Ukrainian Male Authors 1860-1900

From Days Gone By - Introduction

From Days Gone By cover

Selected Short Fiction by

Yuriy Fedkovych (1834-1888)
Ivan Franko (1856-1916)
Borys Hrinchenko (1863-1910)
Hnat Khotkevych (1863-1910)
Oleksander Konysky (1836-1900)
Panteleymon Kulish (1819-1897)
Bohdan Lepky (1872-1941)
Panas Myrny (1849-1920)
Oleksa Storozhenko (1805-1874)
Sydir Vorobkevych (1836-1903)

Translated by Roma Franko
Edited by Sonia Morris

©2008 Language Lanterns Publications
ISBN 978-0-9735982-5-4


The founders of Language Lanterns Publications embarked on their mission of increasing the breadth of Ukrainian literature accessible to the English-reading world in 1998 with the series Women’s Voices in Ukrainian Literature. The six-volume set introduced works written by eight Ukrainian female authors between 1880 and 1920 that illuminated the diverse views and experiences of women in the male-dominated society in which they lived.

In 2004, two companion volumes were published, Passion’sBitter Cup and Riddles of the Heart, containing stories written by Ukrainian male authors in the same time period that examined complex and often disturbing male-female relationships within the context of a disintegrating patriarchal social order.

This book, From Days Gone By, and its companion volume, Down Country Lanes, expand the horizons of Ukrainian literature translated into English with stories written in the second half of the 19th century and the fi rst decades of the 20th by sixteen Ukrainian male authors. The writers focus their keen observations on class tensions, gender and ethnic inequalities, and the abuse of authority in a rural setting. Many of these authors were not only writers but also reformists and political activists who sought to free Ukraine, revitalize the Ukrainian language that had been trampled by policies of Russifi cation and Polonization, and educate and better the lives of the peasants whom they viewed as being key to attaining such political, social, and economic goals.

The stories often feature an idyllic, beautiful countryside dotted with pretty villages, undulating fi elds of grain, lush orchards, and the sounds of nature—but when one moves closer to examine the lives lived there, a bleaker picture emerges. The writers depict life honestly and bluntly, holding back nothing in their attempt to awaken society to social, economic, ethnic, and gender-based oppression.

What created those intolerable conditions? Ukraine had long been under the heels of foreign aristocrats who held absolute power over their serfs. By the mid-to-late 17th century, Ukraine was divided among its more powerful neighbours. A culture that had valued personal freedom and a rough form of democracy as epitomized by the Zaporozhian Kozaks was overrun by oppressive, alien political systems based on hereditary aristocratic dominance, and totalitarian bureaucracies.

Though emancipation of the serfs finally arrived in 1848 in Western Ukraine that was ruled by the Habsburg Empire (or what became the Austro-Hungarian Empire), and in 1861 in Eastern Ukraine under the Russian Empire, peasants still had to shoulder major tax burdens along with the huge debts that they incurred in acquiring small plots of land that were sold at artificially inflated prices to compensate the lords. In addition, common pastures and forests were turned over to the lords to lessen their opposition to emancipation, and therefore peasants no longer had free access to them. The result was the continuation of a grinding poverty, injustice and inequality that drove these writers to decry the fate of their rural brethren.

As a consequence of these inhumane economic policies, in 1900 in Western Ukraine the child mortality rate by age fi ve was over 50%—it is almost impossible for the contemporary reader to fathom every second child dying before reaching school age! In addition, poverty increased from a horrendous rate of 66% in 1859 to a nearly inconceivable 80% in 1902, based on the average amount of land owned by peasants per capita. (See Orest Subtelny’s Ukraine: A History.) And this was in a region known as the “breadbasket of Europe.”

The 19th century was one of revolution in Europe, but there was a growing gap between the high expectations engendered by legal reforms and the unchanging reality of the economic and social exploitation of the peasantry. These volumes present a portrait of a society with no safety nets: no health care, no unemployment insurance, no welfare, no child support, no food banks . . . nothing. A time and place where pregnancy out of wedlock could result in ostracism, infanticide and suicide. A life in which the only respite from drudgery and despair was alcohol—the production of which was monopolized by the lords, who encouraged its consumption to fatten their wallets and keep the peasants befuddled. A society of strict social stratification, in which everyone, lord, priest, peasant, Gypsy and Jew had a defined role in which certain boundaries were never crossed, and social mobility was unheard of.

The modern reader may find some passages shocking. If all peasants were looked upon as the dregs of society, peasant women were even further debased and abused. Girls were forced into arranged marriages, and lords did not hesitate to take advantage of their young girl serfs who had no choice but to submit. How could you protest when the abuser was also the one who controlled and meted out “justice”?

Some stories amuse with their depiction of superstition, and the mixing of pagan and Christian beliefs. While the writers poke fun at characters who believe in flesh-and-blood devils and witches, and criticize avaricious, socially aggrandizing members of the priesthood, they also depict clergy who truly cared for the betterment of their flocks, who led temperance movements, and encouraged the building of community centres and reading rooms. Even more hearteningly, several stories recognize the inherent humanity of the peasants, their aspirations for education, and positive characteristics including charity, compassion, and community thinking. All of these innate qualities shine as beacons of hope for the better future that all of these authors sought.

* * *

Sonia Morris, my mother and the editor of the team that produced these translations, passed away in April 2007; however, she and her sister Roma Franko, the translator, had worked together on many stories for several additional anthologies, and the ones in these volumes are among them. Therefore Sonia’s name remains as editor to recognize her invaluable contribution. Her literary skills, historical knowledge, passion, and perseverance are sorely missed.

Vichnaya pamyat—Memory eternal.
Paul Cipywnyk
Associate Editor

From Days Gone By Contents

From Days Gone By Biographical Notes

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