This is my second reading in two months of Eugene Onegin, this time for Marian's Read Along at Tanglewood. For the read-along, I am reading the James Falen translation (the first time I read the Charles Johnston translation) and I really wish I had read this one first. It is more readable and clear, its simplicity charming for an initial introduction to Onegin.
The shallowness of Onegin is even more apparent the second time round. He enjoys his rounds of the parties and, of course, his pursuit of women:
"I have no leisure for retailing
The sum of all our hero's parts,
But where his genius proved unfailing
The thing he'd learned above all arts,
What from his prime had been his pleasure,
His only torment, toil, and treasure,
What occupied, the livelong day,
His languid spirit's fretful play
Was love itself, the art of ardour ……."
Sadly though, in spite of his incessant pursuit of pleasure, its golden sheen soon begins to tarnish and Onegin not only gets bored, but completely disgusted with his manner of living:
"We still, alas, cannot forestall it ----
This dreadful ailment's heavy toll;
The spleen is what the English call it,
We call it simply Russian soul ……"
I really enjoyed the description of his friendship with Lensky. They appear complete opposites yet they are drawn together. Does Onegin see his younger self in Lensky? He observes him with an almost teasingly sceptical eye, a patient condescension.
In spite of the flawed nature of Onegin's character, Pushkin presents him in a playful manner and you can't help but feel he would be an interesting companion. However, even when he tires of his pleasure-seeking ways, he still cannot seem to find this soul, in spite of a cursory search through books, endeavouring to "make his thoughts the thoughts of others." Interestingly, Pushkin turns this perception on its head stating: "He who has lived as a thinking being Within his soul must hold men small; …..," as if Onegin thinks he is too great --- his mind or stature --- to be fully appreciated by ordinary men.
|Alexandrinsky Theater, St. Petersburg|
photo courtesy of Edmund Gall (sourced Flickr)
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What do you make of the narrator's commentary?
I've always found that the commentary sounds almost split. It's as if Puskin is speaking, yet also another, perhaps wiser, soul. You sense a playful teasing tone at some times and a more mature introspection at others. It's something I'm trying to make note of and examine as I read.
Thoughts on the characters sketched out in Chapter 2?
I really enjoyed meeting Lensky in this translation. His youthful joie-de-vivre and idealism really shine through. Strangely, I think he made me like Onegin even more. Perhaps it was due to Onegin's restraint towards him. He did not attempt to destroy Lensky's untarnished view of life, which was certainly a possibility as it would have given Onegin something to do.
As for Tatyana, so far she appears to be a sheltered country girl, who lives in her books. She has too much idle time on her hands and the time she spends staring out the window only seems to serve to increase her illusions. I found it perhaps telling that, in my translation, it says that she never learned to show affection. I wonder if this will be pertinent in an occurrence coming up in the poem??
Olga, Tatyana's sister, seems quite one-dimensional but perhaps this is deliberately done, since the spotlight is not meant to shine upon her.
While I prefer the Falen translation over the Johnston translation, I bought it on my Kindle and the fact that it contains no stops between chapters is driving me nuts. A small price to pay for increased enlightenment, I guess. ;-)