Digital Oblomov

A digital companion to Ivan Goncharov's Oblomov

Dobrolyubov on Oblomov

In 1859, Russian literary critic, Nikolai Dobrolyubov wrote a famous article for the radical journal, Sovremennik (The Contemporary) entitled "What is Oblomovism"

As someone who became famous for cataloguing social types in Russian literature, Dobrolyubov found Oblomovism an easy paradigm. He notes that Oblomov represents a natural, succinct reflection of his literary antecedents, namely, Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin and Pavel Petrovich Kirsanov of Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons. Though “Oblomov is not  altogether a new personage in our literature,” he writes, “never has he been presented to us so simple and naturally as he is in Goncharov’s novel” (Riha 333).

Dobolyubov was essential in quantifying Oblomovism and inducting it as a noun in the Russian language. Lenin is said to have reread “What is Oblomovism?” and used it in his speeches in order to denigrate laziness as anti-Soviet.

Note: Sovremennik  was founded by Pushkin and bought by Nekrasov in 1846. Belinsky featured prominently as its chief literary critic and Dobrolyubov and Chernyshevsky frequently contributed to the journal. The Contemporary published Turgenev’s famous Sportsman’s Sketches. After managing that journal, Nekrasov bought Отечественные Записки (Notes of the Fatherland), a journal that had previously published Oblomov as well as Dostoevsky’s The Double in the same year, 1859.

Riha, Thomas. Readings in Russian Civilization Volume 2. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1969. Electronic Source.

Soviet Propaganda

Scholars, historians and journalists typically note Lenin’s frequent references to Oblomovism.

In Readings in Russian Civilization, Volume 1 (edited by Thomas Riha), Riha comments that Lenin, “used it [“oblomovism;” Russian, обломовщина] on many occasions and not long before his death seemed to find the disease still prevalent in Russia.”

Riha notes that Lenin wrote that “The old Oblomov ‘has remained, and for a long while yet he will have to be washed, cleaned, shaken and thrashed if something is to become of him’” (Riha 332).

Riha, Thomas. Readings in Russian Civilization Volume 2. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1969. Electronic Book.

Foreignism in the novel

n Russian Writers and Society, 1825-1904, Ronald Hingley notes, “The Germans were better know in Russian than any other foreigners, being both admired and resented. Men of action in Russian literature tended to seem implausible unless they were given non-Russian names—like Stolz in Goncharov’s Oblomov” (88).

Russians would likely have found the picture of Stolz in Oblomov often comic—an almost caricatured contrast to Oblomov. The German never sits still while Oblomov can’t understand Stolz’s need to work; he admires this impulse, yet his aristocratic mind cannot fathom doing authentic work himself.

Hingley goes on: “But Russians also liked to make fun of the efficient, calculating German, and a classic picture of a comic clash between Teuton and Slav is found in Leskov’s story An Iron Will (1876) with its memorable picture of a discomfited German, Hugo Karlovich Pektoralis” (88).

Hingely, Ronald. Russian Writers in Society, 1825 1904. New York: McGraw-Hill Book  Company, 1977. Print.

Serfdom and Landowners

In Russian Writers and Society, 1825-1904, Hingley writes, “To improvidence must be added laziness and personal eccentricity as qualities of the Russian landowners” (139).

In cases like Oblomov, “Russian landowners could become more like vegetables than men” (139).

“Such too is the sleepy atmosphere of the Russian countryside in Oblomov’s Dream, the celebrated chapter from Goncharov’s novel depicting his lethargic hero’s childhood on an estate where he is spoiled by relatives and servants in an over-protected atmosphere. The publication of Oblomov almost coincided with the end of serfdom, but life on the post-emancipation estate in Goncharov’s later novel The Precipice is also a sleepy affair for most of the time” (139).

However, “Various levels of activity are involved among scions of the Russian gentry, from the near-paralysis of the fictional Oblomov to the active real-life Bakunin, escapee from Siberia, stoker of the fires of European revolution and rival of Karl Marx within the First Socialist International” (142).

Hingley, Ronald. Russian Writers and Society, 1825-1904. New York: McGraw-Hill Book  Company, 1977. Print.