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’Tis Eighty Years Since: Panteleimon Kulish's Gothic Ukraine

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 August 2019


This article explores the ideological implications of the Gothic mode in Panteleimon Kulish's first novel Mikhailo Charnyshenko, or Little Russia Eighty Years Ago (1843). I show that the multiple Gothic tropes employed in the novel—from Walter Scottian ruins and towers to exotic demonic villains, uncanny ethnic Others, and supernatural phantoms—produce an intricate play of temporalities, identities, and allegiances that ultimately create a highly ambivalent vision of the Ukrainian heroic past as both an object of Romantic nostalgia and a dark period of chaos overcome by the country's incorporation into the Russian empire. Rather than dismissing Kulish's engagement with the Gothic as a tribute to the fashionable western trend, I argue that this mode serves as a conduit to some of the work's most pressing ideological and historical concerns and ultimately yields a more nuanced insight into the author's complex position as a Ukrainian writer in the Russian empire.

Copyright © Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies 2019 

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I would like to thank the anonymous readers for the Slavic Review for their perceptive comments, as well as the journal's Editor, Harriet Murav, for her helpful suggestions. I am indebted to Tetyana Dzyadevych for drawing my attention to Kulish's neglected novel that is at the center of this article. I am also grateful to my colleagues who have given useful feedback on earlier versions of this paper presented at conferences and as invited lectures.


1. Korenevskii, Vasilii, “Getman Ostrianitsa, ili epokha smut i bedstvii Malorossii, istoricheskii roman XVII stoletiia, B 2-kh chastiakh,” in Finskii vestnik: Ucheno-literaturnyi zhurnal 11 (1846): 6Google Scholar.

2. The novel’s reception in the Russian press was for the most part very favorable and even enthusiastic (especially by the Slavophile journal The Muscovite), with the exception of Osip Senkovskii’s Library for Reading.

3. Among notable exceptions are article, Viktor Petrov’sVal΄ter-Skotivs΄ka povist΄ z ukraїns΄koї mynuvshyny” in Kulish, Panteleimon, Mykhaĭlo Charnyshenko: povist΄ (Kyiv, 1928): 5–35Google Scholar; and Nahklik’s, Ievhen discussion of the novel in his Panteleĭmon Kulish: Osobystist΄, pys΄mennyk, myslytel΄: Naukova monohrafiia u dvokh tomakh, 2 vols. (Kyiv, 2007), 2:99–104Google Scholar.

4. For a detailed discussion of the history of the organization, see Luckyj, George S. N., Young Ukraine: the Brotherhood of Saints Cyril and Methodius in Kiev, 1845–1847 (Ottawa, 1991)Google Scholar.

5. Luckyj, Young Ukraine, 66.

6. This outline of Kulish’s ideology is based on George Luckyj, Panteleimon Kulish: A Sketch of His Life and Times (Boulder, 1983); Ivan Tkachenko, P.O. Kulish: Krytyko-biohrafichnyĭ narys (Kharkiv, 1927); Nakhlik, Panteleĭmon Kulish 2: chap. 1; and Andrii Danylenko, From the Bible to Shakespeare: Pantelejmon Kuli š (1819–1897) and the Formation of Literary Ukrainian (Boston, 2016).

7. Fedir Savchenko, Lysty P. Kulisha do M. Pohodina (1842–1851), Khar΄kov 10 (1929): 19.

8. For a detailed comparative discussion of Ukraine and Scotland in their respective imperial contexts, see Stephen Velychenko, “Empire Loyalism and Minority Nationalism in Great Britain and Imperial Russia, 1707 to 1914: Institutions, Law, and Nationality in Scotland and Ukraine,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 39, no. 3 (1997): 413–41.

9. See, for example, the review of Gogol΄’s “Dikan΄ka tales” that opposes the “distinct physiognomy” of “Little Russians” to the lack of discernable “elements of the Russian character proper.” [Ushakov] Severnaia pchela 119–20 (1830), no pagination. Katie Trumpener observed a similar tendency for the British Empire in her Bardic Nationalism: The Romantic Novel and the British Empire (Princeton, 1997), 15–16.

10. For a relatively recent discussion, see “Critical Forum on Ukraine” in Slavic Review 74, no. 4 (Winter 2015): 695–737. For a nuanced historiographical overview of various approaches to Ukraine’s “colonial question,” see Stephen Velychenko, “The Issue of Russian Colonialism in Ukrainian Thought: Dependency Identity and Development,” Ab Imperio 1 (2002): 323–67. George Grabowicz has convincingly argued in favor of the applicability of the colonial paradigm to Ukraine, while also observing that in Ukrainian history the colonial model merged with the provincial one. George G. Grabowicz, “Ukrainian Studies: Framing the Contexts,” Slavic Review 54, no. 3 (Fall 1995): 674–90.

11. Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern, Anti-Imperial Choice: The Making of a Ukrainian Jew (New Haven, 2009), 14. I will be using the term “colony” and “colonial” in this sense throughout this article, while being fully aware of the complexity of the issue from a historiographical point of view.

12. Luckyj, Panteleimon Kulish, 10.

13. Myroslav Shkandrij points out this paradox in the context of Kulish’s contradictory attitude to popular uprisings. See his Russia and Ukraine: Literature and the Discourse of Empire from Napoleonic to Postcolonial Times (Montreal, 2001), 182.

14. The body of research on Gothic fiction in western Europe and America is quite extensive, and scholars of Russian and Ukrainian literatures have recently turned to this neglected literary tradition as well. For an overview of the secondary literature on the Gothic, see my introduction to the forum “Rethinking the Gothic in Ukraine,” Slavic and East European Journal 62, no. 2 (June 2018): 247–54. Hereafter the journal is cited as SEEJ.

15. The supposed ahistoricism of Gothic fiction has been contested by a number of scholars, from Mikhail Bakhtin to Robert Mighall, who claims that “the ‘Gothic’ by definition is about history and geography.” See his A Geography of Victorian Gothic Fiction: Mapping History’s Nightmares (Oxford, 2003), xiv.

16. For recent works on the Ukrainian Gothic, see Svitlana Krys, “The Gothic in Ukrainian Romanticism: An Uncharted Genre” (PhD diss., University of Alberta, 2011); “Between Comedy and Horror: The Gothic in Hryhorii Kvitka-Osnovianenko’s ‘Dead Man’s Easter’ [1834],” SEEJ 55, no. 3 (October 2011): 341–58; “All-Time Sinner or National Hero? Language and Politics in Oleksa Storozhenko’s Ukrainian Gothic,” SEEJ 62, no. 2 (June 2018): 293–317; Roman Koropeckyj, “Toward a Cossack Gothic in Slavic Romanticism,” SEEJ 62, no. 2 (June 2018): 255–71; and Robert Romanchuk, “Mother Tongue: Gogol΄’s Pannochka, Pogorel΄skii’s Monastyrka, and the Economy of Russian in the Little Russian Gothic,” SEEJ 62, no. 2 (June 2018): 272–92.

17. See, for example, Borys Neiman, “Kulish i Val΄ter Skott,” in Panteleĭmon Kulish. Zbirnyk prats΄ Komisiï dlia vydavannia pam΄iatok novitn΄oho pys΄menstva. Ukraïns΄ka Akademiia Nauk. Zbirnyk istorychno-filolohichnoho viddilu 53 (Kiеv, 1927): 127–56; Viktor Petrov, “Val΄ter-Skotivs΄ka povist΄ z ukraïns΄koï mynuvshyny”; Romana Bahriĭ, Shliakh sera Val΄tera Skotta na Ukraїnu (“Taras Bul΄ba” M. Hoholia i “Chorna Rada” P. Kulisha v svitli istorychnoї romanistyky Val΄tera Skotta) (Kyiv, 1993). Kulish became familiar with Scott’s novels, which he read in French translation, in 1841 (Tkachenko, Kulish: Krytyko-biohrafichnyĭ narys, 13).

18. The History circulated in manuscript form among Russian and Ukrainian intellectuals starting at least in the mid-1820s and was believed to be written by generations of Orthodox monks and edited by the Mahilioŭ Archbishop Heorhii Konyskii in the 1760s. It was established already in the late 1840s that many “facts” presented in this work are largely fictitious; its authorship is still open to debate. For a detailed discussion of the History and its key role in creating Ukrainian national mythology, see Serhii Plokhy, The Cossack Myth: History and Nationhood in the Age of Empires (Cambridge, Eng., 2014). At the time of writing Mikhailo Charnyshenko, Kulish still clearly trusted The History (he mentions it as his source in part 3, 190). A few years later, however (and among the first), Kulish became skeptical about the credibility of The History (Nakhlik, Panteleĭmon Kulish, 2:42).

19. Sir Walter Scott, Waverley, or ’Tis Sixty Years Since (Edinburgh, 1862), 318.

20. Panteleimon Kulish, Mikhailo Charnyshenko Ili Malorossiia vosem΄desiat let nazad, Chast΄ Pervaia (Kiev, 1843), 7–8. Throughout this article, quotes from the novel will be given from this edition with the part and page numbers provided in footnotes (for example, 1:7–9). All translations from the novel into English are mine. Since this novel was originally published in Russian, I use Russian transliteration when citing the novel and referring to its characters; otherwise Ukrainian proper names are transliterated from Ukrainian.

21. Kulish, Mikhailo Charnyshenko, 1:11–12. My emphasis.

22. Ibid.

23. See Trumpener, Bardic Nationalism, 24.

24. On the relationship between Walter Scott’s novels and the Gothic tradition, see Fiona Robertson, Legitimate Histories: Scott, Gothic, and the Authorities of Fiction (Oxford, 1994) and Robert Ignatius Letellier, Sir Walter Scott and the Gothic Novel (Lewiston, NY, 1994).

25. The analogy between the Zaporizzhian Sich and western knightly orders was drawn by late eighteenth-century western historians as part of their quest to “normalize” Cossackdom, previously perceived as barbarous. See Vitalii Kiselev and Tat΄iana Vasil΄eva, “‘Strannoe politicheskoe sonmishche΄ ili ‘narod, poiushchii i pliashushchii’: Konstruirovanie obraza Ukrainy v russkoi slovesnosti kontsa XVIII—nachala XIX veka,” in A. Etkind, D. Uffelmann, and I. Kukulin, eds., Tam, vnutri: Praktiki vnutrennei kolonizatsii v kul΄turnoi istorii Rossii (Moscow, 2012), 494. The Russian imperial historian Apollon Skal΄kovskii, a Ukrainian by origin, popularized this parallel in the nineteenth century. Kulish invokes this idea in his polemics with Senkovskii over the latter’s views on Ukrainian history (“Otvet G. Senkovskomu na ego retsenziiu ‘Istorii Malorossii’ Markevicha,” Moskvitianin part 3, no. 5 (1843): 164; and through references to “crusades” and “knightly orders” in Mikhailo Charnyshenko (1:87 and 3:75). This tendency continues in The Black Council.

26. Kulish, Mikhailo Charnyshenko, 1:50–51.

27. Ibid., 1:49–50

28. Svetlana Boym, The Future of Nostalgia (New York, 2001), 13.

29. Petrov, “Val΄ter-Skotivs΄ka povist΄,” 20–21.

30. Nakhlik, Panteleĭmon Kulish, 2:104.

31. Petrov, “Val΄ter-Skotivs΄ka povist΄,” 6–10.

32. Khmel΄nyts΄kyi, the leader of the 1648 Ukrainian Cossack uprising against the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, in the course of which thousands of Jews and Poles were massacred and which resulted in a 1654 treaty with Muscovy, is a highly controversial historical figure, whose reputation ranges from that of a national hero to a demonic antagonist. For competing cultural narratives on Khmel΄nyts΄kyi, see Amelia M. Glaser, ed., Stories of Khmelnytsky: Competing Literary Legacies of the 1648 Ukrainian Cossack Uprising (Stanford, 2015). While the references to Khmel΄nyts΄kyi in Mikhailo Charnyshenko are invariably positive, later historical works by Kulish paint a much more critical picture, accusing the hetman of self-aggrandizement and Machiavellianism. See George G. Grabowicz, “Apotheosis, Rejection, and Transference: Bohdan Khmelnytsky in Polish, Russian, and Ukrainian Romantic Literature,” in Glaser, Stories of Khmelnytsky, 86.

33. Kulish, Mikhailo Charnyshenko, 1:86. This type of nostalgia, according to Boym, focuses on algia (pain) and “lingers on ruins rather than the restoration of the monument of the past”—unlike old Charnysh’s “restorative nostalgia,” a type of longing that “puts emphasis on nostos and proposes to rebuild [quite literally, in this case—V.S.] the lost home.” Boym, The Future of Nostalgia, 41.

34. Kulish, Mikhailo Charnyshenko, 1:57.

35. Peter Fritzsche, Stranded in the Present: Modern Time and the Melancholy of History (Cambridge, Mass., 2004).

36. Ibid., 102.

37. Ibid., 104–15.

38. Kulish, Mikhailo Charnyshenko, 3:166.

39. Ibid., 3:168–69.

40. Ibid., 2:106–7.

41. Ibid., 2:109

42. Ibid., 1:155.

43. Istoriia rusov ili Maloi Rossii, sochinenie Georgiia Koniskogo, arkhiepiskopa Beloruskogo (Moscow, 1846), 251.

44. For a summary of Kulish’s complex attitude towards Jews, see Myroslav Shkandrij, Jews in Ukrainian Literature: Representation and Identity (New Haven, 2009), 20 and 38–41.

45. Kulish, Mikhailo Charnyshenko, 1:139–42.

46. For a discussion of the vampiric Jew in the Gothic tradition and the role of the blood libel, see Carol Margaret Davison, Anti-Semitism and British Gothic Literature (New York, 2004), chapters 2 and 4. On the Jewish blood libel in the east European context, see Eugene M. Avrutin, Jonathan Dekel-Chen, and Robert Weinberg, Ritual Murder in Russia, Eastern Europe, and Beyond: New Histories of an Old Accusation (Bloomington, 2017).

47. See Petrov, “Val΄ter-Skotivs΄ka povist΄,” 14.

48. George K. Anderson, The Legend of the Wandering Jew (Hanover, NH, 1965), 11.

49. Davison, Anti-Semitism and British Gothic Literature, 2 and 9.

50. Ibid., 4.

51. Istoriia rusov ili Maloi Rossii, 32.

52. Kulish, Mikhailo Charnyshenko, 2:156–57.

53. Ibid., 2:140

54. Istoriia Rusov, 251.

55. Petrov argues that Kryzhanovskii, with his elusiveness, falsity, and artificiality, symbolizes St. Petersburg in the novel, and in this he sees Kulish’s only original contribution to the development of the “sorcerer” type (“Val΄ter-Skotivs΄ka povist΄,” 15). The direct link between Kryzhanovskii and Petersburg may be forced but it certainly echoes my conclusion that the rootless character represents the essentially absent imperial center.

56. On Russian nomadic identity, see Ingrid Kleespies, A Nation Astray: Nomadism and National Identity in Russian Literature (DeKalb, 2012).

57. Kulish, Mikhailo Charnyshenko, 2:93–94. This dream might have been inspired by the final scenes of Maturin’s Melmoth the Wanderer and Lewis’s The Monk.

58. In the early 1750s, the Russian government established so-called “New Serbia” and “Slaviano-Serbia”—military settlements in what is now Central and South Eastern Ukraine respectively where Serbs (as well as other Balkan Orthodox believers) of the Austrian empire were invited to form military regiments intended to guard the Russian borders from Crimean Tartars and Ottoman Turks. V. Kubiiovych, ed., Entsyklopediia ukraïnoznavstva, 10 vols. (Paris-New York, 1954–1989), 8: 2908. The case of Kulish’s fictional Serbs is somewhat different, however—prince Radivoi flees because of his involvement with the Serbian independence struggle and primarily pursues his own revenge.

59. Kulish, Mikhailo Charnyshenko, 2:80–81.

60. I am referring here to Sigmund Freud’s essay “The ‘Uncanny’” (1919), where he demonstrates that the term “uncanny” (Das Unheimliche), whose etymology is linked to the idea of being “not like at home,” or unfamiliar, unexpectedly overlaps with that of heimlich, something homey and comfortable, which nonetheless develops the connotations of unfamiliar and threatening. See Sigmund Freud, The Standard Edition of Complete Psychological Works, trans. James Strachey (London, 1953–74), 17: 219–52.

61. Kulish, Mikhailo Charnyshenko, 2:115.

62. “Mikhailo Charnyshenko, ili Malorossia vosem΄desiat let nazad. Sochinenie P. Kulesha. Kiev, v tipografii Universiteta, 1843, v”—8. Tri chasti, str. 206—190—224. Biblioteka dlia chteniia 57 (1843): 63. The journal’s review was anonymous but the sarcastic style and the argumentation found in other discussions of Ukrainian history by Senkovskii clearly point to the journal’s editor as the author. Because of the immense popularity of Radcliffe’s Gothic novels in Russia, critics of the time often used the term “Radcliffian” as a short-cut for “Gothic.”

63. Kulish, Mikhailo Charnyshenko, 3:21–22.

64. Some Russian reviewers of Mikhailo Charnyshenko criticized Kulish’s extensive use of Serbian (as well as Ukrainian) in the novel, which they clearly perceived as a nuisance. Even The Son of the Fatherland’s largely positive review complained that the presence of Ukrainian and Serbian terms makes some passages of the work incomprehensible and turns the novel’s language into a “bizarre mix,” see “Mikhailo Charnyshenko ili Malorossiia vosem΄desiat let nazad. Sochinenie P. Kulesha. Tri chasti, 206, 190, i 215. Kiev, v universitetskoi tipografii, 1845,” Syn Otechestva 5 (1843): 22. The Library for Reading put it even stronger: “Without respect for the language in which he is writing, the author peppers his style with Little Russian and Serbian conversations, which makes the reading for a Russian both uninteresting and difficult,” “Mikhailo Charnyshenko, ili Malorossia vosem΄desiat let nazad. Sochinenie P. Kulesha,” Biblioteka dlia Chteniia, 57 (1843): 64.

65. Kulish, Mikhailo Charnyshenko, 3:23.

66. Ibid., 3:54.

67. Ibid., 3:43, 3:71–72.

68. Ibid., 3:85–87

69. Ibid., 3:197

70. Ibid., 3:196

71. Ibid., 3:53.

72. Ibid., 3:71–72

73. Nakhlik, Panteleĭmon Kulish, 2:102.

74. I am grateful to Tetyana Dzyadevych for the suggestions about the role of the Serbs in the novel as “Eastern” foils for the Ukrainians. The association between South Slavs and Zaporizhzhian Cossacks is made more explicit in The Black Council which presents a closely knit pair of friends: the unruly Cossack Kyrylo Tur and Bohdan Chornohor (Montenegrin).

75. Kulish, Mikhailo Charnyshenko, 3:202.

76. Ibid., 3:202–3.

77. Ibid., 3:202.

78. I am indebted to Edith Clowes for the suggestion of the chalice’s connection to Holy Grail.

79. Ibid., 3:203. Bunchuk is a pole with a sharpened top, to which horse or yak tail hair was attached. It was used by, among others, Cossack Hetmans as a symbol of their power. Pidkova, I. and Shust, R., eds., Dovidnyk z istoriï Ukraïny (Kyiv, 1993), 1:76–77Google Scholar.

80. As James Buzard suggests in his study of English “autoethnographic fiction,” the time setting of Waverley places Scott’s narrator (a Lowland Scott) “outside of [Scottish] history,” as it were, allowing him to assume a semidetached perspective on its culture and to “export” it to the English audience. Buzard, James, Disorienting Fiction: The Autoethnographic Work of Nineteenth-Century British Novels (Princeton, 2005), 67Google Scholar.

81. Interestingly, in The Black Council Gothic tropes significantly diminish, if not completely disappear, while a more definite ideological model prevails. As Bahrij convincingly argues, the hero there chooses individuality and stability over the chaos of history, shown as a destructive force.

82. See Shkandrij’s discussion of Hrebinka in his Russia and Ukraine, 91–95; for an analysis of Pogorel΄skii’s ambivalence, see Sobol, Valeria, “On Mimicry and Ukrainians: The Imperial Gothic in Pogorelsky’s Monastyrka,” Skhid/Zakhid: Istoryko-kul′turolohichnyi zbirnyk 16/17 (2013): 369–87Google Scholar; and Romanchuk, Robert, “Mother tongue.” Gogol’s problematic national identity is discussed in detail in Bojanowska, Edyta, Nikolai Gogol: Between Ukrainian and Russian Nationalism (Cambridge, Mass., 2007)Google Scholar. Storozhenko’s complex attitude to Russian imperial policies is explored in Svitlana Krys, “All-Time Sinner or National Hero?.” For an innovative interpretation of the concept of “Little Russian Literature” within the framework of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s theory of “minor literature,” see Koropeckyj, Roman and Romanchuk, Robert, “Harkusha the Noble Bandit and the ‘Minority’ of Little Russian LiteratureThe Russian Review 76, no. 2 (March, 2017): 294310CrossRefGoogle Scholar.