TARAS SHEVCHENKO’S LIFE AND WORK
Taras Shevchenko, "Bay near Novopetrovsk fort"
The worst period of his life had begun. He arrived there with a band of political 'criminals" to whom all correspondence was forbidden. After two and a half years of freedom from military training, he was again subjected to it. He was placed under the supervision of a coarse, brow-beating captain, Potapov, who mocked, drilled, and disciplined him mercilessly and almost each day searched his pockets to see if he had written anything. But an even greater curse than this beastly creature was the bleak environment of sandy, marshy, rocky tracts. With the exception of the Bible, he had no books to read. It was therefore with great relief that Shevchenko welcomed the arrival of an expedition whose purpose was to explore the deposits of hard coal in the Kara-Tau Mountains.
Shevchenko was assigned to that expedition in a military capacity, for hard labour, but its leader allowed him to sketch whatever was of interest in that mountainous domain of wild birds and beasts of prey. Upon his return, two months later, these sketches were entrusted to his friends, and it was only later, with the amelioration of his circumstances, that he could, at leisure, bring them out as finished compositions.(1)
Likewise at that time Shevchenko began to write novels in Russian, the first one entitled The Servant Maid (Naymichka), which, in order to avoid unpleasantness, he dated back to Pereyaslav, 1845. At this he was engaged fairly regularly, and before his days of exile were over he had completed seven novels. In addition, he did not neglect his Diary. However, not a single original poem in Ukrainian was written by him during his seven and a half years at Novopetrovsk; and it seemed that his Muse, like his friends in Ukraine, had deserted him completely. But he continued to paint surreptitiously, and for some of his works, mostly portraits, which he sent to Orenburg as "cloth material," he occasionally received money. Thus did he while away his time and melancholy, and avoid being completely submerged in despair. On rare occasions he was visited by people travelling through that outlandish place, among them the famous Russian novelist, O. Pissemsky, who was always favourably disposed towards him.
Taras Shevchenko. "Baygush"
The greatest consolation Shevchenko experienced in that gloomy period of his life was in the person of Uskov’s wife Agatha, whom in his letters to his friends he described as “the veritable grace of God" to him in that wilderness. To Bronislaw Zaleski, his Polish friend, he confided: “What a wonderful, marvellous being is that impeccable woman! She is a sparkling gem in the crown of creation. If it were not for this one and only creature so dear to my heart, I would not know what to do with myself. I have come to love her with a chaste, lofty love - with all my heart and soul filled with gratitude. But do not suspect, my friend, that there is any taint in this pure love of mine... And indeed, it was a platonic affection which Agatha, feeling how it relieved his torment, allowed him to nurture towards her. Almost every day he dined at the Uskovs, and his frequent walks with her in the vicinity of the Fort transported him from hell to the empyrean heights, preventing him from going mad among the uncouth, obtuse, drunken soldiery and convict rabble with whom he had to live.
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