Eugene Onegin Read-Along – Chapters 5 an 6

Marian @ Tanglewood’s Read-Along

Chapters 5 & 6

Chapter 5

Ah, broken-hearted Tatyana!  Suffering from unrequited passion for Onegin, Tatyana takes up yet another romantic diversion of superstition. Cats, moons, cards, stars, monks and fleeting hares, all set her heart palpitating with a foreboding of calamity.   She dreams a dream in which a huge bear helps her cross a raging river and takes her to a hut in the woods, placing her inside before disappearing.  Numerous fantastical creatures are revelling and among them, Onegin, the master of the party.  He calls Tatyana ‘his’, Olga arrives with Lensky, yet soon a heated discussion begins between Onegin and Lensky.  Onegin produces a knife and Lensky falls.  Awakening, Tatyana wonders about the symbolism of her vision but it is her name day and time for the party!  Lenksy and Onegin arrive late.  Initially Tatyana’s girlish discomfort and pain irritate Onegin, but later he takes pity on her.  Yet boredom is his boon companion and he looks for something to alleviate his ennui.  Olga!  He flirts with her, Olga is receptive but Lensky is horrified and enraged.

Chapter 6

With bitter indignation, Lensky challenges Onegin to a duel.  Onegin accepts.  Yet when Lensky speaks with Olga there is evidence that she is reasonably oblivious to the importance he places on her actions with regard to Onegin and slight doubt fills his mind.  However, the challenge has been issued and the duel must go ahead.  They pace, aim and fire and Lensky is shot dead.  Sense returns to Onegin and he feels horror at what he had done.  Pushkin very skillfully puts the reader in the place of Onegin, allowing us to search his emotions upon this terrible act.  He then muses on Lensky’s fate and on some repercussions it will cause, closing with sorrow and regret over the unnecessary death of the young poet.

Onegin by Dmitry Kardovsky
source Wikipedia

How do you interpret Tatyana’s dream?  Any ideas as to why it is usually omitted from major adaptations?

Tatyana’s dream is the foreshadowing of the duel.  My guess as to why it is usually omitted is that it is not really necessary to the story and, I think, visually may take away from it.  On paper though, it is effective and interesting.

Chapter 6 finds us in the middle of sudden disputes and high drama.  What might be the characters’ motivations for such extreme actions?  Is it substance, or superficiality?  Is anybody right or wrong — and if so, who?

The tragedy of the last chapter is that really no one wants the duel.  Tatyana, if she had known about it, would have been horrified and tried to stop it; the same with Olga.  After Lensky realized that Olga was innocent (or at least appeared innocent) in the seduction, his anger and resentment faded and there was a regret about his decision.  Onegin also mentally repented of his callous actions of the night before, yet even so, his pride demanded that he continue on the calamitous course that was set by Lensky’s youthful zeal.  The lack of maturity in both males characters lead to serious consequences.

Reactions or predictions?

I was a little puzzled during the duel scene.  My translation says:

“With quiet, firm and measured tread,
Not aiming yet, the foes took boldly
The first four steps that lay ahead —
Four fateful steps.  The space decreasing,
Onegin then, while still not ceasing
His slow advance, was first to raise
His pistols with a level gaze.
Five pace more, while Lensky waited
To close one eye, and only then,
To take his aim …… And that was when
Onegin fired ……”

They started off pacing boldly and equally, yet Onegin was the first to raise his pistol. And then there were five paces after that.  Why did Onegin have his pistol ready at four paces and Lensky had to still raise his after nine?  Was it a sign of Lensky’s ineptness with duelling?  In any case, I found it confusing and a little awkward.  I wonder if it’s just my translation.  Can anyone enlighten me?  Are there any duelling enthusiasts out there? 😉

Any quotes stand out?

He could have shown some spark of feeling
Instead of bristling like a beast;
He should have spoken words of healing,
Disarmed youth’s heart …… or tried at least.
‘Too late,’ he thought, ‘the moment’s wasted …..

It’s like a Greek chorus singing the upcoming tragedy.

6 thoughts on “Eugene Onegin Read-Along – Chapters 5 an 6

  1. Interesting comments about the duel, I didn't have the impression that it was unequal at all and have gone back to reread that section, my version is a Penguin Classic translation by Charles Johnston which reads:

    And now the two opponents doff
    their cloaks; Zaretsky's measured off
    thirty-two steps with great precision,
    and on their marks had made them stand;
    each grips his pistol in the hand.

    'Now march.' And calmly, not yet seeking
    to aim, at steady, even pace
    the foes, cold-blooded and unspeaking,
    each took four steps across the space,
    four fateful stairs. Then, without slowing,
    the level tenor of his of his going,
    Evgeny quietly began
    to lift his pistol up. A span
    of five more steps they went, slow-gaited,
    and Lensky, left eye closing, aimed –
    but just then Eugene's pistol flamed…
    The clock of doom had struck as fated;
    and the poet, without a sound,
    let fall his pistol on the ground.

    However, now that you highlight it, it seems to invite discussion and makes me wonder how those who read the original Russian language version, interpret this scene. Certainly their actions are different, and has this lead to an advantage for Eugene?

  2. This is interesting. My translation clearly says Onegin was first to raise his pistol but your translation is less clear. Someone pointed out that they thought a duelist would have the choice of raising his pistol earlier, before they turned; this may not make your aim as accurate as if you raise it at the end and then aim, BUT if you are an accomplished duelist (I'm assuming Onegin is), it would give you an advantage. Tasselled Book read it in the original Russian, so I may hunt out her expert opinion. 😉

    Sigh! If only we were able to read all books in their original language!

  3. Ah ha! Now I see the problem. No one turned. The duelists start 32 steps apart and slowly walk towards each other. Each can see what the other is doing.

    Eugene makes a series of errors on the morning of the duel – errors not in tactics but etiquette. Shooting first, and shooting to kill, is the final error.

    Tasselled Book introduces the idea of an actual clock, out in the woods, perhaps a big Russian grandfather clock hauled out there by Lenski's second. There is no clock – the bit about the hour striking is a metaphor!

  4. Hi Tom, and welcome! Have you finished EO now?

    Hmmm, I like the linking of errors. That makes sense. Still, in Stanza 26, it says:

    "Meanwhile Zaretsky (Lensky's second), born mechanic
    Was carping at the millstone's cam.
    Onegin late, made explanation.
    Zaretsky frowned in consternation:
    'Good God, man, where's your second? Where?'
    In duels a purist doctrinaire
    Zaretsky favoured stout reliance
    On proper form; he'd not allow
    Dispatching chaps just anyhow,
    But called for strict and full compliance
    With rules, traditions, ancient ways
    (Which we, of course, in him should praise)."

    If there had been any error in procedure, I would think that Zaretsky would have spoken up, especially since it was his man who was shot. He showed no compunction about taking Onegin to task for the possible lack of a second, so I can't see him being hesitant to point out any wrongdoing. And why does the poet intentionally give us this information? It appears to support that the duel was fair ……. What do you think?

    If only Pushkin was here to ask but he'd probably give us some cheeky remark and we'd leave no more enlightened than when we arrived. 🙂

  5. I have not quite finished it (although I read it many years ago).

    The errors are not exactly in procedure. The duel is fair. Onegin insults Lenski by being late, then insults him again by not having a second of the proper rank, then – now this is really interpretation – gives the final insult by not letting Lenski fire first, or not deliberately shooting to miss.

    The psychological question is: did Onegin mean to kill Lenski? And if he did, when? My take is that Onegin had no intention of killing Lenski, as shown by his inability to take the duel seriously until that last terrible moment.

  6. Ah …. okay. Yes, I can see this and agree with you. His failure to take the duel seriously mirrors the behaviour we've seen from him up until this point. I was hoping the result would precipitate a change in his view of life and therefore, his behaviour, but I found little evidence of that.

    I'll be watching your blog for your final thoughts.

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