As someone who is very interested in Russian History, culture, and literature, I love to explore different Russian texts in translation. One of my current favourites is the novel written in verse, Eugene Onegin. Written by Pushkin in 1825, this novel is short, witty, and engaging, with an unexpected twist at the end. It is an easy book to enjoy while juggling schoolwork and readings.
Beware, spoilers ahead!
Eugene Onegin follows the story of the young aristocrat, Eugene Onegin, as he slowly becomes bored with the debonair life he has been living and withdraws to the countryside. Once there, he quickly forms a friendship with his neighbour, Vladimir Lensky. Lensky soon brings Onegin to visit their other neighbours, the Larins. Lensky wanted to introduce Onegin to his lover, Olga Larin. Olga’s sister, Tatyana soon falls in love with Onegin and writes him a heartfelt and revealing love letter.
Onegin, slow to change from the raffish ways he was used to in the city, decides to turn his affections to Olga, to stir up disorder with both his friend Lensky and Tatyana. This leads to Lensky challenging him to a duel the next day. Although the two had been such close friends, Onegin ends up killing Lensky in the subsequent duel. Onegin leaves the story at this point, and the focus turns to Tatyana, who is still in love with Onegin. She is consumed with loneliness and is soon forced by her mother to move to Moscow to find a suitable husband.
Some time later, Onegin returns to the novel and attends a party in St. Petersburg. While there, he finds out that the hostess is, in fact, Tatyana, who is now married and extremely eminent in Petersburg society. Now that Tatyana’s affections seem to have turned away from him, Onegin finds himself stricken with love for her. He begins to send her love letters, as she had at the beginning of the story.
In the spring, Onegin visits Tatyana to declare his love for her. He finds her crying over his letters, and he apologizes for his previous actions and begs for her to leave her husband for him. However, she returns that she will not be seduced, or break her current marriage, and leaves Onegin in the room, alone.
Personally, I find the arc of Eugene Onegin fascinating. While reading it for the first time, I was very engaged by the reversal in roles of Tatyana and Onegin throughout the book. At the beginning, Tatyana was the one being rejected. She was the one writing love letters with impropriety (for the time), and she was the one with feelings of unrequited love. However, at the end of the novel, this role has shifted to Onegin. As someone who previously prided himself for his propriety, he debases himself by writing love letters to Tatyana, a married woman, and by prostrating himself before her and begging her to leave her husband and run away with him, Onegin.
I also find the parallel between Lensky’s death and Pushkin’s own eventual death extremely coincidental. Some have said that the characters of Lensky and Onegin represent the duality of Pushkin’s own nature. Lensky was the writer in Pushkin, who was stable and logical, while Onegin was the wild side of Pushkin who enjoyed the pleasures in life, maybe a little too much. In the climax of the novel, Onegin kills Lensky. This duel can be seen as the writer in Pushkin being killed by the glutton in Pushkin. As stated before, this also foreshadowed Pushkin’s own demise. Pushkin was killed in a duel over a woman, very similar to the duel between Lensky and Onegin. This coincidence seems very fortuitous, as if Pushkin had some inkling of what his future had in store.
As well, I found the rhythm from the poetry made the story more beautiful. Although it is obviously not as beautiful as it would be in the original Russian, it is still genius that the words convey a story, a rhythm, and a rhyme throughout.
Overall, I highly recommend reading Eugene Onegin, even for those who have never read any novels in verse, or feel as if they would not enjoy it. Eugene Onegin, although not written as a traditional novel in prose, has all the cliffhangers and twists that anyone would want from any classic novel.
Rebecca Silver is a second-year Arts student with an intended major in History and minor in International Relations. She loves all things Russian, curling up with a good book, and dogs.
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