Posted by: gdevi | September 10, 2013

On Eugene Onegin

We had such a fantastic class today on Eugene Onegin and Pushkin. I am so pleased that the students *loved* Pushkin–he is such an important, accomplished and just a great great writer! Pushkin was in his early thirties when he wrote this fantastic “novel in verse” — poem, really — about Eugene Onegin, a self-absorbed, self-important man who models himself after the dark, “romantic,” “Byronic” hero–full of ennui with the world, using and misusing others, with a feeling of entitlement to anything and everything, no real abilities other than to seduce women, a man with a lot of nervous self-consciousness but no ability to be self-introspective. Students noted the similarity between Onegin and Jay Gatsby–was Fitzgerald reading Pushkin? He surely must have– in fact, at one point, Pushkin’s narrator uses the exact same word that Fitzgerald’s narrator Nick Carraway uses to describe Jay Gatsby, Tom Buchanan and Daisy Buchanan–the whole bunch of them–“They are careless people.”

Students loved the character of Tatyana. Pushkin’s heroine is such a dignified, soft and strong woman character, one of the very few such women characters in nineteenth century literature anywhere. Unlike Emma Bovary, or Anna Karenina, (or Daisy Buchanan) here you have a simple, young woman who truly falls in love with Onegin, Onegin with all his peculiarities, and who figures him out very quickly, and who Onegin rejects and dismisses very arrogantly and condescendingly. Students loved the final exchange between Tatyana and Onegin. Years later, Onegin comes back to Tatyana to tell her that he was mistaken and that he loves her and that he wants her to be his wife. Tatyana tells him very softly, but firmly, with nothing love-struck about her, and conclusively that she loved him, and still loves him, but that she is an honorable woman and that she would never be unfaithful to her husband. It is an incredible speech. Pushkin draws such a beautiful contrast between Tatyana and her sister, Olga, for instance–the pretty, flaky Olga grieves for Lensky after Onegin kills him in a duel for a socially expected period of time and then quickly moves on to another rich suitor and marries him and moves on. Pushkin portrays a society mired in flirtation, coquetry and nauseating games men and women play in the name of love. In this society, Tatyana stands apart with her vulnerability and strength that comes from the truth of that authentic mode of being. Students noted the difference between an Olga, or a Daisy Buchanan and Tatyana. Daisy Buchanan has no problem consorting with her old, rich boyfriend when he comes back. And then spreading herself back to her husband after she kills his lover. Tatyana, on the other hand, tells Onegin, I loved you, and I still love you, but I am not that kind of person. It is an incredible portrait of a woman.

Students loved the intertextuality of Onegin, the beautiful descriptions of the Russian winter, Tatyana’s nightmare, Tatyana’s visit to Onegin’s house where she sees all the books that Onegin reads–how she hermeneutically follows his marginalia and arrives at an understanding of how he is caricaturing his personal life, imitating and basing it on things that he reads and hears–Dostoevsky talks about this as well–“stillborn from books”–all art is amoral–you should not live your life based on what Dostoevsky or any writer (or artist) said–you should live your own life–Onegin is a character with false consciousness who is trying to emulate the “heroes” of his books. Tatyana is an authentic human being. What a great writer Pushkin is!

The State Theater in State College is broadcasting the Metropolitan Opera production of Eugene Onegin on October 5th. I am taking my students to watch the production. Thank you, all, for a great class.

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