Aleksandr Sergeevich Pushkin's Eugene Onegin: A Fractal Analysis.

Author:Zhigun, Leonid A.
Position:Critical essay


A Google Internet search of the name Eugene Onegin at 4:17 PM on October 31, 2015 yielded approximately 456,000 results in 0.39 seconds. This means that the work is getting a great deal of attention. Yet, our laborious search yielded no deep structural systematic analysis that has extracted linguistic facets in the entire text, even though such potential exists. We attempt to fill the void in this paper. We utilize the mathematical concept of Fractal Dimension and Complexity Theory to examine the idea of spectrum progressing from more orderly to less orderly or to pure disorder in the text. This required the use of the Pluridisciplinary approach that allowed us to combine linguistics and mathematical approaches, specifically Linguistic Presupposition and Fractal Methodology. The MATLAB computer program was employed to analyze the data teased from the work.

Before discussing a sample of the works on Eugene Onegin, the research methodology upon which the present study is grounded, and the results generated from the MATLAB computer runs, however, it makes sense to end this section with a brief background and description of the features of the work for those readers who may not be familiar with it.

Generally described as a novel in verse, Aleksandr Sergeevich Pushkin's Eugene Onegin is a classic Russian literature whose eponymous protagonist has served as the archetype for many Russian heroes dubbed "superfluous men." The work was published as a series between 1825 and 1832. The first complete version was published in 1833 while the contemporary accepted edition is based on the 1837 version (Johnston, 1977; Leighton, 1977; Cravens, 2002; Torgovitskaya, 2009).

Eugene Onegin comprises approximately 400 14-line stanzas of iambic tetrameter of an unusual rhyme formula "AbAbCCddEffEgg," whereby the lowercase letters constitute the feminine rhymes and the uppercase letters comprise the masculine rhymes. The style is widely referred to as the "Onegin stanza" or the "Pushkin sonnet." Accordingly, Pushkin is characterized as "the undisputed master of Russian poetry" because of the virtuosity demonstrated in the prudent clarity of presentation, the natural tone and diction, and the original rhythm system of his work (Johnston, 1977; Leighton, 1977; Hofstadter, 1996; Cravens, 2002; Torgovitskaya, 2009).

In a moderately imaginative kind of Pushkin's likeness, the narrator tells the story with an erudite, innermost and enlightened tone. In order to elaborate on facets of this intellectual and social world, the narrator occasionally deviates a little from the plot. The approach yields well developed characters and an emphasis on the drama of the plot, the relative simplicity of the story notwithstanding (Johnston, 1977; Leighton, 1977; Hofstadter, 1996; Cravens, 2002; Torgovitskaya, 2009).

Review of Works on Eugene Onegin

As stated earlier, there are many book reviews and essays on Eugene Onegin in English and Russian. For the sake of brevity, we review in this section ten of these works--five from each language--with different genres. The following is a review of these works in the chronological order in which they were published.

The first effort of assessing the merits of Eugene Onegin is the 1913 statistical analysis performed by A. A. Markov in the Russian Language. He finds that in Eugene Onegin the probability of a letter being a vowel depends on the vowel preceding it or the consonant letter preceding it (1913:158).

In his latter English version, Markov (2006) performs a statistical analysis utilizing an extract comprising 20,000 Russian letters of the alphabet, excluding [??] and '[??], in the work--from the entire first chapter and 16 stanzas of the second--to examine the connected serials that are either consonants or vowels. He postulates that there exists an unknown constant probability p that the observed letter is a vowel. He then counts through observation all of the consonants and vowels to delineate the rough value of p. While Markov's essay is statistically grounded, it would have been stronger had the following been done: (a) use the entire work or a randomly generated representative sample of the letters, (b) theoretically ground the findings, and (c) discuss the linguistic meanings of the 20,000 connected trials investigated.

The researcher of symmetric compositions E. Etkind argues that Pushkin in Eugene Onegin conceived his work as a "monocrystal" and he himself jotted down the following formula: AbAbCCddEffEgg (1988:8-9), which is schematically represented as follows:

Ab Ab C C d d Ef fE g g A delineation of the linguistic meanings that undergird the formula and the cultural motivation for the "monocrystal" approach would have been quite helpful for a deep-structural understanding of Pushkin's work.

In her essay, Janet G. Tucker (1999) states that Eugene Onegin is a "prose work in poetic form" that is situated at the nexus of what divides or unites prose and poetry. She points out that the work's distinction hinges upon both its "stanzaic rhyme" and its "situation or plot rhyme." She then seeks to show the pattern of plot rhyme in the work in order to relate its rhyme to its other literary aspects and to assess its import. She discovers that the work is methodically carved up into cantos and stanzas. This finding leads her to argue that Pushkin naming his cantos "chapters" is a reflection of his amalgamation of aspects of prose and poetry. Nonetheless, she confesses that it cannot be determined whether the poetic or the prosaic aspects dominate in the work. Indeed, the descriptive nature of Tucker's essay allows her to summarize information in a meaningful way, but it would not allow her to determine the dominance of a particular characteristic in the work since she does not quantify the qualitative attributes of the aspects embedded in it.

Craig Cravens (2002) in his essay challenges Mikhail Bakhtin's claim that Pushkin's Eugene Onegin is a "typical novel," albeit not refuting Bakhtin's conclusions. Instead, Cravens seeks to reveal that "the situation is more interesting and complex than Bakhtin assumes" (2002:683) because Pushkin is able to develop comprehensive and veritable characters by masterfully using various forms of consciousness that are typical of the lyric. Pointing out that Pushkin wrote at a time before the great literary evolution of psychological Realism, Cravens asserts that Pushkin's work is more lyrically-based than Bakhtin admits. Craven adds that Pushkin's ingenuity hinges upon the fact that he was able to develop his characters as psychologically as possible within the scope of the prevailing literary tradition by dealing with the intrinsically "lyric" domains of author, narrator, and characters. Like Tucker's essay, Cravens' is also descriptive. While Cravens provides very useful information, he, nonetheless, employs no scientific approach to systematically compare his findings and conclusions against those of Bakhtin whose work he challenges.

In his review, Eli Bendersky (2005) declares that Eugene Onegin is a unique novel in verse and it justifies why Pushkin is "widely regarded as one of the brightest stars in Russian literature of the 19 (th) century." Bendersky characterizes the work as "poetry at its best" because, according to him, it comprises 14-line stanzas, with a rhyming in each stanza, and it is disciplined and powerful. He notes that it is the first poem he has thoroughly enjoyed because its rhythm flows into his head, since Pushkin employs the rhyming magisterially to represent the feelings of the characters and the overall pace of the novel. In terms of plot, Bendersky says that it is a relatively simple telling of a story of missed moments, a failed love, and the hypocrisy of Russia's high society during the early 1800s. Also included in the novel, according to him, are the Russian scenery, the changing seasons, literature, society and human nature, all helping Pushkin to share his idea relatively stronger compared to other works. Like most book reviews, however, Berdensky's is based solely on his perceptions, which are not grounded on any systematic approach.

In her thesis, Julia Torgovitskaya (2009) probes the all-embracing moral tenets in Eugene Onegin and the way they are communicated to readers. She goes on to examine how these tenets have been applied to other artistic and film reconstructions, their applicability throughout history, and their present-day essentiality. She then investigates the connection between art and society and how the manner a work is presented might be interpreted by the reader. Her major finding is that the impacts of the rhythmic and rhyming scheme in the work are as significant today as they were when it was written almost two centuries ago. Similar to other descriptive analyses of meaning and themes, however, Torgovitskaya's thesis provides very interesting findings, albeit they are not systematically delineated to permit an investigator to assess their scientific import.

O. N. Grinbaum (2012) provides a deep rhythmic and expressive analysis of Eugene Onegin with the use of statistics. As a result, he establishes a close relationship between Eugene Onegin's rhythmic and harmonic parameter stanzas and the principle of "Golden Section," as well as the key frequencies of the human brain that coincide with the main types of feelings: love, sorrow, admiration, hate, envy and others. This laudable study would have benefited greatly from an analysis of the linguistic features that undergird the stanzas in the text.

K. V. Korotkova (2013) draws our attention to the connections among the structural elements in Eugene Onegin by using the Fibonacci number. With the help of Figure 1, he shows that the basic principle of the novel is the symmetry and parallelism. In the chart, the chapter 8 is connected by straight lines with chapters 3 and 5. This allows the reader to identify the role and relationships of the...

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