Volodymyr Vynnyčenko’s Myron Kupčenko in the Novel Čestnist′ z soboju (1911): A Civic-Minded Sanin?

Andrew Kaspryk, Independent Scholar

Several critics accused the Ukrainian writer Volodymyr Vynnyčenko of creating a Sanin-like hero in his first novel Chestnist′ z soboju. Vynnyčenko denied having created such a character. Though Vynnyčenko’s Myron does indeed have several similarities to Sanin, interestingly it is an earlier version of Vynnyčenko’s hero Myron, who first appeared in a play written in 1907 entitled Ščabli žytti (The Rungs of Life), who resembles Myron much more so than the later, more mature Myron in the novel of 1911. Critics did not point this out; instead they wrongly remarked that the Myron from the novel resembled Sanin. Though these heroes are similar in their advocacy of a new moral code of values associated with Nietzsche, in particular, sexual freedom and enjoyment of sex, at the same time there are significant differences between Myron and Sanin. Unlike Sanin, who has severed his political affiliations, Myron is a member of a revolutionary party, who is concerned about the welfare of workers. Also, Myron is shown as vulnerable, worried about the consequences of advocating sexual liberation, whereas Sanin is not. In this paper I argue that Vynnyčenko provoked the anger of critics because he transposed and emphasized what was regarded as the modernist, popular, and decadent theme of sexual liberation which Arcybašev’s Sanin represented to the revolutionary milieu.

Associating Myron with Sanin served these critics as a means in trying to discredit Vynnyčenko’s attempt to include discussion of sexual issues on the revolutionary agenda. Vynnyčenko’s intention in his first novel was to expose the hypocrisy of the revolutionary intelligentsia, because they saw themselves as progressive, but in the sphere of sexuality Vynnyčenko portrayed them as conservative. I conclude my paper by considering the controversy of Vynnyčenko’s allegedly Sanin-like revolutionary Myron in his first novel provoked in terms of the larger, underlying issue of contention it reveals between Vynnyčenko, the Nietzschean Marxist and other revolutionary intelligentsia. Vynnyčenko believed that there was a need to undertake an inner revolution within the individual, a notion inspired in part by Nietzsche and modernists, as opposed to regarding such a personal, individual quest as unnecessary.