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Literature / Eugene Onegin

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"Tatiana fell in love Onegin. Tatiana comes Onegin and says 'Onegin, I love you!'. Onegin says 'No!'. Time passed. Tatiana grew up, became big, fat, beautiful. Onegin fell in love Tatiana. Onegin comes Tatiana, says 'Tatiana, I love you!' Tatiana says: 'Will you look at this guy!'"
A none-too-educated man from a Soviet ethnic minority, giving a surprisingly accurate summary to the novel.

Eugene Onegin is a novel in verse by Alexander Pushkin, generally regarded as the greatest work of Russian poetry. First published in serial form between 1825 and 1832, the first complete edition came out in 1833. The novel has been translated into many languages many times (and new modern translations are being made) and it belongs among the most classic books of Russian literature.

Pushkin's story is set in 1820s Russia, both in the city and the countryside, and it follows the fates of one Eugene Onegin, a Russian aristocrat and dandy who is bored with life. He became a literary (stereo)type called a superfluous man, and he has served as a model for many subsequent literary heroes of Russian literature. The novel also portrays a wide cast of other characters, usually very archetypically Russian.

The story is told by a narrator who is basically a fictionalized version of Pushkin's public persona. His tone is sophisticated and worldly, and he intimately addresses his readers who are treated with many adorable and snarky Shout Outs that expand nicely on its relatively simple plot and characters. The tone of the book manages to be engaging, thrilling, exciting, hilarious, sad, bittersweet and utterly tragic. The work is rightly praised for its narrative virtuosity and master poetic form.

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky adapted the novel as an opera. In 1958, the opera version was made into a film. A film adaptation of the novel starring Ralph Fiennes and Liv Tyler was made in 1999.

An audiobook narrated by Stephen Fry is available as a free download.

Eugene Onegin provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Aerith and Bob: For her time, Tatyana had a name uncommon for a noblewoman. Pushkin lampshades this at one point, calling himself self-willed for putting such a name into a novel. Meanwhile, the rest of the characters have fairly unremarkable first names.
“Tatyana was her name... I own it,
self-willed it may be just the same;
but it's the first time you'll have known it,
a novel graced with such a name.”
  • Age Lift: In the novel, it's hinted very clearly that Tatiana's husband is in his thirties at most. The opera makes him elderly.
  • Author Appeal: Pushkin is famous for having a foot fetish, and one digression in the work is devoted to praising women's legs.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: The narrator constantly addresses his readers as if he could talk with them.
  • Byronic Hero: Like many Romantic poets of his time, Pushkin was deeply influenced by Byron in his earlier works, and many of his lyrical and narrative poems contain Byronic imagery. Later, he playfully lampshaded, parodied and deconstructed the concept in Eugene Onegin, and never looked back.
  • Character Title: Eugene Onegin is the book's main character.
  • The Dandy: Onegin is explicitly described as this.
  • Deadpan Snarker:
    • The narrator. He has sneering comments about everybody and everything.
    • Eugene Onegin. Could you expect anything else from a young intelligent aristocrat who is bored with life?
  • Duel to the Death: Lensky and Onegin. It doesn't end well for Lensky and his friend is extremely shattered, too.
  • Feigning Intelligence: Early in the work, the narrator sarcastically praises Oneigin's erudition, describing how Onegin was (typically of Russian aristocrats of the time) fluent in French and learned enough Latin that he could impress people with tags and quotations, but was really largely ignorant of literature Latin and otherwise. Played With, since Onegin is actually intelligent, and is good with economics. He just thought that literature is boring. However, it was a part of standard education during that historical period, so he had to fake it.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Lensky and Onegin became friends out of boredom but they were very close.
  • The Ingenue: Tatiana Larina is definitely this in the beginning in both the novel and the opera. She starts off as a naive romantic at heart who is deeply in love with Onegin. Several years later, when they meet again, Tatiana is now an elegant woman married to Prince Gremin, and while she still loves Onegin, she's more mature and she refuses to break off her marriage to be with Onegin.
  • Jealous Romantic Witness: Lensky's fiancee Olga cheerfully responds to Onegin's flirtations right in front of Lensky himself. It leads to Lensky challenging Onegin to a duel.
  • Lemony Narrator: The narrator directly addresses the reader, expresses his opinion about the characters and the story, snarks, hangs lampshades, goes off on tangents, ets.
  • Love Letter: Tatiana's letter to Onegin, in which she boldly confesses her love, is one of the most famous love letters in literature.
  • Meaningful Name: Onegin and Lensky have their last names derived from rivers Onega and Lena. It was a common practice among Russian nobility to have a name related to a landmark they own. Since no nobleman was rich enough to own a whole river, that was done in order to not offend someone accidentally.
  • Mr. Imagination:
    • Lensky is a naive dreamer of a poet.
    • Tatyana is Miss Imagination: Shy and quiet, a great reader and dreams about perfect love.
  • Mood Dissonance: The book is written in a light-hearted, witty style, with a lot of jokes, but the story itself is pretty depressing.
  • Narrative Poem: A novel in verse.
  • Opposites Attract: Onegin and Lensky are very different but they became friends quite quickly. The narrator states it was because they were bored and because there was not anybody else around.
  • Seduction as One-Upmanship: Onegin got angry at Lensky for the boring time spent at a party, and flirted with his beloved Olga all evening to annoy him. As a result, Lensky challenged him to a Duel to the Death, where Onegin killed him - and regretted it all his life.
  • Sensitive Guy and Manly Man: Lensky and Onegin. Lensky is a sensitive and rather ineffectual poet in contrast to Onegin's Book Dumb womanizer and man-about-town.
  • Stealth Parody: Eugene Onegin parodies the Byronic Hero.
  • Stylistic Suck: Lenskiy's poem is a Cliché Storm.
  • Shout-Out: The book is full of them. Pushkin liberally name drops both famous and obscure real-life persons who ran in the same social and literary circles he did. Additionally, every chapter starts with a carefully chosen motto from either Russian or western literature, and there are many others in the story. For example, the narrator mentions which books Tatyana read and enjoyed.
  • Shout-Out to Shakespeare: When Lensky returns home, he visits Larin's grave. He exclaims: "Poor Yorick!", and writes a poem about it.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: Tatiana initially sees life as a romantic novel and Onegin as its hero.