Guidelines for a (paraphrastic) translation of Eugene Onegin

How would you translate Pushkin’s novel in verse into the USA (or your native country) in the year 2013?

Who would the characters Eugene, Tatyana and Lensky be? Where do they live, what are their names, what cultural artifacts form their consciousness and govern their lives?

What artistic principles underlie the characters—try to include Tatyana’s role as muse, and “Pushkin’s” presence as authorial persona.

You have total freedom to choose the genre (poetry, prose, etc.), content (a scene, a condensed plot line), the style of language each character speaks.

Remember VN’s dictum, “There is no delight without detail.”


Guidelines for Paper Writing

Format of Papers

  1. Place page numbers for citations in parentheses in the body of your paper. Footnotes are unnecessary.
  2. American style punctuation falls INSIDE quotation marks, except for : and ;
    “To be, or not to be,” said Ham.
  3. Page numbers follow the citation and precede the punctuation:
    “To be or not to be” (23).
  4. Use the present tense to recount events within a literary text:
    “Hamlet stabs Polonius in the arras.”
  5. Avoid using passive constructions.
    (NOT “Polonius is stabbed in the arras.”)
  6. Omit generalizations you have not built up to in your paper
    “In Russia they….”
  7. Omit overly general introductory paragraphs. Start by stating the purpose of your paper.

Style alert

  • Please: Avoid “fancy” forms of simple words, e.g.why say “utilize” if it simply means “use”?
  • Note the correct use of the verbs to lie (intransitive: the book lies/is lying, was lying on the table) and to lay (transitive: I lay/laid the book on the table).
  • Use “like” only as a preposition (e.g. write like me), not as a subordinate conjunction (write as I do). “me” is the direct object of the preposition; “as” introduces a clause with a verb in it.
  • Disinterested” is not “uninterested.”
  • I infer, you imply.
  • Root out clichés mercilessly.

Motif Papers

  • This is to be a short, analytical paper, of about four pages, double-spaced. You should write an efficient condensation of your ideas. It should be written in the spirit of a detective investigation:

First stage: To do the analysis

  1. Pick a recurring word (a color, an object, an adverb, etc.).
  2. Trace its occurrences in the text and record them, noting the context of each appearance of your chosen motif and briefly highlighting the features associated with the motif. Look at the sentence the motif occurs in: what is the motif connected to within it? Give page references for each.
  3. Interpret your findings. Looking at several instances of the motif, what points of contact do you find among them?
  4. Unpack fully the key instances of the motif to find the commonality among them and check your ideas against your understanding of the text. How does the motif add to your reading of the work?

Second stage: To report your findings

  1. Introduction: in one or two sentences, state the motif and summarize its meaning(s)
  2. Body of the Text: grouping the occurrences of the motif by the meanings you have discovered, show how the motif takes on particular meaning, hitherto hidden, in each context.
  3. Conclusion: Discuss how the unpacking of the motif adds new significance to the text as a whole.

The paper should be a kind of lab report, in which the tabulation of the motif constitutes the data. What kinds of conclusions is it legitimate to draw? How close can you get to the author’s position (rather than the characters’)?

Whenever you cite text, interpret the cited passage and state what you think it demonstrates for your purposes. It will not be self-evident.

Discuss your paper during office hours (or make an appointment). Come with a topic as developed as possible, so that we may best help you.


Subtext Papers

  • Use the same general guidelines as for the motif paper (condensation, lab report approach, citation, punctuation).

1. Basis for your claim

  • Establish the points of contact between the main text and the text it refers to (its subtext), i.e. what makes you suspect the presence of the subtext? (the machine’s name is Ophelia so you look at Hamlet for points of contact).

2. Implications

  • If one character is paired with a subtext’s character, what might it imply for other characters? (If the hero is indecisive like Hamlet, then who is Claudius? Gertrude? etc.)
  • Are there shared motifs between the two works? Shared subtexts?

3. Interpretation

  • To get at the later author’s point of view toward the earlier work, first interpret the material of the subtext point by point. Then weigh that analysis against how that material is used by the later author. What has s/he changed, either by context or detail? What are trhe implications of the changes, when taken together? (What does Onegin tell us about Fyodor, or Chernyshevsky  about literary aesthetics?) Ask as many questions of the material as you can. If you see several possible answers, develop them all. Are they contradictory? Complementary? Is there material within the texts that can test your interpretation? Have fun.

Peer Reviews

  • Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Help your classmate write a better paper (and in the process become a better paper writer); be generous while being rigorous.
  • You have a fresh eye and can see the logical development of the paper. Where does the paper take unclear logical leaps? Where is it hard to understand? Where does it fail to interpret its evidence? Is the relevance of the evidence unclear? Your fresh eye will also detect typographical errors, mistakes in spelling and punctuation, which undermine the effect of a carefully thought-out argument.
  • The hardest part involves how the paper interprets the work under discussion. You may disagree with it, but what you should judge is whether a coherent argument is made for the position. If not, how is it not coherent? Can your differing interpretation help you to improve your classmate’s argument? What material was omitted that is relevant to the argument? How can the paper be improved?
  • Make your short comments in clear handwriting in the margins and write your overall qualitative evaluation at the end. Identify yourself as editor by printing your name clearly. The marked-up paper is to be handed in with the final version by its author. The relationship between the first and second versions of the paper will be a factor in our evaluation of both author and commentator.


Presentation Guidelines 

1. Before Class

  • Sign up for two presentations, on two different works. Work in pairs (two people per topic).
  • At least two days before your presentation, discuss your topic with Priscilla, preferably after having read the relevant book. You’re welcome to consult either me, or Zach, as you work, by e-mail or in person.
  • It is up to you to contact me to set a meeting time, by e-mail or after class.
  • Gather and analyze your data; make a handout of the essential material, with page numbers for each quotation. Make a copy for everyone in the room (you’re welcome to use the copier in the Russian Department Office, 212 Fisk).
  • Outline your main topics and rehearse your presentation together with your partner to make sure it takes about ten minutes total for the two of your to give.

2. In Class

  • Use this occasion to practice public speaking; perform your findings. This includes speaking clearly while looking at your audience, avoiding asides.
  • You don’t need to discuss each individual piece of evidence on your handout; you can go into one or two of the most relevant ones in detail, discussing their significance as fully as possible.
  • Build toward a conclusion. You can include your conclusion in a couple of sentences on your handout; in your presentation, show more fully than on the handout how our conclusion helps us to read the work you discuss.
  • Remember that you will be the expert on your topic; don’t expect (as we all tend to do when we work hard on something) that everyone in the room has seen the connections you are making. Make them explicit, moving from the details to their larger significance as you talk.