Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 526
The unhappy romance between Eugene Onegin and Tatyana Larin is narrated by a young man-about-Moscow who has complicated, contradictory reactions to his tale. The narrator alternately laughs, admires, despairs, and takes courage as the story unfolds.
Numerous love affairs have dulled Onegin’s sensibilities. He retires to an estate where the inexperienced Tatyana imagines him a hero out of a romantic novel. She writes Eugene a long, adoring letter. He lectures her on the silliness of her emotions and flirts with her sister. The sister’s fiance resents Onegin’s attentions and challenges him to a duel. Onegin kills the fiance and leaves Russia.
Two years later, Onegin returns and meets Tatyana in Moscow. She has made a marriage of convenience. Finding himself passionately desiring Tatyana, Onegin becomes her devoted attendant. Soon he asks her to become his mistress. Although she confesses to loving him, she refuses to betray her vows.
The novel offers no resolution. It ends abruptly with Tatyana’s elderly husband entering just as she refuses the stunned Onegin. The narrator offers no information on the characters’ fates. Did Tatyana regret her decision? Did Onegin find another woman to desire? Readers, reviewing Pushkin’s insights into the lovers’ hearts, are left to ponder their destinies.
Eugene and Tatyana are among the great figures in Russian literature because they symbolize conflicting impulses in the national character: the desire to find something which fulfills the self, and the willingness to sacrifice that something when duty demands.
Pushkin combines the best of two genres. As novelist he depicts powerful dramatic scenes between characters. As poet, he probes the depths of desire, anxiety, and despair.
Driver, Sam. Pushkin: Literature and Social Ideas. New York: Columbia University Press, 1989. The book considers the poet as an engaged social thinker rather than as an alienated Romantic poet. Traces the development of Pushkin’s social ideas and his involvement in contemporary politics. The chapter devoted to dandyism offers an insightful discussion of Eugene Onegin in light of European fashion.
Hoisington, Sona S., trans. Russian Views of Pushkin’s “Eugene Onegin.” Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988. A varied collection of Russian considerations of Pushkin’s work. Contains several famous essays by nineteenth and twentieth century writers and critics, including Fyodor Dostoevski, Yuri Lotman, and Mikhail Bakhtin. Includes a discussion of the social significance of the novel, an elaboration of the novel as multiple-voice text, and an evaluation of the narrative structure.
Nabokov, Vladimir. Eugene Onegin: A Novel in Verse by Aleksandr Pushkin. 4 vols. Rev. ed. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1975. Nabokov’s translation of Eugene Onegin includes an extensive and thorough commentary on the style and content of Pushkin’s novel. Although his gloss on Eugene Onegin is eclectic and often digressive, Nabokov’s discussion is always interesting.
Simmons, Ernest J. Pushkin. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1937. A solid survey of Pushkin’s life combined with discussion of his major works. Still considered the standard biography of the poet.
Vickery, Walter. Alexander Pushkin. New York: Twayne, 1970. Provides extensive plot commentary and a detailed consideration of Pushkin’s versification. The chapter on Eugene Onegin offers a good, basic introduction to the work.