Eugene Onegin

Eugene Onegin Summary and Analysis of Chapter 8


Pushkin begins by recalling his days as a poetic prodigy at the Lycée and the Muse that inspired him there. He follows her to a ball, where they are surprised to see Onegin, returned from the journeys he took to distract himself from his guilt. Now 26 and lacking any purpose in life, Onegin himself is astounded to see Tatyana appear, now a lofty and mature woman, but still free from the artifice of the high society. He learns that she has married the general mentioned at the end of the previous chapter.

Upon approaching her, Onegin finds little sign of the vulnerable Tatyana he once knew in her now calm and impenetrable face. Confused and anguished, Onegin later readily accepts an invitation to a party at Tatyana's house, but in that attempt and many more he elicits little emotion or even attention from the woman.

His health beginning to fail, he writes a letter to Tatyana declaring his love and begging for forgiveness, but Tatyana sends no reply. Two more letters and several visits from Onegin are also met with silence. Thus, Onegin withdraws from the world once again to seclude himself in his den with his books. However, as he reads dark thoughts cloud the pages, and painful memories of Lensky's death and Tatyana's painful longing torment him.

In this turmoil, Onegin nearly turns to madness, death, or poetry; but in the end, as winter emerges, so does he from his hibernation. He makes his way to Tatyana's home and walks straight into her room, where he see her at last pale and tearful reading one of his letters, the very image of her past self. Onegin kneels before her weeping and kissing her hand, but Tatyana composes herself and then, as Onegin once delivered a speech to her, she reproves him for trying to seduce her now that she is married. She explains that though she still loves him, fate has made her marry.

The novel draws to a close as Tatyana leaves Onegin utterly distraught, and her husband the general walks in.


Pushkin opens the final chapter with the most markedly autobiographical of the several accounts interspersed in the novel, telling of his life as a young gifted poet at the Lycée and his Muse who inspired him there. Later after he left the Lycée, Pushkin travels with his Muse, who becomes "a country miss -- infatuated, /With mournful air and brooding glance, /And in her hand a French romance" (VIII.5). All four of these details clearly connect Pushkin's Muse to Tatyana, and the "rustic charms" that the former shows while gliding through a ball the latter will also display, though Pushkin's Muse is much more of a girl than the now matured Tatyana (VIII.6).

As he has done skillfully again and again, Pushkin moves the narrative so that it seems as though he and his Muse have coincidentally spotted Onegin, newly returned from his journeys. His "mute and frozen" look immediately shows that he has not changed for the better; indeed, Onegin is "without position, work, or wife-- /Could find no purpose for his life" (VIII.7, 12). Moreover, corroborating Tatyana's discovery from reading Onegin's copies of Byron, Pushkin wonders out loud, presumably to his Muse, whether Onegin is still but a "play," "guise," "role," or "mask" (VIII.8).

Nevertheless, Pushkin shows some sympathy for the now socially outcast Onegin by reflecting on the unforgiving attitude of the general crowd towards "an ardent spirit's daring" and an unusual degree of intelligence (VIII.9). Also, in the spirit of his earlier hypothetical accounts of Lensky's life after youth, Pushkin here writes that a conventional, passionless life is more "blessed" than one of high ambitions and excessive energy, which inevitably ends in disappointment. Through Onegin's regrets, Pushkin deals with his own turbulent youth, and as mentioned earlier, he arrives at a sort of conclusion, which Onegin does not, through his poetry - that is the matured novel-in-verse, not his poems from youth.

When Tatyana enters the ballroom, we find her utterly changed, the once vulnerable girl now a cool and confident lady; this maturation stands in contrast, of course, with Onegin's lack of change. However, we still recognize the essential Tatyana. She is still simple and unaffected. She is still associated, though implicitly now, with the moon, a society belle renowned for her beauty "could not eclipse her neighbor's [Tatyana's] light" (VIII.16).

Onegin is shocked, and his clear display of interest, training his lorgnette on her for several minutes, is one of the few times in the novel when he has real feeling. One may find a parallel to the lorgnette in Onegin's calm, calculating, and somewhat bored observation through a "double glass" of other patrons at a ballet - he does not yawn for Tatyana now (I.21).

When he appears before her, she passes this difficult test of emotions without a single slip, keeping her reawakened anguish and confusion, which Pushkin acknowledges to exist, carefully repressed behind a serene and unemotional mask of sorts. At this point, Tatyana's and Onegin's roles are truly reversed: the once cold Onegin now burns, the once burning Tatyana has cooled.

The following stanza ("Was this the Tatyana he once scolded…") seems a case of free indirect speech, in which Pushkin expresses Onegin's thoughts without explicitly denoting him as the speaker (e.g., Onegin thought, Onegin said) (VIII.20). That said, one line in the stanza, "Where first our novel's plot unfolded?" is meta-literary and thus very puzzling to imagine as part of Onegin's inner monologue (VIII.20). Pushkin could have easily expressed that idea within the frame of his story, such as, "In the countryside," but chose not to. It would require a great deal of tenuous extrapolation to explore the implications of Onegin's awareness of the fictive nature of his own world, but it is interesting enough to notice that like the somewhat meta-literary Tatyana, Onegin is well-read. Moreover, as just discussed, he is even more of a character than the others because of his imitative nature devoid of true feeling.

Though Onegin certainly showed some feeling for Tatyana during their first encounter, now he shows the symptoms we the readers have associated with the love of Tatyana and death-anxiety of Lensky: he is in "dream" and "daze" (VIII.21). Furthermore, just as Tatyana had, Onegin's health begins to fail due to his continually unrequited love.

When reading Onegin's letter to Tatyana, it may be helpful to remember that Onegin still holds Tatyana's letter. Whether he may have reread it and unconsciously drawn some influence from it, or else deliberately used it as a model, the two letters have very strong similarities. The expectation of "scorn" from the cold-hearted recipient, the profession of maddening desire, and the writer's placing themselves at the recipients feet are several of the common elements (VIII. Letter). Also, of particular interest is the "freedom" which Onegin once held so dear, a reason which he did not mention when he repudiates Tatyana and which, of course, is characteristic of a Byronic hero (VIII. Letter). Now in his letter Onegin finally admits that this ideal which he has embodied cannot possibly bring him any happiness; thus he finally shows some sign of change.

However, there are at least two problems in Onegin's letter. For one, he refers to killing Lensky as, "poor guiltless Lensky perished" and "his sad fate." This fatalistic interpretation is one which Pushkin may share, but it is still dissatisfying that Onegin pays no penance for what essentially was his crime, a death he ought to have prevented by being more mature (VIII. Letter). Another issue is the nature of his awoken love for Tatyana. It is not until he is rejected that his love intensifies ("Each moment of my days /To see you and pursue you madly!") (VIII. Letter). He also does not mention any feeling for Tatyana in relation to his travels.

Tatyana does not reply to either that letter or the additional two he sends, making Onegin retreat into his den for the winter as he had done in the winter before in the countryside. This time he struggles not against boredom but sheer guilt and torment from the past. In particular, he enters a trance-like state in which he remembers Zaretsky's chilling words, "Well then, he's dead," and sees Tatyana waiting for him by the window, a memory from his first visit to the Larins' house (VIII.37). Strangely though, on the image of Tatyana, Pushkin mentions that she is "waiting…waiting still!" thus combining an actual sight that Onegin beheld and an understanding that she longed for him which he only realized later (VIII.37).

In his secluded depression, Onegin is faced with death (i.e. suicide), madness, or poetry. In this one case, he comes astonishingly close to poetry, what Pushkin has clearly decided is a way of salvation, but in the end his metamorphosis is incomplete - he remains prosaic.

The final climactic scene between Tatyana and Onegin, both utterly exposed in their emotions, shows the extent of Tatyana's maturation and Onegin's inferiority to her. Earlier in his letter, Onegin implicitly aimed a barb at Tatyana's cool demeanor by writing that he himself would be disingenuous if he acted coolly despite his emotions. He also attaches the keyword "role" to Tatyana when wondering at her change (VIII.28). Indeed, Tatyana is required to put on a mask in order to adapt to the society which she has entered due to her inevitable marriage, but as she points out in that final scene, the "part" which Onegin plays is by far the crueler (VIII.45). She admits that she still loves him, but, the more mature, accepts her fate as a married woman and does not try to struggle blindly and futilely against it as Onegin wants to.

Nevertheless, the ending does not provide full closure. Both Tatyana and Onegin have long lives ahead of them, and Onegin has been by no means denied a chance to change as Lensky has.