Goncharov: oblomov


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? Well, Beckett for one, who was told to read Oblomov by his mistress Peggy Guggenheim, and soon signed some of his letters to her with this cognomen. I recall my teacher at the University of Chicago long ago, the renowned classicist David Grene, who had been a fellow student of Beckett’s at Trinity College, Dublin, telling me that the future famous writer was well-known as a very late riser and missed classes for this reason. Since the main character of Oblomov also finds it very difficult to leave his couch–whether he succeeds in doing so or not (literally as well as symbolically) constitutes the main thread of the extremely tenuous action of the novel–Beckett’s instant attraction to this character is easily comprehensible. There is also good reason to believe that the figure in Waiting for Godot bearing the Russian name of Vladimir is a tribute to this unexpectedly Slavic aspect of Beckett.

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