Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Eugene Onegin is considered Pushkin’s most outstanding and characteristic work. It has been called the first Russian novel because of its firm grasp of character and its realistic presentation of scenes of Russian life. Pushkin combines the virtues of slow development of character and situation of the novel with the quick epigrammatic wit of the discursive poem. He combines the pathos of a psychologically plausible affair of the heart with the charm of genre painting. The work reflects the author’s own gradual growth as a writer, since it was written and revised over a period of nearly ten years.
The novel is written in fourteen-line stanzas, known simply as the Onegin stanza, since there have been no other attempts to create a work using this verse form. The stanza implements an intricate rhyme scheme, which ends in a couplet. The couplet rounds off the stanza and invites an epigrammatic or aphoristic conclusion. The typical stanza contains a proposition, an exposition elaborating it, and a summation with a final flash of wit.
The plot of the novel is very simple, and its loose form allows for a wealth of description and poetic excursus. Only approximately one-third of the novel is concerned with the plot. The rest consists of descriptive passages and the narrator’s digressions on the theater, literary or social polemics, amorous recollections, or soliloquies on literary art.
The events of the novel are set in the early 1820’s, and the settings are St. Petersburg and the Russian countryside. After an abrupt description of the hero traveling to visit his moribund country uncle, the plot moves to a flashback describing the education of the young St. Petersburg playboy, his introduction to St. Petersburg society, and his gradual withdrawal from society life to the country estate that he has inherited. There he is drawn into the family circle of a typical squire of the period. The shy, bookish, elder daughter, Tatyana, falls in love with him and writes...
(The entire section is 818 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Eugene Onegin is brought up in the aristocratic tradition. Although he has little classical background, he has a flashing wit, and he is well read in economics. He becomes an accomplished man of the world by the time he reaches young adulthood. In fact, he is so successful in love and so accustomed to the social life of Moscow that he habitually feels a supreme boredom with life. Even the ballet lately fails to hold his attention.
Eugene’s father leads the usual life. He gives parties regularly and tries his best to keep up his social position by borrowing recklessly. Just as he declares bankruptcy, Eugene receives word that his uncle is dying. Since he is the heir, he leaves in haste to attend the dying man. Grumbling, meanwhile, at the call of duty, he is thankful to be coming into an inheritance.
His uncle, however, dies before he arrives. After the relatives depart, Eugene settles down to enjoy his uncle’s handsome country estate. The cool woods and the fertile fields charm him at first, but after two days of country life his former boredom returns. He soon acquires a reputation as an eccentric. If neighbors call, Eugene finds himself obliged to leave on an urgent errand. After a while, the neighbors leave him to himself.
Vladimir Lensky, however, remains his friend. At eighteen, Vladimir is still romantic and filled with illusions of life and love. He was in Germany, where he was much influenced by the philosopher Immanuel Kant and the poet-dramatist Friedrich von Schiller; this more German temperament sets him apart. He and Eugene become more and more intimate.
The Larins have two daughters, Olga and Tatyana. Olga is pretty and popular, and although she is the younger, she is the leader in their group. Tatyana is reserved and withdrawn, but a discerning observer would see her real beauty. She makes no effort to join in the country life. Olga was long betrothed to Vladimir, but the family despairs of finding a husband for Tatyana.
On Vladimir’s invitation, Eugene reluctantly agrees to pay a visit to the Larins. When the family hears that the two men are coming, they immediately think of Eugene as a suitor for Tatyana. Eugene, however, is greatly bored with his visit. The refreshments are too ample and too rustic, and the talk is heavy and dull. He pays little attention to Tatyana. After he leaves, Tatyana is much disturbed. Falling deeply in love with Eugene, she has no arts with which to attract him. After confiding in her dull-witted nurse, she writes Eugene a passionate, revealing love letter.
Eugene, stirred by her letter, pays another visit to the Larins and finds Tatyana in a secluded garden. He tells her the brutal truth. He is not a good man for a husband, for he had too much experience...
(The entire section is 1133 words.)