Eugene Onegin : a novel in verse

by Aleksandr Sergeevich Pushkin

Other authorsDouglas R. Hofstadter (Translator)
Hardcover, 1999

Status

Available

Genres

Publication

New York, N.Y. : Basic Books, c1999.

Description

Eugene Onegin is the master work of the poet whom Russians regard as the fountainhead of their literature. Set in 1820s imperial Russia, Pushkin's novel in verse follows the emotions and destiny of three men - Onegin the bored fop, Lensky the minor elegiast, and a stylized Pushkin himself -and the fates and affections of three women - Tatyana the provincial beauty, her sister Olga, and Pushkin's mercurial Muse. Engaging, full of suspense, and varied in tone, it also portrays a large cast of other characters and offers the reader many literary, philosophical, and autobiographicaldigressions, often in a highly satirical vein.Eugene Onegin was Pushkin's own favourite work, and it shows him attempting to transform himself from a romantic poet into a realistic novelist. This new translation seeks to retain both the literal sense and the poetic music of the original, and capture the poem's spontaneity and wit. Theintroduction examines several ways of reading the novel, and text is richly annotated.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member poetontheone
Pushkin's verse novel shows him as the masterful powerhouse of language, weaving together an intricate web of characters to create an affecting story full of wit and beauty. A testament to love and the power of the Muse and of ennui. Falen's translation is musical and readable, making the experience of this novel in verse a highly pleasant one for the modern reader.… (more)
LibraryThing member jwhenderson
This is a classic poem from the early romantic tradition in Russian literature. The romantic intrigue involved in the story of Tatyana, Lensky and Onegin has inspired readers and artists alike for more than a century. I found this verse translation very satisfying reading.
LibraryThing member Imshi
Read it, didn't hate it, but for me the translation just didn't work. I think, though, that it's probably difficult to translate something like this in an all-around satisfactory way - I shall have to read the original now, I think.
LibraryThing member whitreidtan
The high school I went to had a very different curriculum from most. The overwhelming number of choices we had for classes was amazing, and for an English and history loving geek like me, the best thing ever. I took elective classes like 20th Century Wars, an Asian history class, the Hero in Literature, Literary Outcasts, and Russian-Soviet Life. The latter class was a cross-departmental english and history class and we read some of the great Russian and Soviet authors. I still have my copy of The Complete Prose Tales of Alexandr Sergeyevitch Pushkin on my shelves. But as the title suggests, we never did read Pushkin's poetry, not even his most famous work, the novel in verse, Eugene Onegin. But because I have long been susceptible to buying all the works I can find by an author I enjoy, said novel in verse has been sitting on my shelves unread for literally decades. Note I said I acquire the books, not actually read them. Although in this case, I did finally tackle this most Russian of poems. And it was surprisingly accessible.

Eugene Onegin's eponymous main character is a young man who enjoyed the social whirl and was a hit with women but he became jaded and tired of this life, retreating to his country estate and a fairly hermetic life there until Vladimir Lensky, a young poet moves into the area and the two men strike up a friendship. Lensky takes Onegin to dinner with his love Olga's family where Olga's older sister Tatyana falls for the experienced Onegin. She writes him an impassioned letter and is coldly and effectively rebuffed. After a disastrous evening at a country ball where Onegin unthinkingly flirts with Olga, Lensky calls him out and a duel ensues. Our hero flees the countryside, wandering for a couple of years, during which time Tatyana goes to St. Petersburg and marries, becoming a cosmopolitan young woman. And now Onegin falls head over heels in love with her, now that she is unavailable.

I expected this to a tough read for a couple of reasons. I am (too many to count) years out of school and so not liable to find anyone willing to discuss this with me to help tease out meaning. I have never been a wild poetry fan and the thought of an entire novel in verse was daunting (Sharon Creech's lovely middle grade book Love That Dog being my only other attempt at it and while charming, that one is hardly in the same league as this one). I have to be in the proper mood for the dour Russians (which is why a class for moody high schoolers was genius, I tell you, genius). But I was pleasantly surprised. While tragedy and frustrated love abound here, the mood of the poem is not bleak and unremitting. There is much playfulness and light in it. The depictions of Russian society are detailed and wonderful as are the contrasting depictions of the regular Russian. I know much has been made of the difficulty of translating this poem in particular given the unnaturalness of the rhyme in English but I hardly noticed the oddness of the Pushkin stanza and since my own Russian was never very good, I'm unlikely to ever read it in the original to make an unflattering comparison. In any case, this Johnston translation captures the romance and the heartbreak of this long but engaging work. Those not too intimidated by poetry who want a less dense entry into Russian classics would be smart to start here.
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LibraryThing member gbill
Essential reading for anyone who loves the masters of Russia's golden age of literature; as Yarmolinsky says in the introduction to this volume, "Indeed, the accuracy with which the Russian scene in the post-Napoleonic era is delineated, the realistic concern with contemporary manners, makes this poem something of a social document. It opens that imaginative history of Russian society that may be constructed from the richly humorous tales of Gogol, the neat fictions of Turgenev, the substantial narratives of Goncharov, Doestoevsky's tortured inventions, Tolstoy's broad canvases."

Tatyana is a fascinating character, and it's ironic reading Onegin duel with Lensky in light of Pushkin's own death at age 38 from a duel with his wife's alleged lover.

Quotes:
On unrequited love:
"It was for you that I neglected
The call of fame, for you forgot
My country, and an exile’s lot –
All thoughts, but those of you, rejected.
Brief as your footprints on the grass,
The happiness of youth must pass."

"One who has lived and thought, grows scornful,
Disdain sits silent in his eye;
One who has felt, is often mournful,
Disturbed by ghosts of days gone by."

On the transience of life:
"Alas! by God’s strange will we must
Behold each generation flourish,
And watch life’s furrows briefly nourish
The perishable human crop,
Which ripens fairly, but to drop;
And where one falls, another surges…
The race of men recks nothing, save
Its reckless growth: into the grave
The grandfathers it promptly urges.
Our time will come when it is due,
Our grandchildren evict us too."

"But at the late and sterile season,
At the sad turning of the years,
The tread of passion augurs tears:
Thus autumn gusts deal death and treason."

"But oh, how deeply we must rue it,
That youth was given us in vain,
That we were hourly faithless to it,
And that it cheated us again;
That our bright pristine hopes grew battered,
Our freshest dreams grew sear, and scattered
Like leaves that in wet autumn stray,
Wind-tossed, and all too soon decay."

On youth:
"Youth’s fever is its own excuse
For ravings that it may induce."

On youth and the human condition:
"And you, oh youthful inspiration,
Come, rouse anew imagination –
Upon the dull mind’s slumbers break,
My little nook do not forsake;
Let not the poet’s heart know capture
By sullen time, and soon grow wry
And hard and cold, and petrify
Here in the world’s benumbing rapture,
This pool we bathe in, friends, this muck
In which, God help us, we are stuck."
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LibraryThing member crazyjerseygirl
Unfortunatly Johnston is an aweful translator so I shall have to re-read this book before I say anything. As for now, just avoid this translator!
LibraryThing member AlCracka
Holy crap, this thing is good. It's amazing. And it's only around 200 pages, so it's not as much of a commitment as, y'know, those other Russian assholes who can't stop writing.

It's a "novel in verse," which means epic poem, wtf, in iambic tetrameter. It's organized in stanzas that are almost sonnets, but far enough off to kindof fuck with your head, or mine anyway. The scheme is abab, ccdd, effe, gg, so he's switching it up in each quatrain, which leaves me constantly off-balance. But in a good way! Tetrameter has a dangerous tendency to sound sing-songy to me, and this helps counterbalance that somehow.

It also makes a tough challenge for a translator, and for a long time Onegin was considered untranslatable. My boy Stanley Mitchell has done what feels like an admirable job; I'm sure if I knew Russian I'd say he brutalized the thing, but one takes what one can get and this version felt readable and elegant. He's no Mos Def, but he's pretty good with the rhymes.

The story ends abruptly at Chapter VIII; Pushkin had to do some last-minute rearranging, by which I mean burning most of a chapter that was critical of the government, which really throws the pace off there. The version I have includes some fragments after VIII - stuff that survived the flames for whatever reason - but it's really not enough to be more than a curiosity.

Tolstoy called this the major influence for Anna Karenina, and you can see it. He kinda took this story and said what if, at a crucial moment, things had gone differently? So if you read these two together it's basically like a really long Choose Your Own Adventure with only one choice. Rad!

And as an added bonus, Pushkin includes what I can only assume must be the most beautiful ode to foot fetishes ever written. It's five stanzas long, so that's 70 lines of foot fetishing. I almost wish I had a foot fetish so I could've really gotten into that bit.

Here's a stanza that's not about feet, so you can get a feel for how good this shit is:

Let me glance back. Farewell, you arbours
Where, in the backwoods, I recall
Days filled with indolence and ardours
And dreaming of a pensive soul.
And you, my youthful inspiration,
Keep stirring my imagination,
My heart's inertia vivify,
More often to my corner fly.
Let not a poet's soul be frozen,
Made rough and hard, reduced to bone
And finally be turned to stone
In that benumbing world he goes in,
In that intoxicating slough
Where, friends, we bathe together now.

And if that doesn't kick your ass, you're no friend of mine.

Frankly, even if it does we're probably not friends. But we could be, if you want.
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LibraryThing member HadriantheBlind
Lyrical, tragic, comical, romantic. Russian lit at its best.
LibraryThing member VeritysVeranda
If there ever was any character I related to more than any other in literature, it would be Tatiana; I love that she is not the typical heroine: quite, reflective, a reader, melancholy, passionate without loosing her senses, etc. And that Evgeny is an anti-hero; I don't think American audiences see a lot of them, but then maybe I haven't read enough. ...As for the story, I enjoyed the pain and suffering that plays out between Tatiana and Evgeny, leaving them parted from one another.

(The opera and movie versions are both good too.)
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LibraryThing member AlanWPowers
Евгений Онегин это моя любимая романтическая поэма, равный Байрона Дон Жуан, на котором он частично смоделированы. Onegin is a cross between Byron and Wordsworth--an utterly great poem, and what is rare in any long poem, a gripping narrative. Elton's my favorite translation, half a century ago:
The less we love her, when we woo her,
The more we please a woman's heart,
And are the surer to undo her
And snare her with beguiling art.
Men once extolled cold-blooded taking
As the true science of love-making,
Your own trump everywhere you blew...

And it strikes me as quite close to the Russian: yes, Pushkin's "heart"
isn't in line two, but four; but Pushikin's хладнокровны
doesn't modify "debauch"--probably an English addition in one translation.
Also, Elton has a feel for easy monosyllables and rhyme absent in the newer ones. After all, Pushkin was "translating" Byron, who would only have used "debauch" ironically.
I have imitated it in my own 65-pp Parodies Lost, yet to be published, though a few stanzas appear in my Westport Soundings, 1994, under the title "Onagain." It begins, "He knew--from a picture of Rod McKuen--/Of all his race, the poet makes/ The saddest face, and next to a hound/ The saddest sound. Despair, he found/ Came hardest on a sunny day/ With a butch haircut. But in the rain,/ Bedraggled, "Loneliness," he thought,/ "has wet me through." And going in / He wrote of going out again./ Though all alone, he never felt / At all poetic while he wrote."
Vikram Seth beat me to publishing his fine quasi-Pushkiny Golden Gate, though I began mine more than a decade earlier than his 1991.
As for Pushkin, I think the film Mozart stole from his play, Mozart an Salieri. And his Onegin is unprecedented in world literature, and remarkably uninfluencial in English--Seth and Powers aside.
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LibraryThing member MathMaverick
Excellent book. The flow and rhythm of the poetry is very good and makes the book very readable. Very impressed with the translation. I would like to read another translation for comparison. Here is a great example of the poetry:

Suppose your pistol-shot has ended
A comrade's promising career,
One who, by a rash glance offended,
Or by an accidental sneer,
During a drunken conversation
Or in a fit of bind vexation
Was bold enough to challenge you -
Will not your soul be filled with rue
When on the ground you see him, stricken,
Upon his brow the mark of death,
And watch the failing of his breath,
And know that heart will never quicken?
Say, now, my friend, what will you feel
When he lies deaf to your appeal?
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LibraryThing member SeriousGrace
Eugene Onegin is a novel in verse. There are eight chapters centered around two couples. Eugene and Tatyana are the main characters and Lensky and Olga support their story. Pushkin himself is narrator, an acquaintance in the story and a supporting character in his own right. Olga and Tatyana are sisters. So, now you have the groundwork for the story. The main event, if you will, is when Eugene, bored at a party, flirts with Olga relentlessly, This behavior offends Lensky to the point of no return and he challenges Eugene to a duel. What I find particularly annoying is, while both men are full of remorse, they go ahead with the duel and Lenksi dies (stupid male pride). Of course, there is a lot more to the story than just the duel and death. Eugene goes away for awhile and when he returns he reunites with Tatyana, realizing he is still in love with her. She, unfortunately, has moved on and married someone else. While she still has feelings for Eugene she opts to stay with her husband, leaving Eugene despondent.… (more)
LibraryThing member Rezeda
I've read it when I was 11, at school, and liked it. Re-read it as an adult and loved it. Re-read again. Absolutely admired it... It becomes better every time.
LibraryThing member Giraldus_Papyrus
A wonderful novel from early 19th century Russia, translated into clear and readable English prose in this edition. The narrator is a minor character and keeps us entertained throughout, with a great variety of tone and digression, but always coming back to the main story. The story is intensely Russian - vastness of sky and countryside, contrast between country and city, country customs, fashionable society in town, ways to avoid boredom or to succumb to it, family entertainments, love-hate relations with France and the French, memorable characters, even the minor ones - and packs a wonderful story into less than 150 pages. Amid all this, the central love story, between Onegin and Tatiana, is told with delicacy, beauty and psychological insight. Definitely one to re-read.… (more)
LibraryThing member asxz
Fan-bloody-tastic. A novel in verse with a translation that maintained the original rhyme scheme. So good on the truth of young love, so light and so funny. The duel is genuinely shocking and the ending abrupt and sad.

I hadn't realized that this would be a novel in sonnets. What a treat to find out that this translation was the inspiration for Vikram Seth's The Golden Gate which I read 20 years ago. I kinda feel that I should seek out Nabokov's non-rhymed translation for comparison.… (more)
LibraryThing member vanjr
I read the Roger Clarke translation-one this is in prose. There are a number of other translations in English that are poetry. Which translation is best, well the original (Russian one) of course. But this classic literature is brilliant even in English. It is a book to be read many times so I plan to read a new translation each time.
Regarding the work itself (not the translations which all must fall short) Pushkin's Eugene Onegin is a work of genius. It is truly genius, but written over many, many years so indeed a work. I found it absolutely hilarious at times. The humor stands out in my mind. So read this edition or any other. If you have not read it you are missing out.
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LibraryThing member Marse
I enjoyed this translation by Charles Johnston of "Evgeny Onegin". Johnston, unlike Nabokov, translated it as a novel in verse and was enjoyable to read. I've read "Eugene Onegin" in Russian and various translations, and though none of the translations come close to the ease, the wit, the sheer joy of expression as the original, Johnston's translation was certainly adequate. The plot is simple. The hero is a bored, rich young man who is out of sync emotionally. He acts out in ways that destroy those who would in other circumstances be his closest friends or faithful lover. The digressions, however, are the best thing about the tale. Here we find a second story about creativity, writing, inspiration, memory and love. Lovely.… (more)

Language

Original language

Russian

Barcode

1170
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