A Tribute to 1820s and 1830s Fiction, Including ‘Eugene Onegin’

From the cover of the Eugene Onegin edition I read.

When we look at literature from the first half of the 19th century, the 1810s and the 1840s first come to mind.

The 1810s of course saw the publication of all six classic Jane Austen novels, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and well-known Sir Walter Scott works such as Rob Roy and Ivanhoe (the latter released in very late 1819), to name nine memorable books. The 1840s offered a bonanza of famous novels such as those by the Bronte sisters (including Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights), Charles Dickens (including David Copperfield and A Christmas Carol), Alexandre Dumas (including The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers), Nikolai Gogol (Dead Souls), William Thackeray (Vanity Fair), and Herman Melville (Typee, etc.).

The in-between 1820s and 1830s stand out less in the fiction realm, but it was still an important literary time — partly a transition period, perhaps, as novels became a more and more prominent genre.

Among the great books of those two decades were Sir Walter Scott’s Quentin Durward (1823), Mary Shelley’s The Last Man (1826), James Fenimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans (also 1826), Stendhal’s The Red and the Black (1830) and The Charterhouse of Parma (1839), Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1831), George Sand’s Lelia (1833), Honore de Balzac’s Eugenie Grandet (also 1833) and Old Goriot (1835), Charles Dickens’ The Pickwick Papers, Oliver Twist, and Nicholas Nickleby (spanning 1836 to 1839), and Edgar Allan Poe’s only finished novel The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket (1838).

But today I want to focus the most on Eugene Onegin, which I read last week. Alexander Pushkin’s novel in verse was serialized from 1825 to 1832 and released as a book in 1833. The story is compelling — the rich/bored/cynical title character, a fateful duel, and two people enamored with each other but not at the same time. Still, what impressed me even more was the writing itself: absolutely magnificent poetry that ranges from witty to dead serious, with narration from a very interesting perspective. It’s no surprise that Eugene Onegin and Pushkin had quite an influence on subsequent 19th-century Russian literature — and we all know how amazing THAT turned out to be…with works by Gogol, Turgenev, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Chekhov, etc.

One last note: While I’m no expert on translation, I was super-impressed with the job James E. Falen did turning Eugene Onegin‘s wonderful writing from Russian to English in the edition I read. Falen managed to maintain Pushkin’s vivid, clever, wonderful rhymes in a way I can only describe as…wow!

Your favorite 1820s or 1830s novels? Anything else you’d like to discuss relating to this week’s theme?

My literary-trivia book is described and can be purchased here: Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.

In addition to this weekly blog, I write the 2003-started/award-winning “Montclairvoyant” local topical-humor column for Baristanet.com. The latest weekly piece — about everything from teacher layoffs to the planned reopening of a movie theater — is here.

73 thoughts on “A Tribute to 1820s and 1830s Fiction, Including ‘Eugene Onegin’

  1. James Hogg wrote “The Three Perils of Man” in 1822, so his strange novel (featuring, among other characters, a man named Sir Walter Scott, but is not the Sir Walter Scott, who was also very much acquainted with the author, a fellow Scot, to the point that Hogg later wrote a biography of his contemporary Scot Scott) would qualify for inclusion under the week’s topic heading. The setting for the novel is 14th century Scotland, and its plot involves castle defense, women disguising themselves as men, future-telling, fiends and wizardry. At the novel’s close, Sir Walter Scott captures the castle in question by disguising his forces as cattle. I own the book, and have read bits, but found the going hard.

    But I will forever be grateful to Mr. Hogg, as publisher of Thomas De Quincey, whose most famous book, “The Confessions of an English Opium Eater”, also came out in the period: 1821. Though an American edition of his collected works appeared first– 1851– it was the Hogg publication which De Quincey edited and revised. I would recommend not the Confession, at least not first, but rather “The English Mail Coach” (1849), a long piece of fantastic rhetorical power which shows the free-ranging intellect of the author,and affords modern readers, among other pleasures, a portrait of England in transition, in the period of the Napoleonic wars, before trains had cut their way through to the smallest English towns, and the mail coach was literally the fastest purveyor of the latest news.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, jhNY!

      “The Three Perils of Man” sounds like a rather odd/offbeat novel, and I love that it has a Sir Walter Scott character who is not THE Sir Walter Scott even as the author knew Sir Walter Scott. 🙂

      And “The English Mail Coach” sounds like it really captures a pre-industrial period of time.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Reading up on the publication history in wikipedia of De Quincy’s collected works yesterday, I was pleased to learn that not Hogg’s, but the American edition, came out first. Boston publisher, Ticknor and Fields, proposed such a publication, but the procrastinating De Quincey had not responded to several letters on interest. Ticknor and Fields then took it upon itself to make a good effort at collecting up and reprinting the author’s periodical-printed works, making the American publication the literal first edition of collected works– and I own 4 volumes (out of an eventual 22), printed in 1851!

        Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you jhNY for this excellent comment. I found both “The Confessions of an English Opium Eater” and “The English Mail Coach” on Gutenberg Press. I have never heard of Mr. Hogg or Thomas De Quincey.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Happy to please!

        As you can see from my comment above, De Quincey is a personal favorite, perhaps my personal favorite of all I’ve read who were active essayists in the period. His “On Murder: Considered as One of the Fine Arts” is an early and irreverent take on the modern fascination with violent crime, taken to point of organized absurdity. If you haven’t gotten your fill of the man after reading the two pieces I cited above, I recommend this one.

        But if you don’t know him, I’d like to recommend another: William Hazlitt. “Man Is a Frog-Eating Animal”, “The Fight”, “My First Acquaintance With Poets” are each, I think, worth your time. One of my favorite quotes is his: “There is nothing truly contemptible, save that which tacks and veers relentlessly before the breath of power.” He wrote that in reference to a particular periodical, but I find it applies to most journalism in most big outlets most of the time.

        Charles Lamb (aka Elias) and Samuel Taylor Coleridge were also busy, in essay form, around the same time– and Hazlitt and Lamb were friends. De Quincey and Hazlitt each knew Coleridge– and each wrote about their acquaintance with the English poets of their day.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. OMG! I have read a lot of these books! Most actually, when I was teens/early 20’s.
    Although I have never read Eugene Onegin.
    Dave, I don’t know if one can read all of the amazing books ever written in one lifetime, but you are sure making a good stab at it.
    What can I add? You’ve covered most of what I know of.
    The gowns… of course are gorgeous, but the corsets…. not!
    Not that this post is about gowns, but I like to put in a good word for gowns whenever I can! 😉🙃

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Resa! 🙂

      First of all — what a coincidence; I literally just finished Joy Fielding’s “Grand Avenue” about five minutes before seeing your comment. A terrific novel, which I’ll include in my next blog post (this Sunday) in some way. I’m VERY glad you recommended it.

      Great that you read many of the books mentioned in the post! I do read a lot, but many of the novels I discuss in various posts were read years ago. So it might seem like I read more than I do.

      I enjoyed the end of your comment! 🙂 Yes, early-1800s fashion was both interesting and uncomfortable. And at times sort of like extra “characters” in novels of that era. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

      • OBOY!!!
        I adore this kind of coincidence.
        I’m so excited that you read Grand Avenue, and that you are GLAD about it.
        I’ll be by on Sunday!
        Hahaha! Yes, sometimes the gowns are extra characters. I’m guilty of missing what a movie is all about when the costumes are amazing…especially gowns!
        I watch classic movies a notable amount.
        There is usually a credit for “Famous Movie Star Name’s Gowns Designed by:”.
        I just love that! (Rita Hayworth, Ava Gardener, Bette Davis, etc.) 😀 😀

        Liked by 2 people

        • Yes, quite a coincidence and quite a novel. 🙂 Three-dimensional characters, various dramatic moments, lots of heartache, the works.

          I can see how the clothing in certain classic movies could be distracting, especially for a (talented) clothing designer such as yourself!

          Liked by 1 person

    • Given your interest in costume, perhaps you would enjoy “Corsets and Crinolines” by Norah Waugh, published in GB in 1954 by BT Batsford Ltd.

      Foundational!

      It is refreshingly myopic in its focus, and covers the 15th century to 1925.

      Its thesis is in the preface: “One of the most interesting of the history of the costume of Western Europe is the continuous evolution of the silhouette.”

      Liked by 3 people

  3. I actually have read that novel by Poe – as it is included in my “complete works of Edgar Allan Poe” collector volume 🙂 🙂 He’s one of my favorite authors. And while I have not read Eugene Onegin, I did read a historical fiction novel about the life of Alexander Pushkin a few years ago. It was called “the Lost Season of Love and Snow” and told from the point of view of his wife. It was a very interesting novel that left me wanting to read more of his works! Which I will do at some point 🙂 🙂 You might enjoy that novel if you find a copy of it laying around somewhere! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, M.B.! Poe’s “The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket” is probably more a good than a great novel, but it’s certainly compelling and at times quite bizarre. Poe’s short stories and poems, of course, comprise most of the reason why he is indeed such a great writer.

      “The Lost Season of Love and Snow” does sound very interesting!

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Hi Dave, this is a super post with a list of lovely books, many of which I have read. The books written in the 1920s that I have read and can think of are Lady Chatterley’s Lover, The Great Gatsby [this was a buddy read with my son], Winnie the Pooh, and A passage to India. All great books.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Robbie! 🙂

      The 1920s were indeed terrific years for literature! I took “A Passage to India” out of the library earlier this month and hope to get to it soon. I’ve never read E.M. Forster before.

      And reading “The Great Gatsby” with your son must have been a wonderful experience!

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Having read only portions of each, and not the whole of either, despite good intentions, I did notice there was something about the range and ease and wit of Byron’s epic,”Don Juan”, and the range and ease and wit of Pushkin’s “Eugene Onegin”. I would be surprised if Pushkin had not read the Byron poem before embarking on his own.

    In any event, you have inspired me to go at “Onegin” again– I’ve got 3 different translations, including the Nabokov which runs to several volumes and looks bristly and forbidding, as is often the case when the notes run longer than the text. Given your enjoyment, I wish I had the Falen.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, jhNY!

      There does seem to be some connection between “Don Juan” and “Eugene Onegin.” So much literature has been influenced by previous literature, with the later works often having their own original stamp, of course.

      I’ve heard that the Nabokov translation of “EO” is forbidding indeed. Sorry you don’t have the Falen one, which seems to be almost universally admired.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Of course, now that I’ve hauled one of my translations (by Oliver Elton,published by The Pushkin Press in London, 1937), out for a look, my earlier thought on Byron and Pushkin seems equivalent to saying ‘water is wet.’ During his period of exile in the Caucasus, “under the impact of that tremendous scenery, Pushkin read Byron.”

        But at least according to Desmond MacCarthy in the foreword, who I also quoted above, “It was not the lurid pessimism of the Byronic pose that influenced that generation on the continent so much as the infection they caught form such an example of reckless independence.” And it seems more or less accepted that, beyond the freedom of expression in each, the greatest similarity between the two poems lies in the inclusion of biographical touches out of the private lives of their authors.

        I wish I had the Falen too, but the one I do have has a few nice illustrations throughout, by MV Dobujinsky, and a few pages of notes at its end. The Nabokov , which I have yet to crack, appears to be notes , notes, notes, and a little poem.

        Liked by 2 people

        • Ah, “the smoking gun.” 🙂 (Which of course has a double meaning re the “Eugene Onegin” plot.)

          And, yes, “EO” does seem to have quite a lot of semi-autobiographical elements.

          Good illustrations are always a bonus!

          Nabokov? The words “cold” and “insufferable” come to mind with that guy, though he of course was a brilliant writer in some ways.

          Liked by 1 person

          • When your obsession is beautifully winged creatures transfixed by a pin of your own pushing, your thought and your prose might contain more than a bit of that piercing impulse.

            An old pal just moved back to the mainland after several years in HI. When I looked up her present abode, Ashland Oregon, I discovered that among its few claims to fame is that one summer Nabokov and his wife caught butterflies there.

            I’ll probably get to his EO only after I’ve read the poem through, if for no better reason than to be prepared by way of having my own notions before considering his.

            Liked by 2 people

              • I have to amend my previous plan. Having read the first few pages of each of my 3 translations, I’m now going with the old butterfly-sticker, with occasional reference to my 1937 Elton. My other translation, though it is the most recent, I will do the author the favor of not specifically mentioning, as it seems woefully inferior.

                I’d love to think I will be so inspired by whatever I see in Pushkin by way of Nabokov that I will take up the three volumes of his that are not the translation of the poem itself, or that I will enjoy the poem so thoroughly that I will seek out the Falen after.

                I suspect, given my lazy ways, I will be content to get through the poem as Nabokov has it.

                Liked by 2 people

                • Whatever works for you, jhNY! Nabokov was obviously a VERY smart man, though I have mixed feelings about the only two books of his I’ve read: “Lolita” (that queasy relationship with a girl) and “Pale Fire” (brilliant but lacking warmth).

                  Liked by 1 person

          • Given that Lermontov wrote “A Hero For Our Time” as an homage to EO, and was similarly duel-stricken, if you haven’t, you might want to seek it out. I’ve read it twice, and it would be worth a third go-round, were it not for my ever-daunting, ever-growing TBR pile(s).

            Nabokov and son Dmitri, among other things, a race car driver, also made a translation of this work, though I’ve never had the pleasure….

            Liked by 2 people

  6. You might enjoy Pushkin’s Tatiana by Olga Hasty which has been on my TBR list for quite some time. Great post. Das vedanya, Susi
    *comical aside re: translations: my spell checker corrected me so das veranda, Dave. ha!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Susi! 🙂

      “Pushkin’s Tatiana” sounds like fascinating novel about a fascinating character who I found more interesting than Onegin himself in Pushkin’s verse novel.

      I’ve read one other Pushkin work — his prose novel “The Captain’s Daughter,” which was pretty good but I thought “Eugene Onegin” was quite a bit better.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Very interesting piece this week as it highlights a couple of things. 1 – my reading from this period is solely confined to the popular works that you’ve mentioned. Notably Austen and Shelley. I have however, taken away a couple of titles of interest – The Fall of Pompeii mentioned by Shehanne and The Black Spider mentioned by Martina. 2 – it wasn’t until fairly recently (and I mean in the past 3 or 4 weeks) that I became aware of the status of the novel at the end of the 17th Century. I had no idea it was considered such a lowly form and it was only when I was watching a programme about Jane Austen that I found this out! I followed this up by reading Northanger Abbey and there’s so much reference made to this. Interestingly it’s the women who seem to be promoting the novel format. One author I’ve marked ‘to read’ is Fanny Burney, although it’s only her final book ‘The Wanderer’ that just makes it into your time frame here. And, no surprises, apparently it’s a gothic novel!

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you, Sarah, for your great comment covering many bases!

      Glad the wonderful comments here sparked some reading possibilities. They did for me, too. 🙂

      You’re absolutely right that the novel generally wasn’t held in high esteem until the 19th century. Poetry — including epic poetry — was certainly more admired. One of the reasons, I think, that Sir Walter Scott published a number of his early-1800s novels anonymously when he wrote them after achieving renown as a poet.

      I’ve read one Fanny Burney novel — “Evelina” — and liked it a LOT. Her work was definitely an influence on Jane Austen, and Burney’s life was a long and fascinating one.

      Liked by 3 people

      • I’ve just noticed an error in my comment – I meant end of the 18th Century and not 17th of course…There was certainly a dearth of novels around that time and I’m glad that Miss Austen and Miss Shelley stuck to their guns (no doubt quite delicate and ornate ones) and persevered with their novels.
        I wasn’t aware that Walter Scott published anonymously. I’m now looking guiltily at my half read copy of ‘The Pirate’ that’s sitting in front of me. It’s a very nice hardback edition as well. I can see why epic poetry might be perceived as the more admired form, although we miss out on all the wonderful nuances of the characters surely! I suppose that’s the whole point – the poetry tells tales of heroes and heroines and they don’t have faults!!
        I’ve heard that ‘Evelina’ is probably the best regarded of Burney’s books. It’s definitely moving higher up my reading list!
        Thanks for bringing this very overlooked part of the century to our attention!

        Liked by 2 people

  8. I am delighted that you read the Falen translation of Eugene Onegin. Wasn’t it fabulous!? Elisabeth’s guidance throughout Don and my reading added so much to ou enjoyment and understanding. This was my first foray into Russian Literature and Elisabeth was there every step of the way. I love how she started out on her first post: “I’m challenging you! Not to a duel, no, although it does involve one…”. How could I resist. I didn’t even know that Eugene Onegin was a novel in verse form or that Alexander Pushkin had a short, and very event life. Can you imagine that he started Eugene Onegin when he was 24 and finished it by 31. You capture the essence of the narrative with these words: “Still, what impressed me even more was the writing itself: absolutely magnificent poetry that ranges from witty to dead serious, with narration from an interesting perspective.”

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you, Rebecca! The translation was fabulous indeed! I was constantly astonished at how wonderful the rhymes were in English after being translated from the Russian. Must have been extremely challenging for the translator.

      I can imagine how pleasurable it was for you and Don (and others) to read “Eugene Onegin” with Elisabeth’s guidance. Yes, “I’m challenging you! Not to a duel, no, although it does involve one…” was a terrific couple of sentences from Elisabeth!

      And I agree that it’s astounding how good and mature a work “EO” is considering Pushkin’s young age when he wrote it.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. You’ve mentioned some of the greatest literature ever written, Dave! And I agree that the Falen translation is WOW, as well as Elisabeth’s group reading. I followed along with her recommended YouTube series reading and thoroughly enjoyed a novel I may have never read otherwise.

    Liked by 5 people

    • Thank you, Mary Jo! 🙂

      I agree — that Falen translation is absolutely extraordinary.

      While I read each installment of Elisabeth’s wonderful “Eugene Onegin” blog posts as she published them, I wasn’t also reading “EO” at the time, so I missed out on a lot. But, like you, I probably never would have (later) read “EO” if it wasn’t for Elisabeth’s enthusiasm for it. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  10. You really want us to read during this summer, Dave! Many thanks for your wonderful book choice you have been presenting us. I have to admid that I havn’t read ” Eugene Onegin” so far, but this may change!
    I thought about Swiss writers of the approx. period indicated and would like to add “Die schwarze Spine- The Black Spider” by Jeremias Gotthelf. This story describes very precisely the social dynamics of the
    village. This in case you want to travel to another country:)

    Liked by 5 people

  11. Thanks to Elisabeth van der Meer for the great “Eugene Onegin” series in her “A Russian Affair” literature blog that inspired me to read Alexander Pushkin’s classic novel in verse!

    https://arussianaffair.wordpress.com/2020/02/16/the-eugene-onegin-challenge/

    And thanks to Rebecca Budd for her terrific podcasts with Elisabeth about that series!

    https://teatoasttrivia.com/2020/08/10/season-2-episode-42-elisabeth-on-the-eugene-onegin-challenge-finale/

    Liked by 5 people

      • You’re very welcome, Elisabeth! I expected “Eugene Onegin” to be good, but it surpassed my expectations. 🙂 A really fantastic work that’s indeed unique. And, yes, the Falen translation is truly masterful!

        Like

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