Being and Laziness


From The New Republic:

Anyone with a claim to literacy is familiar with the names of Tolstoy, Turgenev, and Dostoevsky, and can cite some of the titles of their most famous works. But Goncharov and his novel Oblomov, of which a new translation, a snappily colloquial and readable one, has just been published — who ever heard of them?

Open any Russian dictionary and you will find the word oblomovshchina, defined, in the first one that comes to hand, as “carelessness, want of energy, laziness, negligence,” and specifying its origin in Goncharov’s novel, where the word itself is used. Scarcely any other novelist, Russian or otherwise (except perhaps Cervantes), could boast of having created a character whose attributes have left such an indelible impression on the vocabulary, and on the national psyche, of his country.

So who was Ivan Goncharov, and why has the character he created taken on such ineradicably symbolic proportions? He came from a very prosperous merchant family, and was one of the few Russian writers of this period descended from such a background. He was known for his shy and retiring personality, and such reticence may well be attributed to a lingering uneasiness about his status in the carefully delineated Russian caste society.

More here.