The Eugene Onegin Challenge – Chapter 7

In which Tatyana discovers the real fake Eugene Onegin 

You may well have been expecting to find a remorseful Onegin and a grieving Olga, but Pushkin wouldn’t be Pushkin if he hadn’t decided differently. We do get a glimpse of Lensky’s grave where indeed two sisters stood grieving in the moonlight a few months ago, but now it’s spring; the path to the grave is full of weeds, Olga has married another and has left her childhood home, and Onegin has apparently returned to Saint Petersburg.

Tatyana is now all alone. She’s struggling with her feelings; the passion that she feels for Onegin is still growing stronger, in spite of everything that has happened.

Literary context

Like fellow blogger Benn Bell wrote here, it’s virtually impossible to read a literary work without placing it in a literary context, whether we realise this or not. This context is made up of all the books that we have previously read. Benn saw large similarities in style between Eugene Onegin and The Raven (1845) by Edgar Allen Poe.

Chapter 7 of Eugene Onegin kept reminding me of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (1813): in both works the heroine is suddenly confronted with the estate of their love interest, who happens not to be home at that time, leaving our heroine with an excellent opportunity to investigate. Both are let into the house by a talkative housekeeper. Once inside the domain of the man in question his true nature is discovered. In the case of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy the outcome is unexpectedly positive, but Tatyana finds out that Eugene Onegin is not the romantic hero that she thought he was.

Tanya’s quest

To describe Tanya in her quest to know more about Eugene Pushkin uses the word ‘pilgrim’ (20). Tanya is a reader and we are therefore not at all surprised that she instinctively turns to his library to find out who he really is. The contents, or indeed lack of contents, of the bookshelves are always a good indication of the character of the owner. This explains the popularity of the #showusyourshelves hashtag and the sudden importance of a good ‘zoom background’. Our clever girl also understands that she has to focus particularly on the books that he has clearly read, and pays extra attention to the passages that Eugene had marked with a pencil or his nail (23).

With Pride and Prejudice in the back of our minds, we keep expecting Onegin to burst in on Tatyana at any moment, but that does not happen and she can read in peace. And what does she discover… Onegin is a fake! He apparently merely imitates the heroes of popular modern literature. Had Tatyana had access to the same modern novels at home, she would have seen through him immediately.

Tanya saw her ideal literary hero in Onegin, but he turns out to be just a copy of a literary hero. The essential difference between the Tanya and Eugene is that Tanya grows with her experiences, whether they were from a book or from her real life; Onegin copies what he reads, but he does not interpret it.

To Moscow, to Moscow, to Moscow!

While Tanya is busy discovering the real fake Onegin in his study, her mother is planning to take her to Moscow to find her a husband. The next January they depart with ‘almost all that they possessed’ (31:11) to spend the rest of the winter with an aunt in Moscow. And the attentive reader will notice that this is exactly one year after the Svyatki celebrations and Tanya’s prophetic dream.

The first thing that Tanya sees when she wakes up for the first time in Moscow are ironically the stables* in an unfamiliar courtyard (43:11). But at least she could probably hear the familiar sound of her own chickens, because they too were brought to Moscow! Our poor Tanya, who doesn’t even want to have a husband anymore, is being dragged from dinner to theatre. By the end of chapter 7 she has inadvertently caught the attention of a corpulent general.

Remarkable in chapter 7

Tatyana takes the centre stage again in chapter 7, in which farewells play an important part: the farewell to Lensky, implied by the grave scene in stanza 6; the farewell to Olga in stanza 12*; the farewell to Onegin, implied by the reading of his books; Tanya’s farewell to her beloved countryside, which echoes Pushkin’s farewell to the countryside at the end of chapter 6. Mrs. Larina hasn’t been in Moscow since her own wedding, and now she returns with the prospect of her daughter’s wedding. January 1821 was all about predictions regarding Tanya’s future husband, and January 1822 is all about finding Tanya a husband. In the first half of chapter 7 Tanya is exposed to Eugene’s library. In the second half she is exposed to Moscow.

*****

  • Although Austen was apparently not widely read in Russia in Pushkin’s time, it is not completely unlikely that Pushkin had access to a French translation and was familiar with her work.
  • Moscow was rather provincial compared to Saint Petersburg; all the big houses had courtyards with stables where pigs and poultry were held.
  • This touching farewell must come as a surprise to the reader, because as we know the sisters were not that close. Tatyana for instance never told Olga about her love for Onegin.

Text and photo © Elisabeth van der Meer 2020

Chapter 8 is scheduled for the 7th of June, happy reading! 

18 thoughts on “The Eugene Onegin Challenge – Chapter 7

  1. Chapter 7 was an emotional roller coaster, wasn’t it. The scene at the grave, Tatyana in the library, the mother in despair for her daughter’s lack of husband. And dear Lensky, the life cut short. And what of Eugene Onegin?!!! What will happen next. Pushkin always teases us with the idea he is too tired to continue the story and have patience, that all will be revealed. The other interesting thought was several mentions of Byron. Thank you again for this marvelous challenge. Please have another!!!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Very well put, Rebecca! There’s a lot going on in chapter 7, a lot of emotions being processed. Pushkin certainly likes to test the patience of his readers, a constant reminder that he is in charge of the story. And I don’t think that Eugene Onegin would have been written if Byron hadn’t existed.
    Thank you so much for taking part and for adding to the discussion 😊

    Liked by 3 people

  3. You know, I am re-reading Anna Karenina and all of a sudden, I was seeing parallels between that and Sense & Sensibility…LOL (haven’t read Tolstoy since I was ten or eleven or so, and I almost hated to re-read it because I had such vivid memories of the text and so sorry I’m rambling in a mostly unrelated comment because I’ve been shut up in my house for too long even for this introvert…ahahahaha) But thanks again for an interesting post…!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Pushkin as narrator seems an odd combination of being both jaded and nostalgic. He ostensibly seems to have something in common with Onegin, though we wish it to be otherwise. He writes all the women with a bit of mockery, except for Tatyana, for whom he seems to have some sympathy. Pushkin seems to prefer pastoral life against Moscow’s attempts at being metropolitan. These are just conjecture and opinion, and I am looking forward to Tatyana’s fate, and catching up to Onegin soon. This is great fun, Elisabeth 🙂 I’ve never done a dedicated slow read like this before!

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  5. Wow, you read Tolstoy in your early teens?
    It’s not unlikely that Tolstoy read Jane Austen. And Tolstoy was a traditional and classical writer, following the basic rules of story telling.
    Never mind rambling on, that’s where you get ideas, haha. So how are you liking Anna Karenina this time around?

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Very well observed, Mary Jo! It’s possible that the nostalgia came from being banished first to the south and then to his estate for most of the time that he was writing Eugene Onegin.
    Tatyana is clearly his favourite and the real hero of the story, and to be fair Pushkin uses the same mockery when he describes men.
    I’m so glad that you are enjoying this slow read, thanks for joining 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  7. A great post with very interesting observations and insights, Elisabeth.

    And details. Such as what Moscow was like back then vis-a-vis St. Petersburg. I think I would have preferred Moskva.

    “Tanya is a reader and we are therefore not at all surprised that she instinctively turns to his library to find out who he really is. The contents, or indeed lack of contents, of the bookshelves are always a good indication of the character of the owner.” This is true! In visiting someone’s house or apartment, I always check out their bookshelves — a way of taking the measure of the man, as the saying goes.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Oh, it’s just as I remembered it! (which is a good thing!) All my thoughts and ideas from the first time I read it came back like familar old friends. I was a little worried because reading back at that age was such a visceral, visual journey, and I didn’t want to ruin my memory of the experience. But it held the test of time!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. That’s good to hear! I suppose that’s the difference between a masterpiece and a lesser work. I first read Anna Karenina when I was about 19, and reread it a few times since. I remembered things like Kitty’s arms feeling cool like marble when she went to the ball.

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  10. A library, like the shell of a sea creature, is a prochronism, a history expressed in our form of how we solved adaptational problems. As a manifestation of ones memory palace, it acts as a key by which we may open and enter former times and liminal states, a gate of becoming which frees us from our anchorages in time and from our material limits.Pushkin himself entered such a visionary state with the writing of the great poem of authenticity and falsification which is Eugene Onegin; more than predicting his own death, he transcended the boundaries of existence through its writing, like the husk of a cicada which has sung itself utterly away.

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