Monday, March 31, 2008


As we were discussing Taras Shevchenko, I was fascinated to learn he created over 1,000 pieces of poetry, paintings or sketches within three years! He was born a serf, became educated by his landowner Engelhart, was a painter’s apprentice, was forced to be a soldier and then purged to Siberia. In his short life, he had a huge impact on the way Modern Ukrainian language was viewed/used and his work is looked at. His literary heritage is regarded to be the foundation of modern Ukrainian literature and, to a large extent, the modern Ukrainian language. Shevchenko also wrote in Russian and left many masterpieces as a painter and an illustrator.

Serfdom was abolished in Russia in 1861 by Tsar Nicholas II due to fear that peasants/serfs would revolt. He wanted to free them from the top instead of them rising up against the regime. Shevchenko died in 1861, and so I think it is interesting to question what type of other influences he may have had on Ukrainian culture if he had lived?

The Russo-Turkish Wars ended with the Ottoman Empire losing control in south-central Ukraine. Ukrainian writers and intellectuals were inspired by the nationalistic spirit stirring other European peoples and became determined to revive the Ukrainian linguistic and cultural traditions. The Russians imposed strict limits on attempts to raise Ukrainian language and culture, even banning its use and study. The most notable Russian writer of Ukrainian descent was Nikolai Gogol, for his work The Nose and The overcoat.

Nikolai Gogol was born in the Cossack village of Sorochyntsi, in the Poltava guberniya of the Russian Empire. In 1820 Gogol went to a school of higher art in Nezhin and remained there until 1828. It was there that he began writing. In 1828, on leaving school, Gogol came to Petersburg. He had hoped for literary fame and brought with him a Romantic poem of German idyllic life — Hanz K├╝chelgarten. He had it published, at his own expense, under the name of "V. Alov". Unfortunately it was met by the magazines with scorn. He bought all the copies and destroyed them, swearing never to write poetry again (

Gogol is considered to be one of the first masters of short prose. His fictional story Taras Bulba, based on the history of Ukrainian cossacks, was the result of this phase in his interests and his heritage. During this time he also developed a close friendship with another Ukrainian then living in Russia, the historian Mykhaylo Maksymovych. While in early writings Gogol endowed Ukraine with cultural wholeness and a heroic past, his Russian depictions are austere and fractured.

Vissarion Grigorievich Belinsky; the champion of the left literary critic called upon Russian literature “to serve the causes of justice for the disadvantaged and of progress toward a more open and democratic society”. Belisnky’s view on Gogol’s work such as the Overcoat, was that it was serving a just cause, that the underdog should rise up against the Russian Empire. Gogol however, viewed himself as a conservative and became devoutly religious. He saw his work as merely fiction and believed that the serf should stay the serf. It is interesting how two Ukrainian men could have such different impacts during their times.

For more information and literary work by Gogol:

1 comment:

Svitlana said...

Great topic for the discussion.
Myhailo Hrushevsky once wrote that, "Hohol (Gogol) was a part of old Ukraine... He enveloped her grave with the scent of poetry ...without suspecting her close resurrection". Shevchenko, on the other hand, wrote in Ukrainian and evoked a dormant patriotic spirit of Ukraine.
Just to clarify that Shevchenko wrote all his work not in three years, but throughout his adult life, even though he was a serf for 24 years,10 years he spent in exile, and the rest of his life he was under keen watch of the police.