Review: Eugene Onegin by Alexander Pushkin

I have become very interested in reading Russian Literature lately and I decided that I have neglected this classic for too long.  The English translation I got was the one offered for free on Kindle and translated by Henry Spalding.

My Review:

OneginThis is a beautiful poem that contains so many layers of meaning and allusions that I am sure each time I read it I will discover something new.  This poem, more than anything else I have read, makes me want to learn Russian so I can experience the poem in its original language.  The entire poem is made up of 389 stanzas of iambic tetrameter.

At the heart of the story is the eponymous hero, Eugene Onegin, who is a spoiled, upper class, Russian youth who spends his time attending balls, drinking and flirting with pretty girls.  He has no ambitions in life except to satisfy his own pleasures.  When, one day, his uncle dies and leaves him an estate in the country, Eugene decides that he is tired of his vapid lifestyle and decides to retire to the country.  While in the county he becomes withdrawn and takes on a cynical view of society; his only close friend is an emotional, young poet named Vladimir Lensky.

Lensky is engaged to a woman named Olga who is a vain and shameless flirt.  Her sister, Tatiana, who is sensitive, intelligent and kind, is a sharp contrast to Olga.  When Tatiana meets Eugene she falls hopelessly in love with him and cannot stop thinking about him.  She writes Eugene a beautiful love letter that declares her undying love.  When Eugene receives it he treats her with cold indifference and even mocks poor Tatiana for not being able to keep her emotions in check.

Through a series of unfortunate circumstances, Eugene kills his friend Lensky in a dual and as a result Eugene flees from his home in horror and remorse.  When he finally returns to St. Petersburg years later, he meets a beautiful woman who is the wife of an elderly count.  He realizes that this confidant and enchanting princess who has captivated him is none other than the once naïve woman, Tatiana, whom he had met years earlier while living in the country.  This time their roles are greatly reversed–Eugene cannot get Tatiana out of his mind and he sends her several desperate letters declaring his love.  But how will Tatiana receive Eugene’s advances?  Will she bestow him an answer with the grace and kindness he lacked when he rejected her years earlier?  You will have to read this beautiful poem to find out for yourself.

Some other interesting aspects of the poem deserve mention. Pushkin oftentimes inserts his own voice into the narrative and cleverly addresses his audience and writes about his intentions for the story.  The author was also adept at literary allusions and jokes which he inserts throughout the narrative.  This particular translation I read had fantastic notes, without which I would not have understood the depth or cleverness of the allusions.  The themes that Pushkin weaves throughout his narrative are timeless, a few of which include pride and selfishness and the ultimate consequences of such vices, the cruelty of the world and fate and our lack of appreciation for someone until it is too late.

I am eager to reread this poem and to read different translations of it.  If you want to explore more Russian Literature in translation but do not want to tackle something as monstrous as War and Peace or Crime and Punishment, then I highly recommend beginning with Pushkin’s brilliant poem.

About The Author:
PushkinAlexander Sergeevich Pushkin was a Russian Romantic author who is considered to be the greatest Russian poet and the founder of modern Russian literature Pushkin pioneered the use of vernacular speech in his poems and plays, creating a style of storytelling—mixing drama, romance, and satire—associated with Russian literature ever since and greatly influencing later Russian writers.

Born in Moscow, Pushkin published his first poem at the age of fifteen, and was widely recognized by the literary establishment by the time of his graduation from the Imperial Lyceum in Tsarskoe Selo. Pushkin gradually became committed to social reform and emerged as a spokesman for literary radicals; in the early 1820s he clashed with the government, which sent him into exile in southern Russia. While under the strict surveillance of government censors and unable to travel or publish at will, he wrote his most famous play, the drama Boris Godunov, but could not publish it until years later. His novel in verse, Eugene Onegin, was published serially from 1825 to 1832.

Pushkin and his wife Natalya Goncharova, whom he married in 1831, later became regulars of court society. In 1837, while falling into greater and greater debt amidst rumors that his wife had started conducting a scandalous affair, Pushkin challenged her alleged lover, Georges d’Anthès, to a duel. Pushkin was mortally wounded and died two days later.

Because of his liberal political views and influence on generations of Russian rebels, Pushkin was portrayed by Bolsheviks as an opponent to bourgeois literature and culture and a predecessor of Soviet literature and poetry. Tsarskoe Selo was renamed after him



Filed under Classics, Literature in Translation, Russian Literature

14 responses to “Review: Eugene Onegin by Alexander Pushkin

  1. I’d watched the movie adaptation Onegin (1999) with Ralph Fiennes, directed by his sister Martha Fiennes. But you have just reminded me, yes, this is a film based on a poem. Thanks so much for an informative post. I always love to go behind the scenes and find out more about the work.


  2. I have a huge passion for Russian literature (and Japanese, and Italian, and French), so much so that I almost took enough courses at school for a Russian Lit major. This does not mean I’m qualified to expound on it, though, just to indicate how great my love is. 😉

    I have not read Eugenie Onedin yet. Isn’t it wonderful that we can get classic literature online for free? That accessibility is so wonderful. I enjoyed your review, and although I’m not sure how well I’d do with poetry I’m sure I’ll try this some day.


  3. Andrea ( aka rokinrev)

    Doing my third “Summer of my Russian Novel” …all 1800 pages of War and Peace

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I seriously considered including either Eugene Onegin or Tatiana among my Fictional 100, considering how influential this poem is to later Russian novelists. I did end up mentioning their connections to other characters: Onegin is a type of Don Juan, at least in his youth; Tatiana is more complex it seems, really central to the poem, and she is often compared to Don Quixote for her romanticism. Tatiana is also considered a literary forebear of Natasha Rostova in War and Peace.

    I think you would really love War and Peace. The romantic relationships are gripping and the complications move quickly. The descriptions of war, such as the battle of Borodino, and Tolstoy’s philosophy of the causes of great events should appeal to your knowledge and taste for the ancient Classics! Anna Karenina, of course, seems closer to the modern novel in all respects; never a dull moment and racing toward tragedy.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I am very interested in exploring why Tchaikovsky saw a gay subtext between Onegin and Lenski, when he adapted the poem into an opera. Have you seen any comments about this aspect of Pushkin’s poem?


  6. No I’m not related to him.


  7. joan vesper

    I just finished Walter Arndt’s translation of Eugene Onegin. How can an English-speaking author do such a flawless translation of a poem written in Russian?? Amazing. and to this reader’s pleasure.

    Liked by 1 person

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