Monday, July 12, 2010

The Classics Circuit: Alexander Pushkin

Eugene Onegin
Alexander Pushkin

Poor Pushkin has long suffered the fate of an impulsive buy.

A few years ago, I purchased Eugene Onegin knowing only it was Russian lit, which I needed to read more of beyond Dostoevsky. I arrived home and cracked open my purchase only to find a novel in verse!

[Insert party-stopping record scratch here]

Say what?

And so, poor Pushkin has sat unread on my shelf for many a year now. Thankfully, this latest installment of the Classics Circuit has given me the kick in the butt I needed to conquer this thing.

I'll say this: Eugene Onegin is not what you'd call a summer read. I wouldn't go so far as to say it's a difficult read, but it's definitely not an easy one. The translation (by Charles Johnston) makes for smooth enough reading, but our narrator digresses, rambles, philosophizes...oh boy. But I pressed on, ever the loyal CC participant.

The story is simple enough: Onegin is rich and bored with life. He flits from party to party -- oh, the emptiness of his life. Then, his uncle dies and Onegin inherits his house in the county. Alas! The country is just as boring as the city! So, he spends his days TORTUROUSLY: reading, walking by the river, and hanging out with his new friend, Lensky. In other words, his life totally sucks. (At least he doesn't he doesn't assault a remote, though.)

Eugene Onegin: first on the emo scene

Anyway, Lensky is head over heels in love with Olga. Fast forward a bit, and Olga's older sister, Tatyana, soon falls in love with the undeserving Onegin.

Tanya's in love with Onegin, Onegin's in love with Onegin -- this won't end well. And why should it? Onegin is utterly unsympathetic. It's a bit problematic to have a condescending, pompous prick as the work's hero -- I couldn't muster up a bit of feeling for him.

Ultimately, this work left me cold due to the unlikability of the "hero" and the narrator's numerous digressions. (Tatyana's pretty badass, though.) The action was drawn out, so I found myself skimming much more than I should probably admit. That said, Pushkin's achievement is undeniable: at nearly 400 stanzas and featuring an innovative rhyme scheme (a.k.a. the Onegin stanza), Eugene Onegin is no paltry accomplishment.

In a nutshell: Onegin may be a turd, but Pushkin is okay in my book.

Bibliolatry Scale: 4 out of 6 stars

FTCBS: Personal copy


Trisha said...

I love the emo reference, too funny. I must admit I am not a fan of stories in stanzas, or verse at all for that matter; I like prose. Congrats on making it through the whole book (despite the skimming ;) )!

Hannah Stoneham said...

This is such a funny post thanks for sharing. I have not had the pleasure of the book, but I saw the ballet a few years ago and thought it was wonderful!

Mel u said...

I have not read this but I have read two of his short stories-the queen of spades and the duel-both can be read on line-both are very good stories not at all slow etc-

Amanda said...

Great review! I had no clue it was written that way either. Have you seen the movie though? It has Ralph Fiennes as Onegin, Liv Tyler as Tatyana, and Toby Stephens as Lensky. Very good movie.

Amanda said...

Great review! I had no clue it was written that way either. Have you seen the movie though? It has Ralph Fiennes as Onegin, Liv Tyler as Tatyana, and Toby Stephens as Lensky. Very good movie.

Esther said...

Great review - I'm always left with the urge to smack Onegin upside the head.

I can add my recommendation for the Liv Tyler film. And it is also an opera which is well worth seeing.

Rebecca Reid said...

I started reading this but haven't gotten very far. I was surprised that the rhyming didn't through me off so much -- did it bother you? (I have the same translation). Anyway, I wasn't loving the characters but I'll have to keep giving it a try at some point. thanks for this.

Bibliolatrist said...

Amanda and Esther: Thanks for the recommendation -- I did watch the final scene on youtube (the one between Tatyana and Onegin), and it looks gorgeous. I'll have to watch the whole thing!

Rebecca: Actually, I think the rhyming helped me go a bit faster? (Although that might have been the skimming.) Anyway, I wasn't bothered by the rhyming, surprisingly.