Shipwrecked in his own bed

In 2013, Brazilian writer and translator Ronaldo Bressane reviewed a translation of Oblomov by Rubens Figueiredo.

Caution: this book is extremely dangerous. A genuine affront to society. Reading it can poison you with a diabolical languor… a sweet apathy… a delicious daydream… a laziness that is Siberian more than Macunaimic: this review moves ahead yawn by yawn. But rest assured: it is not a boring book! On the contrary. The wonder worked by Ivan Goncarov is to make his protagonist pass almost seven hundred pages of the novel virtually paralyzed in his room, shipwrecked in his own bed, wallowing among crumbs from yesterday’s dinner in the day before yesterday’s linens, and last month’s newspapers. This alone propels him into the region of world literature’s great characters, a being as unique as Quixote, Hamlet, Faust and Don Juan.

It’s not that Oblomov stays bedridden from the beginning to the end of the novel: the stay-in-bed section lasts for fifty or so pages. However, they provide more entertainment to some readers than the subsequent parts of the novel that focus on what can be termed action by comparison.

Bressane goes on to compare Oblomov to The Voyage Around My Room by Xavier de Maistre, and Oblomov to Bartleby. In the course of the comparison, he claims that Goncharov translated de Maistre (I’ve seen no mention of it in Russian sources) and that Oblomov the landowner inspired Bartleby the scrivener, which is simply wrong as long as 1859 comes after 1853. But never mind: Bressane compensates for this blunder by adding Vila-Matas, the Spanish Joycean, and his paralisados to the list of Oblomov’s distant relatives.

By the way, Macunaimic refers to Macunaíma, the Hero Without Any Character, the 1928 novel by Mário de Andrade.

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