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Eugene Onegin


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I liked the Nakokov version of Eugene Onegin and the notes, at least the shorter "Structure & Genesis of Eugene Onegin", were very helpful. Nabokov's translation is more relaxed and accurate than other, rhymed versions. I also read the James Falon Oxford Classics translation alongside it, more sparkling but you may miss some important details due to formal contraints.

The novel is different from the ballet, which was a very controversial abridgement. Its tone is different – more like Jane Austen, and it's generally more complex. Pushkin himself is a character (maybe three times over). Tatiana's letter has a different fate and Tatiana's dream is much more wide ranging than that in the ballet.

Nabokov's long notes are also interesting if you can get beyond the petty score settling. (And that Nabokov is almost erasing Pushkin as he's rescuing him.) But they're invaluable for some of the nuances – as when he discusses all the Russian words for silence, for different sounds of water moving in rivers, rivulets etc, and the Russian words for langorousness.

I think there may be another discussion somewhere else about this.

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That's a tough one!

The first version I read was Nabokov's more-or-less literal non-rhyming version. Nabokov maintained that it was absolutely impossible to render Pushkin's Russian verse into English verse in a way that's even remotely true to the original. Since his Russian is better than mine (and probably his English too, for that matter) I'm willing to take him at his word. That being said, his version and the accompanying volume of notes has its virtues, but also its peculiarities, and it's sometimes more than a little awkward on the page. I find it dry dry dry.

I've also dipped into three verse translations: James Falen's 1990 translation, Douglas Hofstadter's 1999 translation, and Stanley Mitchell's 2008 translation. Both Falen and Mitchell tried to render Pushkin in a contemporary idiom; both translations are well-regarded and highly readable.

Fortunately, Stephen Frug, a history professor at Hobart and William William Smith Colleges (in Geneva NY, near Ithaca) has posted samples from ten different translations online. You can check them out and see if there's one that suits your ear.

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I remember a discussion on Eugene Onegin translations from long ago on this board, but I searched for it and it doesn't look as if it has survived.This non-Russian speaker/writer likes the Charles Johnston translation, MakarovaFan. Here's an old article on getting to know Pushkin in translation.

Indeed, the two English texts taken together gave a powerful impression of what the underlying Russian had to be like. I compare this to the nautical notion of triangulation, in which having two different landmarks to sight on a coast allows you to pinpoint just where at sea you are, whereas having just one is too little information. Scaled down, this is essentially the parallax effect that we also exploit in binocular vision, allowing us to see a third dimension despite having only two-dimensional images on our retinas. And so, as I glimpsed Pushkin's poetry through a kind of intellectual stereopsis, I was having a ball at several different levels, getting to know Onegin and his crowd and their times, gaining a strong and clear feeling for the brilliance of the original Russian poetry as well as for Pushkin himself, and even coming to sense the highly distinctive personalities and creativities of Charles Johnston and James Falen. It was, by the way, this type of slow and systematic line-by-line triangulation that gradually gave me the chutzpah I referred to in my opening paragraph.

The Nabokov translation was controversial. Haven't read it myself.

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Here's an old article on getting to know Pushkin in translation.

The Nabokov translation was controversial. Haven't read it myself.

Douglas Hofstadter,the author of the linked article on Pushkin in translation, went on to write his own somewhat controversial translation of Onegin. I wasn't as put off as the Times' reviewer was, but parts of it struck me as a bit gimmicky in a post-modern sort of way. It's zesty, that's for sure.

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Onegin is my absolute favourite novel (and opera).

Personally, I think it's good to read multiple translations.

I've read Nabokov's and Arndt's. I guess if I had to read one it would be the former.
I've also read it in Russian (with the help of a dictionary) but I'm not going to pretend I managed to grasp all the subtleties.

Slightly off topic but I've always hated how it becomes "Eugene" Onegin, which sounds nothing like Evgeny.

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This might seem a strange suggestion, but it also might be worth trying to find a recording of someone reading a portion of the book in Russian (the opening or Tatiana's letter or something). I haven't looked but I assume youtube would have multiple recordings. One of the big problem with translations is that they can't make the thing rhyme and scan in English the way it does in Russian.

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This might seem a strange suggestion, but it also might be worth trying to find a recording of someone reading a portion of the book in Russian (the opening or Tatiana's letter or something). I haven't looked but I assume youtube would have multiple recordings. One of the big problem with translations is that they can't make the thing rhyme and scan in English the way it does in Russian.

Not strange at all!

Here's a reading of Евгений Онегин (Yevgeniy Onegin) in its entirety. The poem itself begins at around 2:15.

Several folks have superimposed selections from Pushkin's text onto extracts from Martha Fienne's English Language film Onegin, which stars her brother, Ralph Fiennes as Yevgeniy Onegin and Liv Tyler as Tatyana Larina. Here's an example: Письмо Татьяны к Онегину (Pis'mo Tat'yany k Oneginu - Tatyana's Letter to Onegin). You can follow along with the text here. ETA: here's the text in Russian with a parallel translation into English. And ... here's another reading superimposed onto cuts from Fienne's film.

You can find Fienne's film online -- including a version dubbed in Russian ...

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