Mr. Vynnyčenko’s Idle Hours of the Year 1918, or: The Art of Inoffensiveness (Panna Mara)

Alfred Sproede


1918 was a fateful year for Ukrainian nation builders, but also for Socialist Vynnyčenko, who since mid-1917 had tried to accredit the autonomy statute of the Central Rada through laborious – and finally abortive – negotiations with the Russian and Bolshevik governments. The comedy Panna Mara(Miss Mara) that Vynnyčenko jotted down in early 1918 in order to kill the boredom of one of his many railway trips between Kiev and Moscow, later appeared to him as an “inane little play” – a judgement which the present paper intends to challenge. Starting off as a satire of bourgeois life under revolutionary rule, Panna Marasoon quits the satirical mode. The scenic representation of rural Ukraine resulting from this shift is not downright idyllic; but the communication between the dramatis personae(and, especially, the encounter between owners and have-nots) shuns away from class struggle so definitely as to remind the spectator of a family concerned with solidarity only: in the world of Panna MaraUkraine is fundamentally reconciled with herself. The generic standards of comedy – the final restoration of harmony between people previously engaged in a harmless, amusing confrontation – coincide with a political program that Vynnyčenko, later in his life, designated as Concordism. This paper tries to show that Panna Maradiffers as much from the ingenuous solutions of this treatise as it avoids the bitter conclusions of Vynnyčenko’s book The Nation’s Renascence; the comedy addresses both the opening-up of modernity and the fraternal effort towards the nation. The play’s message, thus, is relevant to the literary scholar, but also to a politically enlightened public. The question of Ukrainian independence, controversial, nay, utopian in 1918, has found an unambiguous answer since the country, in the run-up to 2018, claimed an ultimate “farewell to the Empire”. Recent years, true, have shown that this parting could not be achieved like a short distance run, but it is clearly engaged. No one interested in the early moments of the ongoing ‘farewell’ will ignore Panna Mara– however “inane” the author himself may have considered his play.


V. Vynnyčenko; 1918; Political Comedy; Class Struggle vs. Ukrainian Fraternity; Comic Inoffensiveness; ‘Inclusive’ Laughter; Nationhood.

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