The Ukrainian land was not only a haven for this gifted individual but a constant source of nourishment for his creative talent, which offered him a vast field for his pedagogical endeavors. Jozef Korzenowski, a noted Polish author and teacher, was born on March 19, 1797, in Smolno, a village not far from Brody in today’s Lviv oblast. He was one of those many literati who were exiled after the Polish rebellion of 1831.
Jozef Korzenowski developed into a writer in Volyn. In 1808 he moved to Kremenets, where he graduated from a reputed lyceum (later he became a professor there). Twenty years of Jozef Korzenowski’s life are associated with Kremenets. There he wrote his first poetic works and plays; it was there that he met the famous Volynian author Vasyl Shchasny, the secretary of Literaturna Hazeta (Literary Gazette), poet, and translator, who would rank Korzenowski alongside Pushkin, Vyazemsky, and Delwig. Jozef Korzenowski’s tragedy The Monk was the first Slavic play to be included in the repertoire of the Russian empire’s theaters. The 1831 Polish uprising, in which students and teachers of the Kremenets lyceum took part, was followed by repressions in the city. The educational establishment, which was known far outside Volyn, was closed. In early 1833, its academic base, along with its large library, was transferred to Kyiv, where St. Volodymyr University was founded. Jozef Korzenowski was among the teaching staff who agreed to work in Kyiv. His short stories and the dramas, The Fifth Act and The Maiden and the Lady, date from the Kyiv period. However, he wrote his major works in Kharkiv, where he moved in 1838 to become principal of a gymnasium and inspector of schools in Kharkiv gubernia. His teaching experience acquired in the Czacki School in Kremenets enabled Jozef Korzenowski to establish the process of teaching “high” classical disciplines in educational establishments, especially in the Kharkiv gymnasium.
As a schoolteacher, Jozef Korzenowski could not imagine life without the theater; he wrote dramas and comedies, including A Pretty Woman, The Living and the Dead, The Actress’s Engagement, and others. However, his drama Karpatski Horiany (Carpathian Highlanders) sent his audiences astir. This play had been shelved by tsarist censors for 20 years. Jozef Korzenowski had collected the material for it during various trips to the Hutsul region. Local stories served as the source of what would become a far-reaching, socially oriented work. The plot involves a deserting recruit named Anton Revizorchuk, who, after returning home, kills a county policeman and joins the rebel movement of the opryshky [brigands]. The mother of this unvanquished Ukrainian highlander dies of grief and his future bride goes insane. Anton Revizorchuk remains unvanquished, although he realizes his position: “Now that all my close and dear ones have found their final repose, it’s time for me to go to the scaffold.”
Carpathian Highlanders attracted great public interest, but the drama challenged Russia’s colonial policy in the Caucasus. Tsarist troops were fighting against Tamil at the time, so his theme of downtrodden Carpathian highlanders made the Russian government very uneasy. During this period Mikhail Lermontov’s poems about the Caucasus, for example, were not published but circulated as handwritten copies.
On June 1841, Lviv’s prominent drama actor Anton Beza wrote to Jozef Korzenowski: “Even if you had never created anything else, public recognition of your drama would have adorned your head with a laurel wreath.” The author rejoiced that his drama was accessible to Ukrainians who had found themselves in Austria-Hungary. Contacts with Lviv actors and theatergoers allowed him to adjust the play to the stage, because the main thing for the author was not reading but seeing it: “What does a drama mean without the theater, without the actor, his voice, and other charms of the spectacle? It is a walking corpse that has escaped the morgue table, after being skinned.” Jozef Korzenowski worked to improve his Carpathian Highlanders, and he duly informed the Lviv actors about this. As a rule, all such creative corrections were accompanied by words like, “To Halychyna, my homeland, in remembrance of a faraway country.” The joys and sorrows of the people who were native to Western Ukraine, to whom the playwright assigned the leading role (at the time only kings and leaders enjoyed this status), constituted a phenomenon unknown in Polish dramaturgy.
Jozef Korzenowski found creative sources in Ukraine, which he regarded as his native land. He spent 10 years in the Carpathian Mountains (1930s-1940s), where he visited on vacations and for reasons of health. Burkut’s medicinal waters helped strengthen him, and the unforgettable surroundings of the Cheremosh River, the opportunity to communicate with the people and learn more about their folkways, along with his world outlook inherited from his forefathers, added spiritual strength.
The drama Carpathian Highlanders enjoyed great popularity for more than 50 years. The author translated it into Russian, while Ukrainian versions were translated by Mykola Ustyianovych, Sofia Tobilevych, and Hnat Khotkevych. The play was staged under the titles Anton Revizorchuk, The Hutsuls, and The Conscript. Jozef Korzenowski accomplished what other Ukrainian-born Polish authors could not. The heroes of his Carpathian Highlanders are not Poles living in Ukraine; they are Ukrainians. Visiting the Carpathian Mountains, Jozef Korzenowski was not only captivated by the stories related by elderly locals, he sincerely envied the Hutsuls “whose life is truly poetic, because their nature is wonderful and their needs are rather limited.”
Jozef Korzenowski is also known as a novelist. Two of his most popular works, The Swindler and The Division are also based on material taken from life in Ukraine’s Volyn and Podillia, which provided the settings for his plays. In his realistic depiction of life Jozef Korzenowski at times resorts to moralizing and a didactic approach. His negative characters are often Poles, not Ukrainians. The author saw gradual evolution as the way to correct an imperfect society. It was only after the 1863 uprising, in his twilight years, that the writer and noted pedagogue voiced this tragically frank statement:
There are moments in human life
When one’s mind must succumb to the superior force
Of inspiration bestowed by the Lord,
So the great truth can come true,
This moment will come to pass, and nothing
Will extinguish its voice
Which calls out for death.
In Carpathian Highlanders Jozef Korzenowski testified to the great injustice that had been inflicted on the Ukrainian people, and in his novels The Swindler, The Division and Family Members he laid the foundations of Ukrainian psychological prose writing, believing in the gradual progress of the human spirit. Some readers wrote to him that, after reading his novels, they felt like setting up a filvarok manor house in the backwater provinces of Polissia or Podillia. Such comments contained both ridicule and an acknowledgement of his novels’ artistry. At the beginning of his novel The Division, the author describes a suburb of Stary Kostiantyniv, which should interest the current residents of this city in Khmelnytsky oblast: “The roads were the kind you encounter in Volyn toward the end of November. Ditches filled with liquid dirt, so they appear bottomless. Small ponds of such water glisten on the tracts and even in the fields prepared for spring sowing. In the countryside every inn, every fence is covered with mud. People walk around with muddy feet; those who drove did so at a snail’s pace, to the accompaniment of hooves plodding through the mud, now and then sinking into the sour mire. The music was not the kind produced by Pharis’s horse, when he would sink his slender hooves into the deep sand...” [author’s translation]
Jozef Korzenowski advocated moderation in his life and creative works. He was happy that he was not destined to live as a man of wealth. He was convinced that only in such conditions could one remain healthy, free, and at peace with oneself. The writer warned against the hazards of capitalism and man’s greed; he was eager to see Ukrainians and Poles living in peace in Ukraine, the people who worked the land. The Lviv student Gabriel Charosh (New Travels of an Eccentric) often ponders the question why people believe that a gold pin works better than a steel one.
Jozef Korzenowski succeeded in grasping the fact that looking for heroes in his works did not require a long search: they are “all around you.” The Polish literary classic, Jozef Ignacy Kraszewski, who lived in the village of Romaniv, near Lutsk, opened his eyes to this “wonder”: “If only you could take a closer look at your homeland, you would discover thousands of inimitable landmarks and subjects worthy of wonder.” Both of these creative personalities who worked in Ukraine took a special interest in the social situation in Volyn, its culture, and history as witnessed by the ruins of castles and archival documents. Together with Kraszewski, Jozef Korzenowski became completely involved in the idea of setting up a drama company in Zhytomyr and dedicating all of his energies to developing understanding between the two great peoples, the Ukrainians and the Poles. For this idea he suffered, was persecuted, and sustained punishments. But he never regretted it to the last day of his great life that ended on September 17, 1863. He is buried in the family vault in Warsaw.