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Onegin, Pushkin and Shlonsky - Impressions and Expressions of Ijon
August 18th, 2001
01:58 am

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Onegin, Pushkin and Shlonsky
I happened to find an opportunity to watch the movie Onegin -- an American production based on Pushkin's novel-in-verse, Evgeny Onegin, starring Ralph Fiennes and Liv Tyler. Period costumes, appropriate landscapes, and a good atmosphere make the movie an aesthetically pleasing experience. My enjoyment was somewhat marred by mediocre acting on the part of Fiennes. Tyler and Toby Stevens, who played Lensky, were quite good. Incidentally, the movie appears to be a Fiennes family production: there are no less than four people named Fiennes appearing in the credits. Quaint.

Following the movie, I got a hankering for the original. Not yet armed with Russian, unfortunately, I turned to my volume of Pushkin translations, by Avraham Shlonsky. Shlonsky (1900-1973) was a Hebrew poet and literary translator. His other translations include Shakespeare's Hamlet and King Lear, Gogol's Revizor and Marriage, and many other works, mostly from Russian, Yiddish, and French.

Shlonsky's Evgeny Onegin is rhymed and metered, and preserves Pushkin's stanzas. The Hebrew is marvelously versatile, and yet accessible, despite the sixty-five years that have passed since the translation was made. A valuable benefit of Shlonsky's translation (which, I suspect, is the only complete translation of Evgeny Onegin into Hebrew) is the extensive annotations appendix added to the volume (which also includes Boris Godunov, Mozart and Salieri, Russalka, and others). Shlonsky is meticulous to the point of excess, and sheds light not only on terms and references the Hebrew reader (of the 1930s, not to mention a 2001 reader) is unlikely to grasp on his own, but bothers to mention lines Pushkin included in earlier drafts, and annotates those lines as well. Despite the wealth of information, a careful reader can read the nimble text comfortably, and look up the annotations after each canto or each stanza, as suits him.

For instance, in the very first stanza, Shlonsky explains that the adjective used to describe Evgeny's uncle alludes to Ivan Krilov's proverb and a certain phrase about a donkey. He proceeds to suggest that the allusion not only hints at Evgeny's opinion of his uncle, but to the general generation gap that was prevalent in all aspects of thought and deed of the time. This is the sort of thing I would never have been able to figure out for myself reading that innocent phrase.

Three cheers for Shlonsky and for heroic translations. One day, I hope to be the subject of a similar toast.

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Current Music: Suzanne Vega - Solitude Standing

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