Life’s Novel” and the Poet: Reading Lenskij

Heather Smith Buckser, Princeton University

In this paper, I argue that Eugene Oneginís poetic presence is directly connected to and embodied in Vladimir Lenskij; that Lenskij represents both the unsustainable rapturous youth of an elegiac poet and the difficulty of achieving a mature adult poetic stance; that Lenskijís potential serves as an arena for the problem of approaching prosy maturity; that the ambition of an august and aging poet in a novelistic world finds its clearest expression in Lenskij; and that in his early death and truncated potential, Lenskij is ultimately a tragic figure, genuinely mourned.

Puökinís renderings of lyric twilight in several of his later metapoetic and anniversary poems introduce the problem of poetic evolution. Although personal grief somewhat tempers his celebrated lightness, these poems nevertheless preserve the potential for the lyric poet as both a personal and an aesthetic stance. I argue that Puökinís treatment of the poetís future in Onegin parallels his own movement from eagerness through despair into, finally, a composed state of hope and acceptance. I begin with a close reading of the dedication to a lyric poet and then trace Puökinís rendering of the lyric problem through the novel. Much of the criticism of Lenskij stems from the fragments of his poetry cited in the novel. It would be absurd to claim that Lenskijís poetry is spectacularly good, but there is considerable textual evidence that we are meant to view Lenskijís poetry with affection. Lenskij is, like all of Oneginís characters, highly mediated; upon examination, the most unflattering portrayals of Lenskij come from a source other than the narrator himself. The narrator may gently mock Lenskijís dreamy lyricism, but he takes seriously the problem that Lenskijís imagined pastoral ideal poses for his maturation as a poet.

Of all the central characters, Lenskij most clearly strives to balance a poetic stance with the prosiness of rural retreat. While vulnerable to the narratorís parodic observations, Lenskij is never wholly transformed by them. There is a likeness between Lenskijís and the narratorís Ė as well as Puökinís own Ė potential futures that precludes a wholly negative reading of the youth; the narratorís own sympathy underlies his satire, while the satire itself effects a palliative distance. Lenskijís striving toward a writerís idyll functions as an arena for the narratorís own struggle between poetic and prosaic orientations.