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Great russian authors are from Ukraine06.03.2022
Russia has a rich tradition of stealing. Russians are trying to steal territories, resources, as well as culture. How can anyone steal culture? There are many ways. During the Soviet era many works of art from Kyiv, Kharkiv, Tbilisi, and Vilnius suddenly appeared in Moscow museums. These are instances of apparent theft. Some ways are more cunning. Another Russian tradition is to ignore the origins of painters, sculptors, writers from neighboring nations, and declare them part of «great» Russian culture. To ensure their imaginary imperial splendor, of course.
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You know, if we list the most celebrated authors from what is called Russian literature, we’ll find most of them are not from Russia. In fact, there will be a great many of them from Ukraine.
In particular if we speak of four classics in the 19th century Russian prose, then M. Hohol is from Poltava region, F. Dostoyevsky’s grandfather was Ukrainian priest near Vinnytsia, and A. Chekhov was born not far from Mariupol, and declares himself in a census as «maloros» (i.e. Ukrainian). Only Leo Tolstoy is fully Russian.
Buy the way, did you know that A. Pushkin had some African, and N. Lermontov some Scottish blood?
In the 20th century, the top Russian classics are from Kyiv (M. Bulgakov) and Odessa (A. Akhmatova, I. Ilf and Y. Petrov). The Strugatsky brothers, the chief authors of the Soviet sci-fi, were also of Ukrainian origin. But almost no Russian encyclopedia will mention any of these facts. All celebrities are absorbed into a unifying body of imperial literature.
Writers descended from Ukraine bore quite a distinctive outlook, which resulted in different texts. Let’s take a look at two cases more closely.
Mykola Hohol, known as Nikolay Gogol in Russian, is from Central Ukraine, from the Poltava region. His father was an educated person who wrote dramas both in Ukrainian and Russian. Ukrainian was widely spoken in their home. In 1828, at the age of 19, Hohol came to Petersburg to make his literary career. Russian was the imperial language, so he had to conform. (Meanwhile, Taras Shevchenko, who started a decade later, would choose Ukrainian in full confidence that his «career» would be lost. They just wrote for different clusters of readers: Shevchenko in Ukrainian tried to speak to common people in Ukraine, and Hohol in Russian sought to charm the intellectual circles of the empire).
So, Hohol started in Russian, but — with pure Ukrainian plots. His first books «Evenings on a Farm Near Dykanka» (1831-32) and «Myrhorod» (1835) were about Ukraine, filled with Ukrainian characters and their stories. His famous texts from these books, such as the fantasy «Christmas Eve», the horror novella «Viy», and the historical novel «Taras Bulba», were situated in Ukraine and filled with vivid and grotesque imagery as well as humor (yes, even in a horror plot).
Hohol’s grotesquerie, as with Edgar Allan Poe’s or E. T. A. Hoffman’s, was something completely new for Russian literature. It strongly influenced the further writings of Dostoyevsky and Bulgakov. Perhaps they adopted the influence because of their Ukrainian origin.
Later, Hohol’s writings with Russian plots, as in «The Government Inspector», «The Nose», «The Overcoat», and «Dead Souls» also contain a bit of the grotesque, but they are quite more realistic, as well as bitterly ironic. In fact, the bright humor of his early Ukrainian plots turns to sharp satire in his Russian texts.
The same goes for Anton Chekhov: in his case, the Ukrainian context is more liberal, vivid, and full of humor. In one of his most celebrated stories, «The Man in the Case», the new teacher Kovalenko, «one of those hohols» (hohol is a derogatory term for a Ukrainian), came to a provincial Russian gymnasium with his sister Varenka. They are like a gust of fresh wind in the suffocating atmosphere of the school. But the gymnasium is terrorized by another teacher—Belikov, who informs authorities about the teachers’ every «suspicious» action. Belikov falls in love with Varenka and later comes to make a marriage proposal, but her brother throws him down the stairs and Varenka laughs at the unsuccessful admirer. A humiliated Belikov falls in depression and dies within a month. The teachers in the gymnasium are happy to be free from the delator.
The sharp contrast between joyful Varenka and gloomy Belikov is easily observed. She laughs a lot and sing romances; he almost doesn’t speak. The contrast can be easily generalized: that warm and bright—and evidently much freer — «hohol» world sharply confronts the narrator’s reality, which is cold and filled with suspicion. Before the arrival of the hohols, there is no joy and laughter in that reality.
There is no joy in the whole of Russian literature, as well—before authors from Ukraine make their appearance. In the 19th century, we find joyful humor mainly in writings of Hohol and Chekhov, and in the 20th cent. almost all writers who engaged readers with humor are from Ukraine: Isaak Babel, Mykhail Bulgakov, Korney Chukovsky, Ilya Ilf and Yevgeny Petrov, Yuriy Olesha, and Mykhail Zoshchenko.
To laugh you should be free; those whose bodies and their minds are enslaved, will not and cannot laugh.
Authors from Ukraine, whether they write Ukrainian or Russian, are much freer in their writings, than those originating in Russia. This why, like Hohol and Bulgakov, they use fantasy and the grotesque, frameworks and themese unwelcome to the imperial orthodoxy. They laugh, as Chekhov, Ilf, and Petrov did, where imperial mainstream is serious.
This is the «otherness» of the democratic outlook that those people in the Kremlin do not understand until now: the otherness that cannot be subdued. Instead of dropping bombs, those in the Kremlin should better go and read the classics.
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