Typically Goncharov

Goncharov (1812-1891) is perhaps not the most famous nineteenth century Russian writer, but he is most certainly one of the great Realists. He didn’t write much; some stories, a travel journal and three novels. One of those novels made him world famous, and according to some people it is the ultimate novel in Russian literature: Oblomov.



Oblomov is a man in his thirties, he lives with his servant Zakhar and his cook Anisha in a St Petersburg apartment. He spends most of his time sleeping or daydreaming in bed. His favourite piece of clothing is his robe, and although Zakhar polishes his boots every day, it’s the slippers that are always exactly there where his feet land when he finally gets up, that he prefers to wear. Oblomov refuses to make a fuss and dreads anything that could possibly endanger his peace and quiet.

His estate Oblomovka, situated in the far east of Russia, needs urgent attention, but Oblomov can’t even get himself to reply to a letter that his neighbour sent him, let alone travel all the way to Oblomovka. As a result of his indecisiveness and generosity people take advantage of him. His peasants lie about the earnings of his estate and his friends, and even Zakhar, steal from him. His good friend Stolz tries (in vain) to bring Oblomov back to life.

What is Oblomovism?

Stolz calls it ’Oblomovism’. It’s the result of an extremely idyllic childhood in Oblomovka, and Oblomov tries very hard to recreate that carefree idylle in the present time. Immediately after the novel was published in 1859, Oblomovism became a household term in Russia and abroad. If you look it up in the Oxford dictionary you’ll find that it means ”sluggish or languorous inertia; supineness, indecision, procrastination”.

”What is Oblomovism” is a famous essay that literary critic Dobrolyubov wrote in 1859. He stated that Oblomovism was a social problem, it stood for the ancient aristocracy that was afraid of reforms such as the abolition of serfdom. Stolz, being half German, doesn’t catch the contagious Oblomovism and stands for progress and modernisation. Contrary to the superfluous man (of which Oblomov is the ultimate example) he is decisive and takes responsibility for his own life. Oblomovism is often seen as symbolic for the slow and ancient Russian society, some even go as far as to call it Russia’s national disease.



Goncharov uses the third person narrator. He uses mainly dialogue to characterise the characters and almost doesn’t let the narrator judge. Goncharov is at his best in describing domestic scenes. The personal environment is also used to characterise. He writes with a fantastic sense of humour that gives his work a light and airy quality. Because of this his work is rarely sentimental.



Oblomov is an undisputed masterwork. Thanks to its layers it can be read at several levels; if you (don’t want to) know nothing of the social problems in nineteenth century Russia, you simply read an amusing character study of an eternal procrastinator. Many of the issues in the novel are still relevant, xenophobia for instance.



The impact of the novel was enormous. Goncharov had been working on it since 1847, but it was finished and published in 1859, on the eve of major reforms, like the abolition of serfdom in 1861. The timing was perfect, because the sluggish society was a hot topic in 1859.


In short

Goncharov uses a sense of humour to address social issues, and that is a whole lot more palatable than the methods that Tolstoy and Dostoevsky used. His dreamy writing style is pleasant, but he doesn’t take you to the highs and lows that Tolstoy and Dostoevsky take you to.

We can easily say that Oblomov had a ’Stolz-effect’ on society. But if we are to believe Goncharov there is no cure for such deeply ingrained Oblomovism…



Books used:

Geschiedenis van de Russische literatuur – Karel van het Reve

Geschiedenis van de literatuur in Rusland 1700-2000 – Emmanuel Waegemans

Oblomov – Ivan Goncharov


Photos from Wikipedia and Eldritchpress

“Ждун” – a modern example of Oblomovism


24 thoughts on “Typically Goncharov

  1. sorry

    doesn’t let the narrator JUDGE

    this is a typically excellent post (in my humble opinion)

    the word I would use to describe it is PITHY

    so much about the novel is said
    and communicated in a few paragraphs

    well said

    what would require a tedious
    monograph from your average critic

    and, of course, it makes one eager to
    read the novel


    from an inveterate procrastinator (it takes one to know one)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you! I assume you mean the illustration in the middle. It’s from an old Russian edition of Oblomov.
    Oblomov has a TBR too, complete with a layer of dust;-) I think you will enjoy getting to know him a bit better.
    Happy reading!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Have you read anything else by him? A couple of years ago The Same Old Story was published by Alma Classics. It looks quite good.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Was it? I have read a story called The St Petersburg plague, it has been translated into Dutch, quite amusing. I’m sure The Same Old Story is also worth reading. I’ll check the Alma website.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. A most interesting post… Oblomovism was a whole new thing from me so I thank you for teaching us about it.
    I´d say that a feeling of trying to find the lost time (such as in Proust´s novel) seem to show up there- You say: “It’s the result of an extremely idyllic childhood in Oblomovka, and Oblomov tries very hard to recreate that carefree idylle in the present time”. I couldn´t avoid thinking of the Involuntary Memory and Proust´s madeleine which brings him back to the past, when he was a kid in His aunt´s house as they were drinking tea. The episode in question appears in the first novel of seven, it is called “Remembrance of Things Past”: “Swann´s Way”.
    Excellent post and a pleasant reading dear Elisabeth… Thank you so much for sharing!. Love & best wishes 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  6. How wonderful that he used a sense of humor to be able to reach readers to discuss societal issues. It sounds like it was a successful effort! Great spotlight on the writer here 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Thank you, Amalia. I haven’t read Proust, but judging by your comment I should definitely do so. I always love to find connections.
    I do believe that Oblomov was trying to find the lost time, he was unfit to deal with the realities and responsibilities of adulthood.
    Always good to hear from you, hugs from Holland 🌷 to Argentina 🍂

    Liked by 1 person

  8. One of my favorite professors in undergrad LOVED this book. He would be so happy you blogged about it. I need to read it. I’ve meant to for years but haven’t got around to it yet! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Yes, it is a book to be loved, and Oblomov is a lovable character. Good to hear that one of your professors loves it too! And perhaps you will too.. once you get around to it.. 😊
    Happy reading, Natalie!

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Hi, Elisabeth

    Have you heard of a book by Elif Batuman: “The Possessed: Adventures With Russian Books and the People Who Read Them” (2010)?

    According to a review of a newly published novel of hers (New York Times, March 27):

    In “The Possessed,” Batuman detailed how her obsession with Russian novels carried her afield — to graduate school, to Samarkand and St. Petersburg, to mastering old Uzbek, with its 70 words for duck and 100 words for crying. A staff writer for The New Yorker, she continues to report from this territory, where political or romantic ideals battle it out with shabby realities, and her investigations are frequently sparked by fiction.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Hey Roger,
    Yes, I have read Elif Batuman’s The Possessed, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. I also read that she has recently published her second book, and I’m curious about that one too. Thanks for pointing it out, though!


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