ASSESSMENT OF THE DOCTORAL DISSERTATION OF HELENA DUC'-FAJFER [pronounced Dooch-Feifer - wm],
"THE LITERARY LIFE OF LEMKOS DURING THE SECOND HALF OF THE 19th AND OUTSET OF THE 20th CENTURIES".
JAGIELLONIAN UNIVERSITY, CRACOW, POLAND
The doctoral dissertation of Helena Duc'-Fajfer is the first serious scholarly analysis of the literature of the Lemkos of historic Galicia approximately during the half century before World War I. As the author makes clear in her introduction, the history of Lemko literature may be divided into three periods: ca. 1860s-1914; the interwar years; and the post-World War II years. The dissertation focuses on the first period, although it is made clear to the reader that this is only the beginning of a much larger story.
The dissertation is divided into three parts. The first (pp. 6-68) defines the homeland of the people called Lemkos, it describes the specific socio-cultural conditions in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and it provides a methodological framework and justification for the concept of Lemko literature as a distinct subject of scholarly analysis. The second part (pp. 69-244) forms the heart of the dissertation, and provides an analysis of several genres of Lemko literature, essays, memoirs, religious works, poetry, prose, drama, and satirical works. The third part (pp. 245-281) begins with a general aesthetic assessment of Lemko literature during its first period and then provides a general outline of literary developments in the second (interwar) and third (post-World War II) periods. Appended are biographical sketches of 20 authors from the pre-World War I period, and a comprehensive bibliography.
From beginning to end, the dissertation maintains high scholarly standards. Duc'-Fajfer is scrupulous in her citation of literary excerpts, all of which are rendered in Cyrillic, including the etymological alphabet. This allows the reader to get a good Sense of both the aesthetic Content as well as the specific linguistic form used by the original author, or by the publisher when the work first appeared. There seem to be no mistakes in the transcription of the Cyrillic alphabet, and with the exception of a few minor errors of a typographical nature (for instance, dates in the biographical appendices), Duc'-Fajfer has provided correct facts in her historical-geographic descriptions. Although I cannot judge the linguistic accuracy of the Polish text, I did find the dissertation to be clearly written in a very engaging style that made me continually want to read further. Readability is an important, although an often rare, quality in scholarly treatises.
Perhaps most impressive is Duc'-Fajfer's use of sources. She has done her bibliographical work well and has uncovered a whole host of literary works that until now had remained buried in nineteenth century Galician newspapers like Chervonaia Rus', Dilo, Halychanyn, Rodymyi lystok, Slovo, Uchytel'. I know of no other study on this subject that has used such a broad base of sources. In a sense, Duc'-Fajfer is a kind of pioneer who has made it possible for other researchers in the future to analyze this early period of Lemko literature, since she has located materials that very few had even known about before.
With regard to the analysis of literary works, Duc'-Fajfer does not simply present a description of who wrote what and when. Rather, she provides a brief description (often with well chosen excerpts) of the literary work and then provides an aesthetic assessment. Moreover, she is not timid in her judgments, and lets us know what is of true literary value and what is not. For her there seems to be only one major literary figure during this period, Volodymyr Khyliak. For a non-literary specialist, I was surprised to learn that in this early developmental stage of Lemko literature, it was prose writers like Khyliak and not poets who were producing the best literary works.
I certainly expect this dissertation to be accepted for the doctoral degree and then to be published as a book. Hence, I offer the following suggestions to the author as possible revisions before publication.
The author alludes several times throughout the text to what might be called the theory of literary reception, that is, how literary works are received and understood by the public for which they are written. She speaks of literature fulfilling an "extra-aesthetic function" (p. 4), and of the "accessibility and awareness of the literature under discussion among the Lemkos themselves" (p. 56). And she does mention the popularity of an author like Khyliak (p.192).
But how did this happen in practice? What was the tirage of the individual books of literature of the newspapers in which Lemko literature appeared? Did any Lemko literary works get into school textbooks? How often and where were plays produced? Was there discussion of Lemko literary production by critics? Such questions may be addressed in a revised version of this dissertation. or rather be held off and treated as a separate chapter in another volume.
The question of other volumes leads me to the problem of the dissertation's last chapter. It seems clear that the dissertation could be considered volume one of a three-volume history of Lemko literature. In that sense, Duc'-Fajfer tells us in the last section of the dissertation (pp. 259-280) about what we can expect in future volumes that will cover the interwar and post-World War II periods. I agree it is very useful to give the reader an idea of what to expect, but not too much detail. The other words, the last Section of the dissertation should be reduced in size and the reader's appetite for more should be whetted with only a few general characteristics about Lemko literature in the twentieth century. As for the problem of literary reception, I would suggest having a separate chapter in volume three which would compare literary receptivity in all three periods.
The dissertation by Helena Duc'-Fajfer is certainly of the highest quality and acceptable for the doctoral degree. The author together with her teachers and advisors at Jagiellonian University are to be commended for guiding her in the completion of what might be called volume one of a future definitive three-volume comprehensive history of Lemko literature.
Prof. Dr. Paul Robert Magocsi
University of Toronto
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Document URL: http://lemko.org/magura/scholar/fajfer/elena.html
Originally composed: September 30th, 1997
Date last modified: Tuesday, June 30th, 1999