Goncharov, Ivan Aleksandrovich

Goncharov, Ivan Aleksandrovich

(ēvän` əlyĭksän`drəvĭch gənchərôf`), 1812–91, Russian novelist. Goncharov was a government official from 1835 to 1867. His realistic and satirical novel Oblomov (1858, tr. 1929, 2010) is a portrayal of the indolent nobleman common in Russia c.1860. The word Oblomovism was coined to describe the lassitude the protagonist of the novel typified. Goncharov's other novels, A Common Story (1847, tr. 1894) and The Precipice (1869, tr. 1915), are variations on the same theme. He also wrote The Frigate Pallas (1858), based on his voyage to England, Africa, and Japan.


See biographies by M. Ehre (1971) and A. and S. Lyngstad (1971); study by M. Ehre (1973) and G. Diment (1998).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Goncharov, Ivan Aleksandrovich


Born June 6 (18), 1812, in Simbirsk; died Sept. 15 (27), 1891, in St. Petersburg. Russian writer. Born into the family of a merchant.

Goncharov studied at the Moscow Commercial College (1822–30) and graduated from the literature section of Moscow University (1831–34). In the 1830’s he was drawn into the family circle of N. A. Maikov, an academician of painting. Goncharov anonymously entered his first works, “A Bad Ailment” (1838) and “A Lucky Error” (1839), in the family’s manuscript almanacs (“Snowdrop” and “Moonlit Nights”). Goncharov imitated the romantic poets in his early verse. The study “Ivan Savvich Podzharbin” (1842. published in 1848) is his most significant early work.

In 1846, Goncharov became acquainted with V. G. Belinskii, who was to play an important role in the writer’s artistic destiny. His first novel, A Common Story, was published in 1847. Belinskii saw it as a “terrible blow at romanticism, dreaminess, sentimentality, and provincialism!” (Poln. sobr. soch.. vol. 12, 1956. p. 352). During 1852–54, Goncharov took part in an expedition of the military frigate Pallas as secretary to Admiral E. V. Putiatin. His impressions from this journey formed the cycle of essays The Frigate Pallas (1858). In these essays Goncharov, with great artistic mastery, depicted the nature, psychology, customs and morals of the peoples of Europe and Asia. He became a censor in 1856. He was editor in chief of the semiofficial newspaper Severnaia pochta (1862–63) and was a member of a council on press affairs.

Goncharov’s second novel, Oblomov (1859, expressed the antiserfdom aspirations of Russian society, the stagnation of Russian life, and a consciousness of the need for renovation. N. A. Dobroliubov saw the novel as an indictment of serfdom, and in the character of Oblomov he found a generic type, a character created by the backwardness of Russian life, and an example of the psychology of sluggishness and parasitical existence.

The Precipice (1869), Goncharov’s last novel, presents a sympathetic picture of a searching young Russia (in the image of Vera), criticizes gentry liberalism and dilettantism, and depicts the collapse of the “old truths.” Yet it also contains a prejudiced treatment of the nihilists (in the image of Mark Volokhov) and an attempt to find positive qualities in the milieu of the landowner (in the image of the grandmother).

In his last years Goncharov wrote the studies “Old Time Servants” and the “Inconstancy of Fate,” critical articles, and the story “A Literary Evening.” In his best article. “A Million Torments,” Goncharov gave a subtle evaluation of A. S. Griboedov’s Woe From Wit and of its stage presentation. Goncharov also wrote interesting commentaries on his own works: “Introduction to the Novel The Precipice” (1869, published in 1938), “The Intentions, Goals, and Ideas of the Novel The Precipice” (1876, published in 1895), and “Better Late Than Never” (published in 1879).

Goncharov has entered Russian and world literature as a master of realistic prose. His novels represent an original trilogy that reflects the essential aspects of the life of Russian society in the 1840’s. I850’s. and 1860’s. Goncharov’s three novels are united by the same problems and group of character types, whose features reappear in each novel but who evolve with the changes in Russian society. Aleksandr Aduev from A Common Story corresponds to Raiskii of The Precipice and to Oblomov, just as Petr Aduev corresponds to Stolz and to Tushin. Even though he valued entrepreneurs for being sober businessmen who would end the feudal, country-estate style of life, Goncharov nevertheless did not accept their narrow-mindedness and unabashed egoism, which he revealed in his first novel in the character of Petr Aduev.

The female characters he created are artistically perfect; the heroines are distinguished by their energy, intelligence, moral strength, and faith in the high destiny of man. The characters of Lizaveta Aleksandrovna in A Common Story, Olga in Oblomov, and Vera in The Precipice reflect the progressive aspirations of Russian society and are among the best female characters in Russian literature.

Each part of the trilogy shows how stagnation and apathy are replaced by awakening. A Common Story, in Goncharov’s own words, shows “the disintegration of the old ideas and morals—sentimentality, caricatured exaggeration of the feelings of friendship and love, poetry, and idleness” and the necessity of “the struggle with the all-Russian stagnation.” In Oblomov the center of gravity becomes the exposure of the country estate based on serf laboras the source of the parasitism of the landlord. The basis of The Precipice is the awakening of a “potential oblomovite” (Raiskii) and of the young forces from the gentry intelligentsia (Vera), who are contrasted with a prereform nihilist (Mark Volokhov).

In his article “What Is Oblomovism?” Dobroliubov characterized the uniqueness of Goncharov’s realism as the “ability to capture a complete image of the subject, to execute it clearly and distinctly, to sculpture it” (Sobr. soch., vol. 4, 1962, p. 310). V. I. Lenin often made use of the Oblomov type, seeing in it the embodiment of patriarchism, backwardness, parasitism, laziness, and inertia.


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The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.