Literary criticism

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Literary criticism (літературна критика; literaturna krytyka). In Ukraine the beginnings of criticism as a separate literary genre coincide with the rebirth of literature studies in the early decades of the 19th century. Some scholars, however (eg, Mykola Plevako), suggest a later date because of the virtual absence of Ukrainian-language periodicals until the 1860s.

Early 19th-century Ukrainian literary criticism was linked to the debate on whether or not real literature could be written in Ukrainian. Assertions that it could were first formulated by Opanas Lobysevych in a letter (1794) to Heorhii Konysky and by Yakiv Markovych in his Zapiski o Malorossii ... (Notes on Little Russia ..., 1798). Some early remarks of a critical nature can be found in Oleksii Pavlovsky’s ‘Grammar of the Little Russian Dialect’ (1818), and the first journals published in Ukraine, Khar’kovskii demokrit (1816), Ukrainskii vestnik (Kharkiv) (1816–19), and Ukrainskii zhurnal (1824–5), devoted some passing attention to the question of the viability of a Ukrainian-language literature. The last of the aforementioned journals (1825, no. 5) published a favorable article by Ivan Kulzhynsky on the history and nature of ‘Little Russian’ poetry. Most Russian critics reacted negatively to works published in Ukrainian. Among them were Mikhail Kachenovsky, the author of an article in Vestnik Evropy in 1815 that was hostile to Ukrainian writing in general and Ivan Kotliarevsky’s Eneïda (Aeneid) in particular, and Vissarion Belinsky. Consequently, Ukrainian critics at that time, and even more so later, were forced to limit themselves almost exclusively to defending the right of a Ukrainian literature to exist.

One of the first critical surveys of works in Ukrainian was written by Mykola Kostomarov and published in the 1844 literary almanac Molodyk. The first significant contributions to the development of Ukrainian literary criticism, however, were made by Panteleimon Kulish in the late 1850s and early 1860s, particularly in the miscellany Khata (Saint Petersburg) (1860) and the journal Osnova (Saint Petersburg) (1861–2). Kulish argued that the Ukrainian language and literature were independent of the Russian, and expressed the hope that writers would produce works that would reflect the Ukrainian identity. He believed that the genres of travesty and burlesque were inimical to Ukrainian literature because they made it appear as fit only for expressing vulgar wit, and he consequently condemned Ivan Kotliarevsky and Petro Hulak-Artemovsky for the disrespect he felt they had shown in their works for the Ukrainian language. Kulish esteemed the Ukrainian tales of Hryhorii Kvitka-Osnovianenko, however, and he was one of the first critics to emphasize the importance of Taras Shevchenko’s poetry for all the Slavic nations. Although he adhered to the idealized populist notion of the peasantry as the embodiment of the Ukrainian people (narodnist) and remained loyal to the ethnographic principle, Kulish had high esthetic standards and considered it the duty of literary critics to struggle against talentless scribblers and epigones. The critical attitudes of Kulish and his supporters in the 1850s and 1860s evolved into populism, the ideas of which dominated Ukrainian literary criticism until the early 20th century. (The pseudopopulism of Soviet literary criticism from the 1940s to 1960s was of a different origin.)

In Austrian-ruled Galicia literary criticism appeared somewhat later than in Russian-ruled Ukraine. There it was also linked to the movement in support of writing in the vernacular that began with the publication of the miscellany Rusalka Dnistrovaia (1837) by the Ruthenian Triad. In his many articles the triad’s Yakiv Holovatsky propagated the idea that literature written in the vernacular could not be limited in scope but should deal with all aspects of life. He also promoted in Galicia the Ukrainian works written in Russian-ruled Ukraine. The question of how a ‘Ruthenian’ literature could develop, and especially the related issue of language and orthography, was debated in two miscellanies titled Vinok rusynam na obzhynky (1846–7), in the newspaper Zoria halytska, in other Galician publications of the mid-19th century, and at the 1848 Congress of Ruthenian Scholars. In the following decades antipopulist tendencies in Galicia were manifested by advocates of the use of Church Slavonic (eg, Mykhailo Malynovsky) and by the Russophiles (eg, Antin Petrushevych). As a result writing in the bookish yazychiie became widespread, despite the harsh criticism of Osnova (Saint Petersburg) and particularly Mykhailo Maksymovych. In neighboring Transcarpathia the Ruthenian literary rebirth of the 1860s had a slightly different orientation. Its primary spokesman, Oleksander Dukhnovych, did not support the use of the vernacular in literature; he thereby made it possible for later Transcarpathian Russophiles to exploit his name for their purposes. Neither the Russophiles nor the supporters of the yazychiie in Galicia and Transcarpathia produced notable literary critics.

In the 1860s, after the 1863 tsarist ban on printing Ukrainian-language publications (Valuev circular), the center of Ukrainian literary activity shifted to Galicia, and the ideas of the Osnova writers attracted a substantial following there. Articles from Osnova (Saint Petersburg), particularly those by Panteleimon Kulish and Mykola Kostomarov, were reprinted in the Lviv journal Pravda (1867–98), which became the most important Ukrainian publication of its time. Pravda was greatly influenced by Kulish and then, for many years, by Oleksander Konysky. Ivan Nechui-Levytsky, a prominent populist writer and literary critic living in Russian-ruled Ukraine, debuted in Pravda and contributed regularly to it. In his now-famous article in Pravda on contemporary literary directions (1878) he formulated three principles of literary creativity (verisimilitude, nationality, and narodnist) and harshly condemned the widespread orientation of Ukrainian writers to Russian literature.

In the 1870s the key figure in Ukrainian literary criticism was Mykhailo Drahomanov. Drahomanov introduced the idea of progress and emphasized the importance of social questions in literature. In a longer work on Taras Shevchenko, the Ukrainophiles, and socialism (1879) Drahomanov condemned the cult of Shevchenko and the tendentious approaches to his poetry; at the same time he presented a social and cultural framework for the study of Shevchenko’s poetry. Although because of his federalist convictions Drahomanov had an artificial, untenable schema of four literatures (the Russian, ‘Great Russian,’ Ukrainian, and Galician) that virtually no one accepted during or after his lifetime, more than any of his contemporaries he stimulated and enlivened critical thought and provoked a lively polemic in Galician literary circles. In general he hoped that Ukrainian literature would develop in step with the Western and Central European literary movements. Drahomanov pioneered the sociological approach in Ukrainian literary criticism. That approach greatly influenced contributors to the journal Pravda, such as Ivan Rudchenko in Russian-ruled Ukraine and Volodymyr Navrotsky in Galicia.

Oleksander Konysky was another prominent advocate of the independence of Ukrainian literature and of the adoption of ‘universal liberal ideas ... directly from European sources’ rather than through the medium of Russian literature. Other contributors to the journal Pravda, such as Meliton Buchynsky, Omelian Ohonovsky, and Volodymyr Barvinsky, advocated conservative populist perspectives and came into conflict with Mykhailo Drahomanov.

In the mid-1870s Drahomanov’s ideas influenced the Lviv student journal Druh and its principal contributor, Ivan Franko. In his 1876–7 articles in Druh Franko was the first Ukrainian literary critic to discuss philosophical and esthetic problems as they related to literature and the relationship between poetry and life. In his article on literature, its tasks, and its most important traits, published in the 1878 literary miscellany Molot, Franko reprehended the narrowness of the populist approach, particularly the views expressed by Ivan Nechui-Levytsky in his article of that year. Later, however, in his articles in Zhytie i slovo and Literaturno-naukovyi vistnyk, Franko transcended Drahomanov’s positivist critique and developed a broader understanding of literature as art.

From 1882 to 1907 the principal forum of literary criticism in Russian-ruled Ukraine was the journal Kievskaia starina, which later appeared as Ukraïna (1907). One of its authors was Vasyl Horlenko, who had been influenced by the critical method of C.-A. Sainte-Beuve and H. Taine and contributed articles about earlier and contemporary 19th-century Ukrainian writers and book reviews from a cultural-historical perspective.

At the beginning of the 20th century modernist literary criticism became popular in Ukraine. In 1901 Literaturno-naukovyi vistnyk published Mykola Vorony’s modernist manifesto, in which he exhorted Ukrainian writers to abandon the populist model, to write poetry the quality of which mirrored contemporary world standards, and to embrace the principle of pure art. The modernist esthetic was advanced by the Lviv magazine S’vit (1906–7) and by the Galician modernist writers’ group Moloda Muza, which emulated European contemporaries, such as Maurice Maeterlinck, Henrik Ibsen, and Friedrich Nietzsche, and the earlier Charles Baudelaire. The leading Ukrainian modernist critic was Mykola Yevshan. In his articles in the Kyiv journal Ukraïns’ka khata and his book Pid praporom mystetstva (Under the Flag of Art, 1910) he analyzed the works of Ukrainian modernist writers and tried to formulate the esthetic principles of modernist literary criticism. Those principles remained vague and contradictory, however. Another modernist critic, Ostap Lutsky, formulated the fundamental positions of Moloda Muza in his contributions to Dilo and S’vit.

In addition to the modernists a neopopulist criticism based on the earlier, 19th-century, populist perspective flourished in the early 20th century. Its leading exponent was Serhii Yefremov, who rejected the esthetic approach as inappropriate for evaluating Ukrainian literature. Instead Yefremov based the value of a literary work on whether or not it promoted the ideal of national liberation, and whether or not its content and form (particularly its language) were suitable for the reading public at large.

From 1902 until the outbreak of the First World War a heated discussion took place among the representatives of various critical methods. It was sparked by Serhii Yefremov’s antimodernist article ‘V poiskakh novoi krasoty’ (In Search of a New Beauty, 1902). In the ensuing debate the modernist critics (eg, Ostap Lutsky and Hnat Khotkevych) published their views in Literaturno-naukovyi vistnyk and Ukraïns’ka khata, and the neopopulists published theirs in Kievskaia starina and the monthly Nova hromada. Ivan Franko was critical of the modernists because he believed firmly that a literary work should enlighten the reader and focus on social issues. At the same time, however, he spoke out against Yefremov because he believed authors had the right to provide a ‘psychological analysis of social phenomena and to try out new forms of artistic expression.’ Lesia Ukrainka shared many of Franko’s critical views regarding both Ukrainian and foreign literature.

The February Revolution of 1917, the ensuing Ukrainian struggle for independence (1917–20), and the first decade of Soviet rule in Ukraine stimulated literary activity. During the brief period of Ukrainian independence the journal Knyhar (1917–20) published many articles and reviews by Mykola Zerov, Pavlo Zaitsev, Vasyl Koroliv-Stary, and other critics. During that period a variety of literary currents, each with its own critical method, quickly evolved. Criticism was published in ephemeral journals and miscellanies and separately in the essay collections of Pavlo Tychyna, Mykhailo Semenko, Yakiv Savchenko, Maksym Rylsky, and Andrii Nikovsky (in his Vita nova [1919], Nikovsky discussed modern poetry in the context of the Ukrainian rebirth). The short-lived rebirth also produced occasional criticism by the symbolists (eg, Ya. Savchenko, Dmytro Zahul, and Yurii Mezhenko) and writers of the Proletkult movement (who rejected art in its traditional sense), more enduring criticism by the Neoclassicists Zerov and Pavlo Fylypovych, and many other critical opinions.

By the mid-1920s two main currents of literary criticism had crystallized in Soviet Ukraine. On the one side there was a proregime current consisting more of advocates of official Bolshevik views than orthodox Marxists. On the other there were critics who opposed the proregime line but supported diverse artistic credos (eg, the members of Vaplite and the essentially apolitical Neoclassicists). This basic bipolarization of critical opinion became most evident during the Soviet Ukrainian Literary Discussion of 1925–8. The chief spokesmen of the Communist Party line were the vulgar Marxists Volodymyr Koriak, Samiilo Shchupak, and Hryhorii Ovcharov and the politically more consistent Borys Kovalenko, who advocated the use of ‘proletarian realism,’ a precursor of the official method of socialist realism that became obligatory in the 1930s. Key representatives of the oppositional current were the Vaplite leader Mykola Khvylovy and the Neoclassicist Mykola Zerov. Those critics advocated the view that writers had to develop a high level of literary craft and familiarity with the best literary achievements of the West. The ‘opposition’ also included unaffiliated critics, such as Oleksander Biletsky. Biletsky played an important role in the development of Ukrainian literary criticism by pioneering a multidimensional approach that focused on the formal, esthetic aspects of a literary work and on Ukrainian literature in the context of Western literature.

In 1932 the CC CPSU adopted a resolution that abolished all literary groups, created a single writers’ union subordinated to the Party, forbade all literary criticism not sanctioned by the Party, and proclaimed socialist realism to be the only literary method that Soviet writers could use. Consequently all independent literary criticism disappeared, and most critics, including not only many of those in the ‘opposition’ (eg, Mykola Zerov, Pavlo Fylypovych, Mykhailo Mohyliansky) but also the representatives of Party opinion (including Volodymyr Koriak, Samiilo Shchupak, and Borys Kovalenko), were arrested during the Stalinist terror. Most of them were shot, or perished in concentration camps; those who survived remained silent until the post-Stalin thaw two decades later.

During the interwar years literary criticism in the non-Soviet territories of Western Ukraine and in the Ukrainian émigré community was linked not to literary trends but to literary-cum-political journals and newspapers. Mykyta Shapoval, Pavlo Bohatsky, and other émigré followers of Mykhailo Hrushevsky’s sociological approach or the neopopulist Serhii Yefremov contributed to the Prague-based journal Nova Ukraïna (Prague); Viktor Pisniachevsky, Maksym Slavinsky, and other émigré and Galician critics contributed to National Democratic or socialist publications. Only a few critics modeled their work on Western European modernist criticism: Mykhailo Rudnytsky, Mykhailo Strutynsky, and several younger contributors to the literary miscellany Terem (1919) and the journals Mytusa (1922) and Literaturno-naukovyi vistnyk (from 1922). The modernist critics came to be viewed as ‘liberals.’ Liberal views (eg, of Rudnytsky, Vasyl Simovych, Osyp Bodnarovych, Yaroslav Hordynsky, and Sviatoslav Hordynsky) were published in the daily newspaper Dilo, the biweekly Nazustrich (from 1934), and the Warsaw-based bimonthly My (from 1935).

The Western Ukrainian and émigré nationalist movement that emerged in the early 1920s rejected not only the communist, but also the populist and esthetic approaches to literature. The most influential nationalist critic was Dmytro Dontsov, the editor from 1922 of Literaturno-naukovyi vistnyk and its successor in 1933, the journal Vistnyk. Other critics of the nationalist school were Mykhailo Mukhyn, Yevhen Malaniuk, Yurii Lypa, Yurii Klen, Volodymyr Doroshenko, Ivan Korovytsky, Bohdan Kravtsiv, and, especially, Luka Lutsiv. Similar criticism appeared in the journal Dazhboh (1932–5), which published articles and reviews by the publisher Yevhen Yulii Pelensky and by Bohdan Ihor Antonych, Y. Shemlei, and Bohdan Romanenchuk; and in Obriï (1936) and Naperedodni (1937–8), where Ostap Hrytsai, Dariia Vikonska, Oleh Olzhych, and V. Rudko published their articles. Mukhyn and Hrytsai also contributed to the principal nationalist organ in Bukovyna, Samostiina dumka. Among the Western Ukrainian nationalist critics Dmytro Nykolyshyn devoted the most attention to Soviet Ukrainian literature.

Interwar Catholic criticism in Galicia was characterized by its anti-communism and antiliberalism. It was published in the journals Postup (Lviv) and Dzvony and the newspapers Nova zoria and the weekly Meta by Mykola Hnatyshak and Oleksander Mokh. Hryhorii Luzhnytsky (pseud: L. Nyhrytsky), the principal literary critic for the periodicals published by Ivan Tyktor’s publishing house Ukrainska Presa, shared many of the Catholic critics’ views. Other critics who contributed to Tyktor’s periodicals, particularly the literary-scientific supplement to Novyi chas (1937–9), were liberal or nationalist (eg, Stepan Siropolko, Mykola Holubets, Sviatoslav Hordynsky, Yevhen Yulii Pelensky, and Bohdan Romanenchuk).

Communist critics in Western Ukraine were insignificant, both in number and in influence. In the 1920s they contributed to the Lviv journals Nova Kul’tura, Kul’tura, and Vikna. In the late 1920s and early 1930s Galician Sovietophile critics, such as Antin Krushelnytsky and Ivan Krushelnytsky, published their views in Novi shliakhy and Krytyka. After their emigration to Soviet Ukraine and the beginning of the Stalinist terror there, Sovietophile criticism virtually disappeared in Western Ukraine.

During the Second World War the principal organs of Ukrainian literary criticism were the Prague-based nationalist journal Proboiem and the Lviv journal Nashi dni, to which Vasyl Simovych, Yurii Stefanyk (pseud: Yu. Hamorak), and new émigrés from central and eastern Ukraine contributed.

After the war the state of literary criticism in Soviet Ukraine remained fundamentally unchanged. In addition, in the late 1940s, critics with German or Jewish roots (eg, Yevhen Adelheim and Illia Stebun) were persecuted as ‘rootless cosmopolitans.’ During the first postwar decade Soviet critics applauded the pseudo-narodnist of authors who utilized the structures of folk literature. A controlled revival in literary criticism began during the post-Stalin thaw of the mid-1950s, when noteworthy articles by older critics, such as Oleksander Biletsky, Maksym Rylsky, and the labor-camp survivor Borys Antonenko-Davydovych, were allowed to be published.

During the Soviet Ukrainian cultural rebirth of the early 1960s a new criticism arose for the first time since the 1920s. The leading new critics of the shistdesiatnyky generation were Ivan Dziuba, Ivan Svitlychny, Yevhen Sverstiuk, I. Boichak, Mykhailyna Kotsiubynska, and Vasyl Stus. Their articles and surveys, in which they applied esthetic criteria rather than the scholastic principles of socialist realism, were interesting attempts at reconceptualizing ‘rehabilitated’ writers of the 1920s (eg, Volodymyr Svidzinsky, Yevhen Pluzhnyk, and Oleksa Vlyzko) and sober evaluations, devoid of traditional Soviet biases, of literary developments in Ukraine. The forgotten genre of the literary feuilleton was revived by the critics A. Shevchenko, M. Kosiv, L. Senyk, and Marharyta Malynovska, who parodied the ideologized writings of the Soviet literary ‘generals’ and the dubious examples of the class and narodnist approach. In various literary debates Vitalii Donchyk, Hryhorii Syvokin, Anatolii Makarov, Mykola Ilnytsky, and V. Ivanysenko challenged orthodox stalwarts such as Mykola Shamota, A. Trypilsky, Borys Buriak, and Dmytro Shlapak. The latter group continued exhorting critics in a directivelike fashion to adhere to Party-sanctioned sociological schemata, in which the only measure for evaluating a literary work remained whether or not it helped to educate readers in the spirit of communist morality and mobilized them to build a ‘radiant future for all of progressive humanity.’

 The 1972 CC CPSU resolution ‘On Literary-Artistic Criticism’ made it clear, however, that the Party was not prepared to relinquish its strict control over literature and criticism, and that critics would have to continue playing the role of censor and policeman in literature. The chill of ideological scholasticism and state intervention again enveloped all publications, and Komunist Ukraïny and other Party periodicals resumed publishing articles by Mykola Shamota and other literary ‘commissars’ that denounced many talented writers and their works. Only through the samvydav network were works such as Yevhen Sverstiuk’s Cathedral in Scaffolding, Ivan Dziuba’s Internationalism or Russification?, and Ivan Svitlychny’s and Vasyl Stus’s articles disseminated in Ukraine.

Those critics were soon subjected to brutal repression, and the 1970s proved in fact a barren decade in terms of literary criticism. The only partial exceptions are Leonid Novychenko’s books on Pavlo Tychyna (1979) and Maksym Rylsky (1980). In the 1970s the eight-volume multiauthor history of Ukrainian literature (1967–71) prepared by the Institute of Literature of the Academy of Sciences of the Ukrainian SSR was censured by Party critics. Its authors were rebuked for devoting excessive attention to the Ukrainian classics and uncritically examining Soviet Ukrainian literature of the 1920s.

Only on the eve of the 1980s did a group of younger critics, born in the 1940s and 1950s—among them Mykola Zhulynsky, V. Melnyk, Viacheslav Briukhovetsky, O. Nykanorova, M. Strelbytsky, Volodymyr Panchenko, S. Hrechaniuk, T. Salyha, Liudmyla Skyrda, Mykola Riabchuk, Volodymyr Morenets, Liudmyla Taran, and Natalka Bilotserkivets—become influential. Although they had to conform to rules imposed by the Party and occasionally had to exalt socialist realism, they applied esthetic criteria in their criticism and used Aesopian language to discuss the social phenomena depicted in literary works. On the pages of Literaturna Ukraïna, where the editor in charge of literary criticism was Mykhailo Slaboshpytsky, lively exchanges of views were published on the state of Ukrainian prose, poetry, and literature for children and adolescents, and on the ethical code of literary criticism.

In the perestroika years Ukraine’s journals and newspapers were filled with what would earlier have been ‘criminal’ references to proscribed writers, and concerted efforts were made to enrich the public’s knowledge of how Ukrainian literature had truly developed, about the many writers repressed during the Stalinist terror, and about Ukrainian émigré literature. Nevertheless the first two volumes (1988, 1990) of a projected five-volume Ukrainian encyclopedia of literature prepared at Institute of Literature of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine still refered to émigré writers, such as Ivan Bahriany, Vasyl Barka, and Teodosii Osmachka, as Ukrainian bourgeois nationalists, and the new history of Ukrainian literature prepared at the institute (2 vols, 1987–8) avoided mentioning such writers altogether or treats them as enemies of the people, and presented superficial, simplistic accounts of the tragic fate of most 20th-century Ukrainian writers. But newspapers and journals of the late 1980s and early 1990s published many previously banned literary works and provided detailed accounts of their authors. In the process literary criticism and literature studies overlapped in their discussion of the literature of the past decades, and the distinction between criticism and publicism become blurred (eg, in articles by Ivan Dziuba, Yevhen Sverstiuk, Oksana Pakhlovska, Lina Kostenko, and Oksana Zabuzhko) addressing the acute problems of national survival.

In the postwar period George Yurii Shevelov (pseud: Yu. Sherekh) has been the most influential literary critic within the Ukrainian émigré community in the West. In his articles in the journal Arka (1947–8) he formulated the principles of a ‘national-organic style’ and stimulated a lively discussion that continued for some time. Another émigré critic, Volodymyr Derzhavyn, produced articles that combined the Neoclassicist and modernist approaches. In the 1950s and 1960s Yurii Lavrinenko wrote insightful articles and reviews of Soviet Ukrainian and émigré literature (particularly the poets of the New York Group), and Mykola Hlobenko and Ivan Koshelivets wrote surveys of Soviet Ukrainian literature and articles about individual Soviet and émigré writers. In the 1960s Bohdan Kravtsiv contributed systematic surveys of Soviet Ukrainian literature to the monthly journal Suchasnist’. The principal intellectual forum within the émigré community since 1960, Suchasnist’ has also published criticism by Bohdan Boychuk, Volodymyr Doroshenko, John Fizer, Ivan Korovytsky, Koshelivets, Ihor Kostetsky, Hryhory Kostiuk, Bohdan Rubchak, and Danylo Husar Struk. Some of the other notable émigré critics in the postwar period are Luka Lutsiv, Bohdan Romanenchuk, Yurii Stefanyk, Ostap Tarnavsky, and Anatol Yuryniak.

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Briukhovets'kyi, V.; Kovalenko, L.; Naienko, M. ‘Literaturoznavstvo i krytyka,’ in Istoriia ukraïns'koï literatury, vol 2: Radians'ka literatura, ed L. Novychenko (Kyiv 1988)
Fedchenko, P. (ed). Istoriia ukraïns'koï literaturnoï krytyky: Dozhovtnevyi period (Kyiv 1988)
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 Ivan Koshelivets, Bohdan Kravtsiv, Mykhailo Slaboshpytsky

[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 3 (1993).]

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