Behind Decorum's Veil

Selected Prose Fiction by Ivan Franko

Behind Decorum's Veil Cover

English translations of two Ukrainian-language novellas, published in 2006 in commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the author's birth.



For the Home Hearth (pp. 9-167)

Pillars of Society (pp. 169-406)



Ivan Franko

Ivan Franko, Ukraine’s greatest man of letters, was born in the county of Drohobych in Halychyna, Western Ukraine. The gifted son of a village blacksmith, he studied classical philology and Ukrainian language and literature at the University of Lviv, began work on his doctorate at the University of Chernivtsi in 1891, and completed it with distinction at the University of Vienna in 1893; however, because of his involvement in radical socialist movements for which he was imprisoned three times as a young man, he was denied a tenured appointment to the university in Lviv that now bears his name.

A man of prodigious talents and an indefatigable worker, his literary and scholarly output fills more than fifty volumes. He wrote lyrical and philosophical poetry, short stories, novellas, novels, and dramas; articles devoted to Ukrainian, Slavic, and Western European literary criticism, theory and history; studies pertaining to Ukrainian linguistics, folklore and ethnography; detailed analyses of old and medieval Ukrainian literature; and treatises in which he expounded his philosophical, sociological, political and economic points of view. He served as editor and publisher of Ukrainian literary journals, and of Ukrainian, Polish, and German newspapers. A prolific translator, he worked with numerous ancient and contemporary languages and became known as “the golden bridge” between Ukrainian and world literatures.

In recognition of Franko’s invaluable contributions to Ukrainian literature and culture, and of his championing of universal human rights, he has been referred to as the “Ukrainian Moses” who toiled to lead his people to the promised land of freedom envisaged by the renowned Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko.

* * *

Franko attributed his passionate commitment to “stilling the evil of the day” and ameliorating the lot of the common people to his own lowly peasant origins. In his literary works and his scholarly and journalistic articles he expounded the sociopolitical and economic positions that, over a lifetime of study and active involvement in political movements concerned with human rights, evolved from radical socialism to a progressive national democratic position. His intense and self-denying efforts as a writer, scholar, publicist, and political and civic leader were rooted in two personal commandments: a consuming sense of social responsibility and a work ethic of incessant productivity.

The themes of the two works in this book reflect the first of these two commandments: the dedication of his talents to the betterment of society. He does not shy away from controversial issues; he views them from multiple perspectives, revels in their rational analysis, and uses the power of language to engage the reader’s mind. At the same time, his imaginative storytelling, fuelled by a burning desire to encompass the full spectum of human existence in his writing, touches the reader’s heart. Indeed, his masterful portryal of the frailties of the protagonists in his stories endows even the perpetrators of the most heinous crimes with a modicum of humanness and evokes a measure of understanding, even sympathy, on the part of the reader.

If it were not for the second commandment of unremitting intellectual activity, Franko’s literary legacy would be sadly diminished. Unfortunately, however, some of his most powerful and moving stories were written with feverish haste under difficult personal circumstances and often did not enjoy the benefit of editorial scrutiny. A review of the texts prompted the correction of several minor problems of logical flow and the reduction of geographical details to those essential to the plot.

The themes and subject matter of the two novellas in this book are not fictional; they depict real events that are documented in transcriptions of the criminal trials in which they culminated. From 1887 to 1897, the decade during which For the Home Hearth and Pillars of Society were written, Franko worked as a journalist for the Lviv Courier (1883-1926), a liberal Polish daily that supported both Polish and Ukrainian democratic movements in Halychyna. The landmark court cases to which he was assigned stirred his profound sense of social justice and moved him to illuminate the socio-economic backdrop of the crimes and the motivations of their perpetrators.

As Franko explores the social, economic, and philosophical contexts of the protagonists’ thoughts and actions, he delineates a realistic, disturbing, and unforgettable panorama of the social strata of the society in which he lived. His sharpest barbs are directed at the moral decadence and insensitivity of the most powerful echelons of that society, a society that Franko strove to change by prodding his readers to rethink the values underlying the systemic social injustice depicted in these two novellas.

Today’s readers will readily recognize the persistent social and economic problems around which the stories are constructed. Some may be moved to rethink their views. Others may be moved to action. Franko’s passionate cry for human rights, social justice, and democratic reform is as timely now as it was over a century ago. By making his cogent and compelling arguments accessible to the English-reading world Language Lanterns is ensuring that they continue to be heard.

Sonia Morris, Editor

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