European studies blog

Exploring Europe at the British Library

96 posts categorized "Ukraine"

03 May 2024

In a whirlwind of change. The European Writers’ Festival returns to the British Library 

Please note this post includes an offensive racial term in the title of a book quoted. We have spelt this out in full because that was the book author's own conscious and deliberate choice in the context of his writing.
 
The second European Writers’ Festival, taking place on May 18 and 19 at the British Library, brings together renowned and emerging authors from 30 countries for an unmissable weekend filled with thought-provoking panels and the promise of fascinating discussions. The British Library, with its unparalleled holdings from continental Europe, offers a perfect setting for debating European literature and delving into the disquieting undercurrents shaping our societies today. This year, the event centres around the theme of Transformation and zooms in on the violent shifts in politics, climate, language, and human rights, to name a few. As poetry has long been regarded as a vehicle for change, our curators of European collections invite you to get (re)acquainted with some of the poets taking part in the festival and to join them on a transformative journey of becoming the new Europeans of the future. 
 
Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator of East European Collections, offers a fascinating glimpse into the poetry of one of the most distinct voices in contemporary Ukrainian poetry, Iryna Shuvalova. 
 
Cover of 'Pray to the Empty Wells' and photograph of Irina Shuvalova
Irina Shuvalova and her poetry collection Pray to the Empty Wells (Pullman, Washington, 2019) Awaiting shelfmark  (Author photograph from https://www.irynashuvalova.com/en
 
Iryna Shuvalova, a Ukrainian poet, scholar, and translator, is not a stranger to the readers of the European Studies blog. Her book of poetry featured at this year’s festival, Pray to the Empty Wells, draws heavily on Ukrainian folklore. Shuvalova expertly blends its spirituality with eroticism for a heady cocktail of tender love and inconsolable sorrow.  
 
the love fish  
lives in the large body of the river
it swims in it like a pendulum    
back and forth and in a circle    
fastened to the heart’s axis   
‘Love fish’ from Pray to the Empty Wells (Pullman, Washington, 2019) Awaiting shelfmark  
 
As Kate Kellaway puts it in her review of the book for The Guardian, “translated poetry seldom finds a home in this column, and this book is one of the few rare cases.” In one of her interviews, Shuvalova asserted: “Let’s say that I’m building my own personal mythology out of space and voice.” No critic could have been more accurate in describing Shuvalova’s remarkable poetic world woven with words that let readers see, hear, and feel.  
  
But this serene world is now in danger and, like so many other Ukrainian artists, Shuvalova will have preferred that some of her poems had not been written, such as this one:
    
because the other side of the front line is like another galaxy    
how dare these outsiders, these primitives, these aliens   
kill and die—just as well as we do   
how dare they be so human and inhumane, all at once    
almost like us, too   
how dare they be like us   
how dare they   
‘Conflict zone’ from Pray to the Empty Wells  
 
On the first day of the festival, Iryna Shuvalova will participate in the panel Change and Conflict on the impact of war, displacement, and trauma. The special guest of the festival is, fittingly, the Ukrainian author and journalist, Andrey Kurkov. He will engage in a discussion with The Guardian’s Senior international correspondent and author of Invasion, Luke Harding.   
 
Poetry is a powerful tool for preserving and rejuvenating indigenous languages and traditions, attesting to their relevance and beauty in our increasingly anglicised world. Ela Kucharska-Beard, Curator of Baltic Collections, points to the communion with the natural world and the deep connection with the Estonian way of life that permeates Kristiina Ehin’s poetry. 
 
Cover of 'On the Edge of a Sword' and photograph of Kristiina Ehin
Kristiina Ehin and her poetry collection On the Edge of a Sword = Mõõgateral (Todmorden, 2018). ELD.DS.738555 (Author photograph from Postimees website
 
Kristiina Ehin is a leading, multi-award winning Estonian poet whose work has been translated into at least 20 languages, including English. She has also written short stories, plays and a collection of re-told south Estonian folk tales. Kristiina, who has a master’s degree in Estonian and comparative folklore, is a singer in the contemporary folk group Naised Köögis, continuing the ancient Estonian tradition of women poets and singers. She has also worked as a translator, journalist, dance teacher, lecturer and storyteller.  
 
Kristiina’s poetry, deeply spiritual, is firmly rooted in Finno-Ugric tradition and reflects her profound respect for nature. Her fourth collection of poems, the bestselling  Kaitseala (‘Protected Area’, 2005), was written during a year spent working as a nature reserve warden on an uninhabited island off the coast of Estonia. Her poetry deals with personal relationships (man-woman, mother-child) and the relationship with nature. The poems, light and modern, written from a female point of view, combine fragility and strength; they are both serious and playful, personal and universal.  
 
The European Writer’s Festival will feature Kristiina’s collection of poems On the Edge of a Sword, selected from her collection Kohtumised (Tartu, 2017; YF.2019.a.11834). The poems have been expertly translated into English by Ilmar Lehtpere, with whom the poet has an ongoing collaboration. Kristiina will be speaking at the panel Changing Gears, discussing the importance (or lack thereof) of writing in one genre.   
 
In times of upheaval, poetry amplifies marginalized narratives and gives voice to the voiceless. According to Marja Kingma, Curator of Dutch Language Collections, Simone Atangana Bekono pushes the boundaries of Dutch poetry by facilitating long overdue, radically candid conversations about racial and gender inequalities and other deeply ingrained societal biases. 
 
Cover of 'Confrontations' and photograph of Simone Atangana Bekono
Simone Atangana Bekono and her novel Confrontation (Author photograph from: https://www.vpro.nl/programmas/mondo/video/mondo-minute/mondo-minute-simone-atangana-bekono.html
 
Simone Atangana Bekono is an author with Cameroonian/Dutch heritage, born in Dongen, a town 100km southeast of Amsterdam. She is part of a new generation of Dutch poets who write about discrimination on the basis of race, or gender, or sexual orientation (or all three), about identity, colonialism, and generational conflict. In doing so they take Dutch poetry in a whole new direction. Simone Atangana Bekono burst onto the literary scene in 2017 with the poetry collection Hoe de eerste vonken zichtbaar waren (2nd ed, 2018; YF.2019.a.17267), which was translated into English by David Colmer as How the First Sparks Became Visible (Birmingham, 2021). Other translations include Spanish and Rumanian.  
 
Simone won multiple awards for her Young Adult debut novel Confrontaties (Amsterdam, 2021) YF.2021.a.9720, the story of how a teenage black girl copes with her time in a young offender's institution and with her return to her community. The English edition Confrontations, translated by Suzanne Heukensfeldt Jansen, will be published this year. It has also been translated into German and Turkish.  
 
In March 2021, Simone participated in the online launch event for The Dutch Riveter. Like the European Writers’ Festival, it was hosted by the British Library and organised and presented by Rosie Goldsmith from the European Literature Network. In 2023 she was writer-in-residence at UCL, London.   
 
I am thrilled to see Simone at the Library once again on 18 May, as one of the guest authors at the second edition of the European Writers’ Festival! You will have a chance to meet the poet at the Transformation through Translation panel, where she will be looking into shifting attitudes towards translation in Europe.  
 
Lydia Georgiadou, Curator of Modern Greek Collections, suggests that Dean Atta dissects the intersections between race, gender, and sexuality. The poet embraces his black and queer identities and demonstrates just how liberating and empowering it is to embrace all aspects of who we really are. 
 
Cover of 'There is (still) love here' and photograph of Dean Atta
Dean Atta and his poetry collection There is (still) Love here (Rugby, 2022). Awaiting shelfmark. (Author photograph from: https://www.geeksout.org/2022/05/25/interview-with-author-dean-atta/
 
Award-winning British author and poet of Greek Cypriot and Jamaican heritage Dean Atta joins the closing panel of the Festival, The New Europeans of the Future to discuss how transformation impacts the ‘new’ European authors’ craft, identity and perception of home, nationhood and Europe.   
 
Atta’s featured book, There is (still) love here  is described on the author’s website as “a compelling new collection of poetry [exploring] relationships, love and loss, encompassing LGBTQ+ and Black history, Greek Cypriot heritage, pride and identity, dislocation and belonging” and “an antidote for challenging times”.  
 
The lyrics of ‘On days when’ are characteristic: 
  
On days when  
you feel like a wilting garden, 
gather yourself, roll up your lawn,  
bouquet your flowers,
embrace your weeds.  
You are a wild thing playing
at being tame.  
You are rich with life beneath 
the surface.  
You don’t have to show leaf
and petal to be living.  
You are soil and insect and root.  
 
There is (still) love here comes after two novels in verse: Only on the Weekends (London, 2022; ELD.DS.692242) and The Black Flamingo (London, 2019; ELD.DS.455619), which won Atta the American Library Association’s Stonewall Book Award, CILIP Carnegie Shadowers Choice Award, West Sussex School Librarians’ Amazing Book Awards and What Kids are Reading Quiz Writers’ Choice Award. The Black Flamingo featured in the British Library’s recent exhibition Malorie Blackman: The Power of Stories
 
The title poem of Atta’s debut collection, I Am Nobody’s Nigger (London, 2013; YK.2013.a.23925), consciously and deliberately uses the racial slur as a response to its use by the murderers of Stephen Lawrence. The poem achieved much social media coverage and was shortlisted for the 2014 Polari First Book Prize.  
 
Dean Atta is a Malika’s Poetry Kitchen member, National Poetry Day ambassador and LGBT+ History Month patron. He was listed as one of the most influential LGBTQIA+ people in the UK by the Independent on Sunday and his books have been praised by the likes of Bernardine Evaristo, Benjamin Zephaniah and Malorie Blackman.  
 
Europe is in flux, and poetry gently peels away the layers of the ongoing transformation. The authors participating in this year’s festival encourage us to reimagine the society we hope to emerge into once the whirlwind of change has subsided.  
 
In our next post, we will zero in on the recurring themes of the festival. Stay tuned! 

25 April 2024

“The hands want to see, the eyes want to caress”. Braille books in Slavonic collections 1

The British Library is committed to creating an inclusive reading experience. We collect audiobooks and braille materials in various languages and forms and are always on the lookout for new and exciting titles. This post and a second one will feature rare and first-edition braille books in our Slavonic collections. Here we hope to shed some light on the extraordinary life of a largely unknown blind Ukrainian author often likened to such literary giants as Hans Christian Andersen and Oscar Wilde. The second post will touch on the publishing history of a book by a writer who needs no introduction. Without further delay, we invite print and braille readers, children and adults alike, to embark with us on a fascinating journey beginning in the sleepy village of Obukhovka, across vast swathes of Asia and Russia, all the way to Middle-earth, and back again.

The story begins on a frosty January day in 1890 when a third child is born into a family of a wealthy Ukrainian landowner in imperial Russia, Iakov Eroshenko and his Russian wife. The boy, later known to literary enthusiasts in Japan and China as Ero-san and Ailuoxianke respectively, is christened Vasilii. Four years later, tragedy strikes the Eroshenko family when little Vasia loses his vision to measles. Later in life, he would remark: “I hazily remember seeing only four things: the sky, pigeons, the church where they roosted, and my mother’s face. Not too much…But that always inspired and inspires me to seek out pure thoughts - thoughts as pure as the sky - and always made me remember my homeland as well as my mother’s face, in whichever corner of the world Fate cast me.”

Photograph of Eroshenko as a young man wearing a military-style tunic

Vasilii Eroshenko. (Image from http://pmu.in.ua/nogroup/eroshenko/)

Sepia photograph of a church with a group of men standing outside

The Church of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul in Obukhovka. Built circa 1842, it burned down in 1946. It must have been the silhouette that was etched in Eroshenko’s memory (Image from https://sokm.org.ru/vystavki/virtualnye-vystavki/782-obuhovskie-remesla#)

Young Eroshenko proved precocious throughout his schooling. Blindness had taught the future anarchist and anti-imperialist to take everything with a pinch of salt and to question authority. In 1900, he started attending the prestigious imperial Moscow School for the Blind, where he received training in arts, music and sciences. While there , he also mastered braille and conceived his first literary pieces, painstakingly pricking words into paper with a needle. After graduating in 1908, Eroshenko decided to try his hand at music. He started to earn a living playing second violin for a blind orchestra in Moscow. Rumour has it that he paid a substantial part of his income to a poor actor who would read him books unavailable in braille script.

Photograph of Eroshenko playing the violin, accompanied by a woman on the piano

Eroshenko playing the violin (image from http://pmu.in.ua/nogroup/eroshenko/)

Vasilii’s life took a sharp turn when he crossed paths with the sister-in-law of Leo Tolstoy’s biographer and disciple, Pavel Ivanovich Briukov. Anna Sharapova, who was one of the pioneers of Esperanto in Russia, decided to teach the language to the gifted violinist. Esperanto was invented in 1873 by the Polish ophthalmologist L.L. Zamenhof, who believed that a universal, politically and culturally neutral language would erase communication barriers and relieve international tensions. Eroshenko found Zamenhof’s ideas compelling and soon became a devout Esperantist. Having learnt from Anna about the prospect of continuing his education at the Royal National College for the Blind in England, Vasilii pinned the green Esperanto star onto the lapel of his jacket and set out to London. From then on, the star would guide him, often quite literally, to his distant destinations.

In London, Eroshenko learned about the respect blind people enjoy in Japan. Intrigued, he soon started planning his next trip. He returned to Moscow, where he began taking Japanese classes. In April 1914, he boarded a ship in Vladivostok and headed to Tokyo. Once settled in the Japanese capital, he supported himself by teaching Esperanto and lecturing on Russian literature and women’s emancipation. He also wrote short stories for major Japanese magazines. However, it was not long before he became active in revolutionary circles seeking to undermine Japan’s colonial efforts in East Asia. In 1921, he was accused of threatening national security and social order and was expelled from the country. His stories Vuz’ka klitka (The Narrow Cage) and Orlyni dushi (An Eagle’s Heart) appeared in print in the same year.

Cover of 'Vuzka klitka' wityh a picture of a tiger in the mountains

Cover of Vasilii Eroshenko, Vuzʹka klitka: kazky (Kharkiv, 2016). YF.2016.b.1727

Eroshenko’s stories reflect his view that social ills result from colonial oppression, marginalization of the poor and disabled, and racial inequality. Vuz’ka klitka ponders the question of freedom and free will. The image of an enraged tiger killing and wreaking havoc in the name of freedom and brotherhood is disturbingly familiar. Orlyni dushi juxtaposes the human and natural worlds and offers a sharp critique of imperialism. Its opening: “There once was a mountain kingdom that was ruled by its larger, more powerful neighbour” is also a chilling one in the context of the recent Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Cover of 'Orlyni dushi' with an illustration of two eagles on a rock

Cover of Vasilii Eroshenko, Orlyni dushi: kazky (Kharkiv, 2016). YF.2016.b.1726

As I flick through the milky pages, I cannot help but admire the author’s vivid storytelling and simple yet evocative language. Both stories were written in Japanese, but, for various political and ideological reasons, the Ukrainian translations have always relied on earlier Russian translations. Those, in turn, were based on Chinese versions. Inevitably, Eroshenko’s voice got muffled and distorted along the way, making it hard to disentangle his legacy from that of his translators. The copies we hold, proudly adorned with blue-and-yellow ribbon bookmarks, are the first Ukrainian translations made from the Japanese originals. The translator and scholar of Eroshenko’s work, Iuliia Patlan’, makes a valid point in the preface arguing that this makes them much more faithful to the author’s voice. The Ukrainian text translated from Eroshenko’s original Japanese was titled Vuz’ka klitka to distinguish it from Tisna klitka, Nadiia Andrianova-Hordiienko's 1969 translation from Russian. Both books have print on one side and braille on the other so that a sighted person can read to a child, and they can follow along.

Opening from Vuz’ka klitka showing parallel printed and braille text

Opening from Vuz’ka klitka showing parallel printed and braille text

Before settling in the Soviet Union in 1924, Eroshenko had a brief stint in Europe and spent a couple of years in China, where he befriended the modernist author and radical thinker Lu Xun. The blind globetrotter was not met with much fanfare in his homeland. Soviet Esperantists were deemed a threat to the Communist Party, mainly for their transnational networks, which were believed to be swarming with spies. Eroshenko’s refusal to cooperate with the Soviet Secret Services came with a hefty price, as most of the author’s personal archives were confiscated and destroyed. The author, whose life resembled a fairy-tale quest for meaning, departed on his final journey on December 23, 1952. He was buried in his native Obukhovka, unrecognised as a storyteller in Ukraine and Russia. It was not until a translator, Vladimir Rogov, learned about a mysterious ‘Ailuoxianke’ in Lu-Xun’s The Comedy of the Ducks that the dots finally connected, and Eroshenko started to gain the recognition he deserved.

Vasilii Eroshenko did not let his disability limit or define him. Although his short stories may lack the happy endings that we all look for in fairy tales, his fascinating life reads as a beautiful ode to hope and resilience and carries a heart-warming message that light will always prevail over darkness.

Hanna Dettlaff-Kuznicka, Interim Slavonic and Eastern European Curator

References/Further reading

Andrew F. Jones, Developmental fairy tales: evolutionary thinking and modern Chinese culture (London, 2011). YC.2011.a.7404 (Includes an English translation (from Chinese) of Vuz’ka klitka)

Julija Patlanj, ‘Vasilii Yakovlevich Eroshenko’, Kontakto (March, 2005)

Adam Kuplowsky, The Narrow Cage and Other Modern Fairy Tales (New York, 2023)

02 October 2023

Forgotten stories still to be uncovered

What do you think links audio recordings of Italian traditional theatre from Florence, card diaries written in 1932 by archaeologists in Soviet Ukraine, a typescript of a play on the life of Romani people in Bulgarian, a photo album that belonged to a Roma family from Moldova, a page from a Muslim religious text originated in Bulgaria, and a journal published by Serbs in exile?

Image of handwritten card diaries, August 1935

Card diaries by T.M. Movchanoskiy, 1932 (EAP220/1/3) - Archival records from Saving archival documents of archaeological researches conducted during the 1920s and 1930s in Ukraine

Catalogue record of the digital audio collection

Catalogue record of the digital audio collection

All these image and many more were digitised through the Endangered Archives Programme. The physical archives that were under a threat of disappearance remain where they were, but digital images are available freely to anyone who would like to do research or learn. In the words of the Programme’s co-founder, Lisbet Rausing, and much echoed by the Head of the EAP Sam van Schaik , “the Endangered Archives Programme captures forgotten and still not written histories, often suppressed or marginalised. It gives voice to the voiceless: it opens a dialogue with global humanity’s multiple pasts. It is a library of history still waiting to be written”.

Handwritten title page of Ismail Osmanov. “Gypsy on the new way. A play in two parts, 1953”

Ismail Osmanov. “Gypsy on the new way. A play in two parts, 1953” (EAP067/4/1) –
Archival records from Preservation of Gypsy/Roma historical and cultural heritage in Bulgaria

Pictures from a Roma family album

Roma family album No 1 (EAP699/23/2) – Archival records from Safeguarding of the intangible Romani heritage in the Republic of Moldova threatened by the volatilisation of the individual unexplored collections (EAP699)

Here in the British Library, we research the collections and try to tell more people about them. Here is the most recent report from Anna Maslenova, a PhD student who came to work with us for three months on placement: ‘Contextualising a digital photographic archive of Siberian Indigenous peoples: PhD placement report’ . A Chevening fellow from Ukraine Nadiia Strishenets helped us to improve metadata for image related to the project Saving the original lifetime archive of the well-known Ukrainian poet, artist and thinker, T.H. Shevchenko (EAP657). If you have used any of the EAP collections in your research, we would be extremely grateful if you could tell us about your research and experience.

Manuscript page from Muslim religious texts in Bulgaria

Muslim religious texts (EAP1392/5/2) – Archival records from Rediscovering the cultural heritage of the Muslims in Bulgaria (1920-1950) (EAP1392)

Title page for The Serbian Fatherland: a monthly magazine for Serbian youth in exile

The Serbian Fatherland: a monthly magazine for Serbian youth in exile [1918] (EAP833/1/2/1/7) – Archival records from Safeguarding the fragile collection of the private archive of the Lazic family (EAP833)

The call for the 19th round of applications is open.

We hope that readers of this blog will help us to promote EAP, so that we could save more disappearing archives, uncover fascinating stories and capture forgotten voices from all over the world.

Katya Rogatchevskaia Lead Curator, East European Collections

27 July 2023

Taras Shevchenko display at the British Library

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

Photograph of the display in the British Library Treasures Gallery

Kobzar

Title page of the 1860 edition of Kobzar with a portrait of Shevchenko

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

Title page of the 1881 edition of Kobzar

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

Title page of the 1947 edition of Kobzar

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

Pages from Dytiachyi 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 today

Shevchenko as a superhero by Andriy Yermolenko

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

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.

Further reading:

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

Digital Shevchenkiana – a Joint English-Ukrainian Project

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.

Cover of Hamaliia

Cover of Kateryna

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’.

Title page of Naimychka with Shevchenko's autograph

Title page of Psalmy Davydovi

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

Title page of Khata

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.

Title page of Antony Gorzałczyński, Przekłady pisarzów małorossyjskich

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’

‘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

References

Volodymyr Orlovsʹkyĭ (1842–1914), Mykola Pymonenko (1862–1912), (Khmelnytskyi, 2006.): LF.31.a.3570

24 February 2023

Marking one year since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine

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 of books from the Books Without Borders event

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

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.

Cover of the Ukrainian edition of Zelensky's speeches from the first month of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine

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.

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.

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 featuring the 'Russian warship' stamp

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

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.

References

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

An A to Z of the European Studies Blog 2022

A is for Alexander the Great, subject of the Library’s current exhibition

B is for Birds and Bull fighting.

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.

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.

Cover of Abetka, a Ukrainian alphabet book for children

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.

Pages from Giovanni Bodoni and Giovanni Mardersteig, Manuale tipografico showing letters M and N

Giovanni Bodoni and Giovanni Mardersteig, Manuale tipografico, 1788. Facsimile a cura di Giovanni Mardersteig. (Verona, 1968) L.R.413.h.17.

P is for our wonderful PhD researchers, current and future.

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.

S is for Samizdat and the Library’s Polish Solidarity collection.

T is for Translation and our regular posts to mark Women in Translation Month.

Page from Alphabet Anglois

Alphabet Anglois, contenant la prononciation des lettres avec les declinaisons et conjugaisons (Rouen, 1639). Digital Store 1568/3641.(1.)

U is for Ukrainian collections and our work with Ukrainian partners.

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.

Church Slavonic alphabet from Azbuka, considered the first dated book printed in Ukraine.

Azbuka ōt knigi osmochastnye̡, sirěchʹ grammatikii (Lviv, 1574). Digital Store 1568/3641.(1.)

22 December 2022

Songs, games and fortune telling: the story behind Koliada

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).

Page from Koliadky i shchedrivky with an illustration of a family

Page from Koliadky i shchedrivky

Page from Koliadky i shchedrivky

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.

Pages from Kazka pra handliara Piatra, Kazu i Kaliady

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

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

He lived as he taught, and taught as he lived: Ukrainian philosopher and poet Hryhorii Skovoroda

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

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

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

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

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 The Complete Correspondence of Hryhory Skovoroda, Philospher and Poet

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

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...

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

References/Further reading

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

Orest Khaliavskiĭ [i.e. Hryhorii Danylevs’kyi]. ‘Skovoroda, Ukrainskiĭ pisatel XVIII veka’, Osnova, 1862, No. 8, pp. 1–39 and No. 9, pp. 39–96 

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[23]

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

British Library East View e-resources now available remotely

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.

Screenshot of the East View Global Elections Archive

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.

Screenshot of the British Library page explaining how to access e-resources on a personal device

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.

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