Vice, Virtue, and Heroism in Eugene Onegin – Episode 26

For lovers of Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre, Eugene Onegin takes us back to Imperial Russia, where young Tatyana Larina falls for her brooding, Byronic neighbor. More than a romance, Alexander Pushkin’s epic poem is a classic of Russian literature and history, as well as a glimpse into the 19th-century dueling culture which proved to be so fatal for him.

Sources / Further Reading:
Why the Russian aristocrats spoke French – Reddit discussion with academic sources
Eugene Onegin – Translation by Henry Spalding (not my first recommendation, but it’s free)
Pushkin’s African Background – Article by the British Library
List of Alexander Pushkin’s duels – By blogger Rina Tim
Russian Ark (2002) – A creative documentary surveying 200 years of Russian culture.  I was able to watch this on loan from the library, and while it’s a slow film (not gripping), the visuals are interesting.
Opening quote read by MaryAnn (LibriVox)

Rejection Scene from Eugene Onegin

This week I devoted an entire podcast episode to one of my favorite novels, Eugene Onegin.  Though I only mentioned it in passing, I also watched Onegin, the 1999 adaptation, after reading the book.

Liv Tyler was brilliantly cast as the bookish Tatyana; this was just before she became famous for Arwen in The Lord of the Rings.  Ralph Fiennes is a good 10 years older than the title character, but he does a decent job at the Byronic Onegin.  Personally, I found the script to be underwhelming and disappointing – too pedestrian (and stylistically British) to really capture the essence of Pushkin’s Russia ca. 1830.  It’s too bad, given the cast.

That said, I do like the script’s translation of this scene from the book.  Tatyana, having professed her love in a letter, must sit through an awkward heart-to-heart from a disinterested Onegin.  While Tchaikovsky’s opera infuses this scene with soaring melodies – leading you to think Onegin likes her after all – Fiennes’s cool, polite delivery seems more realistic and makes Tatyana’s nervousness all the more real.

This is the same scene in the opera, in case you didn’t get enough (and because I love it so much).  Polish baritone Mariusz Kwiecien is my favorite portrayal of Onegin: