Nineteenth-century Russian critic Vissarion Belinsky famously called Eugene Onegin an encyclopaedia of Russian life. Do you agree with Belinskys assessment? Why or why not?

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Nineteenth-century Russian critic Vissarion Belinsky famously called Eugene Onegin an ‘encyclopaedia of Russian life.’ Do you agree with Belinsky’s assessment? Why or why not?

The novel Eugene Onegin was written by Alexander Pushkin between 1825 and 1832, and was published in its final single volume form in 1837. At the time the book was written, Russia had undergone the reforms of Peter the Great and Europe had a great influence on the ideas, styles and even language of Russia’s citizens. One result of these European influences was the emergence of many country estates in the provincial, rural parts of Russia, where wealthy members of society would often spend time when not in Moscow or St Petersburg. Set mainly on a typical Russian country estate, the novel chronicles the life of the title character in verse, presented to the audience by a ‘narrator’, who may or may not be Pushkin. The work was described by Vissarion Belinsky as an ‘encyclopaedia of Russian life’, suggesting he believed Eugene Onegin was a realistic portrayal of all aspects of life in 19th Century Russia.

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In the 19th Century, the cultural divide between the city and rural parts of Russia was a huge one, with social hierarchies being even more obvious outside of the large cities. When a new person or family arrived at an estate, the local community would become highly interested in them, clamouring to find out the latest trends of the cities and searching for their children’s future spouses. This happens in the novel when Eugene moves to the countryside, where he is discussed by many of the locals. Serfdom was rife, with one’s rank based on how many serfs you kept working ...

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