Kobrynska, Natalia Ivanovna (1855–1920)

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Kobrynska, Natalia Ivanovna (1855–1920)

Ukrainian writer and organizer of the feminist movement in Galicia, then a province of Austria-Hungary. Name variations: N.I. Kobrinskaia; Natal'ia Kobrynskaia; Natalia Kobryns'ka. Born in Belelui, Ukraine, on June 8, 1855; died on January 22, 1920, in Stanislav (now Ivano-Frankivs'k), Ukraine.

Despite harsh political and cultural repression by the tsarist state throughout the 19th century, Ukrainian intellectual life flourished. The awakening national consciousness was best expressed in the romantic poetry of Taras Shevchenko (1814–1861), which reached an ever-growing readership despite bans on Ukrainian publications in 1863, 1876, and 1881. Censorship was evaded by printing works in the Ukrainian language in the much more liberal environment of Galicia, then part of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy. Women became increasingly involved in the national cause during the closing decades of the 19th century, when they went in growing numbers to study in Vienna.

The writer Natalia Kobrynska was destined to be the central figure of the Ukrainian feminist movement for almost four decades. In her short story "Dukh chasu" ("The Spirit of the Times"), written in Vienna in 1883 and published in 1887, she presented an impassioned plea for equal rights for Ukrainian women. In 1884, Kobrynska turned her ideas into practical reality when she founded the Society of Ruthenian Women in the city of Stanislav.

In 1887, she and Olena Pchilka published the almanac Pershyi vinok (The First Wreath), which represented a major step forward not only for Ukrainian literature but for the Ukrainian women's movement. It contained important essays, articles and belletristic works by women to watch on the intellectual landscape, including not only the almanac's editors but such newcomers as the young Lesya Ukrainka , Olena Pchilka's daughter. Encouraged by the positive responses to this work, Kobrynska published three additional almanacs from 1893 to 1896, collectively entitled Our Fate, all of which contained new writings by women authors. Aware of the often fragile state of cultural self-confidence among Ukrainian intellectuals, Kobrynska played a key role in persuading a number of young authors, the most important among them being Olha Kobylianska , to write their works in Ukrainian rather than German.

In her own writings, Kobrynska depicted the poverty and backwardness of Ukrainian peasant life in Galicia, condemning the caste system and patriarchy which kept women ignorant and superstitious. The best known of her realistic short stories are "For a Piece of Bread" (1884) and "The Elector" (1889). Her 1890 novella Iadzia and Katrusia remains an important landmark in the development of Ukrainian realist literature. Convinced that World War I would only bring suffering to her people, Kobrynska took a strong stand against the war from its outset in 1914. Honored as both the initiator and organizer of the Ukrainian women's movement in Galicia, she died in Stanislav on January 22, 1920.

sources:

Luckyj, George S.N. Ukrainian Literature in the Twentieth Century: A Reader's Guide. Toronto: Shevchenko Scientific Society-University of Toronto Press, 1992.

Pavlychko, Solomea. "Modernism vs. Populism in Fin de Siecle Ukrainian Literature," in Pamela Chester and Sibelan Forrester, eds. Engendering Slavic Literatures. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996, pp. 83–103.

Shabliovs'kyi, Ievhen Stepanovych. Ukrainian Literature Through the Ages. Translated by Abraham Mistetsky, et al. Edited by Anatole Bilenko. Kiev: Mistetsvo Publishers, 1970.

John Haag , Associate Professor of History, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia