In praise of … Eugene Onegin

Last weekend was the anniversary of the death of Alexander Pushkin in a duel at the age of 37. In the days before the anniversary, three separate stagings of his most famous work, Eugene Onegin, have been on in London – two ballets and a new production of Tchaikovsky’s opera – while his play Boris Godunov is running in Stratford. No one can complain that Pushkin’s works are forgotten in such adaptations. But it is in its written form that Eugene Onegin should not be missed. It is a short novel, written in a Byronic poetic style, about love and misunderstanding. Onegin translation is a lively field – versions by Vladimir Nabokov, Charles Johnson and Stanley Mitchell all have their advocates. None of the main characters really knows what he or she wants. Everybody messes up without meaning to. But Pushkin is always generous towards foolish Onegin and self-deceiving Tatiana. His message is that to err is human – and always will be.

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