Eugene Onegin

Comparing the Johnston and Nabokov Translations of 'Eugene Onegin' College

Charles Johnston and Vladimir Nabokov are the most well-known translators of Eugene Onegin, because they focused on different aspects of the text and ended up with entirely distinct renditions of the same work. Johnston, a British diplomat and translator of Russian poetry, wrote what is considered by many to be the best preservation of the Onegin stanza and Pushkin’s lyricism in translation. Nabokov, a prominent Russian writer himself, notoriously denounced several translations of Eugene Oneginin multiple languages before (and after) deciding to write his own in order to fix the problems he found in others. Nabokov believed that translations in verse sacrificed meaning and faithfulness to syntax for melody and rhyme structure, and therefore wrote his translation in prose (although his work still sounds poetic due to Pushkin’s vocabulary). In addition to translating the novel, Nabokov wrote over 1,000 pages of commentary and included discarded stanzas, lines, and even an extension which Pushkin started called “Onegin’s Journey,” ultimately publishing four volumes of work.

Pushkin begins each chapter with a short quote, which acts as a title and clue as to the chapter’s content. Several of these phrases appeared originally in...

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