He’d still be sleeping on occasion,
When served by servants with the post.
“Hallo? What’s this? Some invitation?
Not one, but three would be my host?
Let’s see – some ball, some children’s party…”
Where will be dash, my dashing hearty?
Where to begin? It’s all the same –
He’ll make all three! Life’s such a game!
1:15 (Douglas Hofstadter)
As Onegin transitions from introduction to action, we see our dashing fop entertaining a set of invitations. The above passage carries with it at least four lessons.
First, Onegin is popular. His attendance is valued. Whether it is his status or what he himself lends to an evening, we do not know. What seems clear, however, is that Onegin is not at risk of being bored.
Second, when such does boredom hit, Eugene may not handle it well. We’ve already learned that he’s a womanizer. This is not an error, He is not a romantic, there is something far more calculated at play. Eugene “softens” women as he calculates ways to “make the guileless marvel” (1:11, Mitchell). Eugene is also a gossip (1:12). In short, Eugene, when bored, creates his own entertainment… often at the expense of others.
Third, Onegin sees little value in choosing between options. When facing a fork in the road, he simply answers Yes. For parties, this may be fine, though how many of us have gone to one too many tourist stops on a trip only to realize that the memories conflate into one? How much substance did Onegin derive from any one of his many nightly stops (or lovers, or…)?
Finally, Onegin cares little for the need to choose, for he sees life, as Hofstadter translates it, as simply a game. We see this now, and we will see this many times as the story progresses. Life and love are just a game, until each is not, but therein lies the tale.
The other significant character in this section of Onegin is, in what is an early example of a product placement we might today take for granted, Eugene’s trusted Bréguet. [accent]
Its chime interrupts his tour of the boulevard (1:15) and tells him when it is time to attend the ballet (1:17). I would contend that there is a larger theme here as well.
Onegin’s tale will often be affected by his ability to know when to engage or disengage. With Bréguet at his side (or in his pocket one might imagine), Onegin is rarely late (… r than he may otherwise have been). But what of when timing is left to Eugene alone?
Throughout Onegin, the title character will be at times early and quite often late. He will fail to arrive when needed, he will fail to disengage before consequences force him to. What begins as a timepiece shall end in a bullet, and still Onegin will wander.
This section closes with Eugene’s arrival at the ballet. Contrast the way he tramples feet with the champagne ‘pop’ which accompanied his arrival at dinner. Is Onegin celebrated for his attendance or is it a disturbance to others? Yes.
Before this art, this splendid beauty, Eugene is disappointed by others who surround him. Mitchell writes, “At boxes, at the tiers he gazes; with all the finery and the faces he’s dreadfully dissatisfied” (1:21). This dissatisfaction with those allowed to cohabitate his world – and he resents their ‘stamping, coughing, hissing,’ etc (1:22) – is nothing that will wear off soon.
Onegin is entertaining so long as he feels entertained. Once bored, it’s manipulation, gossip, and untimely interruption, as we are surely bound to see.