Eugene Onegin

From Academic Kids

Eugene Onegin (Yevgeny Onegin, Евгений Онегин) is a novel in verse written by Aleksandr Pushkin. It is one of the classics of Russian literature and its hero served as the model for a number of Russian literary heroes. It was published in serial form between 1823 and 1831. The first complete edition was published in 1833, and the edition the current accepted version is based on was published in 1837.


1 Composition and publication
2 Translations
3 Summary
4 In other media
5 External links
6 References

The Onegin stanza

The work's primary defining feature is that it is almost entirely written in verses of iambic tetrameter with the unusual rhyme scheme "aBaBccDDeFFeGG", where the lowercase letters represent feminine rhymes and the uppercase representing masculine rhymes. This form has become known as the "Onegin stanza".

Composition and publication

As with many other 19th century novels it was written and published serially, with parts of each chapter often appearing published in magazines before the first separate edition of each chapter was first printed. Many changes, some small and some large, were made from the first appearance to the very final edition made in Pushkin's lifetime. The following dates mostly come from Nabokov's study of the photographs of Pushkin's drafts that were then available and his study of other people's work on the subject.

The first stanza of Chapter One was started on May 9, 1823 and except for three stanzas (XXXIII, XVIII and XIX) finished on October 22, 1823. The remaining stanzas were completed and added to his notebook by the first week of October 1824. Chapter One was first published as a whole in a booklet on February 16, 1825 with a foreword that suggests Pushkin had no clear plan on how (or even whether he would) continue the novel.

Chapter Two was started on October 22, 1823 (the date when most of Chapter One had been finished) and finished by December 8, 1823 except for stanzas XL and XXXV, which were added sometime over the next three months. The first separate edition of Chapter Two appeared in October 20, 1826.

Many events occurred which interrupted the writing of Chapter Three. In January 1824 Pushkin stopped work on Onegin to work on The Gypsies. Except for XXV, Stanzas I-XXXI were added on September 25, 1824. Nabokov guesses that Tanya's Letter was written in Odessa between February 8, 1824 and May 31, 1824. Pushkin's misdemeanors in Odessa caused him to be restricted to his family estate Miskhaylovskoe in Pskov for two years. He left Odessa on July 21, 1824 and arrived on August 9, 1824. Writing resumed on September 5, 1824 and Chapter 3 was finished (apart from stanza XXXVI) on October 2, 1824. The first separate publication of Chapter Three was on October 10, 1827.

Chapter 4 was started in October 1824, by the end of the year Pushkin had written 23 stanzas and had reached XXVII by January 5 1825 at which point he starting writing stanzas for Onegin's Journey and worked on other pieces of writing. He thought it was finished on September 12, 1825 but later continued the process of rearranging, adding and omitting stanzas were till the first week of 1826. The first separate edition on of Chapter 4 appeared with Chapter 5 in a publication produced between January 31, 1828 and February 2, 1828.

The writing of Chapter 5 began on January 4, 1826 and 24 stanzas were complete before the start of his trip to petition the tzar for his freedom. He left on September 4, 1826 and returned on November 2, 1826. He completed the rest of the chapter in the week November 15, 1826 to November 22, 1826. The first separate edition on of Chapter 5 appeared with Chapter 4 in a publication produced between January 31, 1828 and February 2, 1828.

When Nabokov made his study on the writing of Onegin the manuscript of Chapter 6 was lost, but we know that Pushkin started Chapter 6 before he had finished Chapter 5. Most of the chapter appears to have been written before the beginning of December 19, 1826 when he returned from exile in his family estate to Moscow. Many stanzas appeared to have been written between November 22, 1826 and November 25, 1826. On March 23, 1828 the first separate edition of Chapter 6 was published.

Pushkin started writing Chapter 7 in March 1827 but aborted his original plan for the plot of the chapter and started on a different tack, completing the chapter on November 4, 1828. The first separate edition of Chapter 7 was first printed on March 18, 1836.

Pushkin intended to write a chapter called 'Onegin's Journey' which occurred between the events of Chapter 7 and 8, and infact was supposed to be the 8th Chapter. Fragments of this uncomplete chapter were published, in the same way that parts of each chapter had been published in magazines before each chapter was first published in its first separate edition. When Pushkin first completed Chapter 8 he published it as the final Chapter and included within its denouement the line nine cantos I have written still intending to complete this missing chapter. When Pushkin finally decided to abandon this chapter he removed parts of the ending to fit with the change.

Chapter 8 was begun before December 24, 1829 while Pushkin was in Petersburg. In August 1830, he went to Boldino where he was forced to stay by an epidemic of Cholera for three months. During this time he produced what Nabokov describes as an "incredible number of masterpieces" and finished copying out Chapter 8 on September 25, 1830. During the summer of 1831 Pushkin revised and completed Chapter 8 apart from 'Onegin's Letter' which was completed on October 5, 1831. The first separate edition of Chapter 8 appeared on January 10, 1931.

Pushkin wrote at least eighteen stanzas of a never-completed tenth chapter.

The first complete edition of the book was published in 1833. Slight corrections were made by Pushkin for the 1837 edition. The standard accepted text is based on the 1837 edition with a few changes due to the Tsar's censorship restored.


There are a number of translations of the work into English of which the following are just a few.

Walter W. Arndt's 1963 translation (ISBN 0875011063) was written keeping to the strict rhyme scheme of the Onegin Stanza and won the Bollingen Prize for translation. It is still considered as one of the best translations.

Vladimir Nabokov severely criticised Arndt's translation, as he had criticised many previous (and later) translations. Nabokov's main criticism of Arndt's and other translations is that they sacrificed literalness and exactness for the sake of the prettiness of melody and rhyme and in 1964 he published his own scrupulously exact translation in four volumes. The first volume contains an introduction by Nabokov and the text of the translation. The Introduction discusses the structure of the novel, the Onegin stanza in which it is written and Pushkin's opinion of Onegin (using Pushkin's letters to his friends); and gives a detailed account of both the time over which Pushkin wrote Onegin and the the various forms any part of it appeared in publication before Pushkin's death (after which there is a huge proliferation of the number of different editions). The second and third volume consists of very detailed and rigorous notes to the text. The fourth volume contains a facsimile of the 1837 edition. The discussion of the Onegin stanza contains the poem On Translating Euguene Onegin (, which first appeared in print in The New Yorker on January 8, 1955, and is written in two Onegin stanzas. The poem is reproduced there both so the reader of his translation would have some experience of this unique form, and also to act as a further defence of his decision to write his translation in prose.

Nabakov's previously close friend Edmund Wilson reviewed Nabokov's translation[1] ( in the New York Review of Books, which sparked an exchange of letters there and an enduring falling-out between them.

While many despair at the loss of what is at first most appealing in Pushkin's novel, Nabokov's translation is essential reading for anyone who wishes to study Onegin at a high level without learning Russian. Also a number of later translations which do attempt to preserve melody and rhyme and been helped by Nabokov's literal translation.

John Bayley has described Nabokov's commentary as by far the most erudite as well as the most fascinating commentary in English on Pushkin's poem and the commentary as being as scrupulously accurate, in terms of grammar, sense and phrasing, as it is idiosyncratic and Nabokovian in its vocabulary. This 'Nabokovian vocabulary', which will require most readers to routinely reach for the dictionary, is considered to be a failing, as it is far from a recognisable or idiomatic English to most native speakers.

In 1977 Charles Johnston published another translation[2] ( trying to preserve the Onegin stanza, which is generally considered to supass Arndt's. Johnston's translation is influenced by Nabokov. Vikram Seth's novel The Golden Gate was inspired by this translation.

James E. Falen (the professor of Russian at the University of Tennessee) published a translation in 1998 which is also influenced by Nabokov's translation.

Douglas Hofstadter published a translation in 1999, again preserving the Onegin stanzas.


Eugene Onegin, a Russian dandy who is bored with life, inherits a country mansion from his his uncle. When he moves to the country he strikes up an unlikely friendship with the minor poet Vladimir Lensky. One day Lensky takes Onegin to dine with the family of his fiance Olga Larin. At this meeting Olga's bookish and countrified sister, Tanya, falls in love with Onegin. During the night Tanya writes a letter to Onegin professing her love and has it sent to Onegin. While this is something a heroine in one of Tanya's French novels would have done, Russian society would consider it inappropriate for a young, unmarried girl to take the initiative. Contrary to her expectations, Onegin does not reply by letter. The two next meet on his next visit where he rejects her advances in a speech that has been described as reasonable and tactful honesty, and alternately as pompous and blinkered condescension.

Later Lensky clumsily invites Onegin to Tanya's nameday celebration, forgetting to mention what the event is or the position of honour that would be accorded to him. At the celebration Onegin realises that everyone there expects that Onegin is there as Tanya's suitor, then proceeds to dance and flirt with Olga. Lensky leaves in a rage and in the morning issues a challenge of a duel to Onegin. At the duel Onegin kills Lensky, then flees.

Tanya visits Onegin's mansion and reads through his books and the notes in the margin, and through this comes to the belief that Onegin's character is merely a collage of different literary heroes and so there is no "real Onegin". Later Tanya is taken to Moscow and introduced to society. In this new environment Tanya matures to such an extent that when Onegin returns to Moscow he fails to recognise her. When he realises who she is, he tries to win her affection despite the fact that she is now married, only to be ignored. He writes her a letter and receives no reply. The book ends when Onegin manages to see Tanya and is once more rejected in a speech echoing the speech he previously gave her.

The story is told by an idealised version of Pushkin, who often digresses from the story and while the the plot of the novel is quite scant the book is more loved for the telling than what is told. It is partly because of this garrulous narrator that the book has been compared to Tristram Shandy.

The six main characters are Eugene Onegin, Vladimir Lenski, an idealised Pushkin, Tanya Larina, Olga Larina and Pushkin's Muse.

In the book Pushkin claims that Eugene Onegin is his friend, however the name "Onegin" is not an authentic Russian surname but derived from the river and lake Onega. This literary artifice serves to contradict the implied reality of this "friend". Lenksy is similarly named after the Siberian river Lena.

One of the main themes of Eugene Onegin is the relation between fiction and real life. As art often imitates life, people too are often shaped by art. The work is hugely allusive to other literary works and most of the main characters have been influenced and had their personalities shaped by (or modelled on) different works of literature.

In other media

The 1879 opera, Eugene Onegin, by Tchaikovsky based on the book is part of the standard operatic repertoire; there are a several recordings of it, and it is regularly performed. A staged version was produced in the USSR in 1936 with staging by Alexander Tairov and incidental music by Sergei Prokofiev. In 1999 a film version titled Onegin was made by Martha Fiennes, starring Ralph Fiennes and Liv Tyler.

External links


  • Alesksandr Pushkin, London 1964, Princeton 1975, Eugene Onegin a novel in verse. Translated from the Russian with a commentary by Vladamir Nabakov
  • Alexander Pushkin, Penguin 1979 Eugene Onegin a novel in verse. Translated by Charles Johnston, Introduction and notes by Michael Basker, with a preface by John Bayley (Revised Edition) ISBN 0-14-044803-9da:Eugen Onegin

de:Eugen Onegin fr:Eugène Onéguine sv:Eugen Onegin


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