The chapter uses a quotation from French poet Jacques Clinchamps de Malfilâtre - "She was a girl, she was in love" - to declare its theme: Tatyana's love for Onegin.
For his enjoyment of the Larin family life and, of course, his love for Olga, Lensky makes frequent visits to their household. Onegin finds this curious and so accompanies Lensky on one of his routine visits. On their ride back home, Onegin points out Olga's lack of interest, especially in comparison with Tatyana's special charm, much to Lensky's displeasure.
Soon, rumor spreads of a potential match between Onegin and Tatyana, which stirs Tatyana herself. She has long possessed an anticipation for love from the many romantic novels she reads and now considers Onegin the manifestation of her hopes.
This newly risen love makes Tatyana withdraw even further from everyday life into a contemplative melancholy filled with anguish and excitement. Her life becomes surreal and dreamlike as the moonlight illuminates her sitting or pacing about. She explains her situation to her nurse, but the muddled old woman can give her neither advice nor solace.
In desperation, Tatyana spends the night writing an letter to Onegin declaring her honest love and then at dawn has her nurse pass the letter on to a boy who in turn delivers it to Onegin. After Lensky arrives alone but with Onegin's promise to come later, Tatyana anxiously waits in her usual seat by the window.
When she hears Onegin's carriage draw near, she flees to a bench in the garden, where serf girls sing while picking berries. Some time passes, and then Tatyana begins to make her way back home - but almost immediately encounters Onegin with his "eyes ablaze" (III.41). Pushkin then leaves the readers at that moment, excusing himself to take a break until the next chapter.
The chapter begins with stichomythia - dialogue of short, rapid lines - exchanged between Onegin and Lensky. By including such a passage, Pushkin demonstrates his mastery of and adaptability to the rigid form of his Onegin stanza, which he can employ for sweeping cinematic descriptions of environments, psychological reflections, and, here, even pure dialogue. As it happens, these are all important components for what will become the great Russian novel.
After the two young men make their visit to the Larin household, Onegin tells Lensky his impression of the two Larin girls: Tatyana seems very soulful and mysterious, while Olga is plain and uninteresting. Naïve Lensky is unsurprisingly offended, but Pushkin, from his introduction of the two girls in the preceding chapter and Olga's later unfaithfulness to Lensky, certainly agrees with Onegin's judgment and expects the reader to also do so.
Interestingly Onegin describes both girls with a simile to works of art: Tatyana is like Svetalana, the melancholic heroine of a ballad written by Vasily Zhukovsky, and Olga is like the women painted by Flemish Anthony Van Dyck. As always, the contrast between Russia and Europe is in play; the characterization of Tatyana as Russian and Olga as European alone indicates Onegin's and Pushkin's preference. Indeed, through the rest of the novel and especially towards the end, Pushkin will praise Tatyana and show his sympathy and love for her.
Onegin is perceptive of Tatyana's habit of sitting sadly by the window, one which, by its frequent repetition, must have likewise been considered important by Pushkin. However, Onegin's comparison of Olga's face to "that stupid moon you see, / Up in that stupid sky you honor" associates Tatyana's most significant symbol, the moon, with her sister and moreover in a negative light (III.5). This marks the only occasion when Onegin harshly criticizes Lensky's innocent views on poetry and love. As mentioned in the previous chapter when the two first met, Onegin decides to tolerate his friend's youthfulness, seeing no reason to work against an age-appropriate way of thinking. Nevertheless, this confrontation, which ends with Lensky offended, presages Onegin's later seduction of Olga to spite Lensky, the only other time that Onegin acts against Lensky's innocence and the two are at odds with each other.
Another very telling line in Onegin's remarks is "'Were I the poet, brother, / I'd choose the elder one instead --" (III.5). Recalling the description of Onegin as strictly not a poet and Onegin's later near transformation into a poet during his depression, the reader will find this line highly foreshadowing.
The simplicity of the chapter's epigraph, "She was a girl, she was in love," characterizes Tatyana's love as honest and natural. Interestingly, her love seems to arise by listening to the gossip among the neighbors of a match between her, ever unreceptive to men, and Onegin. Furthermore, she incubates this love in her French romance novels, reading herself into the role of the heroine and Onegin as the heroine's lover.
Despite all this seeming artificiality, Tatyana's love is honest; she "heeds the call of passion, / in such an honest, artless fashion," in contrast to the ladies of high society, skilled in the arts of love, with whom Pushkin and Onegin are familiar and dissatisfied (III.24). Her feverish head contrasts with the cold, manipulative rationality of those flirts (and indeed the coldness of Onegin).
In the two stanzas before she writes her letter of confession to Onegin, "moon" is mentioned four times, the first and last times as simply "shining" but the other two as "seductive ray" or "magic curse," very much concordant with the dreamy, emotional rather than cerebral atmosphere of Tatyana's love (III.20, 21).
Her letter itself is as Pushkin, who says he has translated the letter from Tatyana's French into Russian, described: honest and intensely emotional. The tone is overwhelmingly pleading; Tatyana expresses all her hopes and dreams for their love but does not expect anything from him but a likewise honest reply. Towards the end, she writes of how much she does not actually know him: ""Are you the angel of my salvation /Or hell's own demon of temptation?" (II. Tatyana's letter). Subsequently, after Onegin has left for his journey, Tatyana will read through his books to find an answer to this question that she holds at the very beginning of her love for him.
Just to mention one of the many beautiful details which Pushkin includes, Tatyana's love for Onegin transforms the very habits which define her. Sitting by the window after sending her letter, Tatyana absentmindedly draws Onegin's initials on the foggy windowpanes and awaits his carriage.
When he does arrive, she flees deep into her garden as a kind of innocent, bashful escape. Just as Pushkin introduced Tatyana as a lover of nature and as she earlier wandered in the moonlight (on a later wandering walk by moonlight, she will arrive at Onegin's estate), so does Tatyana now find solace in nature.
Onegin's sudden appearance in the garden and then Pushkin's abrupt announcement that ""I feel too tired /… / I've talked so long that I've required / a little walk, some rest and play; / I'll finish up some other day" would certainly surprise and confuse the reader (III.41). Pushkin certainly does not intend to create the cheap effect of a cliffhanger, but his characteristic "lightness" may be misconstrued as such. In one sense, Pushkin mocks the reader whose heart would have begun pounding along with Tatyana's when Onegin arrives for emotionally investing him or herself in the story too deeply. After all, Pushkin shows through the novel a clear meta-awareness of literature and its tricks to influence the readers' emotions. Also, as Pushkin mentioned in his dedication, the work is meant to be "half humorous."