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.