A Modernist Onegin
Autumn was especially long this year and snow only came on January second. The young Tatyana awakes that day to a beautiful view of the snow-covered
countryside. Everything, from the flowerbed to the distant rooftop was covered in a sheet of pure white brilliance. Though winter had finally made its grand
appearance, the wide-eyed Tatyana can still make out an occasional bird fluttering amongst the snow-laden branches.
Oh what Russian does not love the first day of snow! The first sleigh-ride of the season is enjoyed by all. Children who are not yet big enough to enjoy
such a ride instead hitch their dog to a sled so that they too may feel the cold wind blowing through their hair as they tear down a white path. But mother does
not approve, and yells from the house “Junior, put on your hat and gloves this instant!”
But for some reason or another—perhaps you have never experienced a snowy winter or have experienced too many in your lifetime—you don’t want to
hear much more scenery description. Get back to the plot, a turning point in the story, so that I may choose the path of the hero or heroine, you tell me.
Tatyana, as you already know, is very superstitious. And this being the first day of winter, she surveys the land in hopes of finding some portent.
To have Tatyana find meaning in the scene she observes, turn to part II
To have Tatyana find nothing in the scene she observes, turn to part III
Here she looks and there she looks. Just when she thinks there is nothing new to see, behold—a squirrel walking up a pine tree backwards! Tatyana has
never seen such a thing before. So new, so unexpected, this can only mean something important is going to happen to her life. She mulls over all the
possibilities, when she then sees a green leaf fall from a Russian Maple tree. She is elated, because the odds of seeing a living leaf in January are very small
indeed. She knows that the man of her dreams must be coming soon, and their encounter will be a night to remember. She spends the next few days in rapt
The night of the party Tatyana dresses herself up as a veritable Cinderella. She hardly pays attention to any of the guests. All that she cares about is
whether he will show. Eugene finally arrives, after she spends an hour curtseying to family friends. So overcome is she, that she can barely utter a coherent
sentence to him. Her awkwardness makes her blush. But Onegin shows no sign of noticing this, and instead politely bows back to her and takes his seat.
All throughout dinner, she cannot stop staring at him. Though trembling like a frightened animal, she has courage enough to look at him. Onegin soon
realizes that he is being watched. Normally when a young girl swoons over him, he would intentionally act cold back to her. So jaded is he that he no longer
believes he could find a girl to make him happy. Yet for some reason, he does not now feel this way about Tatyana. Onegin circles the room with his eyes,
stopping on each guest just long enough to get a feeling for what motivates them. And for all of them he feels nothing but their desire to be entertained. That
is, except, for the girl Tatyana. She is different. She is not boring like the others. Onegin is having trouble processing what he is feeling. Is this girl really
special, or just another romantic caricature?
Soon it was time for dancing, the part of any party that Onegin looks forward to the least. Pretending to enjoy the company of foolish young girls while
twirling around with them on a dance floor is something that does not interest him anymore. Even the dance motions themselves are boring. Onegin decides
it is time for him to make haste and heads for the door. Suddenly he is stopped by a beautiful young woman, none other than Tatyana. She curtsies him for
the second time that night, but now instead of lowering his eyes in a bow, Onegin instead keeps them focused on hers. And in her eyes he sees a wonderful
tenderness, a mixture of strength, resolve and longing. Tatyana is thrilled by his body language and knows that he is truly moved, not just going through the
motions of flirtation.
And now the whole room is in an uproar. Chairs and table are thrown every which way to make room for the dancers. Men and women are milling about
looking for a dance partner, but our Tatyana has already found hers. Tatyana and Eugene are off to an excellent start. With him leading, their form is
perfect. A wonder for all to see. All the single girls without partners look on wishing to be Tatyana, who dances so lightly and effortlessly like a leaf falling
from a tree. The dance number changes and Eugene leads Tatyana in a way she has never been led before. As he slowly takes a step forward, she walks
backwards. With no more twirling, the two dancers have no excuse to look sideways. Instead they spend the remainder of the dance in this way, their eyes
locked on one another. Now humble reader I must admit that when it comes to descriptions of festivals, I hardly compare to that great poet who sang of them
thousands of years ago. But while Homer was able to write two epic volumes on the Trojan War, never did a muse inspire him to achieve what I have done in
my work. If poetry of yesteryear was sung in order to include the listener as much as possible, then a choose-your-own-adventure story is the next logical
phase in the evolution of storytelling. And with that interjection, I return you now to the story:
Ten minutes later the band takes a break and our two dancers slowly release their grip. Onegin is torn. Part of him really likes this girl, but part of him
thinks that if he pursues this they both will get hurt.
To have Onegin risk his heart on romance, turn to section IV
To have Onegin continue his bachelor isolation, turn to section V
Tatyana tries as hard as she can, but is unable to discern anything noteworthy. And she was very much expecting to find something. She is so upset that
she cries herself to bed and has a most unusual dream: she is quietly moving downstream on a small rowboat. Oh, the scenery is beautiful and she feels
wonderful. She realizes that she isn’t sure who is rowing the boat and turns around to see a minotaur holding a paddle! It just stares at her and snorts.
Tatyana, quite taken off guard, nearly faints. But just as she is ready to pass out she hears the laughter of a man standing on the shore. She looks over and
sees Onegin. “Help” she cries, but Onegin simply shrugs his shoulders in impotence and walks away into the forest. The minotaur bellows (or is it a laugh?)
and paddles more fiercely. Tatyana awakes in a cold sweat with Olga leaning over her looking very concerned.
Later in the day Tatyana consults her book entitled Symbols and Symbolism and turns to the section on dreams. Macaws, mackerel, mice…ah here it is,
minotaurs. And it read “Minotaurs: half man, half bull, symbolic of internal struggle.” She gasps and is unable to understand what this means for her, but
knows it must be something bad.
At last the night of the grand ball arrives. Tatyana is extremely excited to see Eugene, but also nervous because of her dream. He is one of the last guests
to arrive, and greats her with a solemn nod of the head and walks off. Onegin feels a little remorse for being so cold to the girl, but he cannot help it, his vast
experience with debutantes has left him quite jaded. Dinner is being served, the part of the evening Onegin looks forward to the most, where he can
concentrate on enjoying the food instead of conversation. While eating his turkey and sipping wine, Onegin surveys the room. Not one of these women
interests me, he thinks. But then he spies Tatyana, who is looking directly at him. Quickly she turns away, thinking that this evening bodes not well for the
two of them. She thinks she has realized the meaning of her dream now: she must either talk with Eugene and risk ruin, or avoid him completely until she
can find better portents. She decides to err on the side of caution, and after dinner heads over towards her room. Yet unknown to her, Eugene also is
struggling with a decision: whether to leave the party quietly now that Tatyana has retired, or to once and for all throw away all ties he has to this country life
and return to Moscow. He is not so dissimilar from Achilles, who on the beach must choose isolation, or ruin. But unlike you, Homer, the reader here is the
bard of the story. And so reader, you are faced with a decision of Herculean difficulty:
To have Onegin leave the party, turn to section VI
To have Onegin leave the countryside, turn to section VII
Onegin has not felt this way about anyone, or anything for a long time. For years he has floated from party to opera to social event like an unfulfilled
butterfly, and never has he found what he was looking for. Indeed, he did not even know what to look for, but now it turns out that what he was looking for
has found him instead, and she is standing but two feet in front of him.
With the music over, people turn to conversation. Tatyana and Eugene find a seat and discuss what they enjoy reading. Both are dismayed by what they
hear. His literature is no way to live one’s life, thinks she. Her literature offers nothing new, thinks he. Yet both are not so foolish that they would dismiss
love based on someone’s reading preferences! They continue to talk throughout the night and find topics where they share more common ground. With a
kiss on the hand, he bids her a fond adieu and rushes home— not so that he can get away from her more quickly but so that he can start to write her a letter as
soon as possible.
Though weary of rushing into a relationship, our hero, so hopeful and insistent, writes her a passionate letter of which I will relate to you a little bit:
I am unable to keep my longing for you a secret anymore. Though you may take offence at such a brazen letter, let me assure you that I have no malicious
intent in writing you. To reassure you of this, I lay my soul bare for you to see that I am unable to hide anything. I noticed tonight how quickly your pulse
was beating not only after the dance, but also much later in the night while we were only talking. Had I not been wearing a high-collared suit, you would have
seen that I too had the same symptom. I say symptom because love was something I thought should be avoided like disease. But now I know it is instead
something that must be embraced.
One day passes, and then two. Our hero grows nervous and makes haste. Where is he off to? To Tatyana’s house of course, racing like a madman
possessed. He gains entrance to her house whereupon he sees her sitting on the floor weeping. She is holding something in her hand…it is the letter! “Why
have I not heard from you?” he asks. “Because it only arrived here yesterday and I have been unable to do much since then except for what you see me doing
now, my love.”
Reader, how wonderful that we part on a warm-hearted note. But it was not my doing, but your own, that brought about such a wonderful ending to our
tale. And goodbye to you too, Onegin, man of many paths.
Our poor (and too proud) hero gives Tatyana another bow, only this one is formal like the first one of the evening. He bids her goodnight and leaves the
house for the safety of his carriage. She will be like all the rest, he thinks to himself. In the end, she will be a waste of your energies and she will have taken
yet another precious part of your soul away. She cannot inspire you to greatness, no one can. You will never find your muse.
Such are the thoughts that plague Onegin’s mind when he packs up his belongings and moves to Moscow. For two and a half years he lives the life of an
urban hermit. I’ve known monks with more of a social life! For all those years Onegin, true to his predictions, did not find his muse in Moscow. Yet the
reason for that is because his muse has already found him and she is waiting for him in the countryside.
One night when Onegin is doing nothing of particular interest at all, he suddenly comes to the realization that you and I have already discovered. He
composes a letter consisting of but one line: I’m coming to see you. ?Eugene.” He gives it to the fastest courier he can find and then departs at once for
Many days pass until our hero finally arrives at her home. He enters to find her by the windowsill crying over his letter. When she notices him, she is so
startled she drops the letter, which falls into the garden at the base of a Russian Maple tree. He advances to her and she in turn walks backwards towards the
corner. Before he can say anything she holds up her hand, from which sparkles a magnificent diamond wedding ring.
And so, faithful reader, this is how we leave our hero. Whatever you sought from this story, God grant that you at least found a grain of wit in it all. And
if not, you have no one to blame but yourself, for it was you that chose it this way. And farewell to you, Tatyana, one who tried so hard to lead Onegin to the
right decision, but in the end was unsuccessful.
As Onegin walks outside, he admits to himself that he is a little disappointed that he couldn’t have at least one dance with Tatyana. At the same time he is
thinking this, Tatyana realizes that she has foolishly allowed Symbols and Symbolism to stand in the way of love. She rushes back down the flight of stairs,
caring not what the guests think of her. She runs outside only to find that he has just left. She orders her sleigh and tells the driver to push the horses to their
limit. Onegin realizes he is being followed and stops his sleigh. It is very cold out, and the wind is biting, but he takes no notice. As she steps out of the
sleigh a part of her dress becomes snagged and down she falls. Yet instead of feeling the impact of the cold hard ground, she feels the embrace of two warm
arms. “You rescued me!” she exclaims. “I only saved you from a minor bruise,” he replies. Nonetheless, she thinks, he did help me when I needed him. It
seems a dream is just a dream, and does not hold life’s truths in it. She gives him a smile, and he smiles back.
Where does it go from here, reader? That is for you to decide. Only you won’t have my help anymore. For the story must continue in your imagination.
May you always choose the right path.
Onegin cares not to dance with anyone now that Tatyana has left. She has made it quite clear that she is not interested in him, because she abruptly left
immediately after dinner. Something inside of him snaps, a brooding unhappiness that has been festering for a long time now. He curses this countryside
and all its boredom. To the city is where he wants to return. But to leave in grand fashion would be even better. He sees his friend Lensky dancing with his
love Olga. They are so happy together, so sickeningly happy, thinks Eugene. After the monotonous waltz is finished Lensky goes to get his girl a drink.
Onegin pounces on this opportunity and asks Olga for a dance. As they dance Onegin squeezes her hand and whispers sweet nothings into her ear. She
blushes with laughter and Lensky reddens in rage. He approaches his one-time friend and slaps him in the face. Where there was once friendship, now there
will be war. Lensky challenges him to a duel, just as Onegin expected he would. One last hurrah in the old countryside before I return home! thinks Onegin,
but betrays none of this with his cold reply: “Anytime, anywhere.”
The next day Onegin finds himself out in the middle of a field, a pistol in his hand, facing Lensky thirty feet away. How did I get myself into this? he
thinks. The men count down from three, at which time they are supposed to fire. Eugene lifts his hand and pulls back the hammer. Three, two, one…
To have Onegin fire, turn to section VIII
To not have Onegin fire, turn to section IX
Lensky falls to the ground. Only one shot is fired, he has no time to reply with his pistol. As the smoke clears from the barrel of Onegin’s gun, so does
the fog that has been covering his mind. All his life he has been making the wrong decisions, and they have all culminated up to this point, when he has taken
the life of someone he cares about.
He leaves immediately for Moscow. When he unpacks and finally has a moment to sit and reflect, the tears begin to flow. He cries for his dead friend, for
what could have been with Tatyana, for his entire life. He leaves the countryside with the resolve never to return again. Could he return and beg Tatyana for
forgiveness? you might ask. No hope of that! No hope! He left the countryside a determined man, and he wants to remain true to his decision. I am not a
boy anymore, he tells himself. Once I have made a decision, I will stick with it till the end. So with each passing year, with each falling and renewing of
leaves, Onegin’s soul continues to erode away.
Is there a moral to the story? If there is one then I don’t know of it. This writer merely wanted to write a story of a man I knew a long time ago. Lately I
have been thinking about my own life, about my own decisions. Sometimes I wonder how my life would have turned out had I not made some bad choices I
now regret…but that is another story.
Onegin is the better shot of the two, and could have killed Lensky if he wanted to. But deep down below the frozen surface of his heart, he knows that what
he has done with Olga was wrong. He should immediately apologize to Lensky and beg his forgiveness. And as for Tatyana, he will run and ask for her
forgiveness as well, because…because Eugene does love her! Yes, he loves her!
And that was what Onegin was thinking when Lensky fires his shot. Down falls Onegin and the dark comes over his eyes. Onegin lies quite still in the
snow, a stream of red slowly creeping from his body. A moment earlier he was filled with inspiration. Life had flowed through his body and his heart had
begun to defrost; but now his body is again cold and there is no hope of it warming. What a pity to leave a man in such a state. But don’t worry reader, I’m
sure someone took pity on the man and gave him a decent burial. And you may view this story as his funeral dirge.