Ukrainian national revival

By the early 19th century the Ukrainian vernacular had become the primary vehicle of literary expression, and an era of prolific writing began. Nineteenth-century Ukrainian literature reflected the rapid development of Ukrainian national consciousness under Russian rule. Ivan Kotlyarevsky, classicist poet and playwright, inaugurated modern Ukrainian literature with his Aeneid [make link to this] (1798), a burlesque travesty of Virgil’s Aeneid that transformed its heroes into Ukrainian Cossacks. The work, which appeared in its entirety only after Kotliarevsky's death, was a tremendous success, no doubt because of its skilful travesty of the Roman classic and its able use of the Ukrainian vernacular to reveal that language’s wealth of picturesque idioms. Although Kotliarevsky was only following the dictates of classicism and did not set out to ‘create a literature in the vernacular,’ his highly sensitive ear for the idiomatic language, sharp eye for ethnographic detail, and talent as a writer produced the unexpected. Kotliarevsky nonetheless seemed to realize the importance of his work, for he injected a serious tone into the last three sections of the epic and also went on to write two plays in the ‘newly discovered’ languagea: Natalka Poltavka (Natalka from Poltava) and Moskal’ charivnyk (The Soldier Sorcerer), both in 1819.

The most important follower of Ivan Kotliarevsky in the genre of travesty was Petro Hulak-Artemovsky, noted for his adaptations of the odes of Horace (Do Parkhoma) and an expanded adaptation of a fable by the 18th-century Polish writer Ignacy Krasicki (Pan ta sobaka [Master and His Dog, 1818]). Hulak-Artemovsky’s attempt to use Ukrainian outside of travesty or burlesque, as in his translation of Goethe’s Fisherman, however produced awkward results. His language was still too much in the register of the burlesque.

Hryhoriy Kvitka-Osnovianenko, the initiator of the Ukrainian short story, was more successful in his attempt to write ‘serious’ works in the vernacular. Although his play Svatannia na Honcharivtsi (The Betrothal in Honcharivka, 1836) and early stories still reflected the burlesque tradition, his later stories were more sombre in tone and imbued with the sentimentalism that was fashionable at the time. Whereas Kotliarevsky in his comedies showed that Ukrainian peasants could laugh, Kvitka-Osnovianenko in his stories showed they were also capable of tears and sadness.

As classicism gave way to romanticism its rigid laws were abandoned. Gone were the high and low styles. The Romantics were genuinely interested in folk songs, legends, myths, and the heroic past. Several histories appeared, the most notable being Istoriia Rusov (printed in 1847 but written at the beginning of the century and circulated in manuscript form). The authorship is uncertain; although the language of the work is Russian, its message is that of Ukrainian patriotism. Also important is Istoriia Maloi Rossii ... (History of Little Russia ..., 1822) by Dmytro Bantysh-Kamensky. Several collections of Ukrainian folk songs and ballads appeared in quick succession, the most influential of them being Nikolai Tsertelev’s collection of ballads (1819) and Mykhailo Maksymovych’s Malorossiiskie pesni (Little Russian Songs, 1827).

Around 1830 the city of Kharkiv became the centre of Ukrainian Romanticism, with such authors as Izmail Sreznevsky, Levko Borovykovsky, Amvrosiy Metlynsky and Mykola Kostomarov publishing ethnographic materials, native interpretations of Ukrainian history, and collections of folk legends and Cossack chronicles. They developed new genres, translated and imitated works from other literatures, and wholly embraced Johann Gottfried von Herder’s idea that Slavic folk poetry was closer to nature and less soiled by corrupt civilization than that of other peoples. Most of the authors of the period also wrote in Russian; some did so exclusively and thus belong to Russian literature, Nikolai Gogol being a prime example.

Although by the early 19th century Polonization had progressed in Galicia as far as Russification in central Ukraine, the national awakening in terms of a return to the Ukrainian language occurred there at almost the same time as in Russian-occupied Ukraine. In Western Ukraine Romanticism was represented by the “Ruthenian Triad”: Markiyan Shashkevych, Yakiv Holovatsky and Ivan Vahylevych. In 1837 they published a collection of poems in the vernacular, Rusalka Dnistrovaia (Dnister Water Nymph) in Buda, Hungary which marked the beginning of Ukrainian vernacular literature in Galicia.

Kyiv became the centre of romanticism in the 1840s and found its highest expression in the Brotherhood of Saints Cyril and Methodius, which consisted, among others, of the writers Taras Shevchenko, Panteleimon Kulish, and Mykola Kostomarov, the last of whom provided a link with the Kharkiv Romantic School of the 1830s. The Brotherhood had a definite political and national program: it called for a Slavic federation and believed that Ukraine, where the Cossack traditions of freedom and democracy had flourished, would provide the leadership in the federation. Those ideas were incorporated into Knyhy bytiia ukraïns’koho narodu (The Books of Genesis of the Ukrainian People), written by Kostomarov. He also wrote drama on the Shakespearean model, philosophical poetry, and literary criticism. Another prominent member of the brotherhood, Kulish is noted primarily for his novel-chronicle Chorna rada (The Black Council, 1857), the first historical novel written in Ukrainian. Kulish was also a poet, a translator of William Shakespeare and the Bible, and a publisher of Osnova (Saint Petersburg). Although Kulish’s prose works far surpassed those of his predecessor Hryhoriy Kvitka-Osnovianenko, as a poet he could not surpass Shevchenko.

Unlike Panteleimon Kulish, Taras Shevchenko was imbued with the Romantic spirit of revolt, and with him Ukrainian romanticism reached its pinnacle. Shevchenko had the ability to express profound thought in seemingly simple words. With the appearance of his Kobzar (The Minstrel, 1840), and his ‘Haidamaky’ (The Haidamaks, 1841) Shevchenko dispelled all doubt as to whether the Ukrainian vernacular was suitable for a full-range literature. His poems consist of simple lyrics, ballads, Byronic poems, social and political satire, didactic exhortations and paraphrases of Biblical texts. He was popular in his day, and his popularity has continued to grow, and with it the influence of his poetry. Shevchenko spearheaded a national revival which culminated in an independent state in 1918.

The death of Taras Shevchenko in 1861 marks the end of the Romantic movement in Ukraine, although Romantic works continued to be written by some talented writers. The most prominent of the belated Romantics were the poet Yakiv Shchoholiv, the prose writer Oleksa Storozhenko, who in his stories dealt with fantasy elements of the Cossack past, and Yuri Fedkovych. Fedkovych is known primarily for his lyrical stories, imbued with German romanticism and full of Hutsul folklore, with which he brought about a revival of Ukrainian literature in Bukovyna.
Barring those few exceptions, the majority of writers of the time followed the new literary trend of realism and its philosophy of positivism. They stressed the importance of the exact sciences, expressed belief in evolution and progress, preached democracy, and tried to portray reality in an objective, naturalistic manner. To be sure, the transition from romanticism to realism was not a sudden one; both elements can be detected in the works of many writers. The best example of the duality is found in the prose of Marko Vovchok, the first major woman writer in Ukrainian literature. In her short stories (1857) she enjoined elements of ethnographic romanticism with themes of serfdom, and she was one of the first to speak out against the evils of such a social system. Other notable writers of the time were Stepan Rudansky, whose collection of verse based on folk humour (Spivomovky) is unique, and Leonid Hlibov, a lyricist noted mainly for his adaptation of traditional fable plots into Ukrainian through the use of Ukrainian motifs and folklore.

Realism, however, had its greatest impact on the development of prose, especially of the long short story or novella (povist’ in Ukrainian). The genre proved most suitable for conveying the populist message. The first to introduce populist propaganda into his writings was Oleksandr Konysky. But the real masters of 19th-century Ukrainian realistic prose were Ivan Nechuy-Levytsky and Panas Myrny. Nechui-Levytsky formulated the principles of Ukrainian populist realism (a work must be realistic in its portrayal of the world, national in inspiration, and populist in ideology) to which both writers adhered.

Borys Hrinchenko was also an important practitioner of the realistic novella, although he is better known as a poet and lexicographer.
In the second half of the 19th century the tsarist regime severely curtailed literary activity by prohibiting most publications in the Ukrainian language. Since these prohibitions were not repealed until 1905, many works remained unpublished or had to be published outside the Russian Empire, most often in Galicia (Western Ukraine). Some works appeared too late to have any influence on the literary process. Such was the case with the family saga Liuborats’ki by Anatoliy Svydnytsky, written in 1861–2 but not published until 1898. Some scholars and writers left Russian-ruled Ukraine for Galicia, most notably the historian Mykhailo Hrushevsky. Others went farther west, as did the journalist, scholar, and political ideologist Mykhailo Drahomanov, who in 1876 settled in Geneva, where he published the journal Hromada. Through his socialist works he exercised a profound influence on intellectual life in Ukraine.

The most important writer to be influenced by Mykhailo Drahomanov was Ivan Franko, a dominant Ukrainian literary figure in the last quarter of the 19th century. Franko’s choice of the Ukrainian vernacular over a dialect advocated by the Russophiles, irrevocably confirmed the end of that movement in Galicia. Franko was equally at ease with the realistic novella, the lyrical poem, the epic poem, drama, the essay, the political pamphlet and translation. He was a first-rate philologist and literary critic, as well as an avid collector and cataloguer of folk oral literature. Owing to his efforts Ukrainian literature made enormous advances in the development of genres and themes.

The desire of the realists to reach as wide an audience as possible with their positivistic message, coupled with Russian prohibition on Ukrainian publications, made theatre important and spurred the writing of drama. The three most noted dramatists were Mykhailo Starytsky, Marko Kropyvnytsky, and Ivan Karpenko-Kary. Starytsky had a predilection for melodrama, and in addition to writing his own plays he adopted and improved the works of others. All three authors mixed ethnographic romanticism with realism, especially in their comedies, but Karpenko-Kary was the first to succeed with historical drama. In his works the line between comedy and tragedy is no longer distinct, and love no longer takes centre stage.

Toward the end of the 19th century realism in Ukrainian literature started to give way to modernism. Some writers no longer aimed for a naturalistic rendition of reality, and instead elected an impressionist approach. At the same time the novella gave way to the short story. In drama the action passed inward, exploring psychological conflicts, moods and the experiences of characters. Poetry abandoned its realistic orientation in favour of the symbolic; emphasis on content gave way to a fascination with form. The works of Mykhailo Kotsiubynsky mark the transition from realism to modernism. His first stories were in the vein of Ivan Nechuy-Levytsky and Panas Myrny. Later he adopted and perfected the impressionistic manner of narration. Olha Kobylianska, a contemporary of Kotsiubynsky, was not so much an impressionist, as a neoromantic. She instilled in her heroes an aloofness and an aristocracy of spirit. The neoromantic tendency in modernism prompted a rekindling of interest in folklore and resulted in the appearance of three remarkable works of literature: Hnat Khotkevych’s novel Kaminna dusha (Heart of Stone, 1911), which in its treatment of female sexuality anticipates D.H. Lawrence; Lesya Ukrainka's play Lisova pisnia (A Forest Song, 1911); and Kotsiubynsky’s novella Tini zabutykh predkiv (Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors, 1913).

The master of the very short impressionistic story was Vasyl Stefanyk. Condensed, dramatically charged, their subtle orchestration owing much to the local dialect of his heroes, Stefanyk’s stories reveal the anguish at the heart of human existence. Two other writers who joined with Stefanyk to form the Pokutia triad were Marko Cheremshyna and Les Martovych. They used methods similar to those of Stefanyk but rarely achieved the same results. The novelist and dramatist Volodymyr Vynnychenko was deeply interested in psychological experiences and especially the morality of the intelligentsia. Other modernist prose writers of note were Stepan Vasylchenko, Arkhyp Teslenko, and Bohdan Lepky.

Lepky also wrote poetry, as did most of the other members of the modernist group represented by Moloda Muza. The most prominent in that group of Galician modernists were Petro Karmansky, with his end-of-the-century pessimism, and Vasyl Pachovsky, remarkable for his formal diversity. A modernist group in Russian-ruled Ukraine, centred around the journal Ukraïns’ka khata, produced no major poets. Outside of that group stood Oleksander Oles, by far the most popular lyricist of the period, the spirit of whose lyrics waxed and waned with the success and failure of the Revolution of 1905 and the Revolution of 1917; Volodymyr Samiylenko, with his satiric verse; Ahatanhel Krymsky, with his exoticism; and Hrytsko Chuprynka, memorable for his experimentation in sound. All of them contributed to the development of modernist poetry. Average poets, but important to the modernist movement, were Mykola Vorony, the author of a modernist manifesto of 1901, and Spyrydon Cherkasenko, who introduced elements of symbolism into Ukrainian drama.

Although the realist Ivan Franko wrote some modernist verse (Ziv'iale lystia [Withered Leaves, 1896]), by far the most renowned poet of the modernist era was Lesya Ukrainka. More Romantic than modernist in style, her lyrics reflect wilful determination to conquer the disease that afflicted her body. The fighting spirit of her poems made them timely for the increasing struggle of Ukrainians for self-realization. Yet her greatest achievement was in the realm of the poetic drama. She chose universal themes and gave them her own unique treatment, as in Kaminnyi hospodar (The Stone Host, 1912), where she provided an early feminist treatment of the Don Juan motif.
Liudmyla Starytska-Cherniakhivska, Dmytro Yavornytsky.

[Sources: Encyclopedia of Ukraine & Wikipedia]