The Eugene Onegin Challenge – Chapter 2

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In which Lenski and Onegin become friends and we get acquainted with the Larins

A cholera outbreak

Who would have thought that we would find ourselves in 2020 in similar circumstances as Pushkin in 1830, when he was kept at his family estate Boldino for a few month because of a cholera outbreak?! This period is now referred to as the ‘Boldino autumn’, a very fruitful period for Pushkin. He wrote among other things the final chapter of Eugene Onegin there. Pushkin was perhaps a bit unusual in the sense that he was always working on several things simultaneously. He loved the countryside, especially in the autumn. While he wrote to his fiancée Nathalie that he wanted nothing more than to be able to leave and see her again, the truth was that he was quite happy and making good use of his inspiring and quiet surroundings. 

Horace

The Roman poet Horace also enjoyed the countryside. Pushkin starts chapter two with a very short quote from Horace: O rus! The Latin word ‘rus’ means countryside (think of ‘rustic). This quote is immediately followed by Pushkin with ‘O Rus’ (О Русь!), a wordplay, ‘Rus’ being short for Russia. By combining these two exclamations Pushkin sets the reader up for an ode to the Russian countryside. Although according to Nabokov Eugene Onegin is anything but a realistic depiction of life in the Russian countryside;-) We shall stay there from chapter 2 to 7.

Rivers

Onegin’s new residence, that resembles Pushkin’s other family estate Mikhaylovskoye a lot, is standing next to a river (1:7). Rivers appear frequently in Pushkin’s works (which perhaps deserves a separate blog post some day). In chapter 1 (47) Pushkin and Onegin are often found staring at the river Neva during the short midsummer nights. Onegin’s name is derived from a river, the Onega. Following Pushkin, Lermontov named his hero in A Hero of Our Time, Pechorin, also after a river.

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He sang life’s bloom gone pale and sere—

He’d almost reached his eighteenth year.

Lenski

Lenski, who we first meet in chapter 2, is also named after a river, the Lena. Pushkin paints the portrait of a rather typical romantic poet. This dark-haired handsome stranger has just returned from Germany to his family estate which is close to Onegin’s. His poems are filled with all the usual romantic clichés. Nonetheless, Onegin, who does not like any of his new neighbours, takes a liking to the eighteen year old Lenski, and the two become good friends.

The Larins

Through Lenski we are introduced to the Larins. The Larins and the Lenskis are old friends. The fathers had agreed that one day their children would marry. By now both fathers are dead and the agreement is almost forgotten. Again Pushkin uses his sharp wit to describe the members of this family; the father was an old-fashioned man, loved by his neighbours for his generosity. His wife was a still very young and spoiled city girl when they married, who grew into liking being in charge of the household in the countryside. Their youngest daughter Olga was Lenski’s betrothed. A very pretty and skilled girl, but, says Pushkin, glance in any novel— you’ll discover her portrait there (23:8). 

Tatyana

Tatyana, now there’s another story. Olga’s older sister is pale, sad and pensive (25:5). She does not like to play with dolls, but prefers to read and sit silently at the window bay instead. She doesn’t fit in with the rest of her family (25:7 Tatyana seemed among her kin a stranger who had wondered in), just like Onegin doesn’t fit in with his countryside neighbours. Tatyana is a very popular Russian literary heroine that many Russian girls were named after and that many Russian girls identify with. A lot has been written about her. It’s probably because Pushkin is not too specific in describing her, that so many girls can identify themselves with her. 

Chapter 2

Chapter 1 was all about Onegin and the boredom that surrounds him. Chapter 2 has set the scene and introduced the cast. It’s a fine and promising example of Pushkin’s sharp pen and sense of humour. I think we are ready for some action!

*****

The next chapter post is scheduled for Sunday the 29th of March.

 

Text and photos © Elisabeth van der Meer 2020

15 thoughts on “The Eugene Onegin Challenge – Chapter 2

  1. I’m really enjoying your “guided tour”
    through “Eugene Onegin,” Elisabeth. (That’s an understatement.) I probably will never get around to reading it. Thanks. These posts are great. I always wanted to know Pushkin better.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Elisabeth – this is a wonderful way of reading “Eugene Onegin.” Your details add breadth and depth to my reading. ‘O Rus’ the wordplay, the names that come from rivers, and the idea of Tatyana being a heroine to many Russian girls – are invaluable tidbits of information that bring out the narrative. And your ending of your post is splendid: “I think we are ready for some action.” Yes – I’m with you all the way. Many many thanks!

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Thank you, Rebecca, for your enthusiasm! I think that a great piece of literature can of course be enjoyed without me providing background information, but if I can add some enjoyment, that’s worth the effort 😉

    Liked by 3 people

  4. It is definitely worth the effort. I am also reading “A Gentleman in Moscow” at the same time, which adds to the momentum. “Man must master his circumstances or otherwise be mastered by them” Amor Towles, A Gentleman in Moscow

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Elisabeth — NYC’s Metropolitan Opera is airing their 2007 production of Tchaikovsky’s “Eugene Onegin” for free today (Monday, 23 March) until 6:30 Eastern Time: http://www.metopera.org (and https://bcove.video/2vvE5dN). Dmitri Hvorostovsky stars as Onegin, Renée Fleming portrays Tatiana, and Mikhail Baryshnikov introduces the opera to viewers.

    Спасибо за ваши сообщения в блоге о “Евгении Онегине”!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Hey Bobbi! Thank you so much for telling me:-) As a matter of fact we were supposed to see the opera last Friday in Helsinki, but the performance was cancelled. This is a happy coincidence, and some consolation 😊 Take care!

    Like

  7. I lost track of how many times I laughed out loud while reading this chapter. And, your supplemental posts are quite helpful. Since I’ve yet to listen to an audible book, the videos of the text are extremely useful. Forward we go…

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I’m so happy to hear that, Mary Jo! Pushkin had a great sense of humor. I read enjoyed the audio book version, thanks to both Stephen Fry and the text. I think it captures the Pushkin spirit very well:-)

    Liked by 1 person

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