The Eugene Onegin Challenge

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I’m challenging you! Not to a duel, no, although it does involve one… I’m challenging you to read Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin with me. Whether you’re a curious first time reader, a longtime lover, or something in between; anyone who is interested is welcome to join.

Now I know that you all have TBR’s that reach the ceiling, not to mention to-do lists as long as the neck of a giraffe, but don’t worry; we’ll do this at a very doable pace. Pushkin deserves more than to be read at a record speed anyway. 

Why?

Eugene Onegin is a ‘novel in verse’, something between a poem and a novel. That, among other things, makes it notoriously difficult to translate. If you translate a poem literally, it probably won’t rhyme. If you make it rhyme, you’ll probably have to adjust the text. I had very high expectations when I first read Eugene Onegin. But although I enjoyed it, I felt that I didn’t quite get it. Looking back that probably had a lot to do with the translation that didn’t do the work justice. Luckily I did not give up on Eugene Onegin. I made attempts at reading it in Russian and tried other translations. And with each read I loved it more.

The plan

The plan is to make ten more posts about Eugene Onegin. In the next one I’ll explain the rhyming scheme, introduce the characters and talk about how and when Pushkin wrote his masterpiece. The following eight posts will be dedicated to the eight chapters of the novel. After each of the eight chapter posts I would love to read your thoughts, insights, questions and feelings in the comment section. In the final blog post I’ll summarise the journey that we took together, exploring this wonderful novel. 

Taking it one chapter at the time allows us to pay attention to details such as the structure, references and characterization that make Eugene Onegin the masterpiece that it is. Your comments will be a valuable addition to the posts.

The details 

I’ll mainly use the James E. Falen translation. I think that it captures the cheerful and witty spirit of Pushkin really well. There is an audiobook version of this translation read by the marvellous Stephen Fry, which can be found on YouTube. I recommend that you use a translation that has plenty of notes. Sunday next week I’ll publish the introduction to Eugene Onegin, and Sunday in two weeks the first chapter post. After that I aim to publish a chapter post every two weeks. At the end of the series you’ll be able to not just say that you’ve read Eugene Onegin (again), but hopefully also that you love it (even more)!

Finally I’d like to emphasise that everyone is welcome to join at any time, and read at his or her own pace. The journey is more important than the destination, so enjoy it!

*****

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Eugene Onegin – Alexander Pushkin, translated by James E. Falen, ISBN 978-0199538645

Text and photos © Elisabeth van der Meer 

39 thoughts on “The Eugene Onegin Challenge

  1. That is a great challenge! Can I be part of it? Can I possibly provide some commentary since my native language is Russian? I think Eugene Onegin is a masterpiece (indeed!), and I would love to read along with everyone in a translation – only I don’t have one. I have only the original version with me.

    Liked by 5 people

  2. Hello Diana! You are more than welcome to join! Your views as a native Russian speaker will be much appreciated, and the original Russian version is much better than any translation can possibly be:-) I’m looking forward to your comments!

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Falen’s translation is definitely the best, in my opinion. I didn’t know that there was an audiobook version narrated by Steven Frye, but that sounds delectable! Will be following along eagerly.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Elisabeth –

    You wrote:
    Eugene Onegin is a ‘novel in verse’, something between a poem and a novel. That, among other things, makes it notoriously difficult to translate. If you translate a poem literally, it probably won’t rhyme. If you make it rhyme, you’ll probably have to adjust the text.

    THIS IS an extremely interesting and perceptive comment. Well put.

    Liked by 5 people

  5. I am beyond excited to be part of this challenge. I have found James E Falen’s translation in both audio and kindle format so I’m ready for the adventure ahead – bringing along tea. Thank you for providing Stephen Fry’s rendition – he has a marvelous voice.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. What a lovely idea! I love Eugene Onegin, and will try to find my copy. I can’t wait to read your posts.

    On Sun, Feb 16, 2020 at 12:01 PM A Russian Affair wrote:

    > elisabethm posted: ” I’m challenging you! Not to a duel, no, although it > does involve one… I’m challenging you to read Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin > with me. Whether you’re a curious first time reader, a longtime lover, or > something in between; anyone who is interested is welco” >

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I will definitely try. Loved the way you have scheduled the readalong allowing for a slow-paced immersive reading, the kind of reading Pushkin deserves.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. That’s a great idea!
    I have read it in original while I was at school. I have actually read and studied all of these poets and writers in Russian, but it was many years ago. I still remember Tatyana’s letter to Onegin by heart. I had to learn it some 45 or 47 years ago. We had great Russian literature teacher, Russian was mandatory in all Latvian schools from grade 1 those times. Yes, older Latvians still speak Russian at a native level, not to mention reading it.
    It will be interesting to see how people perceive the translation.

    Liked by 3 people

  9. Thank you! I’m so impressed to read that after all those years you still remember Tatyana’s letter by heart! A great literature teacher makes all the difference.
    And so does a great translation, although it’s impossible to translate something like Eugene Onegin and keep the rhyme, the text and all the references. It takes a lot of notes 😉 Hopefully I can contribute a little bit as well 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  10. What a brilliant project – I am really looking forward to joining in. I have a copy of the Briggs translation published by Pushkin Press, but will also get the Falen version so that I can follow along directly with you. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Thanks for liking my recent post, Elisabeth. I’m glad you found my blog, and even more glad I connect with you and yours. I’ve started to take an interest in Russian literature. Your blog is indeed a good guide to my journey! I like the challenge but I might find it daunting at this time.

    Liked by 1 person

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