Monday, June 28, 2010

Eugene Onegin by Alexander Pushkin - Book Review #43

Monday, June 28, 2010
Eugene Onegin
by Alexander Pushkin

Eugene Onegin (1833) is a comedy of manners, written in exquisitely crafted verse, about two young members of the Russian gentry, the eponymous hero and the girl Tatyana, who don't quite connect. It is also the greatest masterpiece of Russian literature - the source of the human archetypes and the attitudes that define and govern the towering fictional creations of nineteenth century Russia and one of the most celebrated poems of the world.

This time I decided to reread Eugene Onegin in English translation. First, I tried James E. Falen’s, then Walter Arndt’s and finally Vladimir Nabokov’s. I didn’t read any of them fully, just a half of the first chapter and I gave up, ending up switching to original – Russian version and finishing it. I will not be telling you what so many before me already said - Eugene Onegin has to be read in Russian as it was written. In my experience everything needs to be read in the original language if you are able to do so. It is especially crucial for the works in verse. I wouldn’t say that I hated these translations that I tried. I wouldn’t also give you an advice to learn Russian before attempting to read Eugene Onegin, as Nabokov did. I just think that everybody should read Eugene Onegin, despite the fact if they can do this in Russian or not. I personally preferred Falen’s version, because he managed to preserve the Onegin stanzas and deliver the meaning as close as it would’ve been possible, I guess.

In my opinion, the Onegin stanza is a first and foremost that makes Eugene Onegin a masterpiece. It’s so transparent and light that your eyes are flying through the lines and there is not a word on which you could choke, which could make you stop and reread what you’ve been trying to read. Pushkin’s verse is absolutely effortless and reads like a most natural thing in the world.

The story itself is trivial and as old as the world. However, I believe that no one before or after Pushkin was able to tell it the way he does it. No one was able to make this drama as ironical and cheerful as Pushkin’s genius.

There is not much I can say to make a true justice to the Eugene Onegin. If you haven’t read it, I beg you, give it a try, because you are missing a lot. It is short and reads very easily, so it won’t take you more than 2-4 hours and I promise you will get an enjoyment that would last much longer.


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