds of servants are always at his call.
By the age of thirty-two he is an inert and apathetic creature wrapped in his dressing gown and glued to his couch. He retires from the world and excuses his idleness with the pretense that he is preparing himself for life. His preparations are nothing but vain dreams in which a peaceful and happy childhood is mixed up with an unrealizable future without passions, conflicts, storms, or demands. Lazy, incompetent, clumsy, and good for nothing, Zakhar complements his master and shares his nostalgia for Oblomovka. Oblomov’s caprices and way of life are not in the least abnormal for Zakhar; they evoke his respect and admiration. The master and his valet cannot exist without each other and completely depend on each other.
Nothing and nobody can wake Oblomov up and bring him to active and normal life. His friend Andrey Stolz spares no effort to make Oblomov live up to what is best in him and to realize himself as an individual. Stolz introduces Oblomov to the beautiful and vivacious Olga...
(The entire section is 1009 words.)