I
A Biographical Survey

1

Although one of the foremost novelists in Russia and author of the world classic Oblomov, Ivan Alexandrovich Goncharov is still little known outside his own country. This may be due partly to the fact that he was devoid of any of those vagaries of genius which were conspicuous in some other great figures of Russian letters: in Tolstoy, for instance, in Gogol, or in Dostoevsky. As a private individual Goncharov was in fact the very picture of what might be called respectable conformity. It is true that in later life he became a prey to certain mental and nervous troubles, but these were of a purely clinical type-- neither colourful nor exceptional enough to draw much attention. Otherwise he was almost too 'prosaic' and too methodical for the popular conception of a great artist. Intent on becoming a success both as writer and civil servant, he marched towards this double goal in a deliberate, even somewhat calculated manner. In literature, at any rate, he succeeded well enough, for he was ushered into fame by his very first novel (in 1847) almost as a matter of course. Some twelve years later his national reputation hardly lagged behind that of Turgenev, Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, and has remained high ever since; so much so that it is now impossible to talk of the leading Russian realists without mentioning Goncharov. But this only makes it the more imperative for us to know at least the important facts about him and his work.

Born in June, 1812, in the remote Volga town of Simbirsk (now Ulyanovsk), Goncharov came of a well-to-do merchant family with gentry traditions. His parents lived in the approved 'noble' manner, with plenty of house-serfs and all sorts of other insignia required by that style and status. Their house was situated in the town, but its character was more like that of a country mansion on the banks of the Volga, with magnificent vistas opening up from its grounds. As Ivan had lost his father at the age of seven, his mother Avdotya Matveyevna, a homely and practical woman, brought up her four children (two boys and two girls) according to the old-fashioned patriarchal notions which lingered on in the provinces with a tenacity of their own. She, moreover, became the manageress

-9-

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Goncharov
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 3
  • Contents 7
  • I - A Biographical Survey 9
  • IV - The Ravine 27
  • V - Expedition, Reminiscences and Polemics 37
  • VI - Goncharov's Realism 47
  • VII - Conclusion 60
  • Biographical Note 61
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