Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1133
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 Tatyana is reserved and withdrawn, but a discerning observer would see her real beauty.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 with women and too many disillusionments. Life with him would not be at all worthy of Tatyana. The girl, making no protest, suffers in silence.
On his lonely estate Eugene lives the life of an anchorite. He bathes every morning in a stream, reads, walks and rides in the countryside, and sleeps soundly. Only Vladimir calls occasionally.
That winter the Larins celebrate Tatyana’s name-day. When Vladimir represents the gathering as only a small family affair, Eugene consents to go. He feels betrayed when he finds the guests numerous, the food heavy, and the ball obligatory. For revenge, he dances too much with Olga, preventing Vladimir from enjoying his fiancé’s company. Vladimir becomes jealously angry and challenges Eugene to a duel. Eugene stubbornly accepts the challenge.
Before the duel, Vladimir goes to see Olga. His purpose is to reproach her for her behavior, but Olga, as cheerful and affectionate as ever, acts as if nothing happened. More lighthearted but somewhat puzzled, Vladimir prepares to meet Eugene on the dueling ground.
When the two friends meet, Eugene shoots Vladimir through the heart. Remorseful at last, Eugene leaves his estate to wander by himself. Olga soon marries an army man and leaves home. In spite of the scandal, Tatyana still loves Eugene. She visits his house and makes friends with his old housekeeper. She sits in his study reading his books and pondering his marginal notes. Eugene is especially fond of cynical works, and his notes reveal much about his selfishness and disillusionment. Tatyana, who read very little, learns much bitterness from his books and comes to know more of Eugene.
At home, Tatyana’s mother does not know what to do. The girl seems to have no interest in suitors and refuses several proposals. On the advice of relatives, the lady decides to take Tatyana to Moscow, where there are more eligible men. They are to visit a cousin for a season in the hopes that Tatyana will become betrothed. From her younger cousins, Tatyana learns to do her hair stylishly and to act more urbanely in society. At a ball, a famous general, a prince, is attracted to Tatyana. In spite of the fact that he is unattractive, she accepts his proposal.
After more than two years of wandering, Eugene returns to Moscow. Still indifferent to life, he decides to attend a fashionable ball, simply to escape from boredom for a few hours. He is warmly greeted by his host, whom he knew well in former times. While the prince is reproaching him for his long absence, Eugene cannot keep from staring at a queenly woman who dominates the gathering. She looks familiar. When he asks the prince about her, he is astounded to learn that she is Tatyana, his host’s wife.
The changed Tatyana shows no traces of the shy rustic girl who wrote so revealingly of her love. Eugene, much attracted to her, frequently goes to her house, but he never receives more than a cool reception and a distant hand to kiss. Finally, Eugene begins to write her letters in which he expresses his hopeless longing. Still, Tatyana gives no sign. All that winter Eugene keeps to his gloomy room, reading and musing. At last, in desperation, he calls on Tatyana unannounced and surprises her as she is reading his letters.
Tatyana refuses to give in to his importunate declarations. She does not understand why he scorned her when she was a country girl but pursues her now that she is a married woman. She would rather listen to his brutal rejection than to new pleadings. She once was in love with Eugene and would gladly have been his wife; perhaps she is still in love with him. Perhaps she was wrong in listening to her mother, who was insistent that she marry the prince. However, she is now married, and she will remain faithful to her husband until she dies.