One of the great classics of Russian literature in a readable translation. Some of the rhymes series are occasionally laboured, but many are ingenious and reflect the ironic tone that the author sometimes adopts when reflecting on events. I came to this via Tchaikovsky's opera, which has lifted a good deal of the text, especially in Tatiana's letter scene and Lensky's aria before the duel. Much of the sharp edges and revealing smaller details are of course missing: M Triquet, delightful in the opera when he delivers his French verses to Tatiana on her name day, turns out to be a plagiarising humbug. Olga's shallowness is developed in greater detail as we learn about her subsequent career after Lensky's death. And Tatiana reveals herself as having something in common with the heroine of Northanger Abbey in her unhealthy addiction to the fiction of Richardson and other similar authors, living in a solitary world of romantic fantasy. Yet despite his ironic commentary on the actions of all his main characters, Pushkin has an underlying sympathy for them, and captures the torment that each of them suffers, including Onegin himself when he meets the grown-up Tatiana some years later.
I was also struck by the width of the author's knowledge of European literature outside Russia: its connection with France was well established, but Pushkin certainly knew our own literature, with the picture of Byron featuring on the wall in Onegin's house. It is a type of knowledge which regrettably has been lost with the growing universality of the English language.
This is a great work which can be overlooked by those who restrict themselves to the standard novel in their appreciation of Russian literature
on 17 September 2009
Nabokov's criticism of Arndt's translation is sometimes cited as evidence of Johnston's or Falen's version being superior to it. This is a misunderstanding: the thrust of Nabokov's arguments is in fact directed at any form-preserving translation of 'Onegin', and the only reason his wrath was not unleashed against later attempts at it is that Nabokov died in 1977 - the year Johnston's version was first published. It is true that the authors of more recent translations of 'Onegin' benefited form access to Nabokov's literalistic rendering (which makes a very useful crib but cannot possibly be recommended to lay readers of poetry) and his painstakingly detailed commentary - but so did Arndt when he revised his translation in 1981.
Form-preserving translations inevitably involve what Nabokov derisively called "arty paraphrase", and a common argument against such translations goes along the lines of "I prefer to know what the poet meant". The problem with this position is that Pushkin meant to create a work of art based on harmonious interplay between the sense conveyed by the words and the music of iambic tetrameters arranged in exquisitely rhymed stanzas. Approximating this interplay in English is a formidable challenge, but it is the only way to get anywhere near the intention of Pushkin. If some readers would rather enjoy the most precise English equivalents of his words, preferably placed in the same order as in the original (where this order, and even the words themselves, were often chosen for the sake of the metre and rhyme that have vanished in the literal translation) - well, that is their choice. Arndt dismissed translations of this type as "sad ritual murder performed for the purposes of an ever more insatiable lexical necrophilia".
As many as eight form-preserving translations of 'Onegin' can be found on Amazon: see my list "Form-preserving translations of 'Eugene Onegin', 1881-2008". Having given a try to five of them, I think that it is only natural that different readers may prefer different versions. For what it is worth, Arndt's translation turned out to be the only one that I wanted to continue reading after a few pages (I know much of the original by heart). His text flows almost effortlessly, his rhymes seldom feel forced, and he manages to put across some of the stylistic brilliance and sheer magic of Pushkin's writing. Arndt is also particularly good at translating passages that involve complex emotions or subtle humour, of which there are plenty in this book.
Some readers are attracted by the contemporary vocabulary and idiom of the translations of 'Onegin' made in the 21st century, and this is as good a reason as any to prefer one translation to another. However, bearing in mind that rhymed metrical verse is inevitably perceived as archaic by today's Anglophone readers, and that the language of the original feels somewhat old-fashioned to today's speakers of Russian, it is not at all clear whether rendering 'Onegin' (written by a contemporary of Byron) in modern parlance has much artistic credibility. The language of Arndt sounds more fitting to me.
Overall, my recommendation would be to read at least two translations of this outstanding work of literature and to choose Arndt's classical version as one of them.
on 19 January 2014
I read this book after watching a movie on the story. One thing for sure is that James Falen did a perfect job on the translation of EUGENE ONEGIN. Much of the Russian nature of glows in this English translation, brining out the humor, wittiness, emotions, grief, sadness and vitality of the original story, which mirrored the Russian society at the time Pushkin lived.
The lessons from the story are strong. Never fight against somebody who is not out to hurt you even if you feel he hurt your pride. That was the case between Eugene and his friend and neighbor Vladimir Lensky, which ends tragically over a nonexistent rivalry over Olga Larin: Another lesson is to appreciate the genuine and selfless love of others for, especially when we are lost in life. That was the case of Olga's sister Tatiana, whom Eugene initially rejects, only to fall in love with her later at a time when she had lost faith in him and had committed herself to a man she did not love but respected. Pushkin himself could be seen in the writing. The loss of what we did not know we loved is the overriding theme in this book. In this direction, there are many lessons to learn from Russia .We can see that in UNION MOUJIK, WAR AND PEACE.I enjoyed reading this book, so if you are undecided about reading it, pick it up and do yourself a favor by knowing about this great work of art.