Alexander Pushkin's Novel in Verse, «Eugene Onegin», and Its Legacy in the Work of Vladimir Nabokov
Translated by Mark Pettus
Alexander Pushkin’s novel in verse Eugene Onegin (1833) overcame thresholds imposed by the conventions of genre and style to become a threshold text itself over the course of its canonization; marked by innovation and a sharp break with tradition, it is a text that divides Russian literature into a “before” and “after.” Contemporary literary criticism labeled it an “encyclopedia of Russian society”—a label that, throughout the history of its interpretation, certainly obscured the purely literary encyclopedism of the text. Eugene Onegin is a highly complex text, featuring self-commentary, meta-textuality, allusions to other texts, and parody, in which pre-Romantic and Romantic European literature is digested and broken down. The canonization process that produced Alexander Pushkin the “classic” author, and the strain exerted upon the Pushkin “legacy” by subsequent generations of poets, have played a decisive role in Russia’s cultural self-conception. Particularly prominent in this process was Vladimir Nabokov, whose émigré works reclaimed the Pushkin legacy, and who thereby made his own contribution to the canonization process, as Pushkin’s literary double.