Sunday, October 2, 2011

Eugene Onegin

First of all, it's pronounced oh-NEG-in, not ON-again. Now that we've gotten that out of the way...

Pushkin, the great Russian romantic poet, wrote his novel Eugene Onegin completely in verse. I like poetry although I don't know much about its different styles and eras, and I enjoyed this novel's plot, themes and meter. This week marked three Russian novels in a row for me, and they were all extremely different from each other.

     Throughout the novel Pushkin mentions, and sometimes satirizes, current events that weren't familiar to me, but the end notes explained these references. Make sure you read an edition with explanatory notes; I used the Oxford World Classics edition that I paid 80 cents for in a clearance section. Clearly, Iowans aren't stampeding to read Pushkin...but they should be!


     The title character, Eugene Onegin, is a bored dandy who has constructed himself out of current social conventions, specifically, the Byronic anti-hero popular at the time.  He moves to the country and befriends his neighbor Lensky, a romantic poet.  Lensky falls in love with Olga, and Olga's sister Tatyana loves Onegin but he doesn't return her love. Eventually the two friends quarrel, and then duel, with a tragic outcome.  Onegin and Tatyana meet again years later in Moscow; this time he loves her but she is married to a Russian aristocrat and rejects him.

      Tatyana is a personification of Russia. Her personality, likes, dislikes, even her childhood home in the country are carefully chosen as the embodiment of Russia. She is initially attracted by Western social customs and institutions, but she eventually chooses the dignity and stability of Russian ways.  Onegin is a character of no real substance; he is a mere social construct. As such, his tragedy is to live in loneliness, unable to participate in a real relationship. Sadly and ironically, Pushkin himself was killed in a duel, a victim of his own internalization of social conventions.

Eponymous anti-hero: Onegin
Romantic poet, a younger version of Pushkin: Lensky
Quintessentially Russian heroine: Tatyana (she is likely the heroine in Russian lit most beloved by Russians)
There was a lot of: character thoughts, satirical asides, parties, traveling
There should have been more: food. I know; I'm predictable.
This book makes you want to: analyze your motives and the conventions you have accepted
This book makes you glad you don't have to: shoot somebody simply because they demand satisfaction.

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