Context: Read this as the sun set over Parker’s Piece in Cambridge as I waited for my wife, sister and her kids to emerge from Parkside swimming pool.
Not since school have I read a work this long in verse form. It takes a bit of getting used to. But Pushkin has used a formula for his stanzas which he rigorously adheres to. Once in your stride, this isn’t so difficult to read. What’s harder is following the storyline as it leans back and forth in this convoluted tale of love unrequited on both sides at different times.
Onegin from the town meets Tatyana from the country and she falls in love. He’s not really bothered though. Lensky, the friend that introduced them invites Onegin to Tatyana’s name day and there, to avoid her, he flirts with Lensky’s favourite. Lensky is insensky and challenges him to the inevitable 19th century novel set piece: a duel.
What happens at the duel and subsequently I’ll not say, except that it doesn’t turn out too well for anyone. The novel ends with the characters frozen into their respective situations, set into the societal foundation they cannot escape from.
The worth of this work lies in its historical legacy and the skill with which Pushkin put the whole thing together. But if you don’t know about the challenge this was, you’re not going to appreciate this unless you really read it very carefully and know a thing or two about the state of Russian literature at the time he wrote it.
I enjoyed it although I was glad when it ended. I find poetry quite tiring to read and although there are some great moments where the verse form really works well to create sublime moments of writing, more often it felt a bit forced for me. I’m sure in Russian it’s way better although the English translation I was reading from (Johnston) is highly regarded.