Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Five top fictional portraits of idleness and lassitude

Francine du Plessix Gray is the author of numerous books of fiction and nonfiction, including Simone Weil, At Home with the Marquis de Sade: A Life, Rage and Fire, Lovers and Tyrants, and Soviet Women. Her new novel is The Queen's Lover.

One of her five favorite fictional portraits of idleness and lassitude, as told to the Wall Street Journal:
by Ivan Goncharov (1859)

Ilya Illyich Oblomov is a kind young Russian nobleman who since early adulthood has rarely left his bed, restricting himself to a single room of his apartment in St. Petersburg. Set in the mid-19th century, Ivan Goncharov's novel portrays a man who is incapable of making any important decisions or undertaking any significant actions. Oblomov does have a regressive dream life, which centers on his nostalgic longing for the family's provincial estate, Oblomovka, where he spent his childhood and where "rivers run with milk and honey" and "no one does anything the whole year round." Abetted by two faithful servants, he dwells in the timeless Arcadia of his childhood, resisting friends' attempts to draw him back into the routine of social life and the brash careerism of government service. Oblomov eventually sinks peacefully into death, leaving the reader to wonder whether his demise was caused by his submission to the world of his dreams or by his resistance to corrupt real-life events. I have always preferred the latter alternative: The integrity of Oblomov's vision, and his refusal to follow the dictates of St. Petersburg society, have led me to expand the novel's title: "Oblomov: The Sloth as Saint."
Read about the other entries on the list.

Oblomov is one of Emrys Westacott's five best books on bad habits.

The Page 69 Test: Ivan Goncharov's Oblomov.

--Marshal Zeringue