Moscow, loved daughter of Russia,
where can we find your equal?
The beginning of Chapter 7 contains numerous quotes and I have noticed all through my reading of Eugene Onegin that the epigrams are a kind of clue to what will follow. So on reading the four quotes that adorn the first page of this chapter, it is clear that the action is going to take us to that great, revered city, Moscow.
A forlorn Tatyana remains in the countryside, nursing the remnant emotions of an unrequited love, like weeds that grow over the unvisited grave of the poet Lensky.
Dear Tatyana, lover of illusion:
Though there he’s no more to be found,
He’s left sad footprints on the ground.
We learn of the swift healing heart of Olga, wooed by another and whisked down the aisle, her tears dried up and replaced by a smile, abandoning her sister and confidant with not much of a glance behind. Tatyana bereft, walks unbidden, finds herself arriving at the country home of Eugene Onegin, his staff invite her in and show her round like a tourist visiting a noble home, the rooms where our hero entertained his solitary self.
At once Anisia came to greet her,
the doorway opened wide to meet her,
she went inside the empty shell,
in which our hero used to dwell.
Spying a collection of strange books she asks if she can return to read them, opening a window into his soul, one she is less sure of, the marks on the page don’t lie, revealing the thoughts of another reader. She comes to understand him via the page, though they are nothing like those she prefers to lose herself in.
The locals are not happy with her loveless state with no plans to marry, they advise her family to take her to Moscow, after a week of travelling they arrive to stay with family, where Tatyana will meet her cousins and slowly become drawn into their ways.
Moscow’s the place, the marriage-fair!
There’s vacancies in plenty there.
They make subtle changes to prepare her for the social activities and try to pry the secrets of her heart, she resists and even while attending the dance, thinks only of the woods, her flower garden and books .
But while she roams in thought, not caring
for dance, and din, and worldly ways,
a general of majestic bearing
has fixed on her a steady gaze.
The narrator expounds his poetic verse, carrying us forward, oft-times veering off course as if he were driving an open air carriage then taking his eye off the road to watch the clouds form or listen to birds and admire the wildflowers, then suddenly we are back in the ballroom, the driver his eyes back on the road and the events as we come to know them gradually unfold.
Tatyana is escorted to a ball and sitting quietly to the side, after all this time who does she spot but Eugene, just returned from travels and roaming, he arrives in the midst of this social whirlabout. Recognising her from a distance, though not sure, he asks the prince next to him, who she is:
Prince, who in that dark-red beret,
just there, is talking to the Spanish
ambassador?’ In some surprise
the prince looks at him, and replies:
‘Wait, I’ll present you – but you banish
yourself too long from social life.’
‘But tell me who she is.’ ‘My wife.’
Two years have passed and time has not stood still, he is introduced to the princess and she is unmoved, he sees no trace of the Tatyana he knew and really isn’t sure if it is the same girl. The prince invites him to a soirée and uncharacteristically he responds in haste, eager to see Tatyana once more and is impatient for the evening to arrive. Tatyana playing the dutiful hostess is serene, Eugene falls for all that he has previously scorned, the madness of love. He finds no solace and surprise, surprise, what does he do, this lovesick fop, but write a letter!
he sends, a second, then a third.
No answer comes. He goes, for better
or worse, to a soirée. Unheard
she appears before him, grim and frozen.
No look, no word for him: she’s chosen
to encase herself inside a layer
of Twelfth Night’s chilliest, iciest air.
He turns to his books and finds no reason and then as the seasons pass, one spring day he ventures out to see her, is given an audience with the women he can’t get out of his mind and finds the roles have switched, it is she who now lectures him, reminding him of his own behaviour in reprimanding her, she speaks of her love, but that she now belongs to another, to whom she will be true. She leaves the room and Eugene is thunder-struck – the husband arrives – and now we must leave them, this chase has gone on long enough.
Wow. I made it. A brilliant read-along and an entertaining read, although I am a somewhat cynical reader, in that I find it difficult to believe that Eugene Onegin could have become the man he ends up being, not just because of his character so firmly established, but surely after two years travelling he should have gained a kind of maturity that would have provoked a different outcome than this. Perhaps I should have read it 10 years ago when it was given to me!
Thanks to Marian at Tanglewood for organising the challenge, it’s been fabulous. I totally recommend you all give this classic epic poem a try!