The Eugene Onegin Challenge – Onegin’s Travels

At first sight the appendix containing Onegin’s travels seems difficult to place in relation to the eight chapters that make up the novel Eugene Onegin.

Russianness

The stanzas relating to Onegin’s travels were originally intended to be featured in chapter 8 and the novel was supposed to have nine or ten chapters. Feeling perhaps that they stood out too much from the ‘Russianness’ of the rest of the novel, Pushkin chose to exile them as it were to an appendix instead, rather than leaving them out altogether. This would have caused too large a gap in the story, with Onegin disappearing after the duel and reappearing some years later in Saint Petersburg. Had they been included in the novel, they would of course have mirrored Tatyana’s journey from the countryside to Moscow.

Contrasts

We have already seen that Eugene Onegin is a novel of contrasts, between the city and the countryside for instance. In Onegin’s travels that turns into a contrast between Russia and it’s southern territories, like the Crimea and the Caucasus. When Pushkin started writing Eugene Onegin in 1823 he was in exile (1820-1826) and living in Moldavia. His travels during his exile to the Caucasus and the Crimea had made Pushkin see Russia and his own Russianness in a new light. Not being able to go to Saint Petersburg himself, he imagined his hero Eugene Onegin and his reader there. It is more than likely that our very Saint Petersburg dandy Eugene Onegin would not have seen the light of day if Pushkin had not been exiled!

Тоска! (Ennui!)

In a literary sense journeys often indicate personal growth. From some of the original stanzas of this chapter, it would seem that Pushkin did intend to have Onegin come to some insights, and even wanted Eugene to take part in the 1825 Decembrist Revolt. However, all the stanzas that were too political were left out of the final version and we are left with a Eugene who is once again bored (ennui!) So if Eugene has learned anything during his Byronic escape, it may well be that his boredom came from within, and not from his surroundings.

Childe Harold

The travels can also be seen as an answer to Byron’s Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage. Although Pushkin tells us not to confuse him with Byron, the references to Byron are there throughout the novel. In a draft he called the appendix a “playful parody” of Childe Harold. His playful tone of the first chapters of Eugene Onegin is certainly back. In the 9th stanza the narrator claims to have outgrown his love for exotic romantic landscapes, preferring the Russian countryside instead.

Fiction or reality?

The journey that Onegin makes corresponds mostly with Pushkin’s renewed (voluntary this time!) travels to the south in 1829. He travels from Saint Petersburg to Moscow to Nizhni Novgorod, where the bustling market fails to amuse him. In the Caucasus he is finally impressed by the majestic landscape, but it only seems to emphasize the ‘ennui’ that lies in store for him. In the Crimea the narrator takes over again, reminiscing his youth and taking the reader to Odessa. Sunny Odessa, where many Italians lived, was Pushkin’s answer to Byron’s Italy in Childe Harold.

All in all it remains an odd chapter. It contains some wonderful stanzas, but contributes little to the plot of Eugene Onegin. And although this chapter is called Onegin’s travels, it might just as well have been called Pushkin’s travels. It tells us a lot about how his travels made him grow as a poet. The wildness of the Caucasus particularly would continue to inspire Pushkin throughout his career. Only when seen from a distance could he find a new appreciation for the charms of the Russian big cities and countryside.

*****

Text and photo © Elisabeth van der Meer 2020

In addition to the previous references works I used Writing at Russia’s Border by Katya Hokanson and Breaking Ground by Sara Dickinson.

The conclusion of the Eugene Onegin Challenge is scheduled for the 5th of July. I’d be happy to (try to) answer any questions that you have after finishing Eugene Onegin.

10 thoughts on “The Eugene Onegin Challenge – Onegin’s Travels

  1. I am so glad that I found Onegin’s Travels at the end of the book. In the audio version, the travels were omitted but they are in the book format. The concept of ennui is difficult to imagine because most would think travel would be anything but boreing. So, Onegin must be experiencing a deep, more profound emotion – an internal conflict? He says; “I’m young and still robust, you see; So what’s ahead? Ennui, ennui.” There is so much to learn from Eugene Onegin.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I hope you had fun reciting Onegin’s Travels yourself! You comment made me think. Indeed most of us enjoy traveling and especially now, when we can’t, the prospect of future and memories of past travels is very alluring. It may well be a pose that he put on, but at the same time I think that Pushkin showed us that every place has its charm, even if we sometimes need a little distance to see this.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. How brilliantly said, Elisabeth. Looking back is seeing a place again and knowing that we have taken a little of that location back with us. I have learned so much from Eugene Onegin. Many, many thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This is a great (fascinating) and — should I say? — brilliant post, Elisabeth. I love some of the insights and how your put them, e.g.: “Feeling perhaps that they stood out too much from the ‘Russianness’ of the rest of the novel, Pushkin chose to exile them as it were to an appendix instead, rather than leaving them out altogether.” and “although this chapter is called Onegin’s travels, it might just as well have been called Pushkin’s travels. It tells us a lot about how his travels made him grow as a poet.”

    The comparisons to Childe Harold are very interesting. Also, the references to works by Katya Hokanson and Sara Dickinson.

    As usual, you have said a lot, very well, with an economy of words.

    Like

  5. Thank you very much, Roger. While making this series about Eugene Onegin I came across so many interesting facts and interpretations, that i could easily write more blogposts on the subject.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Hi Elisabeth. I’ve just started to read the Eugene Onegin with help from your earlier posts and the audiobook. It’s so fascinating – listening to it heightens my enjoyment. I’m using Falen’s translation. Is it a good one to go with?

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Hey Philip! So happy to hear that you’re enjoying Eugene Onegin. The Falen translation is really good. He managed to achieve the impossible: stay true to the original in poetic sense, text and tone. It’s as close as you can get to the original.

    Liked by 1 person

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