Problems with the Horizon of Expectations: The Russian Reception of Ukrainian Literature in the First Half of the 19th Century

George G. Grabowicz

The 1999 J.B. Rudnyckyj Distinguished Lecture Series, University of Manitoba

This paper reflects my longstanding interest both in the history of Ukrainian and Russian literary relations, particularly in the 19th century when they were especially complex and many faceted, and in reception theory.  It is based in some measure on my earlier work, particularly a long study on this subject that appeared in Ukrainian in my Do istorii ukrainskoi literatury (Kyiv, 1997), but it also reflects work in progress.

The connection of the two foci — the historical and theoretical — is, as I see it, highly productive.  Modern Ukrainian literature provides a paradigmatic example of a literature developing within another literature and then separating from it and in the course of only one century moving from virtual non-existence to dynamic existence as a full-fledged, broadly differentiated national literature. This history can, of course, be studied in a positivistic manner – and such has been the preponderant pattern to date.  But clearly a more nuanced theoretical matrix is called for, especially if we propose a new analytical treatment.  As I hope to show, reception theory offers particularly valuable insights in this connection.  At its best, it enables us to reach a new understanding of the development of both Ukrainian and Russian literature and culture and the subtle moments that both unite and separate them.