Saskatoon, SK : Language Lanterns, c2001.
This is the first book in a series (Women's Voices in Ukrainian Literature) published by the small publisher Language Lanterns, based in my home province. They've done a wonderful job of making some of the historical writing of Ukrainian women available to English readers. Many Canadians are of Ukrainian descent, but sadly, like myself, many don't read or speak Ukrainian. So to have this writing available is really meaningful for me. There are 6 volumes in this series, and still other collections they've put together, not in this specific series. Unfortunately they are only available in these functionally bound academic copies, but don't judge this one by its cover!
This volume presents stories by two writers, Olena Pchilka and Nataliya Kobrynska. Fortunately, they've also included brief biographies of these women, to place them in their historical context. Pchilka was the mother of Ukraine's most famous female poet, Lesia Ukrainka (whose work is collected in a later volume). Both women were writing approximately in the years between 1880-1930, and were well known as activists and feminists.
Kobrynska writes shorter pieces, and they are more melodramatic, with more purple prose. Many of the pieces gathered here were based on folklore, so are valuable for that reason alone. The prose was not unpleasant, just quite old fashioned. If the stories are not all perfectly constructed, that is likely because they inspired by political motives and written quickly for that reason. Both authors write about the changing spirit of Ukraine, and the upswell in nationalist feelings; they discuss writing in Ukrainian as opposed to Russian or French, they show interest in peasants and folk customs, they discuss changing social strictures on young people. They are writing about and promoting the "Spirit of the Times", the progressive elements arising in Ukraine at that time. Of course, reading it now, in light of the brutal repression to follow under the Soviet Union, is quite a melancholy experience. I'll finish with a quote by Olena Pchilka, describing the changes in society, which seems quite prescient:
The old foundations of community life, of thinking, of taste, broke up like river ice in the springtime and, crushed to pieces, they swirled away, driven by a warm, free current. Something very fresh and very young was in the air. Old hand and heads -- surprised, dejected, stunned -- were lowered, while young ones rose boldly and confidently, diligently seeking vocations. Young people looked with shining eyes directly into the rising light of justice and freedom, without ever thinking that the light could fade...
Cross-posted at The Indextrious Reader