Hohol-Yanovsky, Vasyl

Hohol-Yanovsky, Vasyl [Гоголь-Яновський, Василь; Hohol'-Janovs'kyj, Vasyl'; Russian: Гоголь-Яновский, Василий; Gogol'-Janovskij, Vasilij], b 1777 (?) on the Kupchyn khutir (Kupchynskyi, today Hoholeve) near Myrhorod, Poltava region, d 31 March 1825 in Kybyntsi, Poltava gubernia. A Ukrainian poet and playwright, father of Mykola Hohol (Nikolai Gogol).

A landowner of Cossack starshyna descent, he was a progeny of Ostap Hohol, the 17th-century Cossack colonel and acting hetman of Right-Bank Ukraine. Hohol-Yanovsky’s great-grandfather and grandfather served as priests; his father Opanas studied at the Kyiv Theological Academy and served as a clerk in the regimental office of the Myrhorod regiment. According to family tradition, in 1792–96, Hohol studied at the Poltava Slavonic Seminary, where the focus was on classical literature and the advanced study of Latin, Greek, French, German, as well as mathematics and art; at other times, such notable figures as Ivan Kotliarevsky and Mykola Hnidych (Nikolai Gnedich) studied at this seminary. After graduation Hohol-Yanovsky served as a provincial secretary at the Poltava post office. In 1799 he acquired the rank of a titular councilor, which granted him the right to an individual (non-hereditary) nobility. In 1805 he retired as a collegiate assessor and settled on his family estate in the village of Vasylivka, together with his wife Mariia Kosiarovska whom he married in 1805.

Hohol-Yanovsky combined in his character practical abilities and skills necessary to manage his estate with sentimental attitudes, characteristic of his time period. For example, he had his garden arranged in the English style, but, according to his wish, the trees in it were planted on the spots where pebbles, randomly scattered by his children, happened to fall. This garden, which, in the spirit of his time, he viewed as a form of synthesis of various arts and a space where nature harmoniously interconnected with art and architecture, eventually, over the years, became an impressive manifestation of joint artistic projects of father and son, Vasyl and Mykola Hohol. Such structures as the Arbor of Solitude and Grotto of Reflection were built there according to Hohol-Yanovsky’s own sketches. Poetry and freedom amidst nature were the principles he laid down as the foundations for family life and communication; for instance, loud sounds were prohibited so as not to disturb the birds. He wrote about this in one of his poems, composed at that time: ‘All I enjoy is nature itself, / I am not seduced by anyone’s wealth, / I am satisfied with my fate / And this is my favorite motto.’ Hohol-Yanovsky’s first biographer, Panteleimon Kulish, wrote about Hohol-Yanovsky’s narrative talent, noting that he was sharp-tongued and would tastefully spice-up his stories with Ukrainian humor.

In 1812 Hohol-Yanovsky was offered a position of a private secretary by the Ukrainian aristocrat (and the uncle of Hohol-Yanovsky’s wife) Dmytro Troshchynsky. After retiring from his high government posts in Saint Petersburg, Troshchynsky lived not far from Vasylivka, on his estate in the village of Kybyntsi, which he turned into an important cultural center, referred to by many as the ‘Ukrainian Athens.’ Among other things, Hohol-Yanovsky was entrusted with the care of Troshchynsky’s serf theater. An artistically gifted person, Hohol-Yanovsky performed the roles of a director, actor, musician, conductor, and playwright at the Kybyntsi theater. Mykola Hohol often visited his parents there, and, according to some scholars, the cultured atmosphere of Kybyntsi had a profound impact on his spiritual evolution and the development of his artistic sensibilities.

Fairly typical for Europe at the end of the 18th century, the preoccupation with theater in Ukraine at the time manifested itself in attempts to actualize a specifically national version of the Baroque concepts of ‘the world as a stage’ and ‘the world in masks.’ The theater was seen as an imagined cultivated reality, in which love and laughter reigned and where people and nature could be transformed. According to the accounts of his contemporaries, Dmytro Troshchynsky was particularly fond of Ukrainian plays, and the majority of these plays were written and staged for him by Hohol-Yanovsky. However, only one of Hohol-Yanovsky’s plays has survived: ‘Prostak, abo khytrist' zhinky, iaku perekhytruvav soldat’ (The Simpleton, or the Cunning of a Woman Outwitted by a Soldier). It was published in 1862 in Osnova (Saint Petersburg) by Panteleimon Kulish, who in the preface compared Hohol-Yanovsky’s play to Ivan Kotliarevsky’s ‘Moskal-Charivnyk’ (The Muscovite-Sorcerer) and concluded that ‘The Simpleton’ can be considered to be the first Ukrainian comedy. According to such 20th-century scholars as Leonid Biletsky, Hohol-Yanovsky’s ‘Simpleton’ clearly predates Kotliarevsky’s ‘Moskal-Charivnyk,’ and may have even been used by Kotliarevsky as a source of inspiration for his ‘Moskal-Charivnyk,’ and, to some extent, also for his ‘Natalka-Poltavka’ (Natalka from Poltava). Most likely, Hohol-Yanovsky’s most active creative period was between 1809 and 1814, when he wrote his ‘Simpleton’ and the play ‘Sobaka-vivtsia’ (The Sheep-Dog).

At first glance, ‘The Simpleton’ resembles a typical vaudeville, with its action built around frivolous situations, performed in a comical manner and with numerous of songs. Dmytro Chyzhevsky considered Hohol-Yanovsky’s play to be more cartoonish than Ivan Kotliarevsky’s ‘Moskal-Charivnyk.’ However, in many ways, this play departs from the unnaturalness of many mainstream operettas of the time and comes closer to an authentic folk comedy. A fairly typical vaudeville plot unfolds in this play within a Ukrainian village setting. The play portrays a young cunning village woman Paraska, the wife of a simple and lazy Cossack Roman, who attempts to deceive her husband and have amorous relations with her secret lover, a deacon. The farcical, slapstick-style comical plot set in Roman and Paraska’s home is initially complicated, and subsequently resolved by a Muscovite soldier who, in the process, tricks Paraska into providing him with food. A more serious theme linked to the plot is hinted at by Paraska’s song-monologue about a sad life of a young woman married to a husband whom she does not love. In this song, Paraska declares her right to female happiness, which, in effect, ushers a fundamentally new—in the context of the comedic literature of the time—type of dramatic conflict introduced by Hohol-Yanovsky in this play. Another aspect of ‘The Simpleton’ is the dramatist’s masterful use of language. Vasyl Hohol-Yanovsky’s notes indicate that, while writing his play, he actively researched uncommon Ukrainian words, and as a result, he can also be considered a researcher of the Ukrainian language. At times, he skillfully utilizes language mixing of Ukrainian and Russian; in particular, the deacon’s pretentious, but mutilated Russian language creates a powerful comical effect. Dmytro Chyzhevsky considered this ‘macaronic language’ to be an original feature of Hohol-Yanovsky’s comedic style, which, to a considerable extent, influenced the famous stylistic ornamentation of Nikolai Gogol in his early Russian-language stories.

In general, Mykola Hohol held his father’s plays in high esteem: he brought them with him to the Nizhyn Lyceum and later asked his mother to send them to him to Saint Petersburg where he planned to stage them in a local theater. Scholars have pointed out a number of concurrences in Hohol-Yanovsky’s ‘Simpleton’ and the stories of his son, such as the epigraphs to chapters of Gogol’s ‘Fair at Sorochyntsi,’ emulation of certain plot situations, or the manner of interaction between central characters in ‘The Fair at Sorochyntsi’ and ‘The Simpleton.’ Overall, it seems that Nikolai Gogol generously borrowed from Hohol-Yanovsky’s store of intimate knowledge of comical folk writing and its modes of expression.

Hohol-Yanovsky’s plays exerted a significant impact on the development of the Ukrainian drama and theater of the 19th century. In many ways, he introduced to the stage certain types of lively Ukrainian folk characters, speaking a vivid Ukrainian vernacular, who came to dominate the subsequent tradition of the 19th-century Ukrainian ‘ethnographic’ theater.

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Mykhed, P. (ed.). Rodoslovie N. V. Gogolia: Stat'i i materialy (Moscow 2009)
Kravchuk, P. ‘Vasyl' Hohol'-Ianovs'kyi – ukraïns'kii dramaturh pochatku 19 st.,’ Naukovyi visnyk Kyivs'koho natsional'noho universitetu teatru, kino i telebachennia im. I. K. Karpenko-Karoho: Zbirnyk naukovykh prats', vyp. 6 (Kyiv 2010)
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Pavlo Mykhed

[This article was written in 2024.]

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