The Valuev Circular and the End of Little Russian Literature


  • Volodymyr Dibrova



Ukrainian literature, the Valuev Circular, language, impact, book publishing, readers


In the summer of 1863 right after the Polish uprising, the Russian Minister of the Interior Piotr Valuev issued a circular that effectively banned the publication of all popular literature, including textbooks and religious texts. The article is an attempt to gauge the impact of the Valuev Circular on Ukrainian literature by comparing book publishing at different periods of the 19th century in terms of the number of books, languages, genres, and geography, as well as its relevance to the contemporary literary canon. The author concludes that the Valuev Circular was an unambiguous manifestation of awareness on the part of the Russian authorities that the Ukrainian cultural revival posed a serious danger to the unity of the Empire. And the detrimental effect it had on all of Ukrainian culture is well documented. The silver lining, if there was any, was that the very name “Little Russian” acquired a derogatory meaning, and since 1863 all “nationally conscious” Ukrainians (“natsionalno-svidomi,” a term coined by Borys Hrinchenko) had to radically rethink their attitudes towards the country they lived in. The bilingualism of the previous generation was now considered an act of betrayal. The Circular did not succeed in eradicating the Ukrainian movement. Ukrainian literature, as a repository of national aspirations, survived half a century of external pressure, but it had to pay a high price. By banning the Ukrainian language from school church, and from most other spheres of state and social life the Valuev Circular deprived Ukraine of at least two generations of Ukrainian readers (arguably, one of the two indispensable elements of any literature) and seriously curtailed the ability of Ukrainian literature to create a viable infrastructure.


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