Oblomov, the main character of Ivan Goncharov's novel, is widely regarded as one of the finest literary examples of the backward-looking landed gentry of mid-nineteenth century Russia. His name has even entered the Russian language in the term "oblomovshchina", meaning backwardness, inertia. The unheroic hero Oblomov is also a very fine literary creation of a fully-fledged human being. He is a melancholy idealist, a dreamer whose temperament is such that he never begins to put his dreams into action. His tragedy is that he weighs the possible obstacles to his endeavors for such a long time that, finally, he never even starts to act.
Ivan Goncharov is at his best when he describes the mental processes of Oblomov that lead to his bumbling life. There is no better description of how the mind of a pessimistic person manipulates the perception of reality than in this book.
"The Saint of Sloth" is the title of a review written by the critic V.S. Pritchett for the New York Review of Books. It captures nicely the two main aspects of Oblomov's character. On the one hand, Oblomov is lazy, irresponsible, pessimistic, paralyzed, complacent, slothful; but on the other hand he is idealistic, true to himself, honest, child-like, innocent, saintly. He is ultimately a lovable human being. He does not lack wisdom, he lacks resolve.
As can be expected, Goncharov's book is not an action-packed thriller. On the first 50 or so pages, Oblomov barely manages to get out of his bed. A patient reader who keeps reading, however, is rewarded with a wonderfully realistic love story (including all the ups and downs), and many wise comments by the bachelor Goncharov on life, love, passion, duty and marriage.