Eugene Onegin Summary

Alexander Pushkin

Eugene Onegin

  • Plot overview and analysis written by an experienced literary critic.
  • Full study guide for this title currently under development.
  • To be notified when we launch a full study guide, please contact us.

Eugene Onegin Summary

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics.  This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of Eugene Onegin by Alexander Pushkin.

Eugene Onegin is a novel of narrative poetry written by Russian novelist Alexander Pushkin. The novel was originally published in serial format between 1825 and 1832, and was formally released as a single book in 1833. The novel, which is written in 389 stanzas of iambic tetrameter, tells the story of a wealthy cynic pursued by a romantic young woman. Highly acclaimed, the novel has been translated into several languages and adapted for film, theater, and radio.

Eugene Onegin, the titular character of the novel, is a wealthy Russian aristocrat living in St. Petersburg. His life is full of balls, parties, and social gatherings. Although he is charming and well-regarded in high society, Onegin quickly grows bored with his lifestyle and longs for something different. When his uncle dies and leaves him an estate in the countryside, Onegin decides to move there. Shortly after going to live at his new estate, Oneginmeets a romantic young poet named Vladimir Lensky who is as fiercely passionate as Onegin is coldly cynical. The two become friends despite their different temperaments.

One day, Lensky brings Onegin to meet his fiancée, Olga Larin. Olga is charming, sociable, and girlish. Her older sister, Tatyana, on the other hand, is a quiet dreamer who reads romance novels. Tatyana develops a strong attraction to Onegin and writes him a long, honest letter professing her love for him and begging for his in return. Onegingoes to the Larins’ home and coldly rejects Tatyana’s love, telling her that he had no desire to be married since he found marriage too confining. He also warns her to be more circumspect about revealing her emotions in the future lest someone with bad intentions take advantage of her innocence. Tatyana is heartbroken over Onegin’s rejection.

Onegin’s cold dismissal of Tatyana is contrasted with Lensky’s passionate poems for Olga, which she never reads. Onegin spends his days alone and bored in his estate until Lensky comes to visit him again. Lensky invites Onegin to Tatyana’s name-day party, promising that it would be a small affair with only a few family members in attendance. A few days before the event, Tatyana has a nightmare in which she is carried off by a bear to a house where Onegin is having a party with a group of monsters. Onegin fights the monsters over Tatyana, and lays her down on a table. Olga and Lensky intrude, but Onegin stabs Lensky to death with a knife. Tatyana wakes up deeply disturbed by her dream.

The day of the party arrives, and Onegin is incensed to discover that it is a large, crowded celebration rather than the small family event that Lensky had promised. He decides to take revenge on Lensky by dancing with Olga, who happily returns his affections. Lensky is enraged and storms out of the party. The next day, Onegin receives a message from Lensky challenging him to a duel. Onegin accepts, but feels guilty about interfering in his friend’s relationship. Lensky visits the Larins’ home again, where he is reassured that Olga still loves him despite her seeming affection for Onegin the night before. He writes a poem lamenting that he may die the next morning and urging Olga to visit his grave if that happens.

The two men meet for the duel. Onegin’s second is a man named Zaretsky while Lensky’s second is his servant. Shortly after the duel begins, Onegin shoots and kills Lensky. Onegin immediately regrets his actions, and rushes to his fallen friend’s side. Lensky is buried in a simple grave under two pine trees near a stream. Beholden by guilt, Onegin leaves his estate and goes abroad. Tatyana goes to visit Onegin’s home after his departure and looks through his books, which Onegin read voraciously, to try to understand him. She begins to wonder whether Onegin was a real man or just the composite of different literary characters.

Several years later, Onegin returns home from his journey abroad and is surprised to see Tatyana again at a ball. She is now married to a general and has matured considerably since he last saw her. Onegin realizes that he does love Tatyana after all, and writes her many letters asking her to elope with him. However, she ignores all of them. After having received no response from Tatyana, Onegin goes to see her in person and sees her tearfully reading one of his letters. He kneels before her and begs her forgiveness. However, Tatyana is cold to him and scolds him for trying to elope with her while she is already married, delivering a speech reminiscent of the one he gave her when he rebuffed her many years ago. She says that she does still have feelings for him, but must remain faithful to her husband. Onegin is devastated by Tatyana’s response.

The main themes of the novel are poetry, literature, romance, passion, cynicism, and remorse. In contrasting Lensky’s hotheaded passion with Onegin’s cold cynicism, Pushkin shows the folly of both temperaments; while Lensky’s arguably unrequited, blind love for a woman leads him to his doom, Onegin’s cold aloofness causes him to miss an opportunity for romance which he will forever regret. Another core theme of the novel is the comparison between literature and real life; the poetic style in which the novel is narrated makes the reader share Tatyana’s suspicion that Onegin is not a real person but a tragic hero from one of his own novels.