Women's Voices in Ukrainian Literature
Lyubov Yanovska was born in Eastern Ukraine into a family with a literary tradition.
Her maternal grandmothers sister, who wrote under the pseudonym of Hannah Barvinok,
was the wife of the renowned Ukrainian author and activist, Panteleimon Kulish.
Lyubovs mother, encouraged to write while growing up under the tutelage of the
Kulish family, was sent to France to improve her language skills, so she could translate
Kulish's works into French.
Lyubov's father, Oleksandr Shcherbachov, was a published author. Although they shared
an interest in literature, Lyubovs parents were diametrically opposed in their
national views. The father, a Russian who supported the tsarist policy that stifled all
non-Russian languages and cultures, punished the children if they spoke Ukrainian; the
mother, determined to raise the national consciousness of the Ukrainian people through
educational and cultural organizations, wanted the children to know their native tongue.
The marriage could not withstand the tensions, and when the family broke up, Lyubov's
mother rook the younger two of their four children to Petersburg in the hope of carving
out a new life for herself. Unable to do so, she suffered a mental breakdown and died.
For Lyubov and her siblings life became difficult. Her father was forced to leave a
well-paying job in the civil service and, unable to find steady employment, was reduced to
eking out a living digging graves. Lyubov received an education only because some
benefactors recognized her innate musical talent and encouraged her to embark on a career
as a concert pianist.
In school, Lyubov was taught that Russian was the language of intelligent discourse,
and that speaking Ukrainian was tantamount to committing intellectual suicide. Fortunately
for Ukrainian literature, Lyubov, during a stint as a tutor, met and married Vasyl
Yanovsky, an older well-informed member of the Ukrainian intelligentsia.
After the marriage in 1881, the couple moved to the country, where Lyubov embarked on
an intensive program of self-education in Ukrainian language, literature, history, and
culture; she also immersed herself in the life styles, customs, and traditions of the
peasants among whom she lived.
In 1897, her first short story was published and, before long, she was writing novels
and plays. By 1900, she had established herself on the Ukrainian literary scene.
The success Lyubov Yanovska experienced in her writing career did not carry over into
her personal life. Her husband, a difficult man who was much older than she, became ill,
and she nursed him for more than twenty years. Despite this drain on her time and energy,
she kept writing and, propelled by her highly-developed sense of social responsibility,
worked actively to improve the life of the peasants.
Admiring the resilience and stoicism of the peasants, but distressed by the limitations
they faced in trying to better their lot in life, Yanovska set up literacy classes for
adults and children, encouraged the dissemination of books among the peasantry, and
organized drama, choral, and instrumental music groups. Under her direction, villagers
presented a number of her plays and even staged an operetta for which she wrote the
On several occasions when her husband was receiving medical treatments in Kyiv, she met
some of the leading writers of the day, including a number of women authors. In 1903, she
was invited to attend the unveiling of a monument in Kyiv dedicated to Ivan Kotlyarevsky,
whose parody of Vergil's Aeneid, written in Ukrainian in 1798, earned
him the title of the Father of Modern Ukrainian Literature. At this unveiling, she was
enthusiastically welcomed into the Ukrainian literary establishment.
After moving to Kyiv in 1905, she actively participated in literary circles, organized
women's associations, and joined the world-wide womens movement. Deeply committed to
improving womens lives in all levels of societya goal that she viewed as
crucial to effecting social changeYanovksa gave inspiring talks at conferences
devoted to women's issues. In recognition of her efforts, she was invited to attend an
international women's conference in Stockholm, in 1911, an honour she had to decline due
to failing health.
Despite her physical limitations, Yanovska worked tirelessly on committees to assist
women and children left destitute by the First World War. As a result of her selfless
dedication to these causes, her precarious health suffered a further decline and, after
1916, she was no longer able to write.
In 1923, the Ukrainian literary community organized celebrations in honour of the 25th
Anniversary of her writing career, but Yanovska was too ill to attend. Later that year she
suffered a paralytic stroke; she died in 1933.
Yanovskas writing reflects her deep understanding of and compassion for the
peasantry and the intelligentsia of her day, both of whom were caught in the debilitating
mores and structures of their separate worlds. Her works bridge the older
ethnographic-realistic school of writing and the newer modernistic-psychological movement.
©1998 Language Lanterns Publications
Sketch by Roma Franko; Edited by Sonia Morris
Volumes this author appears in:
In the Dark of the Night
Warm the Children, O Sun
©1998-2016 Language Lanterns Publications,
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