Eugene Onegin (2005) - extract from my translation

Eugene Onégin

Chapter Seven, 17-27

Tatyána entered the empty house where so recently Onégin had lived.  She looked around her: on the billiard table in the reception room rested a cue that someone had forgotten to put away; on a rumpled couch lay a riding switch.  She moved on.

‘Here’s the fireplace,’ the old woman informed her; ‘here it was that master used to sit when he was on his own, and this is where the late Mr Lensky, our neighbour, used to have dinner with him in winter …  This way please, after me …  Now here you have master’s study.  This is where he used to take a nap, drink his coffee, listen to our steward’s reports, and pass the morning reading one of those books of his …  The old master used to spend all his time here.  Sometimes, of a Sunday, he was good enough to put on his spectacles and play beat-your-neighbour with me – here by the window.  May the Lord grant salvation to his soul and give rest to his poor bones there in the grave, in moist Mother-Earth!’

Tatyána looked around her with emotion, taking everything in – the desk with its extinguished lamp; a pile of books; a divan under a bedspread by the window; the view outside through the moonlit dusk; the dim half-light itself; a portrait of Lord Byron; a pedestal surmounted by a cast-iron figure of Napoleon in a hat, face grimly frowning, arms tightly folded.  It all seemed to her infinitely precious; it all half-painfully soothed and refreshed her weary heart.

Tatyána stood for a long time in this contemporary hermitage, as though bewitched.  But it was late.  A cold wind had got up; the valley was quite dark; a mist hid the river below the slumbering woods; the moon had sunk behind the hill.  It was time, high time, for the young girl to be home from her pilgrimage.  Tatyána had so far managed to conceal her agitation; but she could not suppress a sigh as she set off on her way back.  Before she left she asked for permission to revisit the deserted mansion and read a few of the books there on her own.  21 She took leave of the housekeeper outside the gates.

A day later, first thing in the morning, she appeared again at Onégin’s abandoned retreat.  Eventually she was left alone in the silent study; there, oblivious for a time of everything in the world, she had a long cry.  Then she started on the books.  She did not take to them at first; but they seemed to her such an odd selection that she devoted herself avidly and wholeheartedly to reading them; and, as she read, a new world opened up before her.

As we know, Onégin had long ago lost his fondness for books; but there were nonetheless a few works that he had exempted from disfavour – the writings of Byron, for instance, and two or three novels that reflected the life of the times and portrayed Contemporary Man with tolerable accuracy – the amorality, egotism and desiccation of his character, his boundless passion for fantasy, and the fervid and aimless activity of his embittered mind.  Many of the pages still retained the sharp imprint of Onégin’s thumbnail.  Tatyána’s observant eyes fastened on these passages with especial interest.  Her heart beat faster as she noted the kind of thoughts and comments that used to dismay him, and those that he passed over in silent agreement.  In the margins she came across pencil-marks of his: everywhere Onégin had unwittingly given expression to his personality, now by a brief word, now by a cross, now by a question mark.

So it was that Tatyána – thank Heaven! – began little by little to understand more clearly what kind of man it was that she was inexorably fated to yearn for.  This gloomy and dangerous maverick, this creation of Heaven or Hell, this angel, this arrogant demon – what in truth was he?  Could he be just an imitation, an empty illusion, just a man from Moscow masquerading as Childe Harold, an encyclopædia of other people’s oddities, a dictionary of the latest clichés? ….  Indeed, was he not so much a copy as a caricature?  Could it be that she had solved the riddle?  Had she really found the key?

The hours sped by: Tatyána had forgotten that she was long ago expected back home. A couple of neighbours had called in, and the conversation had turned to her.

‘What’s to be done?’  old Mrs Larin was saying with a groan.  ‘Tatyána’s not a child – Olga was younger than her, you know.  It really is time to get the girl settled.  But what am I to do with her?  It’s the same blunt answer she gives everybody: “I’m not getting married.”  She’s always moping; she spends all her time wandering through the woods by herself.’

‘She’s not in love?’

‘Who with?  Buyánov proposed to her; she turned him down.  Iván Petushkóv got the same.  Pyhtín – the hussar – was staying with us; you could see how taken he was with Tánya – he was all over her, the young devil.  “Maybe it’ll come off,” I thought.  Come off!  The affair broke up again!’

‘Well, my dear, what are you waiting for?  Off to Moscow with you – to the marriage market!  There are plenty of vacancies there, I’m told.’

‘Oh, that won’t do.  I’ve too little money coming in.’

‘It’ll be enough for one winter; and if not – why, I’ll give you some, on loan.’

The old lady fancied this sensible and kindly advice.  She did her sums – and made up her mind there and then to set off for Moscow once winter came.

When Tatyána heard this news, she was aghast.  Was the city’s high society, with its exacting standards, to be invited to pass judgement on her all-too-obvious provincial upbringing and lack of sophistication, on her out-of-date clothes, on her old-fashioned manner of speech?  She imagined herself stared at derisively by Moscow’s smartly groomed men and bewitching ladies.  No: better and safer to stay behind in the remoteness of her woodlands…