OF THE BABY NAME EUGENE
Eugene Jerome is the protagonist in Neil Simon’s 1983 autobiographical play, Brighton Beach Memoirs, the first of the “Eugene Trilogy”, which included Biloxi Blues (1984) and Broadway Bound (1986). Eugene is a witty and precocious almost-fifteen-year old, obsessing about all the things such creatures do – he is growing up but isn’t quite there, he fantasizes about baseball and sex, and he provides us with a guide to what it was to be a Jewish American boy in Brooklyn in the middle of the Depression. The world Jerome introduces us to is filled to the brim – with love and laughter, shouts and tears, hilarity and tragedy – it is life in a nutshell. Eugene’s large extended family deals with life as it comes, taking it on its own terms and forging on with rollicking love and earthy pride. As the specter of World War II looms on the horizon, Eugene begins to feel his own innocence and childhood ebbing away, to be replaced by an even harsher reality. But come what may, we are assured that Eugene will meet it headfirst, armed with the splendid array of virtues that come with being raised in the midst of love and humor. Knowing as we do that Eugene is largely based on Neil Simon’s own background, we can see that everything turned out just fine.
Eugene is the title character of Alexander Pushkin’s classic novel in verse, Eugene Onegin, published in serial form between 1825 and 1832, the form of which is known as the “Pushkin sonnet”. It was also made into an extremely popular opera of the same name in 1879 by Tchaikovsky. Eugene is a young Russian dandy, vain and arrogant, leading a rather empty existence of balls and concerts. Eugene realizes the emptiness of his milieu, but seems unable to change it. Even when he moves to the country, representing a closer union with the natural world, Eugene remains indifferent to the charms of a more naturalistic lifestyle. Here he meets Tatyana Larina, a lovely and passionate young woman who flaunts all convention by declaring her love for Eugene. Alas, Eugene rejects her in no gentlemanly fashion, and continues on his aimless way. This noncommittal life even leads him into a socially mandated duel with his best friend, Lensky, whom he kills. Tortured by remorse, Eugene travels aimlessly abroad. It is many years later that he meets Tatyana again, at once realizing what his churlish ways have lost him. This time it is he who is spurned by Tatyana, now a married woman who abides by a moral code. In the end, our Byronic hero has lost all he had and might have had, and is sentenced to a life of lonely disconnection and ennui.
Eugene Wrayburn is a character in Charles Dickens’ final novel, Our Mutual Friend, first published in serial form between 1864 and 1865. Eugene is a wonderful secondary character, being a gentleman lawyer, but exhibiting little of the arrogance or superciliousness of his class. He is rather insolent and lazy, however, so he is no paragon of virtue. He is a good friend of Lightwood, the estate lawyer for John Harmon, and it is through him that he meets Lizzie Hexam. Here our Eugene displays the colors of his class, however, for though he is in love with Lizzie, and she with him, he is conflicted by the fact that she is of a lower social stratum than he. Also, unfortunately for Eugene, he has chosen the love interest of Bradley Headstone, who has designs upon Lizzie himself. Headstone is not one to be taken lightly – he attempts to murder Eugene by beating and drowning him; his plan is foiled and Lizzie ends up saving Eugene and nursing him back to health. It is at this rebirth that Eugene comes to terms with the shortsightedness of his views. Eugene knows and loves Lizzie for her innate self, and he is ready to defy societal conventions to marry her – it is Lizzie who deems this unwise and only marries him as she believes him to be on his deathbed. Luckily for both, their marriage is a happily-ever-after one, and we are relieved that one more stone in the wall of class consciousness has been removed.