Evgenij Onegin in the Age of Realism

Boris Gasparov, Columbia University

The paper explores how situations and characters of Puškin’s Evgenij Onegin written in the 1820s in a context of gentry culture and pre-realist literature, best represented by such authors as Jane Austen and Benjamin Constant, change their meaning when they reemerge in the 1870s in Čajkovskij’s opera. While overtly the opera followed Puškin’s plot, it was written by a composer and addressed to an audience brought up on realist novels by Tolstoj and Turgenev, in a Russia after the reforms of the 1860s. Viewed by the eyes of the post-reform audience, the characters’ behavior and motivations underwent a significant shift.

What has emerged as a result was an understanding of Puškin’s novel in a realist key that largely superseded its original meaning.