Women's Voices in Ukrainian Literature

Hrytsko Hryhorenko

Hrytsko Hryhorenko (1867-1924)
Biographical Sketch

Oleksandra Sudovshchykova - Kosach is known in Ukrainian literature as Hrytsko Hryhorenko, the male literary pseudonym that she chose to use. Her father, Yevhen Sudovshchykov, was a Russian with strong pro-Ukrainian sympathies who taught in a private school in Kyiv and undertook the writing of a Ukrainian grammar. Both he and his Ukrainian wife, Hanna Khoynatska, a former student of his, who also became a teacher, were actively involved in collecting Ukrainian folk materials and in enlightening the underprivileged. Because of their involvement in Ukrainian organizations, they were exiled to northern Russia in 1866, and it was there that Oleksandra was born in 1867.

In 1868, Hanna's husband died, and her brother was able to negotiate the return of the young widow and her infant to Kyiv. Prior to obtaining a tutoring position, Hanna and her daughter lived with friends, the Drahomanovs, relatives of Olha Drahomanov-Kosach (literary pseudonym: Olena Pchilka).

Little Oleksandra was much the same age as the children of Olena Pchilka, and she became close friends with them. She was able to maintain this friendship during her childhood and adolescent years, as she and her mother spent their summer holidays in the country with the Kosach family.

After completing high school, Oleksandra continued her formal education in Kyiv and joined the Pleyada (The Pleaides), a literary circle that was organized by the two older children of Olena Pchilka: her son Mykhaylo (literary pseudonym: Mykhaylo Obachny) and her daughter Larysa (literary pseudonym: Lesya Ukrainka). This circle was dedicated to promoting the development of Ukrainian literature and introducing Ukrainian readers to the works of foreign authors by translating them into Ukrainian.

It was as a member of this group that Oleksandra became interested in writing. She wrote poetry in Ukrainian, Russian and French, and translated Ukrainian authors into French. Drawing on her knowledge of European languages, she collaborated with Mykhaylo Kosach (Obachny) in translating Swedish and English authors into Ukrainian. She also translated French authors into Ukrainian, including such works as Jules Verne's Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.

In 1893, Oleksandra married Mykhaylo Kosach who, because of political persecution, was forced to move to Estonia to continue his university studies. For the next twenty years, she and her mother lived with Mykhaylo in Tartu, Estonia, where he was first a graduate student, then a professor of physics and mathematics. It was in Estonia that Oleksandra began writing prose fiction and, in 1898, she published, under her male pseudonym, her first collection of realistic ethnographic narratives, Nashi lyudy na seli (The Lives of Our Peasants) in which the bleak lives of the Ukrainian peasants were documented.

Oleksandra and her husband returned to Ukraine in 1901 and settled in Kharkiv, where Mykhaylo assumed a position as a professor at the University of Kharkiv. Happy to be back in her native land, Oleksandra continued her writing and her translations of foreign authors.

In 1903 she had to cope with the tragic loss of her husband. With his death, she lost her soul mate and mentor, and found herself in the same position that her mother had been after the death of her husband. Unable to support herself in Kharkiv, Oleksandra and her young daughter moved to Kyiv where they lived with the Kosach family. During this most difficult period in her life, she received encouragement and support from her sister-in-law, Lesya Ukrainka.

Faced with the task of maintaining herself and her young daughter, Oleksandra completed a law degree and worked for some time in a Kyivan court. At the same time, she became involved in the women's movement, wrote a number of articles supporting the right of women to obtain a higher education, and worked closely with an organization that provided assistance to working women.

During this time Oleksandra became acquainted with many of the prominent writers of the day and embarked upon a new phase of her literary career. Writing in a modern, impressionistic style, she broadened her themes to include stories about the intelligentsia and explored the concept of psychological individualism in her short stories and sketches.

Dissatisfied with her work in the legal profession, Oleksandra supported herself through writing and private tutoring. In 1917, after her daughter completed high school, she moved with the Kosach family to the country, where she lived until her death in 1924.

The greater part of Hrytsko Hryhorenko's literary legacy consists of her early naturalistic works that were devoted to exposing the harsh conditions and moral decay of peasant life at the turn of the century, and to detailing the desperate measures to which the peasants, especially the women, were driven by adversity. Indeed, her works were written with such brutal honesty, that critics and readers of her day responded negatively to her writing, accusing her of being overly pessimistic and dwelling solely on the dark side of life. Her later writing, in which she examined the impact of technological and social change on individuals from all levels of society, was no less moving and candid.

©1998 Language Lanterns Publications
ISBN 0-9683899-3-7 (v.4)

Sketch by Roma Franko; Edited by Sonia Morris

Volumes this author appears in:

From Heart to Heart

Warm the Children, O Sun


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