Ukrainian Male Authors 1880-1920

Passion's Bitter Cup

Selected Short Fiction by

Mykola Chernyavsky (1868-1946)
Ivan Franko (1856-1916)
Hnat Khotkevych (1877-1938)
Yevhen Mandychevsky (1873-1937)
Mykhaylo Mohylyansky (1873-1942)
Stepan Vasylchenko (1879-1932)
Volodymyr Vynnychenko (1880-1951)
Sylvester Yarychevsky (1871-1918)
Mykhaylo Zhuk (1883-1964)

Translated by Roma Franko
Edited by Sonia Morris

©2004 Language Lanterns Publications
ISBN 0-9735982-0-4

Language Lanterns Publications initiated its publishing program in 1998 with the series Women’s Voices in Ukrainian Literature. The purpose of this six-volume set was to introduce selected works written by eight women authors between 1880 and 1920 to the English-reading world. This book, Passion’s Bitter Cup, and its companion volume, Riddles of the Heart, continue to fill in "blank spots" in Ukrainian literature in translation by making a broad array of stories with love and erotic themes from this significant forty-year literary period accessible to readers of English.

The short fiction of the fourteen male authors selected for these two anthologies complements and supplements the works of their female counterparts, but its tone is more direct, more honest, and more daring. Some of the stories were deemed immoral or amoral, and their authors were censured by more conservative peers. The works considered a threat to the social order were censored and banned, and as was true of similar groundbreaking literature in Western Europe, did not become generally available to Ukrainian readers until several decades or even a century later. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first time the stories in these anthologies are being published in English translation.

The risqué content that scandalized the reading public of the day has long since lost its shock value. Today’s reader is more likely to commend these writers for their thoughtful exploration of issues of morality and equity in male-female relationships, and their courageous depictions of sordid and unsettling aspects of life, persistent social problems that, in polite society, were not to be talked about—and that some of us still prefer not to address.

It should be noted, however, that in sharp contrast to writing that is sexually explicit, deliberately titillating, or obscene, these stories are not offensive or pornographic. They are literary in their conception, and their intent is to inform, arouse empathy, and prompt rational and dispassionate examination of the motivation, convictions, and behaviours of the protagonists. In sum, erotic themes are embedded in the psychological and social zeitgeist of that era.

This zeitgeist, or spirit of the times, rooted in the transformative ideologies and societal upheavals of this period in East European history, rocked the foundations of civil society and had a profound effect on the emancipated intelligentsia. Hedonism, free love, and the joy of being became the mantras of intellectually engaged young people caught in the maelstrom of challenges to the status quo: revolutionary political, social, and economic movements, anti-clericalism, feminism, and a fanatical intolerance of dogmatism, moral rigidity, and hypocrisy. Their struggle to understand the multifaceted personal and societal ramifications of freedom of choice, strike a balance between individual freedom and social responsibilty, and cope with the often catastrophic consequences of an unfettered, narcissistic lifestyle captured the imagination of the authors featured in these anthologies.

The short fiction in Passion’s Bitter Cup varies thematically, stylistically, and in terms of its literary merit, but the anthology as a whole has an overarching motif: the cost of living and loving passionately, be it a matter of temperament or of philosophical conviction. Some of the stories are sentimental and romantic, with a focus on thwarted love or doomed relationships. Others are hard-hitting, powerful depictions of rape, abortion, suicide, crimes of passion, and prostitution rooted in poverty, low levels of education, and limited occupational skills and choices.

Several stories describe women’s initial, painful forays into the workplace, and the sexual exploitation of working class females by privileged males. Some deal sympathetically with the victims of seduction and betrayal, and deplore the social castigation of unwed mothers and "fallen women." Still others focus on the double standard applied to male and female devotees of free love, and on the hidden licentiousness in the upper classes, the proverbial "elephant behind the sofa" that is never acknowledged or discussed. And one story, taking the theme of hedonistic self-indulgence to an extreme, explores the ultimately devastating outcome of using narcotics to escape reality and attain a state of ecstasy.

This anthology is not for the fainthearted. The social issues addressed are disturbing; the lifestyles, values, indifference, and supercilliousness of the privileged are difficult to comprehend, much less accept or justify; and the philosophical positions espoused by a number of protagonists have not lost their capacity to elicit strong emotional reactions. Ukrainian literature at the turn of the twentieth century was politically and socially engaged, and even love stories were written with broader societal issues in mind. Some of the messages are explicit; others are veiled and subtle, but together they point to a disintegrating social order, moral confusion, and a consuming search for meaning in a time of tumultuous change. Present-day readers should not find it difficult to relate to the stories in this book.

Sonia Morris, Editor

Passion's Bitter Cup Contents:

Author Biographical Notes

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