Eugene Onegin

By Alexander Pushkin
written around 1833, @ 1963 Ardis Publishers, 224 pages.

peacock featherEugene Onegin is a novel written in verse by the father of Russian literature, Alexander Pushkin (1799-1837). The version I read was translated by Walter Arndt, but I was intrigued to learn today that Vladimir Nabokov also did a translation.

I have had a guilty conscience about this book for a long, long time. What a relief to finally read it. It’s pretty short, so I’ll still have a guilty conscience from not reading it in Russian. The Russian version is on my shelf, so maybe I’ll get around to that eventually.

This is my second acquaintance with Pushkin, and I do not claim to know him well. He died in a duel at the age of 37 after challenging his wife’s lover (alledged?). Pushkin’s lines about the death of his character, Vladimir Lensky, seem prophetic, knowing this personal detail of Pushkin’s life:

“My friends, you will lament the poet
Who flowering with a happy gift
Must wilt before he could bestow it
Upon the world, yet scarce adrift…”

Pushkin goes on about this loss for several stanzas; it seems to weigh upon his mind.

But to get to the point. Eugene Onegin is a player, a lady’s man who loves ’em and leaves ’em. Without pursuit, he has captured the heart of the pure-hearted country girl, Tatyana. Quite a progressive girl for her time (she is prompted by adoration), she sends Eugene a letter professing her love. Several days go by without an answer, but finally they run into each other, and Eugene rejects her. He explains that he is a player and cautions her that others might not be so kind as to let her know.

I won’t spoil the story, but I think it is interesting how Pushkin focuses his blame. Here, Eugene doesn’t take advantage of Tatyana’s love and innocence, but he is still truly a scoundrel.

An interesting read, I recommend Eugene Onegin for anyone who would like to take a brief excursion into the Russian mind. It’s sort of like Jane Austen for Russians, but shorter and in verse, and a tragedy.

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