Review: Sona Hoisington, trans. «Russian Views of "Eugene Onegin"»

Russian Views of Pushkin's Eugene Onegin. Translated, with an Introduction and Notes by Sona Stephan Hoisington. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988. 199 pp.

 

In this volume, Sona Hoisington has gathered together and carefully translated critical essays written by prominent critics and scholars beginning with Belinsky and concluding with Yury Lotman and Sergey Bocharov. With only one exception (an excerpt from Bakhtin's The Dialogic Imagination), each essay appears for the first time in English translation. In adition to a Foreword by Caryl Emerson and Hoisington's Preface, the colection includes: Vissarion Belinsky, "Eugene Onegin: An Encyclopedia of Russian Life"; Dmitry Pisarev, "Pushkin and Belinsky: Eugene Onegin"; Fyodor Dostoevsky, "Pushkin"; Yury Tynyanov, "On the Composition of Eugene Onegin"; Yury Lotman, "The Structure of Eugene Onegin" and "The Transformation of the Tradition Generated by Onegin in the Subsequent History of the Russian Novel"; Mikhail Bakhtin, "Discourse in Eugene Onegin"; Sergey Bocharov, "The Stylistic World of the Novel."

The essays provide an understanding of teh critical reception of Eugene Onegin throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. More important, however, is the collection's value as an introduction to various schools of Russian literary criticism. It presents a convenient cross section of critical thought, all focused around a single work, enabling the reader to better ascertain the similarities and differences between the various approaches. This makes the collection useful to students specializing in Russian literature and culture as well as to comparatists, for whom the English translations are primarily designed.

Together with Emerson's lucidly written Preface, the Introduction provides a concise survey of the Russian critical tradition and places the essays in a larger cultural and historical context.

The original notes of the essays' authors are supplemented by explanatory notes of the translator. As translator, Hoisington has given the essays very clos scrutiny and doubtless has much to offer by way of commentary on specific arguments and lines of thought. Additional notes of this kind would further enhance the collection's value. For example, might Bakhtin's differentiation between the role of "voices" in poetry and in prose be slightly overstated? Or, when Bakhtin relates Pushkin's characterization of Lensky's poetry to the language of Lensky himself ("Of love he sang, love's service choosing, / And limpid was his simple tune / As ever artless maiden's musing, / As babes aslumber, as teh Moon..."), is Bakhtin overstating his point once again (115-16)? After all, Pushkin had used moons and maidens before in portraying Romantic illusions (in Prisoner of the Caucasus, for example), and one can argue that the above simile is as much Pushkin's own language and that of an entire cultural milieu, as Bocharov goes on to argue in his essay. After dealing closely with the essays, hoisington is aware of many of the interconnections and finer points which many of us will doubtless overlook. In the Introduction, she provides an excellent overview of some of the major polemical points of contact, but a more detailed commentary is beyond the scope of this edition.

Hoisington uses Walter Arndt's rhymed rendition of Eugene Onegin throughout her translation. This generally works well and causes only a few minor glitches that require clarification. For example, Bocharov identifies khlev as "low style," yet Arndt uses the poetic English byre to translate it. Russian Views of Pushkin's Eugene Onegin is a valuable contribution to the study of Russian cultural history. Sona Hoisington's work is careful and painstaking, and Indiana University Press deserves credit for venturing to publish a specialized scholarly work for a book market that is slower than moasses in January.

 

Robert Mann
University of Florida

 


Download:

Mann, Robert. Rev. of Sona Hoisington, trans. Russian Views of Pushkin's Eugene Onegin. Pushkin Review 1 (1998): 172-173.

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Vol. 01 (1998)