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.)