From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Eugene Onegin is a novel in verse written by Aleksandr Pushkin. It is one of the classics of Russian literature and its hero served as the model for a number of Russian literary heroes. It was published in serial form between 1825 and 1832. The first complete edition was published in 1833, and the edition that the current accepted version is based on was published in 1837.
The story is told by an idealised version of Pushkin, who often digresses from the story and while the plot of the novel is quite scant the book is more loved for the telling than what is told. It is partly because of this garrulous narrator that the book has been compared to Tristram Shandy.
The main theme of Eugene Onegin is the relationship between fiction and real life. People are often shaped by art. The romantic sister, Tatyana, is reading a romance novel when her mother tells her real life is not like that. The work is packed with allusions to other literary works.
Eugene Onegin, a Russian dandy who is bored with life, inherits a country mansion from his uncle. When he moves to the country, he strikes up an unlikely friendship with the minor poet Vladimir Lensky. One day, Lensky takes Onegin to dine with the family of his fiancée Olga Larina. At this meeting, Olga's bookish sister, Tatyana (Tanya), falls in love with Onegin. That night, Tatyana writes a letter to Onegin professing her love and sends it to him. While this is something a heroine in one of Tatyana's French novels would have done, Russian society would consider it inappropriate for a young, unmarried girl to take the initiative. Contrary to her expectations, Onegin does not reply by letter. The two meet on his next visit where he rejects her advances in a speech that has been described as tactful yet condescending.
Later, Lensky nonchalantly invites Onegin to Tatyana's name day celebration promising a small gathering with just Tatyana, her sister, and her parents. When Onegin arrives, he finds instead a grandiose ball reminiscent of the fast-paced world he has grown tired of. To exact revenge on Lensky, Onegin proceeds to flirt and dance with Olga. Lensky leaves in a rage, and in the morning issues a challenge to Onegin to fight a duel. At the duel Onegin kills Lensky, then flees.
Tatyana visits Onegin's mansion where she reads through his books and the notes in the margins, and through this comes to believe that Onegin's character is merely a collage of different literary heroes, and so there is no "real Onegin." Later, Tanya is taken to Moscow and introduced to society. In this new environment, Tanya matures to such an extent that when Onegin later meets her in St. Petersburg, he fails to recognise her. When he realises who she is he tries to win her affection despite the fact that she is now married, but his advances are rebuffed. He writes her several letters but receives no reply. The book ends when Onegin manages to see Tanya and is once again rejected in a speech where she admits both her love for him and the absolute loyalty she nevertheless has for her husband. In echoing the speech he previously gave her, she also demonstrates her emotional and moral superiority to Onegin.