One of the best examples in literature of a person learning and growing from a broken heart is that of Tatyana in Eugene Onegin. The novel is verse is also one of the most beautiful. The process of Tatyana’s maturation from innocence to experience in Pushkin’s novel can be viewed in direct correlation to the ways in which she progresses her thoughts and actions about her relationship with Eugene Onegin as she ages.
Tanya is introduced as a young girl by the narrator to begin the vision of her life in the novel. Immediately the reader is given an image of the girl as a shy and innocent child who spends her days at the country home where she’s growing up, dreamily reading romance novels. Tanya is not unlike most other little girls in that she is waiting for that special someone to come along in her own life to sweep her off of her feet. When Onegin is introduced to the Larin family and prying neighbors mention to the girl that she has found her match with him, it comes as no surprise that she takes the opportunity to target Onegin as her object of affection. The combination of Tanya’s innocent, dreamy personality, the influence of others, and the romance novels she reads religiously are enough to contribute to her conjuring up illusions of true love similar to those found in fairy tales. Pushkin describes the effects of outside influences and Tanya’s thought processes.
“she listened, the thought was planted…
Until at last her fate was granted:
She fell in love. For thus indeed
Does spring awake the buried seed”
The girl becomes convinced that she is in love after one meeting due to fate. She reads unrealistic novels imagining herself as the heroine and Eugene as the hero. Without knowing a single aspect of his true personality traits, she convinces herself that Onegin is a perfect man. Pushkin describes her fantasies of Eugene as a man with, “a tender soul, manly grace, the ever dauntless hero, prepared to die for the good of love.’ An older person would realize that such a person could never exist, but Tanya has an idealized version of a man in her mind and is naively creating him in Onegin’s image. There is no doubt that Tanya believes in her feelings for Eugene regardless of whether or not she has caused herself to see him as something he cannot be.
The strong emotions Tanya feels for Eugene are eventually too strong for mere words. The girl shows signs of growing older and more passionate with her dreams and seemingly awakening sexuality. Although the author does not discuss Tanya’s budding sexuality outright, perhaps due to censorship, the atmosphere of Tanya’s dream is filled with orgasmic hints. The narrator describes a scene that can be viewed as extremely sexual, as if Tanya’s desires are controlling her,
“The ache of love pursues Tatyana;
She takes a garden path and sighs,
A sudden faintness comes upon her,
She can’t go on, she shuts her eyes;
Her bosom heaves, her cheeks are burning,
Scarce-breathing lips grow still with yearning”
The words ache, faint, heave, burning, breathing, and yearning, all imply a sexual desire and make Tanya even more curious about experiencing a relationship first-hand. The state of being in love opens her to the susceptibility of mature behaviors such as seductivity and tenderness which is indicated by her dream. More obviously though, are the charms which young girls, especially virgins are able to use with men. The narrator disrespects young girls who use their virginity as a temptation or a tool to keep men around and pining after them. He acknowledges that Tanya; despite her pure qualities, is more ‘tainted’, because of her ability to unknowingly tempt as her sexuality grows. As Tanya becomes more aware of her own desires so too does she create within herself a need for intimacy with Onegin.
Perhaps the most assured way for Tanya to create a meeting and establish the connection she desires is to write the letter she drafts. In making this bold move, Tatyana shows the maturity of a young girl willing seize control of her own destiny and risk humiliation in a patriarchal society where men dictate the status of relationships. At the same time, opening herself up to allow Onegin the possibility of breaking her heart by giving him all control shows her lingering child-like qualities. Tanya’s innocent way of telling Onegin that he is her only option and saying that another will never suffice proves that she has not lived to see people take advantage of her. While turning down her pleas in a condescending manner, Onegin warns that he might have taken advantage, had he not cared for her and pitied her innocence. A love that Tatyana thought would come true like a fairytale did not exist as she expected.
As the young girl realizes her dreams have all been merely illusions, she becomes depressed. The narrator sees an ill-fated creature whose, ‘youth glimmers darkly, fading quickly she’s pale and wasted, doesn’t speak’. Without knowing that Tanya has not aged, the reader might assume that the character being described were an old lady on her deathbed. In a way, Onegin has killed Tanya’s innocence and possibility for happiness with his talk of her inability to please him, despite his love for her. If she will live, she must live knowing life and people are not what she thought they could be.
As a younger girl Tatyana had learned the stories of her own mother and nurse not finding the true love they had sought in marriage. Eventually, these women learned that duty and tradition were just as important as personal happiness and found contentment. Could Tanya someday understand their reasoning? She learned that she must attempt to conceal her emotions for Onegin when he arrived at her name day celebration. It was clear from her trembling in his presence that she had not mastered her technique. Later that night, Tanya’s taunting dream where Onegin controls her and will lead her to death(metaphorically speaking) if she does not stop him, finally allows her to see that she must be the change she wishes to see in herself. Traveling to Moscow signifies a new start for Tatyana.
In Moscow, Tanya is able to finally learn the lesson taught her by Eugene: she is more cautious and does not share her secret passions with others. After meeting and marrying her husband, she becomes a lady who is admired by all and truly loved. When Onegin returns and wishes to rekindle the flame he left lingering in her heart so long ago she is truly able to deny him contentedly, ‘calm and free.’ She is able to remain so calm due to the level of maturity and freedom she has gained in the life she leads in his absence. In fact, Tatyana recalls the day Onegin broke her heart and thanks him for acting ‘nobly.’ She has finally realized that her feelings for him long ago may have been exaggerated. She is grateful to him for having taught her how to feel true love, sorrow, and forgiveness. Now, he has taught her how to sacrifice. In putting others before herself and realizing the illusionary quality of her own emotions for Onegin, Tatyana comes full circle.