Pushkin – Eugene Onegin (1833)

Eugene-Onegin-2015-front-cover_20150607_00011Having recently read Tasso and Ariosto in prose translations, I was keen to find this classic — Pushkin’s “Eugene Onegin” (1833), translation by Roger Clarke — also in prose; but that wasn’t easy. Most of the translations are in verse; a search at Amazon, Bookfinder, iBooks, Kindle, etc., turned up only Clarke’s in prose; it wasn’t available as e-book so I ordered the paper. When the translation by Clarke arrived, imagine my indignation upon finding that it, too, was in English verse, with a Translator’s Note on p. 397 apologizing for his previous prose translation (Wordsworth Classics, 2005). So I then had to search for, and finally found, a secondhand paperbound edition of the Clarke prose translation.

The foregoing is recounted in case anyone else wants to read Pushkin’s verse in English prose. It’s a matter of personal preference, of course, but I prefer not only Tasso and Ariosto but also Homer and Virgil in prose; for those who don’t, there are plenty of Pushkin verse translations. (Pushkin himself described “Onegin” as a “novel-in-verse.”)

The story is set in the 1820s, first in the countryside where Eugene Onegin is a landowner of age about 20 and the Larins on a neighboring estate have two daughters, Olga and Tatyana; Tatyana at age 13 or 14 is infatuated with Onegin and he is unresponsive. In the latter part of the story, set in Moscow and Petersburg six or eight years later, Tatyana is a society figure married to a general, and Onegin sees her at balls and now he’s the one infatuated and she unresponsive.

We are told that Russians regard Pushkin as their greatest writer, and “Onegin” as his greatest work. Much critical ink has been spilled on it, and Nabokov’s translation in 1964 helped bring it to anglophone readers. This barebones account, within the straitjacket requirements of the VDP, is intended only to stimulate the curiosity of fellow diners and let them know where to find, if they want it, a rare and possibly the unique prose translation.

Thomas Lemann

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