Monday, September 15, 2014

Pushkin's Onegin: Tatiana's age

It's been a few years since I read Pushkin's Eugene Onegin but I saw an article today that has me wanting to revisit it again soon. This may be nothing new to many, but I wanted to pass it on.

Onegin’s Tatiana Was Only Thirteen? points out the references to Tatiana's maid's age in reference to her own. Also telling is Pushkin's choice of words:
Pushkin uses the word otrokovitsa. This hard-to-pronounce Russian word is usually translated as maiden but in Pushkin’s time otrok (male) and otrokovitsa (female) referred to children from 7 to 15 years old.

The conclusion that she *could* have been only thirteen seems to be consistent with my memory of Eugene's on-again/off-again conscience and not wanting to betray her innocence. It is possible for a "superfluous man" to do the right thing, even with (or because of) Pushkin's irony.

My concern with this supposition, though, comes from the consistency with Russian societal norms of the time. Would girls of thirteen been allowed to dance with men (as she does on her name-day party)? But then for a work that examines art vs. real life, how much stock should you put in what was common at the time? Like I said, I'll need to revisit this soon. I'm interested to hear from others on Onegin's rejection.


Jean said...

I thought she was about 15-17 at the beginning. 13 seems awfully young, what with the dancing and the fact that she is married by the end.

Dwight said...

That's the age range I thought, too. And 15 would still fit into the range of otrokovitsa.

I've forgotten when Tatiana married, though. Is it immediately after Onegin's rejection? If so then I would think she would be older than 13. All I remember is that Onegin didn't see her for several years, so if the wedding date is not specified then it could have been any time between the rejection and their meeting several years later.

Jean said...

I think several years pass, and by the time they meet she's been married for a couple of them. So, say 5 years, if she was 15 she would have been married at 18, which would make sense. Older works, but not a lot younger. I don't know how many Russian girls of goodish-but-countrified family would have gotten married before 18. It's also hard for me to imagine that it's been much longer than 5 years, but who knows.

When I read it early this year, I thought she was about 15. She's had time to read a lot of romantic novels, but she's a little on the old side for her very first crush and it hits her hard. Never having heard of crushes, she believes that this is True Love. That sounds *so* 15 to me.

I should ask my Russian SIL, I bet she'd have an opinion.

Jean said...

Yep, she did! She says that Pushkin said in a letter to a friend that Tatiana is 17, and so does a great Pushkin scholar named Lotman. The letter seems to clinch it for me.

Dwight said...

Thanks so much for following up on this! I find it strange, though, that Pushkin had a deliberate age in mind but didn't include it in the story since he deliberately mentions several other ages.

The maid went through the same thing Tatyana is going through but 4 years younger. I wonder if Pushkin was making a point about the peasants having to grow up faster.

Jean said...

I would not be at all surprised to find that Russian peasant girls married younger.