Olena Pchilka, Nataliya Kobrynska.
The Spirit of the Times.
Roma Franko, tr. Sonia Morris, ed.
Saskatoon, Sask. Language Lanterns. 1998.
The first literary collection by Ukrainian women appeared more than a hundred years ago
(Pershiy vinok, edited by Olena Pchilka and Nataliya Kobrynska, Lviv, 1887), but
there has never been a literary series of books by Ukrainian women writers, not even in
the original Ukrainian. It is therefore very gratifying to have now such a series in
English translation. Language Lanterns issued the first two volumes in 1998 and promises
three more in 1999, all of them in translations by Roma Franko and edited by Sonia Morris.
Franko is the former head of the Department of Slavic Studies and the Department of Modern
Languages at the University of Saskatchewan; Morris is a former faculty member and senior
administrator in the College of Education at the same university. The series is a labor of
love for both of them, based on their experience in teaching and research in
Ukrainian-English bilingualism, and their discovery that there is a wide audience for
Ukrainian literature in translation, one not confined to readers of Ukrainian background.
It is fitting that the first volume in this series contains the work of the two
feminist pioneers in Ukrainian literature, Olena Pchilka and Nataliya Kobrynska.
The Spirit of the Times includes eight short stories by Pchilka and thirteen
stories by Kobrynska. Pchilka had the mark of a "bourgeois-nationalist" in the
Soviet Union. She could not be completely ignored because of her famous daughter, but her
works were never republished and no serious studies of her work appeared during the Soviet
era. One hopes this will change now in independent Ukraine, especially since the year 1999
marks the 150th anniversary of her birth. Her long short story "Tovaryshky"
(translated here as "The Girlfriends") was republished in New York in 1984 in a
facsimile edition of the 1887 womens almanac, but Pchilkas work is not readily
and widely available even in the original Ukrainian. This is too bad. The reader of her
stories in translation is likely to be pleasantly surprised, for unlike much of the
Soviet-era Ukrainian literature, Pchilkas work has a definite pro-Western
orientation and deals with the lives and concerns of the intelligentsia rather than of the
peasants and the village. The plot of "The Girlfriends," for example, involves
young Ukrainian women who study at the Universities of Zurich and Vienna, and the story
displays the authors firsthand knowledge of life and the environment in Switzerland
Pchilka reads almost like a modern writer; her characters develop naturally and
convincingly, and are not stereotypes or caricatures; the student romances and flirtations
are an integral part of the plot and are presented without undue sentimentalism or
melodrama. There are traces of humor and irony in Pchilkas works, and, above all,
she writes for the intelligent and educated reader, without simplified messages,
explanations, or embellishments. It is regrettable, therefore, that the translator, who
has done exemplary work otherwise, found it necessary to include in a few cases additional
remarks meant to make the text more intelligible to the Western reader. While the comments
about Kotlyarevsky and Shevchenko may be needed to make Pchilkas allusions to them
understandable, they should have been added in footnotes and not in the text of the story
Nataliya Kobrynskas stories do not meet the test of time with equal grace.
Kobrynska seems to have written always a these. She had a definite feminist,
social, or patriotic agenda, and her works, especially the early stories which brought her
recognition in the nineteenth century, resemble in their style the later socialist realism
of the Soviet era. No wonder that, unlike Olena Pchilkas stories, Kobrynskas
works were republished in the Soviet Ukraine. Obviously, they were considered more
compatible with subsequent social currents and ideology.
The editor has supplied brief biobibliographic profiles of the two authors, stressing
the biographical elements and containing a minimum of critical analysis. The translations
are eminently readable, in an easy-flowing contemporary English idiom. The editor,
however, should have caught such flaws as the aforementioned additions and omissions, and
such irritants as calling the Chateau Chillon in Switzerland "the Shilyon
Castle" or the Kaiser of Austria-Hungary as "the tsar."
University of Pennsylvania
Review reproduced with the authors permission.
It originally appeared in the summer 1999 World Literature Today - A Literary
Quarterly of the University of Oklahoma
Top Back to Reviews
©1998-2016 Language Lanterns Publications,
Contact Webmaster Site created and maintained by Cipko Consulting Ltd.