I’m very thrilled to return to sing Tatyana from Tchaikovski’s “Evgenii Onegin”, so I’d like to share with you some thoughts on this particular character from the Pushkin’s novel what is also called “the encyclopedia of Russian life”. Tatyana Larina is 17 years old and is the Pushkin’s beloved character, he wrote “Я так люблю/ Татьяну милую мою” (I love so much, my dear Tatyana). She’s a unique character within the Russian literature of that time (1825). She’s closely related to the nature, Russian landscapes, provincial life, the peasantry. Coming from a not very wealthy aristocratic family, she’s described as a simple, but confident girl, with a vivid imagination, clever intelligence, strong will, and a sweet and fervent heart. Pushkin has put part of his own soul into his heroine, her childhood is very close to the one of the poet himself:
«Дика, печальна, молчалива,
Как лань лесная боязлива,
Она в семье своей родной
Казалась девочкой чужой.
Она ласкаться не умела
К отцу, ни к матери своей;
Дитя сама, в толпе детей
Играть и прыгать не хотела
И часто целый день одна
Сидела молча у окна.»
« Shy as a savage, silent, tearful,
wild as a forest deer, and fearful,
Tatyana had a changeling look
in her own home. She never took
to kissing or caressing father
or mother; and in all the play
of children, though as young as they,
she never joined, or skipped, but rather
in silence all day she’d remain
ensconced beside the window-pane.”
Pushkin had a beloved nanny called Arina Rodionovna, so he “offered” to his beloved character – Tatyana a nanny. The dialog of Tatyana and her nanny is probably my beloved part of the whole opera. She is the first character to whom she talks about her feelings for Evgenii Onegin, even before writing her famous letter to him.
“- Как недогадлива ты, няня! –
“Сердечный друг, уж я стара,
Стара; тупеет разум, Таня;
А то, бывало, я востра,
Бывало, слово барской воли…”
– Ах, няня, няня! до того ли?
Что нужды мне в твоем уме?
Ты видишь, дело о письме
К Онегину. – “Ну, дело, дело.
Не гневайся, душа моя,
Ты знаешь, непонятна я…
Да что ж ты снова побледнела?”
– Так, няня, право ничего.
Пошли же внука своего.”
“How slow you are at guessing, nyanya!”
“My sweet, my dearest heart, I’m old,
I’m old, my mind is blunted, Tanya;
times were when I was sharp and bold:
times were, when master’s least suggestion…”
“Oh nyanya, nyanya, I don’t question…
what have your wits to do with me?
Now here’s a letter, as you see,
addressed to Onegin”… …’Well, that’s easy.
But don’t be cross, my darling friend,
you know I’m hard to comprehend…
Why have you gone all pale and queasy?”
“It’s nothing, nurse, nothing, I say…
just send your grandson on his way.”
Tatyana is Pushkin’s ideal woman and character. Not Onegin with his cold skepticism, not Lenski with his enthusiastic idealism, but a simple Russian girl with her great feeling of love – will become his muse. At the end she has also become the ideal that Pushkin’s reader aimed to reach. For many years Pushkin contemporaries were searching who inspired the great character to the famous poet, but we know for sure that Tatyana Larina is a literature character, all the best about Russian women in general and Pushkin’s ideal woman. The poet’s irony about Onegin, Lenski and even himself never touches Tatyana. He admires, loves and protects her, suffers with her, but never ironizes on her.
So Tatyana meets Onegin and feels a sister soul in him, so the timid girl takes her courage to write him a letter, in French :
« Письмо Татьяны предо мною;
Его я свято берегу,
Читаю с тайною тоскою
И начитаться не могу.
Кто ей внушал и эту нежность,
И слов любезную небрежность?
Кто ей внушал умильный вздор,
Безумный сердца разговор,
И увлекательный и вредный?
Я не могу понять. Но вот
Неполный, слабый перевод
С живой картины список бледный
Или разыгранный Фрейшиц
Перстами робких учениц:»
“Tatyana’s letter, treasured ever
as sacred, lies before me still.
I read with secret pain, and never
can read enough to get my fill.
Who taught her an address so tender,
such careless language of surrender?
Who taught her all this mad, slapdash,
heartfelt, imploring, touching trash
fraught with enticement and disaster?
It baffles me. But I’ll repeat
here a weak version, incomplete,
pale transcript of a vivid master,
or Freischütz as it might be played
by nervous hands of a schoolmaid”
Tatyana writes to Onegin in French, as a reader of French books it was not unusual in old Russia to write to each other in French. Pushkin will take some time to write Onegin’s answer to this letter, thus keeping the reader intrigued, what will happen to Onegin: will he marry Tatyana?