The Writers of Ukraine ( Part 1 )

They say history is doomed to repeat itself once again for the writers of Ukraine. What do they mean?

Attempts were made during the 1800’s to curtail the patriotic fervor of Ukraine by outlawing its’ writers. Ukraine was split between two empires which caused many regional differences that showed whenever Ukrainian literature was presented. In the schools, students were transposing the serious works of antiquity into the ‘low language’ of vernacular Ukrainian. Works such as the epic poem Eneida by the ‘father’ of Ukrainian vernacular, Ivan Kotliarevsky (1842), which is still popular, is a good example. Literature following the death of Kotliarevsky enjoyed much success due to the Ukrainian language’s wealth of colorful picturesque idioms despite the critics’ description of it as ‘burlesque’. Next in importance came the initiator of the Ukrainian short story, Hryhorii Kvitka-Osnovianenko. Whereas his predecessor showed that Ukrainians could laugh, Osnovianenko demonstrated that they were a people knowing tears in his collection of stories in 1834 .

Within the security of Kharkiv University a spirit of romanticism was found among a group of young students. They were responsible for the creation of new genres while favoring the idea that Slavic folk poetry was closer to nature than other peoples. Among that group the most prominent of them Levko Borovykovsky wrote ballads that continued to enrich the poetic vocabulary of Ukraine and inspire the future writings of Shevchenko, Metlynsky, and the lyrical poet Petrenko. Romanticism then was transferred to Kyiv where it eventually developed a utopian, political and national voice and program. This movement gave impetus to the publication of The Books of Genesis of the Ukrainian People written by Kostomarov. Kostomarov also wrote dramatic pieces, philosophical poetry and literary criticism. A contemporary of his, Shevchenko proved by his works, The Minstrel in 1840, The Haidamakas in 1841, and through all his poems and satirical creations, that the Ukrainian vernacular language was more than suitable for all types of literature. He began so popular he earned the title ‘the father’ of the national revival of the Ukrainian language. The passion and zeal of his writings propelled the people into an independent state in 1918.

Photo by / Peter Herrman

The first woman writer to rise to importance during the transition from romanticism to realism was Marko Vovchok. In her short stories, she combined the popular lore and customs of the Ukrainian people, with the themes of serfdom in the prevailing unpopular social system. Also at this time, the new genre capturing the readers’ interest was the long short story or the novelette. It proved advantageous for delivering a populist message. Credited as masters of 19th century Ukrainian realistic prose and populist ideology using the novelette were Ivan Nechui-Levytsky and Panas Myrny. Both writers displayed in their work the need to uphold the requirements of being national in inspiration and populist in message.

It was in the later half of the 19th century when the tsarist regime began its’ prohibition of literature in the Ukrainian language by first releasing a publication known as the Valuev Circular of 1863. It then restated its’ demands for an end to the Ukrainian language in another publication titled the Ems Ukase of 1876. Both bans lasted until 1905. The last writer to be influential or exert any dominance in the literary world during the last quarter of the 19th century was Ivan Franko. As a writer he refused to use the dialect ordered by the Russophiles and instead chose to write in the Ukrainian vernacular. He published novelettes, lyrical and epic poetry, drama, essays, political and critical pieces all in the language of the people, a language he loved. He was instrumental in advancing Ukrainian literature and developing genres and themes in a language others wanted left unused.

Realism merged into Modernism as the 19th century came to a close. A writer named Mykhailo Kotsiubynsky and female writer named Olha Kobylianska emerged unto the literary scene accompanied by a resurgence of interest in Ukrainian folklore. Still popular today are: A Forest Song 1911; A Soul Of Stone 1911; & Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors 1913. The fighting spirit was most evident in the works of Lesia Ukrainka who voiced clearly in her poetry the mounting struggle of Ukrainians for self-realization. She is still acclaimed for her work in poetic drama which showcased universal themes, an example being The Stone Host 1912

The vernacular period came to an end as World War 1 began..


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