The works and words of Maria K. – translator, author, illustrator.
Russian-Ukrainian writer Marko Vovchok (pen name of Maria Alexandrovna Vilinskaya-Markevich) was born in 1834, in the village Yekaterininskoye of the Orel Governorship, in the family of an army officer. From 1846 through 1848 she studied at a boarding school in Kharkiv. In 1848 she moved to Orel where she soon made acquaintances among the local intelligentsia, including ethnographer P. Yakushkin, Slavophile P. Kireyevsky, writer N. Leskov, the exiled member of the Cyril-Methodiy Society and ethnographer A. Markevich and others. Under the influence of this new circle she studied the art of Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko, familiarized herself with folklore and realities of peasant life, and became an active supporter of the abolition of serfdom. She started writing in Ukrainian in 1857 and sent her early works to the Ukrainian community activist and writer P. Kulish, who was living in St. Pegersburg at the time. At the end of 1857 her short story collection Stories from the People was published under the pen name Marko Vovchok. The stories truthfully described economic and moral oppression of Ukrainian people within the realities of serfdom. The book received great support from the progressive leaders among Russian and Ukrainian public. The book was re-published twice in 1861 and 1862. In 1859 Stories from the People were translated into Russian by Ivan Turgenev. In the preface to the translation, Turgenev called Marko Vovchok ‘s name “precious to all our compatriots” and stated “the need to make it equally precious to the Russian readers.” In the same year Marko Vovchok published another collection – this time in Russian – called Stories from Everyday Russian Life, which was also very successful. Magazine Contemporary dedicated a large favorable article by Dobrolubov to the analysis of the stories. It stated, “Great forces hidden within the people and various expressions thereof under the pressures of serfdom – that is what we see in these stories. The author’s tone is haltingly musical; the nature of the stories is sad and pensive, supplied with secondary details filled with pure and fresh poetry. All this is just the same as in her earlier stories.”
Marko Vovchok was close to the circle of friends including Chernyshevsky, Dobrolubov, and Nekrasov, and maintained her friendship with Turgenev. While living abroad (1859 – 1867), she interacted with Russian political exiles in Paris and London. Having returned to Russia, she became an active contributor to the magazine Homeland Notes, publishing stories and novels portraying various groups of intelligentsia (Living Soul – 1868, Warm Nest – 1873, In the Sticks – 1876 and others). A Deacon’s Notes – talented satire discussing the privileged groups among the provincial clergy, considered Marko Vovchok’s best work, was also written during this period.
During 1880s Marko Vovchok published an illustrated magazine Translations of the Best Foreign Writers. In it she included her translations of fairy tales by Hans Christian Andersen and novels by Jules Verne. As time passed, however, Marko Vovchok gradually became less active in literary life.