We’ve got used to movies and operas where Eugene Onegin’s Tatiana (Tatyana) is played by a woman well over twenty, or even thirty. It’s also a common habit to condemn Onegin for rejecting Tatiana’s true love. But according to Russian newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda, Onegin didn’t return Tatiana’s feelings because she was too young.
In Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin Tatiana falls in love with the Petersburg dandy Onegin and writes him an impassioned letter (famous Tatiana’s letter). When he tells her that he can offer her only friendship, she is distraught. At a ball, Onegin dances with Tatiana’s sister Olga, engaged to his best friend Lensky. The enraged Lenski challenges Onegin to a duel and is killed. Some years later at a party Onegin encounters Tatiana, who is now married. Onegin begs her to abandon her husband and become his lover, but she, in her turn, rejects him.
Tatiana Could Be Thirteen
Pushkin is always very precise in his characters’ ages. According to Pushkin’s descriptions, Onegin, when he first met Tatiana, was 26, and Lensky was 18. But how old was Eugene Onegin’s Tatiana?
Pushkin doesn’t indicate directly how old Tatiana Larina was, but Russian sexologist A.Kotrovsky and columnist E.Tchernych consider some of Pushkin’s remarks as an evidence that she could be only thirteen:
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.
In Chapter Three of Eugene Onegin Tatiana asks her nyanya (nanny) if she was in love in her age, and gets the answer:
“What nonsense, Tanya! In those other
ages we’d never heard of love:
why, at the thought, my husband’s mother
had chased me to the world above.”
”How did you come to marry, nyanya?”
“I reckon, by God’s will. My Vanya
was younger still, but at that stage
I was just THIRTEEN YEARS OF AGE.”
Then, in famous Chapter Four, Pushkin says:
To listen to the same tedious objections,
Do battle with rooted convictions,
Such as never were and never have been
Even in a young girl WHO’S JUST THIRTEEN!
Onegin, aged 26, was deeply touched by Tatiana’s letter, but, according to Pushkin, “had no wish to betray a soul so innocent, so trusting.”
So he told Tatiana:
“You’ll love again, but you must teach
your heart some self-restraint; for each
and every man won’t understand it
as I have… learn from my belief
that inexperience leads to grief.”
His nice attitude has got Pushkin’s approval:
“Agree, the way Eugene proceeded
with our poor girl was kind and good…”