I would like to thank Irina Reyfman, John Wright, and my anonymous reviewers for their helpful feedback during my work on this article.
“And what of my Onegin?” Displacement and Reinvention of the Hero in Eugene Onegin
Article first published online: 16 JAN 2013
Copyright 2013 The Russian Review
The Russian Review
Volume 72, Issue 1, pages 1–23, January 2013
How to Cite
DVIGUBSKI, A. (2013), “And what of my Onegin?” Displacement and Reinvention of the Hero in Eugene Onegin. The Russian Review, 72: 1–23. doi: 10.1111/russ.10678
- Issue published online: 16 JAN 2013
- Article first published online: 16 JAN 2013
In discussions of Eugene Onegin, the role of the author-narrator often presents particular difficulty. Critics have tried to explain the contradictions underlying Pushkin's construction of this character, which appears to occupy simultaneously a fictional and a biographical plane in the work. In this paper, I propose an interpretation of this figure as a competitor to Onegin for the status of the hero. I argue that by including the author-narrator in the work, Pushkin challenges the genre conventions of the romantic poem, first distancing and parodying the Romantic hero Eugene and then replacing him with the author-narrator who represents a new kind of hero. Parallel to this experimentation with genre conventions is Pushkin's interest in reshaping the Russian literary language. As Onegin is succeeded by the author-narrator as the hero, the Russian poetic conventions of Pushkin's time are similarly distanced and replaced by Pushkin's (and the author-narrator's) verbal inventions. Finally, I suggest that the author-narrator is an example of a new complex consciousness, specifically in his ability to recreate the voices of other poets in contrast to his own poetic discourse, which shows a movement in the direction of the Russian realist novel, specifically Dostoevsky's polyphonic model of consciousness.
“Lyric and Narrative Consciousness in Eugene Onegin,” SEEJ 46:4 (2002): 684.,
A. S. Pushkin, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii v desiati tomakh (PSS), ed. B. Tomashevskii et al., 10 vols. (Leningrad, 1977–79), 5:31 (1/LX). All quotations from Eugene Onegin and other texts by Pushkin are from this edition, unless otherwise noted. All translations from Russian are my own, unless indicated otherwise. In addition to volume and page information, I will provide, where appropriate, citations in parentheses to Chapter/Stanza.
James B. Woodward, “The ‘Principle of Contradictions’ in Yevgeniy Onegin,”Slavonic and East European Review 60 (January 1982): 25.
Iurii M. Lotman, “Khudozhestvennaia struktura ‘Evgeniia Onegina,’” in his Pushkin: Stat'i i zametki (Moscow, 2008), 294–95.
I. M. Semenko, “O roli obraza avtora v ‘Evgenii Onegine,’” in Trudy Leningradskogo bibliotechnogo instituta, ed. N. P. Skrypnev (Leningrad, 1957), 2:127–46.
Monika Greenleaf, Pushkin and Romantic Fashion: Fragment, Elegy, Orient, Irony (Stanford, 1994), 283. For an analysis of parallel creative evolutions of Pushkin and Tatiana see William Mills Todd, Fiction and Society in the Age of Pushkin (Cambridge, MA, 1986), 130–32.
J. Thomas Shaw, “The Problem of Unity of Author-Narrator's Stance in ‘Eugene Onegin,’” in his Pushkin Poems and Other Studies (Los Angeles, 1964), 25–47.
E. A. Maimin, O russkom romantizme (Moscow, 1975), 9.
Quoted in Frederick Garber, ed., Romantic Irony (Budapest, 1988), 17.
Quoted in Lauren G. Leighton, Russian Romanticism: Two Essays (The Hague, 1975), 25.
Garber, Romantic Irony, 18.
From “Uber Goethes Meister,” quoted in Romantic Irony, 21.
Donna Orwin, Consequences of Consciousness: Turgenev, Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy (Stanford, 2007), 13–14.
Todd, Fiction and Society in the Age of Pushkin, 5.
Roman S. Struc suggests that although Lermontov and Gogol both employed irony in some of their works, Pushkin's use of irony comes closest to Schlegel's definition of romantic irony: “[Pushkin] uses it sparingly and delicately, always balanced by high seriousness. Lermontov could be said to employ irony in its tragic sense. … Gogol's irony does not hover, as Schlegel put it, over the antinomies of life and the world, but rather it exposes mercilessly the abyss behind appearances.” See his “Pushkin, Gogol, Lermontov: Ironic Modes in Russian Romanticism,” in Romantic Irony, 249.
Iurii Lotman, Aleksandr Sergeevich Pushkin: Biografiia pisatelia (Leningrad, 1983), 54–55.
D. D. Blagoi quoted in Mainin, O russkom romantizme, 74. Viktor Zhirmunskii notes that Pushkin's Southern poems, which included Prisoner and were written from 1820 to 1824, were “directly influenced” by Byron's Oriental tales (1813–14). See his Bairon i Pushkin (iz romanticheskoi poemy) (Leningrad, 1924), 23.
On Pushkin and Byron see, in particular, Leon Stilman, “Problemy literaturnykh zhanrov i traditsii v ‘Evgenii Onegine’ Pushkina,” in American Contributions to the Fourth International Congress of Slavicists (Moscow, 1958).
Iurii Tynianov, Poetika. Istoriia literatury. Kino (Moscow, 1977), 59.
Pushkin, PSS 10:41–42.
Ibid., 5:18 (1/XXVI).
Ibid., 21 (1/XXXIII).
Ibid., 22 (1/XXXV).
J. Thomas Shaw interprets the omission of the ball scene as a show of contrast between “Onegin's ‘chilledness’ of feeling” and author-narrator's “vital memories,” thus illustrating his model of the three stages of maturation: Onegin's disenchantment is predictable and irrelevant compared to the author-narrator's reminiscences (re-enchantment) of a more mature heart (“Unity of Author-Narrator's Stance,” 39–40).
Pushkin, PSS 5:29 (91/LVI).
Pushkin's footnote cites the final stanza from Mikhail Muraviev's poem “Bogine Nevy” (1794) as the original source of this quotation. (Nabokov terms the quotation an “allusion to a stilted mediocrity”). See A. S. Pushkin, Eugene Onegin: A Novel in Verse: Commentary, trans. Vladimir Nabokov, 4 vols. (New York, 1964), 2:176). In 1829, an illustration of this scene by the artist Alexander Notbek appeared in the January edition of the journal Nevskii Almanakh. In his engraving, Notbek disregarded (perhaps unknowingly) Pushkin's instructions for the illustration: in Notbek's version, a figure recognizable as Pushkin is standing with his back to the river and the Peter-and-Paul Fortress, facing the reader. Pushkin commented Notbek's illustration with an epigram, recording his displeasure with the fact that in the image, “With bottom on the granite propped/Aleksandr Sergeich Pushkin himself/Stands next to Monsieur Onegin” (Opershis’ zhopoi na granit/Sam Aleksandr Sergeich Pushkin/S mosie Oneginym stoit). I believe that the epigram confirms Pushkin's original intent to leave Author an ambiguous figure, not immediately identifiable with himself, and that by turning this figure around to display Pushkin's face, Notbek violated the author's design. Nabokov corroborates this intent of Author/Pushkin ambiguity by suggesting that in Pushkin's initial sketch of the scene, “Pushkin gave himself long dark hair, which immediately makes us think about Lenski, whose only physical characteristics are the epithet ‘handsome’ and those curls” (Eugene Onegin: A Novel in Verse 2:178).
Pushkin, PSS 5:11 (1/VII).
Zhirmunskii, Bairon i Pushkin, 78–79.
For a discussion of this difference see also Sona Hoisington, “Eugene Onegin: An Inverted Byronic Poem,”Comparative Literature 27 (Spring 1975): 136–52.
Pushkin, PSS 5:55 (3/XV).
Ibid., 8 (1/II).
Ibid., 142 (7/LX).
See D. Blagoi's note on the epic poem tradition in “Primechaniia k romanu v stikhakh Evgenii Onegin,” in Pushkin, Sobranie sochinenii v desiati tomakh (Sobranie sochinenii), ed. D. D. Blagoi et al. (Moscow, 1974–78), 4:450.
Olga Peters Hasty, Pushkin's Tatiana (Madison, 1999), 115.
Todd, Fiction and Society in the Age of Pushkin, 129.
Greenleaf, Pushkin and Romantic Fashion, 260.
Tynianov considers it “the true ending” of Onegin, while Greenleaf suggests that the interruption it creates in the structure of the novel is deliberate and shows Pushkin's attraction to the idea of romantic fragment. See Tynianov, Poetika, 61; and Greenleaf, Pushkin and Romantic Fashion, 215.
Pushkin, “Otryvki iz puteshestviia Onegina,” PSS 5:174.
Greenleaf, Pushkin and Romantic Fashion, 215.
Pushkin, PSS 5:8 (1/I).
Tynianov, Poetika, 59.
I use here Jan Meijer's terminology: the “story” of the characters and author's “digressions.” Like Meijer, Greenleaf identifies in the common critical readings of Onegin the tendency to split the text into “a mimetic ‘story’” and “authorial ‘digressions.’” Both Meijer and Greenleaf proceed to show the actual indivisible unity of the two. See Greenleaf, Pushkin and Romantic Fashion, 17; and Meijer, “The Digressions in ‘Evgenii Onegin,’” in Dutch Contributions to the Sixth International Congress of Slavists, ed. A. G. F. Van Holk (The Hague, 1968), 122–52.
Meijer, “Digressions,” 130.
Greenleaf (Pushkin and Romantic Fashion) makes Author's “hovering” one of the key concepts in her essay on Onegin, relating it to the tension between the elegiac and ironic discourses in the work. She argues convincingly that all three main characters in the story are each linked to a stage in Author's maturation, thus representing a sequence of his “selves”: elegiac Lensky, ironic Onegin and integrated Tatiana. Her argument thus, in Meijer's suit, perfectly locks together the story/digressions elements into a single harmonious structure.
Mikhail Bakhtin writes in “Epic and Novel” in relation to the Neva embankment scene: “To portray an event on the same time-and-value plane as oneself and one's contemporaries is … to step out of the world of epic into the world of the novel.” See his The Dialogic Imagination, trans. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist (Austin, 1981), 14.
Meijer, “Digressions,” 152.
Pushkin, PSS 5:57, 169 (3/XXII, footnotes). The Latin means, of course, “All hope abandon, ye who enter here.”
In this way, Author is not unlike Onegin who, by his very lifestyle and attitude, quotes a number of literary sources of which he has only a surface grasp, prompting Tatiana (and Author) to wonder, “Is he not just a parody?” (Uzh ne parodiia li on?). Thus it appears that Pushkin distances Author from himself in the early chapters similarly to the way Author disassociates himself from Onegin throughout the novel (Author's final address to Onegin in Chapter Eight is “my strange companion”). Yet, as we shall see, Author eventually changes and matures to enter Pushkin's lyrical realm, while Eugene remains estranged from both poetry and love.
The footnote count per chapter is as follows: 1:11, 2:5, 3:6, 4:4, 5:10, 6:4, 7:3, 8:1. Chapter Five falls out of the overall pattern with an unusually high number of footnotes, and this can be explained by the fortunetelling episode, which occurs in this chapter and requires a set of explanations of folk rituals relevant only to this particular section of the narrative. In addition, Chapter Five has three footnotes commenting on critics’ responses to earlier chapters of Onegin. Chapter Four has two footnotes in this category, and Chapter Three has one. No other chapters (besides three, four and five) have footnotes addressing critics. It can be argued that by the time Chapters One and Two were published, not enough critical response had amassed to warrant Pushkin's attention, and following the publication of Chapter Five he was no longer interested in mocking the critics in the pages of Onegin, as the overall mood from Chapter Six onward had turned to a more serious one, as numerous critics have attested.
Pushkin, PSS 5:97, 169 (5/XXVI, and footnotes).
Ibid., 164 (8/XLIX).
Semenko's reading of the author image in Onegin is relevant here. She suggests that the function of Author is split in the text into Author-Poet and Author-Character, with an important shift occurring in the final three chapters. Up to and including Chapter Five, the narrative is dominated by Author-Character, a chatty and jocular figure whom Pushkin needs for objectifying and ironizing the poetic convention of romanticism with its elevated elegiac tone. Through using Author-Character and his ironic voice, Pushkin overcomes romantic convention. But this figure is a stylized character that is not to be identified with Pushkin. Chapter Six represents a pivotal point in the novel, when Pushkin discards Author-Character and himself steps into the narrative as Author-Poet. The final chapters, from which Author-Character is absent, are thus less ironic and more lyrical. Pushkin moves into a new phase of his life, when a new sadness begins to affect his writing. The tragic aftermath of the thwarted Decembrist rebellion, the loss of friends and the sense that his youth is forever gone suggest that the chatty and whimsical Author-Character is no longer appropriate in the final chapters of Onegin, which similarly unfold in the aftermath of a tragedy—Lensky's death. Thus, in her argument, Semenko associates Pushkin with the lyrical and serious tones in Onegin and his creation Author with the ironic, jocular ones (“O roli obraza avtora v ‘Evgenii Onegine’”).
Pushkin, PSS 2:180. The poet's concession can also be read as a refusal to give in to the crass bookseller: by seemingly agreeing to speak in prose, the poet in effect symbolically withholds poetry from the bookseller, thus preserving his own artistic integrity.
Simona Schneider, “Paper Pushkin,”Harper's Magazine (September 2008): 26–28 (Schneider's translation).
Lotman, Aleksandr Sergeevich Pushkin, 75–77. Ironically, this pursuit of freedom, that is, Pushkin's resignation from service (together with the events leading up to it), resulted in the strict supervised exile to Mikhailovskoe. Doubly ironic, however, is the fact that it was in his solitude in Mikhailovskoe that Pushkin for the first time obtained true independence and the conditions necessary for intensive creative work. See V. Stark, ed., Aleksandr Sergeevich Pushkin: Dokumenty k biografii, 1799–1829 (St. Petersburg, 2007), 453.
These “prosaic” elements include the invention of the special “Onegin stanza,” structured to accommodate enjambments and approximate the flow of everyday speech; the use of what Sergei Bocharov terms “the naked word,” that is, straightforward, simple, unadorned nouns and adjectives that avoid any kind of verbal build-up or periphrasis; the widespread use of folk idiom (prostorechiia); and colloquialisms, interjections, and conversational intonation in the speech of the author-narrator; among other devices. See S. G. Bocharov, Poetika Pushkina: Ocherki (Moscow, 1974), 33.
“Je suis fatigué de dépendre de la digestion bonne ou mauvaise de tel et tel chef” (see letter to Kaznacheev in Schneider, “Paper Pushkin”). The reference here is to Vorontsov in particular.
Pushkin, “O prichinakh, zamedlivshkikh khod nashei slovesnosti,” PSS 7:14. Semenko explains that Pushkin's oft-used phrase “metaphysical language” referred to “creating a language of new prose, capable of expressing the thoughts and feelings of modern man.” See Pushkin, “P. A. Viazemskomu,” Sobranie sochinenii 9:[commentary to Letter 33].
Pushkin, “O poezii klassicheskoi i romanticheskoi,” PSS 7:26.
Pushkin, “V zreloi slovesnoti prikhodit vremia,” Sobranie sochinenii 6:291.
Tynianov, “O kompozitsii ‘Evgeniia Onegina,’” 75.
Pushkin, PSS 5:110. (6/XV).
Ibid., 115–16 (6/XXXI–XXXII).
Bocharov, Poetika Pushkina, 93.
Pushkin, PSS 5:120. (6/XLIV).
Pushkin's burning of the manuscript of Chapter Ten of Onegin attests to this: in this chapter, much weight was given to descriptions of Pushkin's personal friendship with the Decembrists and the recollections of their early meetings. Interestingly, historical Pushkin (as opposed to Author) appears in the third person in one scene depicting the meetings, where “Pushkin read his Christmas verses” (Chital svoi noeli Pushkin) (ibid., 184 [10/XV]).
Pushkin, “O russkoi slovesnosti,” Sobranie sochinenii 6:367.
Pushkin, “Pesn’ o polku Igoreve,” PSS 7:349.
Tynianov, “O kompozitsii ‘Evgeniia Onegina,’” 62.
Garber, Romantic Irony, 305.
Simon Franklin, “Novels without End: Notes on ‘Eugene Onegin’ and ‘Dead Souls,’”Modern Language Review 79 (April 1984): 372–83.
Mikhail Bakhtin, Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics, trans. Caryl Emerson (Minneapolis, 1984), 59.