Commentators have repeatedly characterized Pushkin's masterpiece as an exhaustive compendium: "an encyclopedia of Russian life" (Belinsky), "an encyclopedia of Russian folklore" (Grechina), "an encyclopedia of literary genres" (Stilman). In his recent study, V.A. Koshelev describes Eugene Onegin as Pushkin's attempt to create an encyclopedia of a very different order—one tht documents the "eternal law" of humanity's advance that Kliuchesvskii describeas as «то, что не проходит, как наследство, урок, неоконченный процесс» (5). Emphasizing its open, dynamic nature, Koshelev reads Onegin as a «декларация принципа своевольного созданья» (19) and focuses on Pushkin’s negotiation of the demands of the work in progress and the demands of the surrounding world. Highlighted thereby is the «принцип предельного использования всего литературного опыта современности» (15) and the «нравственный опыт» (16)—not only Pushkin’s own, but that of the entire epoch—that inform Eugene Onegin.
The impetus for Koshelev’s far-reaching exploration is what Pasternak has called the «всесильный бог деталий». In the expansive social, cultural, and political context Koshelev supplies, details of the poet’s life and text blossom with meaning and coalesce into «проблемные линии». These lines of thought trace Onegin’s coming-into-being and reveal, just beneath the surface of the text, a multi-faceted exploration of the role of poet and poetry. The four examples that follow will suffice to demonstrate the variety and scope of this approach. In chapter 2, Koshelev’s discussion of khandra opens into an examination of how ellipses function in Pushkin’s text, introduces the question of what distinguishes a poet from a non-poet, and leads to the suggestion that poetry is the cure for the enervating affect that afflicted the hero and so many of Pushkin’s own generation. In the third chapter of this study, Pushkin’s designation of chapter 2 of Onegin as “Poet” (in the Boldino plan), his reluctance to allow its publication, and the absence of ellipses where he excised three stanzas describing Lensky’s verse emerge as telling details that reflect the poet’s artistic biography, his thoughts about poetry, and his ridicule of Karamzinists’ strictures. Chapter 4 supplies a wealth of material relating to actual and literary naming practices and shows Pushkin’s naming of Tatiana to exemplify the axiomatic interplay of rupture and continuity that obtain in his reworking of literary tradition. Although Koshelev’s assertion in chapter 5 that the definitive feature of the Russian woman is her preference for the “intelligence of the heart” over that of the mind might not persuade all readers, his focus on Tatiana’s «странная антономичность» (116)—the conjoinment of an old Russian type with a new emblem of the literary searchings of the poet’s own epoch—leads to the quintessentially Pushkinian conclusion that innovation is vital to the preservation of tradition and vice versa.
Koshelev combines his exhaustive knowledge of Pushkin’s time with the recognition that no single perspective can account for Onegin’s complexity. In the sixth chapter he distinguishes a system of distinct but interacting temporal frames in Onegin (including “discreet” and “fluctuating” time, Jasper’s notion of pre-history, history, and post-history, and the Russian Orthodox church calendar) that reveals new symmetries and opens new possibilities for interrelating events of the story. Thus, for example, Koshelev observes that according to the church calendar and attendant folk practices Tatiana’s letter is written in an appropriate season (Купальница), even as her final speech to Onegin takes place during Holy Week, a time of renunciation that prepares the way for resurrection and the renewal that demands a new novel.
The attention Koshelev devotes in his chapters 7 and 8 to choices Pushkin confronted in the course of writing his novel in verse gives particular weight to the work in progress. In a tour de force of highly informed and well-motivated speculation, he explores why Pushkin abandoned his original intent to create a symmetrical Onegin of two six-chapter parts and discusses the impasse the poet confronted when the internal logic of his hero’s development demanded his participation in the Decembrist movement, something the censorship of the time could not permit. Without the socio-political dimension, Onegin faced the prospect of a futile life and an unremarkable end. Pushkin was thus driven to seek a new—socially plausible, politically acceptable, and yet also aesthetically satisfying—option for Eugene. «Онегина» воздушная громада…» provides illuminating reflection on this search.
In his own “Finale,” Koshelev examines how the «смысловая пауза» (260) of Pushkin’s notes and the «идейный эпилог» (253) of “Onegin’s Journey” fit in with the main body of the text. He arrives at a crucial insight: the unconventional ending of the work suggests the author himself as an alternative to its failed hero. Having opened his study with the exhortation that literary classics be read and not merely revered («читать» v. «почитать» ), Koshelev completes it with a discussion of the reader Pushkin addresses and the reader he represents in Onegin. Inevitably, some conclusions seem more plausible than others. The point that after Eugene Onegin Pushkin creates heroes who no longer read is well-taken. Yet given the significance of books in Tatiana’s development and the fact that her reading skills distinguish her from Eugene, it is hard to concur with the assertion that for both hero and heroine the act of reading is “nothing more than a stimulus for unproductive reflection” («стимул для малопродуктивной рефлексии» ).
In any event, Koshelev’s aim, which he modestly describes as an attempt to persuade people to reread Onegin with revitalized appreciation, has surely been achieved. «Онегина» воздушная громада…» stimulates reflection that is decidedly productive and fosters a strong urge to revisit Pushkin’s masterpiece afresh. This brings us to the significance of Akhmatova’s oxymoronic designation of Eugene Onegin that Koshelev takes as his title, for it is only in terms of the unfolding process he documents in this study that we can understand how a literary creation can be so dense with meaning and yet also so elegantly ethereal.
Olga Peters Hasty
Hasty, Olga Peters. Rev. of «Онегина» воздушная громада.... Pushkin Review 3 (2000): 179-81. Retrieved from: <http://www.pushkiniana.org/index.php/backissues/pr03-2000/126-vol03reviews/287-review-koshelev-onegin>.