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Narrative literature : Lithuanian

  • Literature (fictional prose/drama)Lithuanian
  • Cultural Field:
    Texts and stories
  • Author:
    Sniečkutė, Marija
  • Text:

    Narrative literature in Lithuanian or on Lithuanian themes began among intellectuals and activists. An initial network of these was the “Samogitian movement”, concerned primarily with the revival of the language variant of that region, and linking Vilnius (university and seminary) and Bardžiai. Among major contributors was Stanislas Valiūnas (1789–1831), famous mostly for the historical poem <em>Birutė</em> (1823; published in 1828, 1846), which was based on a 16th-century chronicle mentioning the title heroine as a pagan maiden from Samogitia who gave birth to the Grand Duke Vytautas. From the same network, Simonas Stanevičius (1799–1848) published the collection <em>Šešios pasakos</em> (1829), containing, besides fables by the 18th-century pastor-poet Donelaitis, original work: six fables including <em>Arklys ir meška</em> (on a horse and a bear, the symbols of Lithuania and Samogitia) and the patriotic ode <em>Šlovė Žemaičių</em> (extolling the Grand-Ducal past and calling for the revival of the Samogitian tongue and Lithuanian fellow-feeling). No less importantly, Simonas Daukantas (1793–1864), a correspondent of the historian and antiquarian Teodor Narbutt, wrote historical narratives on Lithuanians and Samogitians, such as <em>Darbai senųjų lietuvių ir žemaičių</em> (1822); other works were published posthumously: <em>Istorija žemaitiška</em> (1 vol., 1893; 2 vols, as “History of Lithuania”, 1897), <em>Būdas senovės lietuvių kalnėnų ir žemaičių</em> (1845), and <em>Pasakojimas apie veikalus lietuvių tautos senovėje</em> (1893). The Samogitian nobleman Dionyzas Poška (c.1765–1830) wrote about the life of the peasantry, and against serfdom, in his famous story <em>Mužikas Žemaičių ir Lietuvos</em> (1821-25; published, with changes, in 1886). The Samogitian movement glorified Samogitia and its virtuous peasantry, linked it to Lithuania, and set it against the Teutonic Order; attitudes to Poland and Russia were not markedly negative.

    A subsequent network spanned Catholic seminaries in Varniai and Suwalki and the theological academy in Vilnius (which in 1842 was transferred to St Petersburg). Their writings over the decades moved from didactic-religious towards political-religious themes. Among its members, Antanas Tatarė (1805–1899), also considered as “the first Lithuanian writer”, published religious books (<em>Žiburys rankoje dūšios krikščioniškos,</em> 1848; translated from Polish; <em>Tiesiausias kelias ing dangaus karalystę</em>, 1853) and the collection of fables <em>Pamokslai išminties ir teisybės</em> (1851). Edifying tales were published by Petras Gomalevskis (1820–1868; his <em>Aplankymas Seniuko</em>, 1853, focused on a travelling peasant, anti-alcoholism, and religion) and J.S. Dovydaitis (1826–1883; his popular 4-volume <em>Šiaulėniškis Senelis</em>, 1860-64, similarly thematized a travelling old man and anti-alcoholism). The stories by Kazimieras Pakalniškis (known as Dėdė Antanazas; 1866–1933) were anti-Russian in tone and expressed a Catholic idea of Lithuanian nationality (<em>Obrusiteliai</em>, 1898). Some of these first appeared in periodicals; collections include <em>Mirtis</em> (1905), <em>Samdininkai</em> (1908), and <em>Paskutinis butelys</em> (1910). Special mention should be made of the outstanding figure of Motiejus Valančius (1801–1875), active also as a historian (<em>Žemaičių vyskupystė</em>, 1848) and a religious publicist and hagiographer (<em>Živatai šventųjų</em>, 1858). Valančius opposed Catholic Poles, Samogitians, and Lithuanians to “Muscovites” in terms of religion, language, and lifestyle (<em>Apie sielvartus Bažnyčios šventos</em>, 1868), and wrote on their plight under Russian rule (<em>Perspėjimas apie tikėjimą šventą apie Jėzaus Kristaus Bažnyčią</em>, 1869). In the collection of stories <em>Pasakojimai Antano Tretininko</em> (1872, published in 1891), Valančius thematized Lithuanian regions and customs and the war against the Teutonic Order, and generally showed himself xenophobic vis-à-vis Roma, Hungarians, and Jews.

    After the 1831 and 1863 risings, some of the Polish-speaking intellectuals moved to France (Paris). Among them was Jonas Goštautas (1800–1871; Polish name-form: Jan Gasztowt), whose (Polish-language, anti-Russian) <em>Pan sędzic czyli opowiadanie o Litwie i Żmudzi</em> appeared in Poitiers in 1839. It focused on the 1831 rising, condemned Muscovites for abusing peasants, and differentiated Samogitian and Lithuanian, as the “Latai” languages, from Polish. Mikalojus Akelaitis (1829–1887), co-founder of the Lithuanian émigré organization <em>Želmuo</em> (Paris), had in 1860 published a story on a poor monk wandering through Lithuania, <em>Kvestorius po Lietuvą važinėdamas, žmones bemokinąs</em> (Vilnius). Another active member in the <em>Želmuo</em> association was J. Grinius (mid-19th century – c. 1917). He was one of the first writers to create a Lithuanian historical drama, <em>Kova po Griunwaldu</em> (1892), celebrating the victory of Grand Duke Jogaila over the Teutonic Order and the union between Poland and Lithuania.

    At the end of the 19th century, Lithuanian narrative literature was produced mainly in two intellectual networks, one, centred in Russia, stretching mainly from the Marijampolė and the Suwałki gymnasiums to Moscow, the other centred around Mitau/Jelgava (Latvia; Mintauja in the Lithuanian name-form).

    In the Marijampolė network, the main contributors were Vincas Pietaris (1850–1902), Antanas Krikščiukaitis (1864–1933), Antanas Vilkutaitis-Keturakis (1864–1903), and Stasys Matulaitis (1866–1956). Overall, Pietaris wrote approximately twenty stories, among them <em>Keidošių Onutė</em> (1899, contrasting conservative Poles and modern Lithuanians); <em>Kelionės</em> (1902-03, a travel story juxtaposing the Lithuanian and Polish national characters); <em>Algimantas</em> (1900-02, publ. 1904-05; a historical novel thematizing the 13th-century conflict between Slavs and a golden-age, idyllic and egalitarian Lithuania); and <em>Kova ties Žalgiriais</em> (1906, a historical drama on the Battle of Grunwald stressing the affinity between Lithuanians and Prussians and their hostility towards Poles, <em>Gudai </em>– or Slavs –, and Jews). Antanas Krikščiukaitis (<em>Kas teisybė, tas ne melas</em>, 1892; <em>Satyros trupiniai</em>, 1928) targeted civil servants and uneducated peasants equally in his social criticism. Satires were written by Vilkutaitis-Keturakis (<em>Amerika pirtyje</em>, 1895, a comedy ridiculing emigrants to the United States; the authorship is putative) and Matulaitis, whose stories (<em>Parmazonas, arba Baisumas Dievo rūstybės</em>, 1897; <em>Smertis</em>, 1900) targeted stealing priests and Russian-Orthodox proselytizers. This cohort of authors differentiated Lithuanians from Poles and other Slavs.

    An important intellectual offshoot from the Marijampolė gymnasium to Warsaw was led by Vincas Kudirka (1858–1899), the key person associated with the Lithuanian newspaper <em>Varpas</em>. His satirical works (<em>Viršininkai</em>, 1895; <em>Lietuvos tilto atsiminimai,</em> 1896; <em>Cenzūros klausimas</em>, 1897; <em>Vilkai,</em> 1898) portrayed Lithuanians as abused, mostly in terms of religion and language, by foreigners: <em>maskoliai</em> (“Muscovites”, i.e. Russians), Jews, Poles. Also active in Warsaw was Jonas Gaidamavičius-Gaidys (1860–1911), co-founder of the <em>Lietuva</em> association. In tales such as <em>Pašauktieji</em> (1890) and <em>Antanas Valys</em> (1889), he thematized peasants becoming intellectuals and the history of Lithuanian-Polish relations.

    Women writers were prominent in the Jelgava/Mitau network; their work tended to thematize the position of women and non-elite intellectuals, as well as a Polish-Lithuanian contrast. Liudvika Didžiulienė (pen name: Žmona; 1856–1925), one of the major contributors and the first female writer to publish literary texts in Lithuanian, contrasted Lithuanian patriotic intellectuals to the Polish-speaking nobility, and denounced marriages between Lithuanian men and Russian or German women (<em>Tėvynės sūnus</em>, 1892). Her <em>Atgajėlė</em> (c.1895, publ. 1904) depicts a woman romantically choosing a peasant over a nobleman; and the comedy <em>Lietuvaitės</em> (c.1899, publ. 1912) denounces Polish-speaking noblewomen donning Lithuanian national dress. Another significant figure, the prolific Julija Beniuševičiūtė-Žymantienė (pen name: Žemaitė; 1845–1921), left behind more than 300 literary works; her short stories were collected in the three volumes <em>Paveikslai</em> (1899-1901); her comedies include <em>Pragerti balkonai</em> (1897), <em>Trys mylimos</em> (1898), and <em>Valsčiaus sūdas</em> (1900). Her stories were critical of marriage, priests, peasants, the Russo-Japanese War, and revolution; patriotic intellectuals and women’s rights were given positive treatment. Her occasional collaborator Gabrielė Petkevičaitė (pen name: Bitė; 1861–1943) published a collection of stories, <em>Krislai</em> (1905), which she called “photographic” exposures of injustice, poverty, and the burden of child-rearing; more nationalistic are stories such as <em>Vaišnorienė</em>, <em>Piešinys</em>, and <em>Tėvas ir sūnus</em>. The drama <em>Litvomanai</em> (1905), produced jointly by Žemaitė and Bitė under the pen name “Dvi moterys”, addressed the theme of national consciousness, and celebrated anti-Polish and anti-tsarist sentiments.

    Around 1900, literature written in East Prussia brought together work from the territory of Lithuania Minor (East Prussia) and Lithuania Major (under Russian rule). Until then, translations from German had dominated in East Prussia, done mostly by students at the Lithuanian language seminar at the University of Königsberg, e.g. <em>Žiemos vakaro gadynėlė</em> (1885), freely translated from German by M. Jankus (1858–1946), who also compiled literature collections from unsold calendars, e.g. <em>Kelios pasakos dėl naudingo pasiskaitymo</em> (1889). A. Bendžius, the first author of original Lithuanian prose in East Prussia, published <em>Namelis</em> and <em>Vėtra vilioja</em> (both 1901), the latter portraying <em>skalviai</em> and Lithuanians from Lithuania Major celebrating victory against the Teutonic Order. The philosopher and cultural critic W. Storost (“Vydūnas”, 1868–1953) also published a few stories, including <em>Senutė</em> (1904), in which he envisioned the history of Lithuania as common destiny of Lithuania Minor and Lithuania Major. The major historical narratives were published in the almanac <em>Bendraitė</em> (1902) by A. Bruožis (1876–1928) and M. Raišukytė (1874–1933).

    The work of Aleksandras Fromas-Gužutis (1822–1900) deserves to be separately noted. He worked for a court in Raseiniai, in Russian-ruled Lithuania, had contacts with East-Prussian intellectuals such as Jankus and with the Samogitian movement (sharing a house at one point with Stanevičius). Fromas-Gužutis was one of the first writers to create Lithuanian historical drama and one of the most prolific contributors to the Lithuanian prose and drama published (since 1884) in the Lithuanian press (printed in East Prussia and the US). His major stories were <em>Vargdieniai</em> (1893), <em>Patėviai</em> (1895), and <em>Mūsų praeities ir dabarties paslaptys</em> (1894). Fromas-Gužutis created more than ten, mostly historical, dramas, invariably Romantic in setting (castles, forests, moonlight) and referring to the likes of Dante and Byron. In <em>Išgriovimas Kauno pilies 1362 m.</em> (1893), he portrayed soldiers commanded by the the son of Grand Duke Kęstutis defending a castle against enemies from all over Europe. In <em>Gedimino sapnas</em> (1910), set in medieval times, Fromas-Gužutis described how Christianity served to bring under-developed Lithuania to the level of other nations.

    Lithuanian themes and settings were also addressed by writers in Polish: famously, Mickiewicz’s <em>Pan Tadeusz</em>, as well as other texts and authors thematizing the history and society of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, e.g. Juliusz Słowacki and Józef Ignacy Kraszewski. Kraszewski’s <em>Witolorauda</em> was in fact appropriated, in Lithuanian translation, by the <em>Auszra</em> generation as a national epic. Baltic-German authors drawing on Lithuanian themes and settings include Eduard von Keyserling, Hermann Sudermann (<em>Litauische Geschichten</em>, 1916), and Ernst Wiechert (<em>Der Totenwolf</em>, 1924).

    Word Count: 2084

  • Article version:
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    © the author and SPIN. Cite as follows (or as adapted to your stylesheet of choice): Sniečkutė, Marija, 2022. "Narrative literature : Lithuanian", Encyclopedia of Romantic Nationalism in Europe, ed. Joep Leerssen (electronic version; Amsterdam: Study Platform on Interlocking Nationalisms, https://ernie.uva.nl/), article version, last changed 03-04-2022, consulted 07-12-2023.