"But God, what deadly boredom, brothers, /To tend a sick man night a day,/ Not daring once to steal away!"
The novel begins with Onegin complaining about the boredom of taking care of his sick uncle, who will soon pass away leaving him the provincial manor. Having wasted his youth in dissipation to the point that he has become utterly desensitized and jaded to parties, Onegin yawns at everything. He leaves for the countryside in hopes to find a better life but ends up finding it just as boring.
"The spleen is what the English call it, /We call it simply Russian soul."
Onegin becomes bored and disdainful of the high-society partying life he had led all his youth. In taking up this world-weary attitude, he is very much like the English Byronic heroes that he enjoys reading about. However, Pushkin points out that a true Russian would either naturally dislike the affectations of such society or become dissatisfied with their lives no matter the circumstance.
"For otherwise some mocking reader /Or, God forbid, some wretched breeder /Of twisted slanders might combine /My hero's features here with mine /And then maintain the shameless fiction /That, like proud Byron, I have penned /A mere self-portrait in the end."
Pushkin in his youth had greatly admired and drawn influence from Lord Byron, but as the Russian poet matured, just at the time of his writing Eugene Onegin, he began to distance himself from his former hero. In fact, Pushkin made Onegin a prototypical Byronic hero so that the reader can discern the clear differences between Pushkin and Byron. The example mentioned in the line above is the love of the bucolic countryside which Pushkin holds but Onegin does not.
"I've known great beauties proudly distant, /As cold and chaste as winter snow; /Implacable, to all resistant, /Impossible for the mind to know."
Here Pushkin speaks from his own experience with skilled coquettes, high society ladies who play love as a game to manipulate and entangle the hearts of their admirers. This illustration is made to emphasize the honesty and genuine emotion of Tatyana, whose love for Onegin is more in control of her than she is in control of it.
"The frost already cracks and crunches; /The fields are silver where they froze… /(And you, good reader, with you hunches, /Expect the rhyme, so take it -- Rose!)"
Here, perhaps the most clear example of a meta-literary joke in the novel, Pushkin plays with the reader's expectations for the poem's form, at once humorously using a clichéd (and therefore predictable) rhyme and reminding the perhaps heavily engrossed reader that they are in fact reading a work of fiction.
"'She's mine!' announced Eugene, commanding, /And all the monsters fled the room."
In Tatyana's dream, she is chased by a bear and then carried by it to a house where she sees Onegin and grotesque monsters reveling in a room. When she accidentally gives herself away, the monsters cry, "She's mine! She's mine!" but Onegin exerts his authority over them and claims Tatyana, who is now nearly lifeless with fear. The dream ends with clear foreboding when Onegin stabs Lensky.
"He swore that he'd make Lensky pay /And be avenged that very day."
Lensky convinced Onegin to come to Tatyana's name-day party by telling him that it would only be an intimate family gathering, not the raucous country party it turns out to be, something that Onegin finds even more offensive than the city parties he had long grown tired of. Moreover, Onegin notices that Tatyana is also very miserable. Thus, he decides to take vengeance; he charms Olga to anger Lensky.
"Ah, whither, whither are ye banished, /My springtime's golden days so dear?"
Thus begins the poem that Lensky writes the night before the duel. He started reading a volume of the German Romantic poet Friedrich Schiller, but the shining image of Olga in his mind inspired him to write his own poetry instead. In the poem Lensky mourns the coming of his own young death and hopes that his memory will be cherished by Olga.
"And modern man himself portrayed /With something of his true complexion -- /With his immoral soul disclosed, /His arid vanity exposed, /His endless bent for deep reflection, /His cold, embittered mind that seems /To waste itself in empty schemes."
After Onegin kills Lensky in the duel, he flees and leaves his house open, thus allowing a curious Tatyana a chance to pry into the mind of her love. Tatyana reads through Onegin's books carefully, noting every mark he makes on the pages with pencil or fingernail, and in the end she realizes that he is an imitator of a certain literary character, the Byronic hero, a person without genuine feelings himself.
"He didn't die, or lose his reason, /Or turn a poet in despair."
Driven into a depression by Tatyana's lack of response to his three letters and several visits, Onegin retreats to his den for the winter as he once did in the countryside. However, for perhaps the first time in the novel, Onegin displays some true emotion - anguish. Pushkin tells us that he nearly turned to poetry, which presumably would have saved him, but in the end he does not and turns back to the books which help him very little. Here Pushkin also acknowledges the possibility of suicide or madness, which will become a much more prevalent theme in Russian literature soon after Pushkin.
Eugene Onegin Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Eugene Onegin is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.