Nearing the end of Onegin’s first Canto, Pushkin makes clear that he will gladly take every opportunity to show that his protagonist is indeed different from the author himself. But why such urgency? Why was this such a constant fight?
The struggle for a writer to show that his characters are neither himself nor those around him is real. I am *spoiler* neither of my protagonists. Still, my first book was seen as a confession. The protagonist of my second book is, if anything, written after an acquaintance of mine. Still, the pressure to ‘own’ the parts of me that are in my protagonists almost makes me disavow them completely.
The conflict for Pushkin to disentangle himself from Onegin is somewhat even more difficult. First, Eugene seems so much like what many felt Pushkin to be. He is aristocratic, smarter than his neighbor and all around aloof. Who would want to be known by these characteristics? But there’s more, for it’s possible that the conflict in these lines comes not from who Pushkin did not resemble, but from a bit of who he may have.
Hero the Second in Onegin is, of course, a man called Lensky. Young Vladimir is a romantic, a poet filled with so much pride that he would eventually challenge a man to a duel over a perceived slight…. Wait. Stop me if you’ve heard this somewhere else.
What if Pushkin was intent on disassociating himself from Onegin because he is actually far more like Lensky? How might this have affected the writer when his novel gained fame for the character whom Pushkin did not resemble? What must it have been like to have written that other character’s end?
In retrospect, and for all we do not know, Pushkin was very much alive when he penned Lensky’s fall, the stuff of Pushkin writing the scene he was destined to live out is the stuff of Patroclus. In this light, Onegin slaying his other self with words Lensky himself could have written is little different than Achilles standing to the side watching the man who had fought his enemy whist dressed like him burning upon a pyre.
I am not he, Pushkin urges from the opening of Onegin. We believe you, Alexander. As for Lensky…. Sadly Pushkin was too busy pacing out an identical trajectory to ever offer comment on this tantalizing theory.