Sunday, August 19, 2012

Eugene Onegin - Alexander Pushkin

Alexander Pushkin (1799 - 1837)

Eugene Onegin is a story about the pain of only realizing you love someone after you've lost them, the disillusionment that comes with aging and the agony of "loves melting dreams."

The poem begins by way of introduction to Eugene Onegin, a privileged and consequently bored, entitled young man, too intelligent and witty for his own good. He holds himself in very high regard and has little time to waste on the normal banality of ever day life. He is well read and therefore a composite of all his favorite characters, chameleon-like and unpredictable.

He inherits his uncle's property and in so doing meets Vladimir Lensky, a young poet and dreamer and finally for Onegin a soul mate and comrade-in-arms. "Between them every topic started reflection or provoked dispute: treatise of nations long departed, and good and ill and learning's fruit."

While Onegin is bored by the predictability of life, Lensky sees the world though the eyes of a dreamer, continuously fascinated by what he beholds. In particular Olga, the daughter of a neighboring family that he has grown up with and "he had loved a love that never is know today - only a soul that raves with poetry can ever be damned to feel it." Olga is the "roundest face that you've ever set eyes on!" A pretty girl, exactly like a Van Dyck Madonna." And he is hopelessly, endlessly in love.

Olga's elder sister, the heroine of the poem, Tatyana, although lacking her sister's beauty and incapacitatingly shy, is an independent, avid reader and dreamer. Rather than role playing motherhood at an early age with dolls like the other girls, instead Tatyana "loved dawn, and waiting for the sky to blush." She reads romances in all her free time, curled up in a corner, submerged in Richardson or Rousseau.

Lensky spends his evenings dining of "jam and speeches" at Olga and Tatyana's house, he finally convinces Onegin to go along with him, only to observe that Onegin's boredom had plunged to new depths.

After the visit, the neighbors begin to gossip that Tatyana has finally found herself a man, "there was general furtive chatter and jokes and spiteful gossip ran.." much to the chagrin of Onegin, who has kept  himself purposefully aloof from Tatyana, whom he deems young, passionate and naive.

Despite the gossip and chatter, Tatyana finds herself falling hopelessly, irretrievably in love with Onegin, and despite her air of indifference her soul had been waiting for someone, and Onegin begins to embody all the heroes of her favorite romances. She has "found her dreams, her secret fire, the fruit of her heart's desire." She sees in Onegin the self-sacrificing hero with a soul of sympathy and grace.

Tatyana, after much agonizing, decides to write Onegin a letter, exposing her heart and her love, leaving her open and vulnerable...she sends it and waits for a reply. As she continues to wait...and wait, unwilling to accept rejection, she traces his name in the condensation of her bedroom window, inscribing his name over and over again in her heart.

Finally, after a few days pass, Lensky and Onegin arrive and Tatyana, overcome with dread flees to the riverside and waits for Onegin to find her and give his response. When his finds her, he begins a passive aggressive response, belittling her love and saying he loves her like a brother - but... and then wanders off to pursue his pilgrimage of boredom.

Tatyana, devastated retires to her room to hide in literature and watch the summer languidly stretch into autumn and then winter. While Onegin lives a hermetic life of solitude, sprawled in front of the hearth, reading his own books that are of course not romances but something much more serious.

Eventually, Lensky persuades Onegin to come out of hiding and be a guest at what he promises will be a small gathering of friends and family to celebrate Tatyana's name day. Onegin, after much persuasion, agrees to the invitation, only to find upon his arrival at the party that it is a much larger affair than he assumed, and annoyed and spiteful at being misled by Lensky decides to teach him a lesson by endlessly flirting with the oblivious Olga, two weeks before Olga and Lensky are to be married. As Onegin dances with Olga, the crowd is speechless, Tatyana is hurt and Lensky is overcome with jealousy. He asks Olga for the next dance, and she flippantly tells him she must turn him down, having promised all her dances to Onegin.

As the party ends and the guests depart, Tatyana makes her way to her room, heavy with rejection, she must purge all traces of love from her heart, while Lensky challenges Onegin to a duel the following morning...

I feel like I lived through this poem in high school. Onegin is the typical guy that thinks he's smarter than everyone else and consequently no matter how hard you try you can never be interesting enough, smart enough, profound enough. While you pour yourself into books to become a smarter, better read person worthy of his interest and admiration, he looks passed you and comments on how beautiful your sister is...He's the type of jerk that all young, passionate girls fall for and because they can never successfully cut him out of their heart they can never truly gain the upper hand. Although the tables turn and Tatyana does gain the upper hand...for her and the "fat general" it's an upper hand filled with regrets and sorrow and mortared together with the steadfastness and faithfulness to her fate.

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