The Eugene Onegin Guide – Chapter 8

In which Eugene falls for Tatyana and she refuses him…

Tatyana is now Princess N.

We left Tatyana in chapter 7 where she had caught the attention of a corpulent general. When we see her next in chapter 8 she is married and goes by the title ‘Princess N’. Instead of a  description of the engagement and subsequent marriage, Pushkin talks about his muse, who came to him in different guises at various stages in his life. At the end of stanza 5 we can recognise Tatyana as his muse. Now Pushkin has taken his muse into the salons of the high society in Saint Petersburg, where she holds herself very well indeed.

The lack of information about her engagement and marriage to general N, or even N’s full name (it is not even certain that he is the same as the corpulent general), is congruent with her own lack of interest in such things.

Onegin

Now we also see Eugene again, in his natural environment this time. He has apparently been traveling* and is now in his late twenties. No, he hasn’t changed, he’s still bored with everything. Until he meets Tatyana again, that is. He can’t believe his eyes when he spots the transformed Tatyana and has to double check with his cousin, who happens to be the general himself, if that perfectly accomplished and composed lady is really the shy girl he used to know. 

Whatever Tatyana may be thinking when she meets Eugene again, she shows no sign of it and greets him just like she would any old acquaintance. She has clearly taken the lessons that Eugene preached to her in 4:16:12 to heart. Although Tatyana has nothing fake or feigned about her, we are reminded of the opening of chapter 4: ‘the less we love her when we woo her, the more we draw a woman in’. Only now it’s the other way around; by not showing any interest in Eugene, she makes him fall in love with her.  

Onegin’s letter(s)

When all his conventional attempts to woo Tatyana fail, he resorts to writing her a letter. By mirroring Eugene’s letter with Tatyana’s letter from chapter 3, Pushkin emphasises the differences between the two. Eugene’s letter is a strange mixture of reproach (she doesn’t acknowledge his attentions) and commonplace phrases (To swoon and pass away… what rapture!). When she does not reply, he writes another, and another. She continues to ignore him, although she does understandably begin to show signs of annoyance. 

Like any self respecting literary hero would, Onegin loses himself all winter long in self pity and depression. When he has grown tired of that too, he hastens along the Neva’s bank to Tatyana’s house. There, as in a fairy tale, door after door opens until he finds himself in Tatyana’s boudoir. This scene echoes both Tanya’s flight into the garden (3:38) and the running away from the bear (5:13). Pushkin uses the same ‘interstrophic enjambment’ technique in stanzas 38-39 of chapter 3 as in stanzas 39-40 of chapter 8: “so fast that, panting, on a bench at last she falls..” and “But where in such a headlong rush has my Eugene directly hastened?” This continuation of one sentence into the next stanza is a literary trick that Pushkin employs to emphasise the parallels between the two scenes.

Tatyana’s rejection

Tatyana sits not yet fully dressed crying over presumably one of his letters. Onegin kneels in front of her and for a second it looks as if she may give in, but then she resolutely rejects him. Now it’s her turn to teach Eugene a lesson. She explains that she only married because of her mother, that she does not care for all the glitter and glamour that now surrounds her, and that she misses her former beloved country surroundings. She ends her speech with the famous last words ‘but I am now another’s wife, and I’ll be faithful all my life

How are we to understand Tatyana’s words? Is she really unhappy?

She insinuates that she married the first suitor who came along, just to satisfy her mother’s wishes. According to Nabokov’s calculations she is now in her early twenties, and her husband is about 15 years older. Hardly an old man. The marriage has freed her from a mother who does’t understand her. She has a proud and loving husband. As Princess N. she is a respected and wealthy lady. There is nothing that indicates that she is not free to visit her mother whenever she wants, or visit her husband’s country estate if she’s longing for fresh air. She is certainly now able to buy as many books as she likes.

Onegin’s appearance has stirred up her old feelings (the simple girl he’d known before, who’d dreamed and loved, was born once more 41:13) and she is fondly remembering the time when her future was still undecided, when she did not yet know that Eugene was not he she thought he was.

She knows that Onegin’s sudden interest in her has everything to do with her transformation into Princess N. He does not intend now, any more than he did in the past, to marry Tatyana, even if such a thing were possible in 1825. She points out to him that he has had and missed his chance and that it is wrong of him to try to seduce her. When she asks him to leave while admitting that she still loves him, she appears to be talking to the old Eugene. As such we can also interpret her final words as a reminder to herself to move on.

*The stanzas about Onegin’s travels were added to the novel as an appendix by Pushkin.

Interesting facts:

The majority of chapter 8 was written during the so-called Boldino autumn. A very prolific period in 1830 when Pushkin was quarantined due to a cholera outbreak.

In the original Russian text Tanya wears a ‘raspberry beret’ in stanza 17, which has caused speculations about Prince having read Eugene Onegin.

Stanza 27 originally stated that Eugene was so blinded by the vision of the new Tatyana, that he did not even notice the tsar and tsarina entering the room. Naturally this could never have gotten through the censure.

In a famous and passionate speech about Pushkin, Dostoevsky refers to Tatyana and her famous last words. He saw her as a fine example of the Russian woman, who prefers the simple things in life to wealth and status. She sacrifices her own happiness and is faithful to her husband, even if he is an old man who she cannot possibly love: “No, a pure, Russian soul decides thus: Let me, let me alone be deprived of happiness, even if my happiness be infinitely greater than the unhappiness of this old man. Finally, let no one, not even this old man, know and appreciate my sacrifice: I will not be happy through having ruined another.”

*****

Text and photos © Elisabeth van der Meer 2020

The appendix with Onegin’s travels is scheduled for the 21st of June. Happy reading!

13 thoughts on “The Eugene Onegin Guide – Chapter 8

  1. Another great chapter and great analysis! I love the parallel you point out between Onegin going through door after door to get into Tatyana’s boudoir, and Tatyana’s flights from him and the bear in earlier chapters.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Thank you, Elisabeth, for guiding me through Eugene Onegin. It has been one of my most memorable reads – the poetry, the drama, the emotional turmoil that prompts readers to redefine thoughts on friendship, love, loyalty and family relationships. You have opened me to explore Russian Literature. On to War and Peace!!! Many hugs!

    Liked by 3 people

  3. There is very subtle psychological analysis here, Elisabeth. Wow, there are certainly are interesting developments in this chapter. Pushkin’s acute psychological observations about our romantic ideals and reality (VERSUS reality) and the disillusionment that often occurs as we approach middle age and leave adolescence and youth behind are fascinating to read and learn about. Great job, as usual. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. It ended too soon! I wasn’t keeping track of the chapters; it seemed so abrupt to me. But really what was left to say? Pushkin, in stanza 11, presages the future adage that “life is wasted on the young.” So Dostoevsky cites Pushkin’s Tatyana as an ideal? Tolstoy also admired the simpler country life with his depiction of Konstantin Levin in Anna Karenina. Pushkin’s aristocratic romanticism seems outdated, but in the affairs of the heart, not much changes 🙂 Thank you, Elisabeth, for this adventure in Russian literature!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Thank you, Roger. You’re absolutely right; the difference between our romantic ideals and reality are highlighted throughout the novel, and particularly in this chapter.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I remember having the same feelings when I first read Eugene Onegin!
    Tatyana was apparently Dostoevsky’s ideal woman. Although he attributed her with almost saintly qualities, which we certainly nowadays would not consider very feministic. I think that Pushkin was actually quite feministic, and that Tatyana is a strong character, who grew up from being a dreamy and romantic teenager into a self assured woman; now that I yhink about it, it seems that the sadness she expresses in chapter 8 may have been caused by the fact that the transition from teenager to adult went a little too fast for her.
    Thank you so much, Mary Jo, for your active participation in the challenge 😊

    Liked by 3 people

  7. And you’re tight about Tolstoy. Levin is very autobiographical. From his late twenties he lived on his country estate and hated it if he had to go to Moscow or St Petersburg. His wife Sofia, who was a bit younger, missed Moscow and the social life there very much.

    Liked by 3 people

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