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review SPOILER ALERT! 2014-02-26 02:01
Eugene Onegin by Alexander Pushkin

 

 

"My uncle, man of firm convictions …

By falling gravely ill, he's won

A due respect for his afflictions ---

The only clever thing he's done.

 

I was so happy to get the chance to participate in Marian at Tanglewood's Read-Along for my second read of Eugene Onegin in six months.  My first time I read the translation by Charles Johnston and this time chose to read James A. Falen's translation.  But more comparisons on the two later.

 

It was such a joy to read such a lively and often tongue-in-cheek poem, yet Pushkin weaves his jaunty remarks throughout a tale of serious love, serious death and serious coming-of-age, crafting a remarkable masterpiece.

 

Since I already reviewed Eugene Onegin the first time I read it,  I will simply cover a couple of areas that stood out for me from a second read, that were not initially apparent.

 

First Edition of the novel

(source Wikipedia)

Comparing the two translations, I must say I enjoyed Falen more than Johnston.  Johnston's words have a loftier tone and are perhaps more beautiful, but I think Falen captures the spirit of the poem more accurately.  A couple of times, his choice of words appeared awkward, yet he communicated the grave situations in balance with the bouncy, cheekiness of the narrator, with flair and apparent ease.  I would recommend him for a first-time reader.

 

This second read I noticed numerous instances of juxtaposition ………. Tatyana reading books that lead her to form a romantic infatuation with a man she's barely spoken to vs. Tatyana reading books that lead her to a more mature and formed view of Onegin's character; Tatyana's love of the country and woods vs. her marital residence being in the city; Tatyana's letter vs. Onegin's letter; Onegin's rejection of Tatyana, and then Tatyana's rejection of Onegin; Onegin's volatile response to a friend's challenge that leads to that friend's death vs. Onegin's wish to seduce a friend's wife which could have led to a similar circumstance.  It really became apparent to me this time that Onegin hadn't learned anything.  It was clear to Tatyana, too.  She asks him pointedly, why he is suddenly pursuing her, and her harsh words demonstrate her mistrust of his motives:

 

" Why mark me out for your attention?

Is it perhaps my new ascension

To circles that you find more swank;

Or that I now have wealth and rank;

Or that my husband, maimed in battle,

Is held in high esteem at Court?

Or would my fall perhaps be sport,

A cause for all the monde to tattle ---

Which might in turn bring you some claim

To social scandal's kind of fame?"

 

Until he saw Tatyana the second time, he was the same foppish young man, sinking in ennui.  She revived him briefly, yet even in the ardent fog of love, his actions are not the actions of a man who has gone through a self-examination from the tragedy that had come from his initial conduct (the duel).  If he had managed to convince Tatyana to begin a relationship with him, it would have ended in another duel and another possible death of a friend.  I think Tatyana was wise enough to ascertain the baseness of his behaviour and foresaw the consequences.  She loved him as a man, yet rejected his ignoble character.

 

Statue of Alexander Pushkin

photo courtesy of Cliff (Flickr)

Creative Commons License

 

This quote by Onegin sums up his character throughout the poem:

 

"Yet I in futile dullness squander

These days allotted me by fate ….."

 

There is a pathos in his words and actions with which the reader can sympathize, hoping for a reversal in his chosen path, but at the end he is still walking the road of self-gratification and boredom, and we can only watch him disappear into the thickening mist …..

 

 

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review 2013-12-12 06:16
Eugene Onegin by Alexander Pushkin

 

"My uncle - high ideals inspire him;

but when past joking he fell sick,,

he really forced one to admire him -

and never played a shrewder trick."

 

Eugene Onegin is a fun-loving, rakish young man who lives carelessly among fashionable society and cares nothing for any of the responsibilities of life.  Yet soon his wild living becomes stale and, desperately bored, he moves to an estate in the country inherited from his uncle, to recapture the zest in life.  Onegin's lack of growth and a stable character causes him to return to his constant feelings of ennui and he passes his days in careless endeavours.  Enter, Tatyana, a sheltered girl who falls passionately in love with Onegin.  Finally, amid her torments of love, she composes a letter to Onegin, confessing her devotion.  Giving her a surprisingly gentlemanly refusal, he then, on a whim, proceeds to seduce his friend, Vladimir Lensky's, future wife, Olga, who is the sister of Tatyana.  Lensky, in a fit of poetic rage, challenges Onegin to a duel, where Lensky is shot through the heart.  A number of years later, Onegin spies a married Tatyana at a party and is immediately drawn to her.  He pursues her to the point of exhaustion and finally writes her a letter acknowledging his love and eternal devotion.  Tatyana, in spite of still harbouring tender feelings for Onegin, spurns him from the outset, and eventually declares that she would never be unfaithful to her husband.  Because Onegin has never made any effort to develop into anything other than an empty man, he is left with a bleak future ahead of him.

 

I've hear it mentioned that Tatyana is the true hero of this novel, and her strength and effect is certainly evident.  While she shows a naivety and a juvenile infatuation with Eugene when she first meets him, years later when they meet again, she exhibits the poise and maturity of a sophisticated and experienced young woman.  In the magnificent finale, she admits her love for him but says, "… but I've become another's wife -- and I'll be true to him for life."   Onegin has spent his whole life blowing around like a leaf in the wind, consumed by ennui, driven by precipitate decisions and self-absorption, while Tatyana grows and blossoms into a strong woman with firm convictions.  She became a truly admirable character.

 

 

 

 

One wonders at the commonalities between this work and Pushkin's life story.  Pushkin, himself, was no stranger to duelling.  He was involved in many contests before being killed in a duel while defending his wife's honour, echoing his poet Lensky's fate in an ironic prophesy. And, of course, there was the question of Pushkin's wife being unfaithful, as Olga was untrue to Lensky, which one can also contrast with Tatyana remaining true to her vows of marriage at the end of the tale.

 

In one way, the poem is an eerie premonition of future events, while on the surface it takes many forms; playful, romantic, humorous, mocking, tragic.  It's a tribute to Pushkin's genius that he was able to artfully blend a myriad of themes and emotions into a introspective classic that examines the human condition and began a Russian literary tradition.

 

 

(translated by Sir Charles Johnston)

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