Thursday, 14 July 2016

Yevgeny Onegin by Alexander Pushkin

Yevgeny Onegin by Alexander Pushkin

First published in Russian in 1825-1832 as a serial and with the first complete edition published in 1833. New English translation by Anthony Briggs published by Pushkin Press in February 2016.

One of my WorldReads from Russia

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How I got this book:
Received the ebook from the publisher, via NetGalley, in exchange for my honest review.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Bored and aloof, tired of St Petersburg high society, Yevgeny Onegin goes to live on the country estate he has just inherited from his uncle. There he encounters Tatyana, who becomes hopelessly infatuated with him. From this story Pushkin creates his sublime masterpiece of love, death, duelling, rivalry, identity and the search for happiness; the lodestar for all of Russian literature. By turns playful, philosophical, sardonic and mournful, brimming with rich descriptions of Russian life, from drinking and dancing to crisp wintry landscapes, Yevgeny Onegin is a work of thrilling energy.'

I haven't read any other translations of Alexander Pushkin's famous poem Yevgeny Onegin so cannot comment on how Anthony Briggs' work differs, but I was surprised at how readable he has rendered the poem. I admit I had been putting off, expecting something quite impenetrable so was pleased to find myself actually enjoying the story and the humour. I particularly loved the descriptive passages which vividly paint snowy Russian villages, exciting sleigh rides and a wonderful ball. The storyline itself is not complicated and relies heavily on well-rounded and believable characters to carry its more melodramatic moments. I happily despised the initially heartless Yevgeny and sympathised with poor unloved Tatyana. The scholarly technicalities of the poem's structure were mostly lost on me. I understand the theory, but found I preferred to be swept along with the beautiful rhythms of the piece than to frequently pause and analyse why those rhythms and rhymes are so effective.

I think, based on this reading of Yevgeny Onegin, that I would like to tackle more of Pushkin's writing, especially if it has been translated by Anthony Briggs. I liked his style and the interesting essay with which he begins the book that describes the challenges of the translation and the relationships between the languages involved. I didn't realise French was the primary upper class language in Russia in Pushkin's time - much like it was in England in the Middle Ages - but this does explain to me the fluency in French of characters in my other recent Russian read, The Gambler by Dostoyevsky.

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  1. Ah, Yevgeny Onegin... I never read this masterpiece from the pen of my Russian birthday twin (nor have I ever seen the famous opera that Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky made of it), but then I'm not a huge fan of novels in verse nor of the literary period when it was written. Nonetheless, I experienced Alexander Pushkin as a wonderfully imaginative and very readable writer through shorter works like The Queen of Spades that I reviewed on my blog a long while ago. Your review makes me think that maybe I should give Yevgeny Onegin a chance at last.

    LaGraziana @ Edith's Miscellany

    1. I was surprised at how readable Pushkin was, even in poetry! I would certainly read more of his work and I will check out your Queen Of Spades review. Thanks for sharing the link :-)

  2. Alexander Pushkin, even after seven decades of Communism, is honored for his masterpieces in Russia as Shakespeare honored in England.:)