Ukrainian Romanticism: Historical and Cultural Survey
The Romantic movement in Ukraine concurred with the emergence of Ukrainian self-consciousness and was instrumental in Ukraine's cultural renaissance. Ukraine entered the nineteenth century as a stagnating, culturally inadequate province of Imperial Russia. The century-long brain drain to the metropolis and denationalization of its nobility were devastating to Ukraine's culture. Western ideas of Romantic nationalism, especially those of Herder, inspired rediscovery of Ukraine's historical past, instigating the efforts of the educated elites for national self-assertion. The cultural and historical legacy of Kievan Rus, the glorious times of the Cossack Sich and the Hetmanate came to the purview of the Ukrainian intelligentsia. Historical scholarship comprised an integral part of the national movement, as did ethnographic studies. Numerous collections of historical and folk materials were published.
Before the emergence of Romanticism in Ukraine, Ukrainian historical, ethnographic, and folk materials were employed in the Romantic literatures of the neighboring countries, Russia and Poland. Adherents of "Ukrainian schools" in Russian and Polish literatures viewed Ukraine as a quintessentially exotic terrain. They heralded the wild and freedom-loving Ukrainian Cossacks, drew on Ukraine's rich folklore, and admired the lush beauty of its countryside. Kondratii Ryleev (1795-1826) was among the first Russian Romantics to extensively explore the Ukrainian Cossack past. His duma Bohdan Khmelnitskii (1822), numerous poems, and verse tales Voinarovsky (1824) and Nalivaiko (1825) championed the Ukrainian cause, giving a Romantic interpretation to Ukraine's strife for independence. Ukrainian thematic materials were employed in Faddei Bulgarin's (1789-1859) novels Dmitrii Samozvanets ([Dmitrii the Pretender] 1830) and Mazepa (1834), in Pushkin's historical epic Poltava (1828), in Gogol's cycles of stories Evenings on a Farm near Dikanka (1831-1832) and Mirgorod (1835) to mention just the most significant. Gogol was the most important among the Russian writers of Ukrainian descent. Of lesser significance were Orest Somov (1993-1833), Mykola Markevych (1804-1860), Evhen Hrebinka (1812-1848). The "Ukrainian school" in Polish literature was represented by such Romantic poets as Bohdan Zaleski (1802-1876), Antoni Malczewski (1793-1826), and Seweryn Goszczynski (1801-1876). Many more Polish Romantics employed in their writings Ukrainian subject matter; some even tried to write in Ukrainian. Works by Polish, and especially Russian representatives of "Ukrainian schools" had a great impact on the Ukrainian-including the denationalized-intelligentsia and played an important role in the evolvement of the Ukrainian Romantic movement. Foreign language translations of these works were instrumental in popularizing Ukraine in the West.
Kharkiv University became the first ideological center of Ukrainian Romanticism. Among the most prominent members and ideologists of the Kharkiv group were Ismaiil Sreznevskyi (1812-1889), Amvrosii Metlyns'kyi (1814-1870), and Mykola Kostomarov. They were determined to facilitate Ukraine's national awakening by their scholarly, poetic, and linguistic efforts. In their philosophical debate about the issues of Ukraine's national development they relied on the ideologies of German idealism and Romanticism, instigating the group's enthusiasm for ethnographic and historical research. Ukrainian folk poetry, which was deemed to reflect the essence of national spirit, was meticulously compiled and studied by Sreznevskyi and other members of the group. Metlyns'kyi and Kostomarov contemplated mythological and symbolic dimensions of folklore, which in their opinion reflected the very soul of the people. Another important venue of the group's interests was Ukraine's historical past and its expression in a sui generis Ukrainian folk genre, duma. On par with historical and ethnographic scholarship, members of the group produced literary works in vernacular Ukrainian, which they published in separate collections as well as in Russian periodicals. Metlyns'kyi wrote somber philosophical poetry, Sreznevskyi published pseudo folk verse. Kostomarov tried himself in poetry and in drama. In 1844 he defended his Master's Thesis entitled, Ob istoricheskom znachenii russkoi narodnoi poezii (On the Historical Importance of Russian Folk Poetry). Oleksandr Korsun, Mykhailo Petrenko, Opanas Shpyhots'kyi, and Iakiv Shchoholiv were lesser poets of the Kharkiv group.
In Western Ukraine, the Romantic movement was represented by the Lviv group, the "Ruthenian Triad." Its members, the poets Markiian Shashkevych (1811-1843), Ivan Vahylevych (1811-1866), and Yakiv Holovatskyi (1814-1888), became the voice of the budding national awakening in Galicia. In 1836 the group published their almanac Rusalka Dnistrovaia (The Dniester Nymph).
For the Ukrainian Romantics, the linguistic issue was an urgent one. The educated classes in Eastern Ukraine were virtually bilingual. Yet while the Russian language was recognized as the Empire's official language and was employed for the official and artistic purposes, Ukrainian was regarded as the language of the peasants and of the Ukrainian homestead. It was considered appropriate only for lower, comical genres. Not only was it important for Ukraine to develop a language of literary expression, it was also essential to prove its aesthetic value and applicability in a variety of genres. The first step in this direction was made by the classicist poet, Ivan Kotliarevskyi (1769-1838), whose travesty Eneida (Aeneid) (1798) had a great success in pioneering vernacular Ukrainian as a literary language. This work had a great and long-lasting impact on the Ukrainian Romantics, who conscientiously directed their efforts on elevating the vernacular to the status of literary legitimacy. They also attempted to widen the genre horizons of the Ukrainian language, yet this objective was not attained: the majority of the Ukrainian Romantics created in the genre of lyrical poetry and, except for a few epic poems by Shevchenko, a few second-rate dramas by Kostomarov, and Kulish's historical novel Chorna rada ([The Black Council,] 1857), in the Romantic period dramatic, epic, and prose genres remained virtually unexplored.
In the mid-1840 Kyiv University assumed the role of the second center of the Romantic movement. Its first rector, an eminent ethnographer Mykhailo Maksymovych (1804-1873) was instrumental to the advancement of the research in the area of Ukrainian studies. He compiled several collections of Ukrainian songs, and published them in 1827, 1834, and 1849. These compilations not only had enduring scholarly value, but also had a great impact on the Ukrainian Romantic movement.
The three founders of the Ukrainian national renaissance, Mykola Kostomarov, Panteleimon Kulish (1819-1897), and Taras Shevchenko (1814-1861), were the most important representatives of Kievan Romantics and of Ukrainian Romanticism in general. In 1840 Shevchenko published his first collection of poetry, Kobzar (The Minstrel), which brought him an instant recognition as a great Ukrainian poet, and also marked the birth of the modern Ukrainian literature. A poet of world stature, Shevchenko elevated vernacular Ukrainian to the level of a literary language and became a mouthpiece of the Ukrainian nation. Shevchenko's friend, admirer, and critic, Kulish was a tireless contributor to the Ukrainian literature and cause. An eminent scholar of history, ethnography, and literature, he was also a translator, and above all a talented poet and prose-writer. His poetry belongs to lyrical and epic genres. The third titan of Ukrainian Romanticism, a historian, a writer, and a literary critic Kostomarov moved from Kharkiv to Kyiv, where he continued his scholarly career as a part of the faculty of Kiev University. Shevchenko, Kostomarov, and Kulish belonged to a clandestine organization, The Brotherhood of Saints Cyril and Methodius, which championed the idea of liberation of Slavic nations and their ultimate union in a federation. The Romantic-Christian ideology of the Brotherhood found its expressions in Kostomarov's treatise Knyhy bytiia ukrains'koho narodu (Books of the Genesis of the Ukrainian People), which became the group's manifesto.
In 1847 the group was suppressed and its members exiled. The Ukrainian renaissance as well as the Romantic movement abated. The last surge of Ukrainian Romanticism was connected with the return from the exile of the Brotherhood leaders and members, who in the late 1850s and the 1860s resumed their literary activities in St. Petersburg around the journal Osnova (The Foundation).
Despite the comparative paucity of the literary output of Ukrainian Romantics, they accomplished several important goals. The Ukrainian national renaissance was launched. The country's rich historical and ethnographic heritage was discovered, explored, and popularized. The modern language of educated classes and literary expression was created and a number of works were written in this language. All in all, for Ukraine the era of Romanticism became the time of its reemergence as a self-conscious nation.
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