Titles by the Author
Ivan Alexandrovich Goncharov is best known for his novel Oblamov, which is recognized as one of the most important novels in Russian literature.
Goncharov was born in Simbrisk, near Moscow, in 1812. His father was a wealthy merchant, and Goncharov's background was probably similar in many ways ot that of his character Oblomov. He enjoyed a leisurely education at Moscow and Petersburg universities and completed his studies at age forty.
During Goncharov's university years his first novel, A Common Story (1846), was published, with little success. When he completed his education he found an undemanding job in the government, one of the few respectable places for a member of the gentry to work, and later worked in the state censorship bureau. The most interesting period of an otherwise unremarkable life were the three years he spent in Japan as part of an official government mission. This trip provided the material for his only nonfiction work, a travelogue titled The Frigate Pallas (1856).
With the publication of Oblamov in 1858 Goncharov achieved enormous literary fame. Oblomov is a wealthy man with a keen mind and privileged education. Throughout the novel, however, he sinks more deeply into a state of helpless sloth and inerita, a condition he recognizes and terms "Oblomovism." Although Oblomov is an intelligent man, his lethargy grows and he is increasingly victimized by his wily Polish friend Schtoltz. His servants alter his financial records and embezzle his money. A brief love affair promises to shake him out of his torpor, but when he loses the woman to the more aggressive and energetic Schtoltz he falls back into his paralysis.
Readers of Russian literature cannot fail to recognize Goncharov's brilliant characterization as a parody of the slothful bourgeois landowner. Goncharov, whose sympathies lay with Oblomov, claimed that he was trying to represent the indifference of Russia in the face of increasing foreign influence represented, perhaps, by the foreigner Schtoltz.
Following the success of Oblomov Goncharov continued to write, but never equaled the success of his most famous work. In The Precipice (1869) he again examined a man who suffered from a tragic lack of willpower. In his later years Goncharov became increasingly paranoid and even published an essay accusing Turgenev of stealing his ideas. Though by the time he died in 1891 his fame had diminished, the name Oblomov has entered the Russian language as a synonym for lethargy and upper-class privilege.