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Taras Bulba

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Wikipedia article

'Taras Bulba' is a romanticized historical novella by Nikolai Gogol. It tells the story of an old Zaporozhian Cossack, Taras Bulba, and his two sons, Andriy and Ostap. Taras sons studied at the Kiev Academy and return home. The three men set out on a journey to Zaporizhian Sich located in Southern Ukraine, where they join other Cossacks and go to war against Poland.

The work is non-fictional in nature, in that the main character s based on several historical personalities, and other characters are not s exaggerated or grotesque as was common in Gogol's later fiction. This story can be understood in the context of the romantic nationalism movement in literature, which developed around a historical ethnic culture which meets the romantic ideal.

Plot (1842 revised edition)

Taras Bulbas two sons, Ostap and Andriy, return home from an Orthodox seminary in Kiev. Ostap is the more adventurous, whereas Andriy has deeply romantic feelings of an introvert. While in Kiev, he fell in love with a young Polish noble girl, the daughter of the Governor of Kovno, but after a couple of meetings (edging into her house and in church), he stopped seeing her when her family returned home. Taras Bulba gives his sons the opportunity to go to war. They reach the Cossack camp at the Zaporozhian Sich, where there is much merrymaking. Taras attempts to rouse the Cossacks to go into battle. He rallies them to replace the existing Hetman when the Hetman is reluctant to break the peace treaty.

They soon have the opportunity to fight the Poles, who rule all Ukraine west of the Dnieper River. The Poles are accused of atrocities against Orthodox Christians, in which they are aided by Jews. After killing many of the Jewish merchants at the Sich, the Cossacks set off on a campaign against the Poles. They besiege Dubno Castle. Surrounded by the Cossacks and short of supplies, the inhabitants begin to starve. One night a Tatar woman comes to Andriy and rouses him. He finds her face familiar and then recalls she is the servant of the Polish girl he was in love with. She advises him that all are starving inside the walls. He accompanies her through a secret passage starting in the marsh that goes into the monastery inside the city walls. Andriy brings loaves of bread with him for the starving girl and her mother. He is horrified by what he sees and in a fury of love, forsakes his heritage for the Polish girl.

Meanwhile, several companies of Polish soldiers march into Dubno to relieve the siege, and destroy a regiment of Cossacks. A number of battles ensue. Taras learns of his sons forsaking his Cossack heritage from Yankel the Jew, whom he saved earlier in the story. During one of the final battles, he sees Andriy riding in Polish garb from the castle and has his men draw him to the woods, where he takes him off his horse. Taras then shoots his son from close range. Taras and Ostap continue fighting the Poles. Ostap is captured while his father is knocked out. When Taras regains his composure he learns that his son was taken away by the Poles. Yankel agrees to take him to Warsaw where Ostap is held captive, hiding Taras in a cart of bricks. Once in Warsaw a group of Jews help Yankel dress Taras as a German count. They go into the prison to see his Ostap, but a guard recognizes Taras as a Cossack. He lets them in and out only after being paid 100 gold pieces, and suggests they go to the Cossacks' execution the following day.

During the execution, Ostap does not make a single sound, even while being broken on the wheel, and only near the end calls out to his father, asking if he "can hear this?" Taras calls out that he can. Yankel turns to him terrified, but he had vanished. Taras returns home to find all of his old Cossack friends dead and younger Cossacks in their place. He goes to war again. The new Hetman wishes to make peace with the Poles, which Taras is strongly against, warning that the Poles are treacherous and will not honor their words. Failing to convince the Hetman, Taras takes his regiment away to continue the assault independently. As Taras predicted, once the new Hetman agrees to a truce, the Poles betray him and kill a number of Cossacks. Taras and his men continue to fight and are finally caught in a ruined fortress, where they battle until the last man is defeated.

Taras is nailed and tied to a tree and set aflame. Even in this state, he calls out to his men to continue the fight, claiming that a new Tsar is coming who will rule the earth. The story ends with Cossacks on the Dniester River recalling the great feats of Taras and his unwavering Cossack spirit.

The origin

The character of Taras Bulba is a composite of several historical personalities. It is mainly based on the legend of cossack Sava Chaly whose killing was ordered by his own father for betrayal of Ukrainian cause.http://www.ukrlit.vn.ua/making1/aeebt.html

Differences between editions

The original 1835 edition reflects the Ukrainian context of the story. In response to critics who called his 'The Government Inspector' "anti-Russian", and under pressure from the Russian government that considered 'Taras Bulba' too Ukrainian, Gogol decided to revise the book. The 1842 edition was expanded and rewritten to include Russian nationalist themes in keeping with the official tsarist ideology at the time, as well as the author's changing political and aesthetic views (later manifested in 'Dead Souls' and 'Selected Passages from Correspondence with his Friends'). The changes included three new chapters and a new ending (in the 1835 edition, the protagonist is not burned at the stake by the Poles). The little-known original edition was translated into Ukrainian and made available to the Ukrainian audience only in 2005.[http://www.day.kiev.ua/290619?idsource=149613&mainlang=eng The real Taras Bulba], Tetiana Polishchuk, The Day, October 4, 2005E. Bojanowska, Nikolai Gogol: Between Ukrainian and Russian Nationalism (2007)

Depiction of Jews and Poles

Felix Dreizin and David Guaspari in their 'The Russian Soul and the Jew: Essays in Literary Ethnocentrism' discuss anti-semitism, pointing out Gogol's attachment to "anti-Jewish prejudices prevalent in Russian and Ukrainian culture".[http://sicsa.huji.ac.il/demtext2.html Antisemitism in Literature and in the Arts] In Lon Poliakov's 'The History of Antisemitism', the author states that "The 'Yankel' from 'Taras Bulba' indeed became the archetypal Jew in Russian literature. Gogol painted him as supremely exploitative, cowardly, and repulsive, albeit capable of gratitude. But it seems perfectly natural in the story that he and his cohorts be drowned in the Dnieper by the Cossack lords. Above all, Yankel is ridiculous, and the image of the plucked chicken that Gogol used has made the rounds of great Russian authors."Leon Poliakov. 'The History of Antisemitism.' p. 75. Pennsylvania Press.[http://books.google.com/books?id=94H61cGGGQ8C&pg=PA75&lpg=PA75&dq=Nikolai+Gogol+and+anti-Semitism&source=web&ots=QZrpeuCWhi&sig=KDrHHQSbL8YYlbINJ30bWDxp6wM&hl=en&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=1&ct=result]

However, the famous brutality of the Cossack Khmelnytsky Uprising preceded Gogol's lifetime by about two hundred years and in Taras Bulba, as in Gogol's work generally, his treatment of the Jews is realistic and sometimes sympathetic, as in the closing lines of "The Tale of How Ivan Ivanovich Quarreled with Ivan Nikiforovich". In Yiddish, that character in "The Two Ivans" is referred to as a "balagoola: a well known character in Yiddish literature". There is a scene in 'Taras Bulba' where Jews are thrown into a river, a scene where Taras Bulba visits the Jews and seeks their aid, and reference by the narrator of the story that Jews are treated inhumanely.Mirogorod: Four Tales by N. Gogol, page 89, trans. by David Magarshack. Minerva Press 1962

Following the 18301831 November Uprising against the Russian imperial rule in the heartland of Poland partitioned since 1795 the Polish people became the subject of an official campaign of discrimination by the Tsarist authorities. "Practically all of the Russian government, bureaucracy, and society were united in one outburst against the Poles. The phobia that gripped society gave a new powerful push to the Russian national solidarity movement" wrote historian Liudmila Gatagova.Liudmila Gatagova, [http://archives.acls.org/programs/crn/network/ebook_gatagova_paper2.doc "THE CRYSTALLIZATION OF ETHNIC IDENTITY IN THE PROCESS OF MASS ETHNOPHOBIAS IN THE RUSSIAN EMPIRE. (The Second Half of the 19th Century)." CRN E-book] It was in this particular context that many of Russia's literary works and popular media of the time became hostile toward the Poles in accordance with the state policy, Wasilij Szczukin, [http://web.archive.org/web/20060524124804/http://www.toya.net.pl/~delazari/Szczukin+-+literatura+przedmiotu.pdf "Polska i Polacy w literaturze rosyjskiej. Literatura przedmiotu."] Uniwersytet Jagielloski, Krakow. 'See comments by Szczukin to section on literature in the Russian language:' "Literatura w jzyku rosyjskim," pp. 14-22. especially after the emergence of the Panslavist ideology, accusing them of betraying the "Slavic family".Liudmila Gatagova, [http://web.archive.org/web/20071201032052/http://www.acls.org/crn/network/ebook_gatagova_paper2.doc "The Crystallization of Ethnic Identity..."], ACLS American Council of Learned Societies, Internet Archive

According to sociologist and historian Prof. Vilho Harle, 'Taras Bulba', published only four years after the rebellion, was a part of this anti-Polish propaganda effort.Vilho Harle, [http://books.google.ca/books?id=dBItLcjv45QC&pg=PA131&lpg=PA131&dq=%22gogol%22+anti-polish+propaganda&source=bl&ots=J1Qi23NJ6m&sig=3Vt-60gLpD_RGGp0Ysx8ZJ__5zc&hl=en&ei=6zWyTMG1DYeosAP30IX-Aw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=2&sqi=2&ved=0CBkQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=%22gogol%22%20anti-polish%20propaganda&f=false 'The enemy with a thousand faces: the tradition of the other in western political thought and history.'] 1989, Greenwood Publishing Group, 2000, 218 pages, ISBN 0-275-96141-9 Inadvertently, Gogol's accomplishment became "an anti-Polish novel of high literary merit, to say nothing about lesser writers."

Adaptations in other media

The story was the basis of an opera by Ukrainian composer, Mykola Lysenko.

Czech composer Leo Janek's 'Taras Bulba', a symphonic rhapsody for orchestra, was written in the years 19151918, inspired in part by the mass slaughter of World War I. The composition was first performed on 9 October 1921 by Frantiek Neumann, and in Prague on 9 November 1924 by Vclav Talich and the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra.

The story has been made into several films, with varying degrees of success. The first silent adaptation was in 1909, directed by Aleksandr Drankov. The second, a 1935 German production, was directed by a Russian director Alexis Granovsky, with superb decor by Andrei Andreyev. A third, in 1936, was produced in Britain under the title 'The Rebel Son', starring Harry Baur with a supporting cast of significant British actors. Another adaptation was made in the US in 1962, starring Yul Brynner and Tony Curtis and directed by J. Lee Thompson; this adaptation featured a significant musical score by Franz Waxman, which received an Academy Award nomination. Bernard Herrmann called it "the score of a lifetime". "The Ride to Dubno" has become a standard concert piece and has been recorded many times. "Sleighride" uses "'Schedryk'" ("Bountiful"), the melody of which was used in the "Carol of the Bells", as a counterpoint to Waxman's own melody. The finale, an upbeat march as the Cossacks ride into Dubno, is based on a Ukrainian folk song.

A 2008 Russian movie directed by Vladimir Bortko, was commissioned by the Russian state TV and paid for totally by the Russian Ministry of Culture. It includes Ukrainian, Russian and Polish actors such as Bohdan Stupka (as Taras Bulba), Ada Rogovtseva (as Taras Bulba's wife), Igor Petrenko (as Andriy Bulba), Vladimir Vdovichenkov (as Ostap Bulba) and Magdalena Mielcarz (as a Polish noble girl) premiered in 2009. The movie was filmed at several locations in Ukraine such as Zaporizhia, Khotyn and Kamianets-Podilskyi during 2007. The screenplay used the 1842 "pro-Russian" edition of the novel.

The 2010 Hindi movie 'Veer' is an adaptation of 'Taras Bulba'.

References and notes

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