27 July 2023
The Ukrainian poet, writer and artist Taras Shevchenko (1814-61) is considered the founder of modern Ukrainian literature. His poetry shaped the development of Ukrainian national consciousness and, more widely, is symbolic of the universal fight for freedom from oppression.
Shevchenko is the focus of a new display in the British Library’s Treasures Gallery. Open until autumn 2023, the display brings together different editions of his works published between 1860 and 2012, as well as examples of how his image and poetry have been reimagined today. Through these items, it demonstrates the strength and resilience of Ukrainian culture and language, which flourished despite centuries of Russian colonial oppression.
Shevchenko was born into serfdom (a form of peasant servitude) in Ukraine – then under the Russian Empire. In 1847, he was arrested, imprisoned and exiled for his political views and anti-tsarist satirical poems. Tsar Nicholas I personally banned him from writing or painting while in exile, but he managed to continue doing so in secret. Many of Shevchenko’s works were censored during his lifetime. His poetry, which ranges from romantic ballads to heroic poems, has since been published and translated into more than 100 languages. Shevchenko has inspired generations of writers, and continues to serve as a rallying figure for Ukrainians today.
In this blog post, we bring you a digital version of the display.
Photograph of the display in the British Library Treasures Gallery
Taras Shevchenko, Kobzar (St Petersburg, 1860). 11585.d.43. Digitised.
In 1840, the Russian censor in St Petersburg granted permission for the publication of a small volume of poetry by an unknown Ukrainian poet, Taras Shevchenko. Consisting of eight works (with some censored passages), this small book had a momentous impact on the history of Ukrainian literature. Its title, Kobzar, refers to a Ukrainian bard who played a stringed instrument called the kobza. The book was so important that Shevchenko himself became known as ‘Kobzar’. This more complete edition of 17 works was published in 1860, the year before Shevchenko’s death, and contains a portrait of the author.
Forbidden in the Russian Empire
Taras Shevchenko, Kobzar. (Volume one), (Geneva, 1881). 1451.a.42.
Measuring just 7 x 11 cm, this pocket-sized edition of Kobzar was published outside of Ukraine. At the time, printing and importing Ukrainian-language publications was forbidden within the Russian Empire. Its small format would have made it easier to smuggle into Ukraine – similar editions were disguised as packets of cigarette papers. Published by the Ukrainian scholar and political thinker Mykhailo Drahomanov, it is one of only two known copies to have survived.
Kobzar for displaced persons
Taras Shevchenko, Kobzar. ([Munich?], 1947-48). 11588.a.94.
At the end of the Second World War, there were over two million Ukrainian displaced persons (DPs) in Western Europe. While most returned to the Soviet Union (many against their will), around 200,000 remained in Allied-occupied Germany. Ukrainian DPs set up schools, places of worship, theatres, hospitals, and published newspapers and books. This edition of Kobzar was produced in Germany in 1947. It includes the stamp of the Central Ukrainian Relief Bureau, a London-based relief agency established after the end of the war to assist Ukrainian DPs.
Modern children’s edition of Kobzar
Taras Shevchenko, Dytiachyi Kobzar. Illustrated by Maryna Mykhailoshina (L’viv, 2012). YF.2013.b.1660
This modern edition of Kobzar has been specially adapted for children. Its vibrant illustrations by Maryna Mykhailoshina capture the beauty of Ukraine’s landscape. Born into serfdom, Shevchenko was orphaned when he was 12. He displayed artistic talent from a young age and was apprenticed by his master to a painter in St Petersburg. It was through his painting and artistic connections that he was eventually able to buy his freedom in 1838.
Shevchenko as a superhero by Andriy Yermolenko. Part of the series ‘Shevchenkiniana’, 2013-2014. Reproduced by permission of the artist.
Patch featuring Shevchenko in Ukrainian military clothing, 2022. Private Loan.
Shevchenko’s image and work continue to inspire and resonate today. During the 2014 Revolution of Dignity in Ukraine, protestors recited his poetry and artists reimagined him in various forms, including as a superhero and Elvis Presley. Some of the most widely quoted lines, ‘Fight – and you’ll be victorious, God is helping you!’, are from Shevchenko’s 1845 poem ‘Kavkaz’ (‘The Caucasus’), a revolutionary work addressing Russian imperialism and colonialism. They have taken on increased significance following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine and feature on a range of items, such as this 2022 patch featuring Shevchenko in Ukrainian military clothing.
Olga Kerziouk, 'The First Kobzar', European Studies Blog, 12 February 2014.
Olga Kerziouk, 'Shevchenko: a voice for unsung heroines', European Studies Blog, 9 March 2015.
Nadiia Strishenets, 'Rare editions of Taras Shevchenko’s Kobzar in the British Library', European Studies Blog, 10 March 2022.
Nadiia Strishenets, 'Digital Shevchenkiana – a Joint English-Ukrainian Project', European Studies Blog, 10 March 2023.
10 March 2023
Do not forget, with good intent
Speak quietly of me
(Taras Shevchenko, ‘Testament’, translated by Vera Rich)
Every year, on 9-10 March, ‘Shevchenko’s Days’ (Shevchenkivs’ki dni) are celebrated in Ukraine. The national poet, founder of modern Ukrainian literature and famous artist Taras Shevchenko was born on 9 March 1814. On 10 March 1861 he died at the age of 47 after more than 10 years in exile as a private in the Russian military garrison in Orsk (near the Ural Mountains) and then in Kazakhstan. The Tsar added to his sentence: ‘Under the strictest surveillance, without the right to write or paint’. But Shevchenko’s talent went beyond such restrictions. His poems had an immense impact on Ukrainian society and became a vital source of the consolidation of the Ukrainian nation.
As a result of a joint project between the Endangered Archives Programme (EAP), administered by the British Library, and the Taras Shevchenko National Museum in Kyiv (Ukraine), the British Library holds copies of a digital collection of Shevchenkiana (works by, about, or relating to Shevchenko). It includes books, serials and archival materials dating from the 19th to the early 20th century (about 60,000 images). The collection, which is called ‘Saving the original lifetime archive of the well-known Ukrainian poet, artist and thinker, T. H. Shevchenko’, is available via the EAP website and can be searched via the British Library Archives and Manuscripts catalogue.
Shevchenkiana includes not only the publications of the poet’s own works, including those from his own lifetime, but also literary journals and almanacs, where his poems were published (Lastovka, 1841; Molodyk, 1843; Khata, 1860; Osnova, 1861–1862, etc.). There are also publications about Shevchenko, books by writers and poets of his time, translations of his works and archival materials.
Shevchenko lifetime editions: Hamaliia (ref: EAP657/2/1/7); and Kateryna (ref: EAP657/2/1/8)
Of special value among the editions published in Shevchenko’s lifetime are those containing his personal autographs. For instance, on the title page of the poem ‘Naimychka’ (1860) the poet made an inscription: ‘To Orlovs’ky from T. Shevchenko’. We can assume that it is Volodymyr Orlovsky, a Ukrainian artist famous for his landscape painting (1842–1914). In December 1860, Shevchenko wrote about Orlovsky’s daily visits to him in a letter and expressed the hope that he would have a promising future. Shevchenko not only gave drawing lessons to his young compatriot, but he also provided him with a letter of recommendation to the Saint Petersburg Academy of Fine Arts.
Or another autograph written in pencil on the cover of Psalmy Davydovi to a Serhii Syl’vestrovych whom T. Shevchenko calls ‘Dear compatriot’.
Shevchenko editions with his autographs: Naimychka (ref: EAP657/2/1/6); Psalmy Davydovi (ref: EAP657/2/1/6).
The digitised collection also includes issues of the famous Ukrainian literary journal Osnova (published January 1861–October 1862). Osnova united Ukrainian writers and scholars who wrote fiction, poems, works on history, bibliography, literary criticism, etc. The journal had a noticeable impact on Ukrainian cultural and literary life. Over 70 poems by Shevchenko appeared in it. Novels and poems by well-known Ukrainian writers such as Panteleimon Kulish, Leonid Hlibov, Oleksa Storozhenko, Oleksandr Konys’ky, Hanna Barvinok, Marko Vovchok and others were also published in this journal as well as scholarly research. For instance, Mykola Kostomarov, an outstanding historiographer and historian, contributed scholarly articles and discussed contemporary issues of Ukrainian history. It is important to note that the British Library Archives and Manuscripts catalogue provides an analytical description of all novels, articles and cycles of poems printed in Osnova and other serials.
Osnova, 1861, July-September (ref. EAP657/2/1/19); Khata [almanach], 1860 (ref. EAP657/2/1/13)
The collection also includes some digitised editions of translations of Shevchenko’s works, among them translations into Polish by Antony Gorzałczyński (1862). In the preface to the book Gorzałczyński wrote that Shevchenko’s poetry is a huge lute, composed of a million strings of folk feelings. It contains crying, laughter, pain, groaning, and even mad despair - everything has its own strings and chords. Few of Shevchenko’s contemporaries understood the scale of his legacy so deeply as Gorzałczyński.
Antony Gorzałczyński, Przekłady pisarzów małorossyjskich. T. 1: Taras Szewczenko (z portretem). (Kyiv, 1862). (ref. EAP657/2/3/4)
In ‘Publications of Shevchenko era’, which is another part of this e-collection, there are digitised books by the Ukrainian writers Panteleimon Kulish, Marko Vovchok, Mykhailo Hrushevs’ky, Osyp Bodians’ky, and others, as well as ‘Notes of the Shevchenko Scientific Society’ in Lviv, primers and reading books for children, and other publications characteristic of that era.
An important part of the collection are archival materials which include documents, letters, and manuscripts relating to Shevchenko. Among them: ‘Case of the arrest of A. Navrotsky, V. Belozersky and T. Shevchenko’ (1847), after which Shevchenko spent more than 10 years in exile (ref. EAP657/1/10); ‘Case of the Ukrainian Slavic Association’ (1847) (ref. EAP657/1/14); and ‘Case of the despatch of the private Taras Shevchenko to Ural’sk city’ (1857) with correspondence about the release of Shevchenko from exile (ref. EAP657/1/7).
‘Case of the arrest of A. Navrotsky, V. Belozersky and T. Shevchenko’ (28 Mar 1847–04 Aug 1847) (ref. EAP657/1/10)
Now, after the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine, when the Ministry of Culture of Ukraine reports 1322 cases of damage or destruction of cultural objects and buildings, including 508 libraries, international projects to digitise Ukrainian cultural heritage are gaining special importance. This work provides an opportunity for the long-term preservation of collections, at least in digital form, and provides access to them for readers.
Nadiia Strishenets, Leading researcher at the Vernadsky National Library of Ukraine and British Academy Fellow
Volodymyr Orlovsʹkyĭ (1842–1914), Mykola Pymonenko (1862–1912), (Khmelnytskyi, 2006.): LF.31.a.3570
24 February 2023
24 February 2023 marks one year since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine. While the British Library has been collecting digital and print material relating to Russia’s war against Ukraine since it began in 2014, the full-scale invasion has led to, and necessitated, the publication of new works, from diaries and speeches to books for Ukrainian children arriving in the UK.
This blog post brings together some of the items the British Library has acquired in the past year, as well as some of our ongoing activities to support and collaborate with Ukrainian colleagues, institutions and guests.
Photo from the Books Without Borders event courtesy of the Embassy of Ukraine in the United Kingdom and the Publisher’s Licensing Services Ltd
Children’s books presented by the First Lady of Ukraine, Olena Zelenska, at the British Library
In August 2022, the Library hosted the launch event for ‘Books Without Borders’ in partnership with the Publishers’ Licensing Services (PLS) and book print specialists Halstan, who funded and produced 16,000 Ukrainian language books for children arriving in the UK. We welcomed 40 children and their families to the British Library’s Learning Centre. The event was also attended by the Ukrainian Ambassador and the First Lady of Ukraine, who joined remotely to present the books and answer the children’s questions.
The books have been distributed to families and libraries across the UK, including the British Library (see References).
Cover of In the Face of War
In the Face of War
‘In the daily life of war, only something like photography – unfamiliar, auxiliary, almost mechanical – is capable of holding together sequences and memories.’ Day 16. Friday, March 11.
The Ukrainian artist, writer, and photographer Yevgenia Belorusets kept a diary during the first months of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Writing from Kyiv, the diary, which included photographs, was updated in real-time and published by Spiegel (German) and ISOLARII (English). It formed the basis of the installation A Wartime Diary, which was exhibited alongside the work of Ukrainian artists Nikita Kadan and Lesia Khomenko in the exhibition This is Ukraine: Defending Freedom at the 59th Venice Biennale 2022. Their work also led to the publication of the pocketbook In the Face of War (also by ISOLARII), of which the Library holds a copy. Another edition of Belorusets’ diary will be published in early March with a new preface by the author.
Zelensky’s speeches from the first month of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine
Volodymyr Zelensky’s speeches and addresses (in Ukrainian and English)
‘Do not forget about Ukraine. Do not get tired of Ukraine. Do not let our courage go “out of fashion”.’ (Zelensky, Introduction, A Message from Ukraine)
Elected in 2019, President Volodymyr Zelensky has led Ukraine’s resistance to Russia’s full-scale invasion since February 2022. The British Library holds copies of Zelensky’s published speeches in Ukrainian and English translation. A separate English-language collection, A Message from Ukraine, was recently published by Penguin Random House. It includes 16 of Zelensky’s personally selected speeches from 2019-2022, as well as an introduction in which he reflects on how the months since the invasion have changed Ukraine and him personally. He ends with the words: ‘What will bring the end of the war? We used to say “peace”. Now we say “victory”.’
Mstyslav Chernov, Fire burns at a factory after a Russian attack in the outskirts of Kharkiv, Ukraine, 15 April 2022. Visual interpretation for Ukraine Lab.
The Ukrainian Institute London is an independent charity dedicated to strengthening Ukraine’s voice in the UK and beyond. The Library has worked with the Institute on a number of projects and events, including Ukraine Lab (2022), an online writing residency for emerging writers from Ukraine and the UK. Working in cross-cultural pairs, the six participants explored global challenges related to environment, disinformation and war, through the prism of Ukraine and the art of storytelling. You can read their work here. As part of the project, the British Library led a collections-based workshop and hosted an online event (recording available).
Ukraine Lab was run by the Ukrainian Institute London in partnership with PEN Ukraine and the Ukrainian Institute as part of the UK/UA Season of Culture, funded by the British Council.
Cover of Andrey Kurkov’s Diary of an Invasion
Diary of an Invasion by Andrey Kurkov
‘At first we did not understand what war was. You can’t understand it until you see it and hear it.’
Diary of an Invasion by Andrey Kurkov, the critically acclaimed author of novels including Grey Bees and Death and the Penguin, brings together his writings and broadcasts from Kyiv. Kurkov interweaves his personal story with those of his compatriots, as well as political and historical commentary, in a remarkable record of life immediately before and during the full-scale Russian invasion.
Kurkov took part in an event hosted by the British Library to mark Worldwide Reading of Ukrainian Literature Day in September 2022. Organised by the Living Knowledge Network in partnership with the Ukrainian Institute London, a recording of the event is available to watch on LKN’s website.
Cover of Sanctuary Foundation’s book for Ukrainian children arriving in the UK, Hello / Pryvit
A bilingual book to welcome Ukrainian children in the UK
Designed for Ukrainian children who have arrived in the UK in the past year, this bilingual book includes messages of welcome from British and Ukrainian celebrities including Bear Grylls, Tom Odell, Mel Giedroyc, Andriy Pyatov and Jamala. The book was created and published by the charity Sanctuary Foundation, who presented a copy to the British Library in December 2022. Sanctuary Foundation is working with LKN to distribute the books to local libraries around the UK.
N.B. The items featured in this blog post have recently been acquired by the British Library and some may not yet be available to Readers. We will update the shelfmark information and will flag their availability via Twitter as soon as they are ready to order.
Kolosok: ukraïnsʹka narodna kazka, illustrated by Adelʹ Hilevych (Kyiv, 2021), YF.2022.a.23583.
Pro bidnoho parubka i tsarivnu: ukraïnsʹka narodna kazka, illustrated by Iulii Kryha (Kyiv, 2021). YF.2022.a.23582.
Zhenchyk, zhenchyk nevelychkyi, illustrated by V'iacheslav Lehkobyt (Kyiv, 2021), YF.2022.a.23586.
Halyna Tkachuk, Bilka Kvasolia ta Opivnichnyii Pozhyraka, illustrated by Nataliia Kashchak (Kharkiv, 2019). YF.2022.a.24557
Valentyna Vzdulʹsʹka, Fotofan: mystetstvo fotohrafii dlia ditei (Kyiv, 2022), YF.2022.b.2327.
Misiats’ viiny: khronika podii: promovy ta zvernennia prezydenta Ukraïny Volodymyra Zelensʹkoho, uporiadnyk Oleksandr Krasovytsʹkyi (Kharkiv, 2022), YF.2022.a.22981.
— Druhyi misiatsʹ viiny. YF.2022.a.22966.
Ukraine Aflame: War Chronicles: Month 1, compiled by Oleksandr Krasovytskyy; translator Ganna Krapivnyk (Kharkiv, 2022), YD.2022.a.4046.
— Ukraine Aflame – 2. YD.2022.a.4047.
Volodymyr Zelensky, A Message from Ukraine (London, 2022), ELD.DS.739195.
Yevgenia Belorusets, Nikita Kadan, and Lesia Khomenko, In the Face of War (Berlin, 2022). Awaiting shelfmark.
Andrey Kurkov, Diary of an Invasion (London, 2022). Awaiting shelfmark.
Krish Kandiah and Miriam Kandiah, Hello / Pryvit! (Sanctuary Foundation, 2022). Awaiting shelfmark.
30 December 2022
C is for Czechoslovak Independence Day, which marks the foundation of the independent Czechoslovak State in 1918.
D is for Digitisation, including the 3D digitisation of Marinetti’s Tin Book.
E is for Annie Ernaux, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in October.
Examples of Fraktur letter-forms from Wolfgang Fugger, Ein nützlich und wolgegründt Formular manncherley schöner Schriefften ... (Nuremberg, 1533) C.142.cc.12.
F is for Festive Traditions, from songs to fortune telling.
G is for Guest bloggers, whose contributions we love to receive!
H is for Hryhorii Skovoroda, the Ukrainian philosopher and poet whose anniversary we marked in December.
I is for our series on Iceland and the Library’s Icelandic collections.
J is for Jubilees.
Abetka (Kyïv, 2005). YF.2010.a.18369.
K is for Knowledge systems and the work of Snowchange Cooperative, a Finnish environmental organisation devoted to protecting and restoring the boreal forests and ecosystems through ‘the advancement of indigenous traditions and culture’.
L is for Limburgish, spoken in the South of the Netherlands.
M is for Mystery – some bibliographical sleuthing.
N is for Nordic acquisitions, from Finnish avant-garde poetry to Swedish art books.
O is for Online resources from East View, which are now available remotely.
Giovanni Bodoni and Giovanni Mardersteig, Manuale tipografico, 1788. Facsimile a cura di Giovanni Mardersteig. (Verona, 1968) L.R.413.h.17.
Q is for Quebec with a guest appearance by the Americas blog featuring the work of retired French collections curator Des McTernan.
R is for Rare editions of Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko’s Kobzar.
T is for Translation and our regular posts to mark Women in Translation Month.
Alphabet Anglois, contenant la prononciation des lettres avec les declinaisons et conjugaisons (Rouen, 1639). Digital Store 1568/3641.(1.)
V is for Victory – a contemporary Italian newspaper report of the Battle of Trafalgar.
W is for Richard Wagner who wrote about a fictional meeting with Beethoven.
X is for... (no, we couldn’t think of anything either!)
Y is for You, our readers. Thank you for following us!
Z is for our former colleague Zuzanna, whom we remembered in February.
Azbuka ōt knigi osmochastnye̡, sirěchʹ grammatikii (Lviv, 1574). Digital Store 1568/3641.(1.)
22 December 2022
Having met some friends on their way to a Christmas carol concert, I thought that maybe it would be interesting to some of our readers to learn what East Europeans sing and recite for Christmas.
The word used for the ritual that happens around this time of the year is koliada, koleda (there are several other variants in Slavonic languages, as well as Lithuanian and Romanian, originating from the Old Church Slavonic form “kolęnda”). It is believed that the word originally comes from Latin “calendae” – the first day of the month – and over the years its initial pagan symbolism merged with the Christian tradition.
The rituals vary significantly among Slavonic and East European cultures, but the most stable elements in all areas include singing special songs, playing games and fortune telling. The celebration combines honouring both darkness and light, but heralds a new beginning. One period of life is complete and comes to an end (darkness), while a new start (star) is about to rise in the sky. Good wishes and a positive mood are shared within a close circle of loved ones, although it is traditionally important to remember deceased ancestors. It was also believed that animals during this time could speak with a human voice, which might be a sign of messages from the ancestors.
All these can be found in one of the most popular Ukrainian songs Oi Syvaia ta i zozulen'ka (commonly translated as “Oh, Grey Cuckoo”), where a cuckoo is going around with best wishes and sending them to the Clear Moon (father of the family), the Red Sun (his wife) and small stars (their children).
Koliadky i shchedrivky. (Kyiv, 1991). YA.1996.a.6899
In a modern Belarusian fairy-tale based on the traditional stories, a goat brings joy, prosperity and happiness, so people try to please it with songs and food.
I. Kuz’minich. Kazka pra handliara Piatra, Kazu i Kaliady. (Minsk, 2014). YF.2015.a.21355.
A combination of old symbolic beliefs with the new Christian meaning of the celebration is a very distinct feature of many songs. Modern Czech writers continued the tradition of this celebration, creating new poems based on popular texts. As it says in the introduction to the book České vánoce: umění, poesie, tradice, we all become poets at this time of the year.
Koleda by František Jan Vavál, from České vánoce: umění, poesie, tradice. (Prague, 1957). YA.1993.b.3196.
Wishing you all to spend this season in a poetic spirit, and – of course – lots of love, happiness and joy.
Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European collections
02 December 2022
On the night of 7 May 2022 a Russian missile completely destroyed a historic 18th-century building in the small Ukrainian village of Skovorodynivka, situated in a rural area, far from any infrastructure. This building housed the National Literary-Memorial Museum of Hryhorii Skovoroda – a Ukrainian poet and philosopher whose creative legacy consists of philosophical treatises, poems, fables, parables, and translations from Plutarch and Cicero. The house was where Skovoroda worked in the last years of his life. There he died.
The National Literary-Memorial Museum of Hryhorii Skovoroda after a Russian missile strike
Meanwhile this year we mark the 300th anniversary of Hryhorii Skovoroda’s birth on 3 December 1722 to a Cossack family in the small Ukrainian town of Chornukhy. It was a transition period for Ukraine and Ukrainian independence when some old traditions of the Hetman state, which had a wide autonomy, still existed. But this autonomy had been gradually limited by the Russian empire. Just before Skovoroda’s birth Ukrainian printing houses were forbidden by decrees of the Russian Tsar (1720) and the Synod (1721) to publish anything except reprints of old editions which were not supposed to differ in language and even accents from Russian. Certainly, none of Skovoroda’s works were published during his lifetime and thus could not become part of the scholarly discourse of that period.
H. Luk’íanov. Portrait of Hryhorii Skovoroda, 1794
At the age of 11 Skovoroda was enrolled in the famed Kyiv-Mohyla Academy where he studied poetics, rhetoric and philosophy, as well as Latin, Greek and Hebrew; he read Aristotle, Plato, Plutarch, Cicero, and other classical authors.
From early childhood Skovoroda was musically gifted and he carried a love for music and church singing through his whole life. He played the flute, violin, bandura and harp. Later, in one of his parables Skovoroda wrote: “Music is a great medicine in sorrow, comfort in sadness, fun in happiness.”
At the end of 1745, eager to see foreign lands and to get to know a wider ‘circle of sciences’ Skovoroda travelled to Tokai (Hungary). In the following five years he visited Vienna, Bratislava, Budapest, possibly Rome, Venice, and Florence, where he met with scholars, studied philosophy and improved his knowledge of foreign languages. Biographers believe that he also attended German universities, in particular the University of Halle. The German roots of his mystical philosophy were thoroughly studied by Dmytro Chyzhevs’kyi, one of the best interpreters of Skovoroda’s life and thoughts. Chyzhevs’kyi’s book The Philosophy of H. S. Skovoroda was published in 1934 in Warsaw and also included an analysis of Skovoroda’s poetry. The well-known Ukrainian emigré poet Ievhen Malaniuk wrote that it is difficult to imagine the spiritual life of his generation without this book.
Cover of Dmytro Chyzhevs’kyi, Skovoroda: Dichter, Denker, Mystiker, Harvard series in Ukrainian studies; vol. 18 (Munich, 1974) X.0800/445.(18.)
Chyzhevs’kyi also prepared a German edition of this book. It was supposed to appear in 1946 but was not published until 1974. Skovoroda: Dichter, Denker, Mystiker is different from the Warsaw edition. The author enhanced the biographical materials and added quotes from the texts of German mystics.
After returning to Kyiv in October 1750 Skovoroda taught poetics at the Pereiaslav Collegium, again studied at the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, and from 1753–1759 worked as a tutor. Then he taught poetics, syntax, Greek, and ethics at the Kharkiv Collegium. His last attempt to teach there in 1768–1769 ended in a conflict with the bishop because Skovoroda’s course on the catechism differed from what was generally accepted. After that he left all positions and became a traveling philosopher and poet.
As a philosopher, he was not so much concerned with the creation of a general world-view. He reflected on ethical issues and mainly focused on the philosophy of happiness, what happiness is and whether everyone can achieve it. Freedom and happiness through knowing oneself were key themes for Skovoroda. He was looking for a new, better world and taught that there is no need to seek happiness in other countries, in other centuries. It is everywhere and always with us; as a fish is in water, so we are in it, and it is near us looking for ourselves. It is nowhere because it is everywhere, similar to sunshine – only open your soul.
Cover of Hryhoriĭ Skovoroda, The Garden of Divine Songs and Collected Poetry … translated by Michael M. Naydan (London, 2016) YKL.2018.a.13622
All of Skovoroda’s writings were preserved in manuscripts. They comprise a collection of poems, The Garden of Divine Songs, fables (Kharkiv Fables) and philosophical treatises often written in the form of dialogues. Only after his death was a dialogue ‘Narcissus. Know thyself’ partly published in St Petersburg in a collection, without specifying the author’s name. The first full edition of works (in two volumes) appeared as late as in 1961 during a short cultural thaw.
The most comprehensive and authentic collection of Skovoroda’s works was published in independent Ukraine under the guidance of the outstanding researcher Leonid Ushkalov. All texts were checked against their manuscripts and quotations were correctly distinguished from the actual author’s text. A detailed and professional commentary adds value to this edition.
At the British Library the most complete collection of Skovoroda’s works (translated into modern Ukrainian) is the two-volume edition prepared by the T. Shevchenko Institute of Literature in Kyiv (1994).
In his poetry Skovoroda developed the same philosophical themes as in his treatises and dialogues. But in the poems they often sound more expressive and emotional. In the ‘Eleventh Song’ from the collection The Garden of Divine Songs he wrote “The spirit in man is an abyss, wider than all the waters and heavens”. Skovoroda was the last and the most prominent poet of the Ukrainian literary baroque, a style characterised by the emphatic use of metaphors and symbols, a variety of rhythms and stanzas.
Wandering folk minstrels sang his poems as songs. They were translated into different languages. The British Library has a Polish translation of some poems made by Jerzy Litwiniuk in an anthology of Ukrainian poetry.
Cover of Hryhoriĭ Skovoroda, The Complete Correspondence of Hryhory Skovoroda, Philospher and Poet, translated by Eleonora Adams and Michael M. Naydan ; edited by Liliana M. Naydan; guest introduction by Leonid Rudnytzky (London, 2016) YKL.2018.a.21042
A special part of Skovoroda’s legacy are his letters. Most of them (79 letters) were addressed to his best friend Mykhaĭlo Kovalyns’kyi. They were written mainly in Latin and resemble the ‘Moral Letters to Lucilius’ by Roman philosopher Seneca or the Earl of Chesterfield’s letters to his son. Skovoroda advised his friend to read good books, to look for real friends, to listen to exquisite music and to look at the theatre of everyday life from above.
It was Kovalyns’kyi who wrote the first biography of Skovoroda in 1795, just after Skovoroda’s death. However, for almost a century this invaluable source existed only in manuscript and was known only to the philosopher’s friends and admirers. Hryhorii Danylevs’kyi referred to this manuscript in his detailed biography of Skovoroda in 1862. However, Kovalyns’kyi’s memoir was only published as a separate edition in 1894, in Kharkiv.
Cover of Leonid Ushkalov, Hryhoriĭ Skovoroda vid A do IA (L’viv, 2019) YF.2019.b.2030
The first modern biography based on different archival sources, which helped to decode many controversial and unclear facts, was published by Leonid Makhnovets (1972). It was very important because various legends had arisen about Skovoroda, even during his own lifetime. The modern Ukrainian writer Valeriĭ Shevchuk wrote a comprehensive biography combined with an analysis of Skovoroda’s poetry, fables and letters (2008). Leonid Ushkalov’s scrupulous biography (2017) contains numerous references to works, people and the environment in which Skovoroda lived. It creates a vivid image of 18th-century Ukraine. Ushkalov also wrote a monograph on the literature and philosophy of the Ukrainian Baroque, largely based on the works of Skovoroda, and compiled a beautiful illustrated edition for children (2019).
The British Library contains books in different languages about Skovoroda, including a monograph by Elisabeth von Erdmann, a German professor of Slavic Studies, which places him in the tradition of philosophia perennis. This enabled a transparent and coherent reading of his writings in the contexts of the Baroque and Enlightenment eras and of Europe’s cultural and religious history.
Cover of Elisabeth von Erdmann, Unähnliche Ähnlichkeit: die Onto-Poetik des ukrainischen Philosophen Hryhorij Skovoroda (1722-1794). Bausteine zur slavischen Philologie und Kulturgeschichte. Reihe A, Slavistische Forschungen; n.F., Bd. 49 (Cologne, 2005) ZA.9.a.4768(49)
As well as his writings another no less valuable part of Skovoroda’s legacy was his way of life, with conscious rejection of the temptations of the world. He lived very simply, and had no family or permanent home. He gave priority to personal spiritual freedom, taught a true Christian attitude to life and showed how to be satisfied with the simple joys of life. In his own life Skovoroda followed what he taught. It can be said of him: “He lived as he taught, and taught as he lived”.
Nadiia Strishenets, Leading Researcher at the Vernadsky National Library of Ukraine and British Academy Fellow
Dmytro Chyzhevs’kyi, Filʹosofiia H.S. Skovorody = La philosophie de Grégoire Skovoroda (Warsaw, 1934) Ac.1147.d.
Dmytro Chyzhevs’kyi, Skovoroda: Dichter, Denker, Mystiker, Harvard series in Ukrainian studies; vol. 18 (Munich, 1974) X.0800/445.(18.)
Hryhoriĭ Skovoroda, Tvory u dvokh tomakh, ed. Mykola Zhulynsʹkyĭ et al. Kyïvsʹka biblioteka davnʹoho ukraïnsʹkoho pysʹmenstva. Studiï; t. 5-6 (Kyiv, 2005) ZF.9.a.3589
Hryhoriĭ Skovoroda, The Garden of Divine Songs and Collected Poetry … translated by Michael M. Naydan ; with an introduction by Valery Shevchuk ; translations edited by Olha Tytarenko (London, 2016) YKL.2018.a.13622
Od Iłariona do Skoworody: antologia poezji ukraińskiej XI-XVIII w.. ed. Włodzimierz Mokry (Kraków, 1996) YF.2010.a.22281
Hryhoriĭ Skovoroda, The Complete Correspondence of Hryhory Skovoroda, Philospher and Poet, translated by Eleonora Adams and Michael M. Naydan ; edited by Liliana M. Naydan; guest introduction by Leonid Rudnytzky (London, 2016) YKL.2018.a.21042
Hryhorii Skovoroda: Vybrani tvory v dvokh tomakh / [Uporiadkuvannia, pidhotovka tekstiv ta prymitky B. A. Derkacha.] (Kyiv, 1972) X.989/26377
Leonid Makhnovets, Hryhoriĭ Skovoroda (Kyiv, 1972) X.519/15878.
Valeriĭ Shevchuk, Piznanyĭ i nepiznanyĭ sfinks: Hryhoriĭ Skovoroda suchasnymy ochyma: rozmysly (Kyiv, 2008) YF.2008.a.38916
Leonid Ushkalov, Lovytva nevlovnoho ptakha: zhyttia Hryhoriia Skovorody (Kyiv, 2017) YF.2017.a.17493
Leonid Ushkalov, Literatura i filosofiia: doba ukraïnsʹkoho baroko. Sloboz︠h︡ansʹkyĭ svit; 13 (Kharkiv, 2019) YF.2020.a.8355
Leonid Ushkalov, Hryhoriĭ Skovoroda vid A do IA (L’viv, 2019) YF.2019.b.2030
Elisabeth von Erdmann, Unähnliche Ähnlichkeit: die Onto-Poetik des ukrainischen Philosophen Hryhorij Skovoroda (1722-1794). Bausteine zur slavischen Philologie und Kulturgeschichte. Reihe A, Slavistische Forschungen; n.F., Bd. 49 (Cologne, 2005) ZA.9.a.4768(49)
Skovoroda, philosophe Ukrainien... : colloque tenu le 18 janvier 1973 à l'Institut d'études slaves de Paris à l'occasion du 250e anniversaire de la naissance de Skovoroda (1722-1972). Collection historique de l’Institut d’études slaves; 23) (Paris, 1976) Ac:8808.d/2
Hryhorij Savyč Skovoroda: an anthology of critical articles, ed. Richard H. Marshall, Jr. and Thomas E. Bird (Edmonton, 1994) YC.2019.a.10287
Hryhoriĭ Skovoroda, 1722-1794: bibliohrafichnyĭ pokazhchyk (Kyiv, 2002) YF.2004.a.2767
Hryhorii Skovoroda, Povna akademichna zbirka tvoriv, ed. by Leonid Ushkalov (Kharkiv, 2010). YF.2012.a.18740
22 November 2022
Good news! If you have a British Library Reader Pass, it is now possible to access most of the Library’s East View e-resources remotely on a personal device. From digital newspaper collections and election ephemera to de-classified archival documents, the resources include a wide range of material originating in the Baltic states, Belarus, Central Asia and the Caucasus, Moldova, Russia and Ukraine.
Available titles include the Chernobyl Newspapers Collection, 1979-1990; the Social Movements, Elections and Ephemera collection, including the Euromaidan Protests in Ukraine and the Belarus Anti-Fascist Resistance Leaflets, 1942-1944; Russian central and regional newspapers; the Pravda Ukrainy Digital Archive; the Izvestiia and Pravda digital archives; periodicals of Central Asia and the Caucasus; and The Moscow News (1930-2014) digital archive, as well as statistical and bibliographic databases.
In March 2021, we shared some newly acquired e-resources on our blog. Since then, we have added a further three collections to our offering: the Belarus Presidential Election 2020 Ephemera database; an extension to the existing Chernobyl newspaper and archival collections; and the Poliarnaia Kochegarka Digital Archive. By the beginning of 2023 we will add the Demokratychna Ukraina Digital Archive.
For more information on the Library’s East View collections available for remote access, and for detailed instructions on how to connect using a personal advice, please visit our website.
03 November 2022
Call for PhD project partners: ‘Postcolonial Discourse in East European Studies and its Application to British Library Collections’
The British Library is pleased to invite applications from HEI partners to co-supervise the AHRC PhD project ‘Postcolonial Discourse in East European Studies and its Application to British Library Collections’.
Slavonic and Eastern European collections at the British Library are one of its strengths. Developed since the mid‐19th century, the collections are broad and diverse, including a wide range of materials in Slavonic languages and originating in countries referred to as Eastern Europe and Eurasia. However, despite the diversity of the collections, marginalised voices and the complexities of relations between the cultures are not easily visible through the collections’ structures and descriptions. The British Library co‐supervisors have identified postcolonial research and its application to curatorial practices as a priority approach to these collections, likely to reveal many meaningful gaps and contested interpretations. The team of curators are looking to engage with an HEI partner on a project that can be beneficial for the entire collection area and therefore offer an opportunity for wide interpretation of this CDP.
The purpose of this CDP project is first to advance postcolonial and decolonisation work in the above area studies and then to apply this to the British Library’s collections in the form of policy, review and/or recommendations. Focusing on the Belarusian, Polish, Russian and/or Ukrainian collections, the study will therefore provide the foundation for a new understanding of decolonising practices in the context of Eastern Europe, as well as the Library’s policy on collecting, curating and interpreting the collections.
Cover of Taras Shevchenko, Dumky ta pisni Kobzaria (Kyiv, 1905). The book, part of a series, was issued by Kievskaia starina, a monthly magazine for Ukrainian studies. Originally published in Russian, the magazine was renamed Ukraïna in 1907 and appeared in Ukrainian. Here, the title of the book is written in Ukrainian in Russian orthography.
The collections under investigations can be taken holistically using an Area Studies approach; on a country or regional level; thematically (e.g., as a comparative study of colonial and imperial approaches and practices within Eastern Europe); or focus on ethnic, national or transnational groups (e.g., material produced in minority and minoritised languages and communities). The approaches can also vary from concentrating on theoretical issues and building a theoretical framework, creating comparative analysis or conducting case studies. The potential focus and research questions will be refined and developed with the HEI partner and (once recruited) the student.
Research questions can include (but are not limited to) the following:
- What are the major theoretical problems with the application and adaptation of postcolonial theory to East European postcolonial studies and decolonisation practices? What are common or specific features of postcolonial discourse in East European Studies and how should they be taken into account in interpretation, description and development of collections?
- How can book and print history, and/or the history of collecting be analysed within the postcolonial discourse?
- Is there a need, necessity and/or obligation for the Library to engage with Diasporas, national or transnational communities in the UK and in the countries of origin? What methodological approaches should be applied?
By examining the collections through a critical, historical lens and identifying points of contestation in interpretation, potential outcomes of the project could include:
- highlighting the ‘hidden’ collections and gaps in materials printed in minority languages, by oppressed groups and nationalist movements, as well as materials that represent the complex identities of authors and producers across the present political borders between the countries;
- suggesting the most appropriate language and vocabulary for the purpose of collection discovery and interpretation;
- contributing to decolonising metadata for the British Library’s records;
- suggesting means of communicating and promoting the outcomes of the review.
The placement provides an opportunity to work on a project that will deliver a practical output by improving discovery and accessibility of one of the largest heritage collections in the world, including for the communities who create and are represented in the collections. It also offers an opportunity to develop cultural diplomacy skills by liaising with organisations with varied governance practices and cultural backgrounds, for example: the Ukrainian Institute London, various Polish cultural organisations (e.g. the Pilsudski Institute), COSEELIS, Pushkin House etc.
Based within the Library's European, Americas and Oceania Collections team, the student will have access to advice and support from across this team, and work closely with a smaller team of East European curators. Depending on the student’s interests and project needs there will be opportunities to learn about other roles and activities within the Library (e.g., metadata, cataloguing teams, events, etc). The student will also have access to the Library’s extensive training programmes.
The deadline for applications is Friday 25 November 2022, 5pm. For more information on the project and how to apply, see the Library website.
Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections, Olga Topol and Katie McElvanney, Curators East European Collections
28 September 2022
Last November, the British Library, in partnership with the Ukrainian Institute London, hosted an event to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the birth of Ukrainian writer and poet Lesia Ukrainka. Alongside a captivating panel discussion, Olesya Khromeychuk, Director of the Ukrainian Institute London, announced the winner of the Institute’s inaugural Ukrainian Literature in Translation Prize. First prize was awarded to translator and poet Nina Murray for her translation from Ukrainka’s poetic drama Cassandra.
Francis Legat after George Romney, Cassandra Raving (Shakespeare, Troilus and Cressida, Act 2, Scene 2) first published 1795, Print. The Met.
First published in 1908, Ukrainka’s drama retells the story of the Trojan war through the eyes of Cassandra, the fiery prophetess who persists in fighting for the truth when no one will believe her. An extract from Nina Murray’s translation of Cassandra appeared in the second issue of the London Ukrainian Review in August, and the full text will be published by Harvard University Press next year.
Cover of Lesia Ukrainka, Cassandra: A Dramatic Poem. Translated by Nina Murray. Awaiting publication.
The publisher’s website describes the forthcoming work as follows:
Cassandra: A Dramatic Poem encapsulates the complexities of Ukrainka’s late works: use of classical mythology and her intertextual practice; intense focus on issues of colonialism and cultural subjugation—and allegorical reading of the asymmetric relationship of Ukrainian and Russian culture; a sharp commentary on patriarchy and the subjugation of women; and the dilemma of the writer-seer who knows the truth and its ominous implications but is powerless to impart that to contemporaries and countrymen.
This strongly autobiographical work commanded a significant critical reception in Ukraine and projects Ukrainka into the new Ukrainian cultural canon. Presented here in a contemporary and sophisticated English translation attuned to psychological nuance, it is sure to attract the attention of the modern-day reader.
Poster for the Live Canon and the Ukrainian Institute London production of Cassandra
Ukrainka’s Cassandra has astounding relevance at this time of war, and Live Canon and the Ukrainian Institute London will present the play for the first time on the UK stage, in Nina Murray’s award winning translation. Directed by Helen Eastman, the production will run from 4-16 October 2022 at Omnibus Theatre. For more information and to book tickets, visit the Theatre’s website. There will be a post-show Q&A on Sunday 9 October (free to ticket holders).
Additional reading and resources
Olga Kerziouk, ‘Lady on Banknotes’, European Studies Blog, 1 August 2013
Recording of ‘The Unknown Feminist of Fin-de-siècle Europe: Lesia Ukrainka’ which was held at the British Library in November 2021
Sasha Dovzhyk, ‘Subverting the Canon of Patriarchy: Lesya Ukrainka’s Revisionist Mythmaking’, The Los Angeles Review of Books, 25 February 2021
Lesia Ukrainka: Fin-de-siècle Ukrainian Feminism (short film), Ukrainian Institute London, 2020
Lesya Ukrainka. Life and work by Constantine Bida. Selected works, translated by Vera Rich. (Toronto, 1968). X.900/3941. An electronic copy of Vera Rich’s translation of Cassandra is available.
Lesia Ukrainka, Cassandre: Poème dramatique. Traduit de l'ukrainien, préfacé et annoté par Andry Swirko. (Brussels, 1973). X.909/27847.
Lesia Ukrainka, Dramatychni tvory (Kyiv, 2008). YF.2009.a.24435
31 August 2022
August is Women in Translation Month, a 2014 initiative aimed at celebrating and promoting women writers in translation, as well as their translators and publishers. As in previous years, we are highlighting a selection of books from across the European collections that we have recently enjoyed. We hope you enjoy them too.
Lize Spit, The Melting, translated by Kristen Gehrman (London: Pan Macmillan, 2021) ELD.DS.611746.
Chosen by Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections
‘It wasn't a good day, but at least there's a story in it.’ Lize Spit consoled herself as a child with writing when life was against her. After a long, hard struggle she entered the literary world in Flanders and the Netherlands with her debut novel Het Smelt, or The Melting. It is part coming-of-age novel, part thriller about a young woman who takes revenge on her childhood friends for things done to her 13 years before. Spit doesn’t pull any punches, doesn’t flinch from cruelty. Just how good it is can be seen from the number of languages Het Smelt was translated into: Arabic, Bulgarian, Catalan, Danish, German, French, Greek, Hebrew, Hungarian, Italian, Croatian, Norwegian, Polish, Spanish, Czech, Swedish and English. The English translation is by Kristen Gehrman, who translates from Dutch into English, German and French.
Contemporary Georgian Fiction, translated and edited by Elizabeth Heighway (Champaign, Ill., 2012), Nov.2013/1985
Chosen by Anna Chelidze, Curator Georgian Collections
Published in 2012, this volume brings together stories by 20 prominent contemporary Georgian writers. It affords a view into a vibrant literary world that has been largely inaccessible to English-speaking readers. Written over the last 50 years, the selection of stories offers a very broad mix of writers with different literary styles. Some of the writers are well known, while others have only recently entered the literary world. Among them are five female authors, all from different generations and backgrounds, and each with a distinct authorial voice. They have achieved success in a number of literary competitions and have been awarded literary prizes, both Georgian and international. Some have previously been translated into other languages, for others this is their first published translation. Their names are: Mariam Bekauri, Teona Dolenjashvili, Ana Kordzaia-Samadasvili, Maka Mikeladze, and Nino Tepnadze. They succeed in creating powerful images of Georgia and its inhabitants, seen from different perspectives. The variety of contexts reflects changes in Georgian society in recent years, while the variety of narrative styles highlights the challenges presented to the translator, Elizabeth Heighway.
Madeleine Bourdouxhe, A Nail, a Rose, translated by Faith Evans (London, 2019) ELD.DS.439385 and Marie, translated and with an afterword by Faith Evans (London, 2016) H.2018/.7905
Chosen by Sophie Defrance, Curator Romance Collections
After years of neglect, the fiction of Belgian author Madeleine Bourdouxhe is undergoing a revival with new editions of her work appearing in the UK, the US and Germany. In her stories, Bourdouxhe explores the themes of resistance, but also the life, routine, sexuality, and ennui of women in the 20th century. First rediscovered in France with the reissue of La femme de Gilles in 1985, she has since become something of a feminist icon. Faith Evans’s recent translations of two of Bourdouxhe’s books into English put her works into their historical, political and stylistic context. She also shares with us her translator’s impressions, feelings and reasoning; and perhaps even more surprisingly, as it is so rare, the author’s impressions at being translated.
Iryna Shuvalova, Pray to the Empty Wells, translated by Olena Jennings and the author (Sandpoint, Idaho: Lost Horse Press, 2019). Awaiting shelfmark
Chosen by Katie McElvanney, Curator Slavonic and East European Collections
Presented in dual-language format, Pray to the Empty Wells is Ukrainian poet Iryna Shuvalova’s first book-length collection of poems in English. Drawing heavily on Ukraine’s folk culture and themes ranging from memory, the natural environment and Russia’s war in Ukraine, Shuvalova’s poems are meditative, intimate, unflinchingly direct and often visceral. The collection is beautifully translated from Ukrainian by Olena Jennings and Shuvalova, and forms part of Lost Horse Press Contemporary Ukrainian Poetry series.
Shuvalova will be appearing in the Worldwide Reading of Ukrainian Literature event at the British Library on 7 September, along with a host of other award-winning Ukrainian writers and translators. The event is free to attend and will also be live streamed on the LKN website.
European studies blog recent posts
- Taras Shevchenko display at the British Library
- Digital Shevchenkiana – a Joint English-Ukrainian Project
- Marking one year since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine
- An A to Z of the European Studies Blog 2022
- Songs, games and fortune telling: the story behind Koliada
- He lived as he taught, and taught as he lived: Ukrainian philosopher and poet Hryhorii Skovoroda
- British Library East View e-resources now available remotely
- Call for PhD project partners: ‘Postcolonial Discourse in East European Studies and its Application to British Library Collections’
- Cassandra by Lesia Ukrainka: a UK premiere
- Women in Translation Month 2022 (Part 2)