PROBLEMS OF BULGARIAN SYMBOLISM
Author: Rosalia Likova
Bulgarian modernism is a medley of the poetics of various trends — symbolism, impressionism and expressionism. Typical features of some of its representatives are the distancing from the national democratic traditions, the break with realism, the avoidance of social themes, and isolation in the world of subjective experiences. Some of them adopt the escape from reality as a peculiar protest against society, as an opportunity to preserve their independence in the world of "pure art".
The most persistent adherent to the tenets of symbolism was Teodor Trayanov (1882-1945). In his lyrical poetry, Nikolai Liliev (1885-1960) shows himself as a lonely introvert, a sad poet of deep feelings. His individualism intertwines with a warm sympathy for all sufferers. His poems emanate noble humanism, revealing the image of a highly ethical personality. The poetry of Dimcho Debelyanov, one of the tenderest and warmest Bulgarian lyric poets, expresses complicated and contradictory human emotions. He adopted some of the aesthetic views of the symbolists but did not detach his unaffected and sincere poetry from life. His lyric poems are a personal confession of unfulfilled dreams and romantic yearnings, reflecting the poet's emotional conflict, generated by the tragic contradiction between reality and the ideal. There is a strong outburst of social feeling in the secret sighs of Debelyanov's poems.
Poets Hristo Yassenov (1889-1925), Lyudmil Stoyanov (1888-1973), and Emanuil Popdimitrov (1885-1943), among others, were strongly influenced by symbolism early in their creative careers. Geo Milev (1895-1925) was a follower and advocate of symbolism and expressionism. Another poet who to a certain extent came close to symbolism was Dimiter Boyadjiev (1880-1911). His poetry, however, was always down to earth and his sadness resulted from definite experiences of life rather than from the principle.
In prose, Bulgarian symbolism was chiefly represented by the literary works of Nikolai Rainov (1889-1954).
Although fleeing from reality into the world of dreams, the symbolists were unable to escape from it entirely. Along with his symbolist works Peyo Yavorov wrote a cycle of realistic poems devoted to the national-liberation struggles of the Bulgarians in Macedonia, while his dramas expose the flaws in bourgeois morality. In 1913 Todor Trayanov broke the symbolist dogmas and under the influence of the 1912-13 Balkan War produced his finest works, permeated with a sincere sense of patriotism. Dimcho Debelyanov produced tender and intimate lyric verse. The poems he wrote during World War I (1914-18) were realistic and concrete in their imagery, and humanistic in ideological and emotional content. He also wrote critical realistic, humorous and satirical works.
Late in the 1890s and early in the twentieth century Kiril Hristov established himself as a poet of the impulse of life. He rid love of philistine sentimentalism, laying emphasis on its sensual power. His vitalism was combined with Epicurism, his overcoming of restrictions resulted in unrestrained eroticism and a longing for a wanderer's life. Kiril Hristov's individualism is not associated with the struggle for the spiritual emancipation of man or the yearnings of the fighting individual, but with the ego, his supreme credo in life.
During the second decade of the twentieth century Bulgaria experienced three wars. Very few of the Bulgarian writers assessed properly the character of the Balkan Wars or of World War I. At times some of them succumbed to a mood of national exaltation — Kiril Hristov, Elin Pelin, Ivan Vazov, Anton Strashimirov, to mention but a few. But in Bulgarian literature of that period there also sounded deeply humane notes — dejection and concern at the relentless extermination of people, at the senseless shedding of blood. This could be felt in the poetry of Dimcho Debelyanov and Nikolai Liliev, and in the essays "Stains of Blood" (1921) by Vladimir Mussakov (1887-1916). The many faces of the war were likewise recreated by Yordan Yovkov (1880-1937), one of the most remarkable Bulgarian short story writer.
During the above-mentioned wars there was a sharp drop in the intensity of spiritual and cultural life in the country. Compelled to experience the horrors of the war and of defeat, some of the most important representatives of symbolism abandoned their ivory towers and came close to the problems of life. In poems written on the battlefront, Dimcho Debelyanov came increasingly closer to realistic poetry. Hristo Yassenov wrote "Petrograd" in 1917, a moving civic poem, through which he greeted the 1917 October Revolution in Russia. The poets Geo Milev and Lyudmil Stoyanov experienced confusion and ideological hesitations. The first poems of Hristo Smirnenski (born in Kukush; 1898-1923) appeared in humorous magazines.
Modernism in literature was defended by the magazine "Nov Put" (New Course; 1907-10) and to a certain extent by the magazines "Nash Zhivot" (Our Life; 1901-12), "Hudozhnik" (Artist; 1905-9) and "Slunchogled" (Sunflower; 1909). Its first theorist was Ivan Andreichin. Dimo Kyorchev (1884-1928) and Ivan Radoslavov (1880-1969) also proclaimed themselves followers and theorists of modernism.
Literary critics were clearly aware of the impending disturbances in literary development due to the profound crisis in the public consciousness. The social orientation caused the formation of literary groups following definite socio-political tendencies, and a loss of direction for writers who remained without socio-political support.
In the period from the First World War to 9 September 1944 literature reflected the constantly intensifying social contradictions, the onslaught of Fascism, the revolutionary upsurge of the proletariat, the bolshevization of the Bulgarian Communist Party (BCP) and its establishment as the main political force in the country, organizer and leader of the struggle of the working class, peasants and intelligentsia. Authors responded to all major events in world and Bulgarian history. Though the literary process was complex, contradictory and uneven, its most salient characteristic gained increasing prominence: — in a ruthless struggle against reactionary bourgeois ideas and aesthetic theories the proletarian literary front was growing strong, literature was turning left and socialist realism was increasingly established as a new creative method. Bulgarian writers, with very few exceptions, did not accept Fascism or become its advocates.
Political maturing of the masses during the First World War, the revolutionary upsurge in its wake, the mass demonstrations, strikes and revolts and particularly the September 1923 Anti-fascist Uprising profoundly shook the Bulgarian intelligentsia, changing its outlook and focusing its attention on the main problems in the life of the people. The example of the Russian writers, who had embraced the ideas of the October Revolution, also exerted a strong impact on writers in Bulgaria.
The experimental efforts of some cultural figures, such as Geo Milev in his "Vezni" magazine with the belated dreams of a creative artist independent of society, and of aesthetes like the Vladimir Vassilev circle of the "Zlatorog" magazine and Ivan Radoslavov with the adherents of his "Hyperion" magazine, proved unable to give modernism a new lease of life. The attempts to win popularity for the pseudo-patriotic literary output which had been churned out profusely during the war, to defend and revive the bourgeois "national ideal" of unification in the form of a "unified mentality", "self-knowledge", "creativity" and "beauty", were equally futile.
The period following 1918 saw the publication of remarkable books by the Bulgarian symbolists: — "Evening Mirages" (1920) and "Free Verse" (1921) by Emanuil Popdimitrov; the posthumous edition of Dimcho Debelyanov's works; "Poems" (1920), "Bulgarian Ballads" (1921) and "Song of Songs" (1923) by Teodor Trayanov; "Knight's Castle" by Hristo Yassenov; "Moon Spots" (1922) by Nikolai Liliev; and "Land" (1923) by Lyudmil Stoyanov. They marked summits in the development of Bulgarian poetic language and demonstrated its musical and rhythmic potential, but nevertheless it can be felt that the traditional spirit of symbolism in them is shaken by the surge of more objective, earthy feelings and moods, by realistic pictures and sober thoughts.
Many of the symbolist poets underwent an evolution of ideas and creative style and wrote realistic and democratic works. A case in point is the change in Hristo Yassenov, who adopted communist ideas; the strivings of the crowds were still alive in the mind of Nikolai Liliev; in their prose, Lyudmil Stoyanov and Nikolai Rainov opted for a realistic portrayal of life; Geo Milev experienced a complex ideological and aesthetic evolution — while his collection of expressionist verse "Cruel Ring" (1920) was still in print, the harrowing realism of the cycle "Ugly Prose" was already taking shape in his mind. Nikolai Hrelkov (1894-1950) also outgrew the symbolist tradition.
Revolutionary writers found a creative platform in the party press — "Cherven Smyah" (Red Laughter) magazine (1919-23), "Mladezh" (Youth) newspaper (1921-23) and other publications. The poetry of Hristo Smirnenski provided the fullest artistic expression of the revolutionization of the masses following the October Revolution. From 1920 onwards, he published poems directly associated with the struggles of the working class. Collected in a book "Let Daylight Come" (1922), they marked the second stage in Bulgarian revolutionary-proletarian literature and the formulation of socialist realism as its artistic method. Hristo Smirnenski heralded the end of the old world, glorified the new hero of the age — the revolutionary worker — and praised the triumphant march of the red squadrons and the grandeur of the young Soviet capital. Many of his poems, though devoted to specific events in the heroic struggle of the world proletariat, reflect the essence of the historical process, the irresistible progress of the proletarian revolution and the leading role of the Communist Party in the revolutionary upsurge of the labouring masses.
Addendum: This book didn't appear from a scratch. The issues treated in it are much more complex than mere restatement of the title objective. Emblematically, this is a book about bulgarian literature in the period between the World Wars; in that case, people and processes of cultural importance are numerous in Bulgaria and we are going to push forward a little bit on this topic although a good critical survey is necessary, beyond all means.
— Number One Quiz, or main inclinations and journals in textual art: ~ A period between the World Wars is characterized or rather stipulated some basic lineage in literature that has to do with the movement for pacifism. This included mainly symbolism, but also other vanguard styles like neo-romanticism, expressionism, realism, etc. Various lobby groups had their fraction literature journals, — viz., i/. "Vezni", editor Geo Milev (1919-1922); ii/. "Hyperion", editors Ivan Radoslavov and Theodor Trayanov (1923-1935); iii/. "Zlatorog", editor Vladimir Vasilev (1920-1944). Those are the most important periodicals but also others show-up and close down intermittently. We wish to remark, that in their totality bulgarian writers and poets belonged to two opposing streamlines strictly functionally though not politically spellbound; hence, streamline "A" [including, journals i + ii] versus streamline "B" [including, journal iii + some intermittent]. Getting ready for a fuller criticism is difficult right now, but there are existing accounts on the issue, e.g., "Rosalia Likova. Problems of Bulgarian Symbolism", "Ivan Radoslavov. Bulgarian Literature 1880-1930", etc.
— Number Two Quiz, or international ramifications of Symbolism and P.E.N. Club literature ~ We are not in a position to delve with all authors that are concerned in this writing but will try to present some of them that influenced directly Bulgarian literature, — viz., i/. Jean Jaures, a Socialist leader and one of the main historical figures of the French Left who was assassinated at the outbreak of World War I. Romain Rolland used his personage as prototype in the Jean-Christophe Cycle, where the main character is a German youth fleeing to Paris to seek better future; ostensibly, the hero becomes flamboyant musician but is involved in a series of revolutionary activities that didn't cost him his life directly but devastated his soul; ii/. Henri Barbusse, a fellow compatriot who established the literary journal "Clarte" in 1919. At later years evolved towards communism and professed violence, immigrated to Moscow where he died. Officially recognized as mentor of new Soviet literature, while his novel "Le Feu" was prophetic for writing a series of Soviet cult novels, like N. Ostrovsky's "How the Steel was Tempered" (1935), B. Polevoi's "Story of a Real Man" (1944), and A. Fadeev's "Young Guard" (1945); iii/. Anatole France, an intellectual that protested the verdict in the Dreyfus case and often juxtaposed as "philosophical" father of Rolland. Schematically, his influence is difficult to perceive but we do believe that his occultism was effective on Rolland. In "L'lle des Pingouins" (1908), France satirizes human nature by depicting the transformation of penguins into humans after the animals have been baptized in error by the nearsighted Abbot Mael. "La Revolte des Anges" (1914) tells the story of Arcade, the guardian angel of Maurice d'Esparvieu, who falls in love, joins the revolutionary movement of angels, and towards the end realizes that the overthrow of God is meaningless unless "in ourselves and in ourselves alone we attack and destroy God". In the 1920s, France's writings were put on the "Index Librorum Prohibitorum" of the Roman Catholic Church, etc.
Copyright © 2010 by the author.