Dniprova Chayka, Lyubov Yanovska.
In the Dark of the Night.
Roma Franko, tr. Sonia Morris, ed.
Saskatoon, Sask. Language Lanterns. 1998.
"Diprova Chayka" means "The Seagull of the Dnieper"; but Lyudmyla
Berezyna-Vasylevska (1861-1927), who wrote under that pseudonym, spent much of her life in
Odessa, and it is the sea rather than the river that seems to be ever present in her
stories included in this second volume of "womens voices in Ukrainian
literature." Dniprova Chayka, who was a high-school teacher by profession, wrote
lyric poems and short stories, as well as libretti for a number of well-known and beloved
childrens operettas of Mykola Lysenko, the composer.
The five realistic stories included in In the Dark of the Night deal with such
topics as the agnosticism of a free-thinking Ukrainian peasant, the conscience of a
do-gooder lady of the manor who wonders if she could ever "settle her accounts"
with her servants and alleviate the injustices of social inequality, and the tense
atmosphere of a growing social conflict as seen and depicted by one who is far from
preaching the revolution but rather would prefer to avoid it. The other six prose sketches
are pictures from nature pregnant with symbolism, of fairy tales in the form of prose
miniatures. All but one of Dniprova Chaykas works included here are offered to the
English-speaking reader for the first time. "The Maiden Seagull," in Mary
Skrypnyks translation, was issued in 1983 as an illustrated childrens book by
Dnipro Publishers in Kyiv. Dniprova Chaykas liberal tendencies were not appreciated
by Soviet critics; rather than instigating revolutionary actions, she favored educational
work among the masses and preferred evolutionary, peaceful means for the resolution of
class conflicts. Thus they found her views narrow-minded and limited, and criticized her
as being under the influence of bourgeois idealistic esthetics.
Most of the space in this second volume of "womens voices," however, is
devoted to the work of Lyubov Yanovska (1861-1933). She was born into a Russian-Ukrainian
family, the daughter of Oleksandr Shcherbachov, a military officer and later a notarius,
who punished his children for using the Ukrainian language. Lyubov had some musical talent
and was educated at the Poltava institute for young ladies, where she developed an
interest in philosophy. Having chosen a teaching rather than a musical career, she met and
married Vasyl Yanovsky, a liberal member of the Ukrainian gentry. She lived for some
twenty years in his manor, "Tarnovshchyna," in the Lubny region, devoting her
time to the study of Ukrainian language, culture, and history, developing close ties to
the local populace, and embarking on her literary career as a Ukrainian writer. Yanovska
left a considerable literary heritage. A collection of her works published in Kyiv in
1991, at the time of glasnost just prior to Ukraines independence,
includes three novels, thirty-four short stories, and sixteen dramas. During the heyday of
Soviet rule, she was characterized as "having taken, occasionally, the
bourgeois-nationalist position." As a consequence, she was not very well known or
studied, and none of her work, as far as can be determined, has ever been translated into
English until now.
The current volume provides a good representative sample of Yanovskas short prose
(twenty-six pieces). She depicts the life of various social classes: the peasants, the
gentry, the intelligentsia. Even in her stories of peasant life, however, which are full
of ethnographic detail about rituals, customs, and superstitions, Yanovska concentrates on
the basic philosophical questions of life and death, of human relationships and values.
Her main interest is the psychological analysis of her heroes; she writes about their
emotional life, about their internal conflicts, the choices with which they are
confronted. The pursuit of happiness and human dignity is a recurring theme, and there are
feminist notes in her portrayal of women. One such feminist story is "Two Days Out of
a Life," written in 1905. The husband loves his wife dearly and praises her amateur
drawings and paintings, but rejects outright and refuses to understand her plan for both
of them to spend one winter in the capital, a move that would make it possible for her to
acquire some professional training. Yanovska makes an effective use of humor and satire,
which are evident in such works as "How Lepestyna Got Some Kerosene," a
self-portraying monologue of a village gossip; or "The Tragedy of a True
Friend," in which a well-intentioned intercession on behalf of a friends love
affair leads to unforeseen complications; or "Fate," a psychological portrait of
a drunkard. Many of Yanovskas stories have a built-in dramatic tension. "In the
Dark of the Night," written in 1906, is a story with tragic and comic elements which
depicts effectively the growing revolutionary atmosphere in society where even the
innocent become guilty by association and reap dire consequences despite their declared
neutrality and noninvolvement.
The translations read well and are more or less faithful to the meaning and style of
the originals. The editor has supplied two-page concise biographical sketches for each of
the authors. Her attention to biographical detail and her inclusion of family
background--matters all too frequently neglected in studies of Ukrainian writers--are
welcome. The 1903 unveiling of Kotlyarevskys monument, which was an important event
in Yanovskas life, took place in Poltava, and not in Kyiv, as stated by the editor
on page 107.
University of Pennsylvania
Review reproduced with the authors permission.
It originally appeared in the autumn 1999 World Literature Today - A Literary
Quarterly of the University of Oklahoma
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