The third article of the Distant Reading Recommends series is written by Ellie Boyadzhieva of the South-West University of Blagoevgrad in Bulgaria. She describes a prominent revolutionary novel from the Bulgarian tradition whose enduring popularity is felt to this day.

In Distant Reading Recommends, an Action member introduces a novel, published between 1850 and 1920, from one of the participating countries in our Action. These novels may be important or notable within the individual nation’s literary tradition, but less well-known in the broader European context. By bringing these novels to light, we aim to further advance our objectives of creating a broader, more inclusive, and better-grounded account of European literary history and cultural identity.

The novel Под игото (Under the Yoke) was written by Ivan Vazov, who is commonly referred to as “the Patriarch of Bulgarian literature” by Bulgarian literary historians. 

Ivan Vazov (1850-1921) lived on the border of two eras and his numerous literary works depict two significant periods of Bulgarian history: the Renaissance and the Post-Liberation epoch. During his lifetime he was also a prominent public figure who exerted a huge influence on Bulgarian literary and cultural life.

Ivan Vazov

He wrote Under the Yoke in Odessa (today’s Ukraine) where, in 1886, Vazov was forced into exile because of the persecution of the Russophile political faction of which he was an active member.

The novel consists of three parts. The first part was published in 1889 in the periodical Collection of Folk Lore, Science and Literature, and the other two parts were published in the same volume in 1890.

The first English edition of Under the Yoke (1894)

Curiously enough, Under the Yoke was first published as a separate volume in English in 1894. The British editor William Heinemann included it as № 14 in his newly-founded series, Heinemann’s International Library, which published English translations of classical authors from all over the world. In this way, the novel was designated as a world literary classic on its initial publication. Later on in the same year, Under the Yoke was published in Bulgaria by T. F. Chipev. In the subsequent years three more Bulgarian editions appeared. Today Под игото is translated into over 30 languages, including Japanese.

The subtitle of the novel is “From the Life of the Bulgarians on the Eve of the Liberation,” as it depicts the heroic time leading to the April Uprising against Ottoman rule in 1876 and its subsequent cruel suppression.

The first Bulgarian edition of Под игото (1894)

The main protagonist in the novel, Boycho Ognyanov, is a romantic character: a personification of the revolutionary spirit in Bulgaria on the eve of the April Uprising. He is a brave and glamorous leader of the national liberation movement and a representative of the young Bulgarian intelligentsia.

The location where the action develops is the small mountainous town of Bjala Cherkva (White Church) in the spring of 1875. The first scene depicts a peaceful dinner in the home of Chorbadzhi Marko which is suddenly interrupted by a startling noise of falling bricks. Marko goes to check out what is happening and recognizes Ivan Kralicha, an outlaw who has managed to escape from Diyarbakir [1]. The Turkish soldiers are knocking on Marko’s gate and Kralicha runs away. He takes shelter in a windmill outside the town where he kills two Turks to save the life of the miller and his little daughter. The miller helps him to bury them and takes him to the nearby monastery. Later he meets Doctor Sokolov and the two young men become friends as they share one and the same ideal: the liberation of Bulgaria from Ottoman rule. Sokolov invents a new identity for Kralicha under which he enters the community of Bjala Cherkva [2].

Ognyanov is hired as a teacher. This allows him to settle down in the town and to preside over the secret revolutionary committee. He saves the reputation of the young teacher Rada Gospozhina at the yearly exams in the girls’ school, and receives the approval of all honest town folk. Everything goes smoothly until one of the schoolgirls unintentionally reveals revolutionary accounts she overheard at home, causing chaos. After that episode Rada and Ognyanov fall in love.

The story unfolds by depicting the preparation for the uprising, which changes the lives of many of the characters and finishes with the defeat of the revolt. Ognyanov, Sokolov and Rada sacrifice their lives in the final battle with the Turks.

Bulgarian literary historians unanimously agree that Under the Yoke is the first historical novel and the most famous novel in the Bulgarian literary tradition that has influenced other fiction written in this period and thereafter. Although the main theme is uniquely Bulgarian, the author’s technique of narration with sudden turning points, escalating suspense, and unexpected climaxes, is deeply influenced by French romanticism and especially by Victor Hugo’s historical novels. For over 50 years it has been included in the Bulgarian secondary school curriculum, and is still revered by Bulgarian readers. In 2009, the novel was voted as Bulgaria’s favourite novel in the “Big Read” campaign, organised by Bulgarian National television.

Read the text of Под игото, which will soon be included in the Bulgarian contribution to ELTeC.


[1] Diyarbakir is a fortified city in Turkey, which during the Ottoman rule was used as a prison for political convicts from the Christian parts of the Empire.

[2] His new name is Boycho Ognyanov, which is a symbolic name. Boycho derives from бой, meaning fight and Ognyanov derived from огън, meaning fire.

The second article of the Distant Reading Recommends series is written by Roxana Patras of “Alexandru Ioan Cuza” University of Iasi in Romania. Her piece describes a notable hajduk novel, from a genre which followed the adventures of these romanticised hero figures of the Balkans.

In Distant Reading Recommends, an Action member introduces a novel, published between 1850 and 1920, from one of the participating countries in our Action. These novels may be important or notable within the individual nation’s literary tradition, but less well-known in the broader European context. By bringing these novels to light, we aim to further advance our objectives of creating a broader, more inclusive, and better-grounded account of European literary history and cultural identity.

Around 1855, when French, English, German and Hungarian translations of Romanian ballads started to be published, Iancu Jianu did not look like an epitome of the Romanian hajduk. Thus, translators such as Jules Michelet, Henry Stanley, Wilhelm von Koetzebue, Karoly Acs or Vasile Alecsandri went for texts that featured braver outlaws, whose names were spelled in funny westernised versions: “Mihou” ou “Michu”, “Toma Alimoche” or “Thoma Alimosch”, “Boujor”, “Kodran”. Attested from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century and spread throughout the entire Central and South-Eastern Europe (Rodopi Mountains, Srena Gora, Stara Planina, Olympus Mountains, Romania Mountain in Bosnia), the Bulgarian haiduti/hayduds, the Serbian hajduks, the Greek klephts, the Albanian kaçaks, the Ukrainian cossacks, the Croatian uskoks, and the Romanian haiduci were known as paramilitary organisations championing democratic decision-making, rebellion against the feudal privileges and chiefly against the Ottoman rulers, a sort of alternative proto-socialist economy and a nomad lifestyle. The hajduk literature, ballads and derived genre fiction, is thus specific to the entire Balkan area, its regional development being favoured by shared geographic, economic, social, and cultural conditions.

Indeed, Jianu’s ballad is considerably shorter and looks lesser adventurous than others of the same type. Living between 1787 and 1842, also being Tudor Vladimirescu’s right-hand man during the 1821 Revolution, it seems that the Romanian hajduk would survive his dying legend and probably witness the decay of his own text (allegedly authored by himself) into bits of drinking songs, as the ones assembled by Anton Pann’s in his colportage collections. Surprisingly, a decade after his death, Iancu Jianu was resurrected as a die-hard literary character and as a national symbol that, for over a century and a half, would enthrall a lot of Romanian writers, composers, film and stage directors.

Images from editions of Popescu’s Iancu Jianu

A young and very energetic aspirant named Nicolae D. Popescu (1843-1921) speculated the success of melodramas and vaudevilles authored and directed by Matei Millo around 1855 and turned the dramatis persona into a sensational character. The resulting novel was issued in no fewer than 7 editions, comprising 5000 copies each. Taking into consideration the social, cultural and economic context, especially the low levels of literacy during the period of its publication, we might say that these are numbers that indicate market success, professionalisation of writing and enforcement of literary institutions. Gaining fame with this simple trick of rewriting recent national history as sensational literature, N. D. Popescu came to be acclaimed as “Romania’s Ponson du Terrail,” as the unchallenged master of nineteenth-century Romanian pulp fiction. Indeed, he wrote around 60 novels, the majority of them belonging to the hajduk genre. 

Between 1868 and 1916, the novel series Iancu Jianu grew in complexity from a structural, thematic and symbolical point of view, at the same time accommodating new historical and ethnographic content coming from scholars who were assiduously researching the hajduk’s biography. As the author himself avers in several prefatory notes, the story about the publication and growth of this series is as spectacular as the hero’s life. While the first edition was actually a newspaper installment and did not exceed the average length of a short-story, the second and the third editions, published in 1872 and 1881, were issued in response to readership demand. Apparently, the hagiographical structure of the fourth edition (1887) was an innovation inspired by Jianu’s recently-revealed autobiography and by a series of unknown documents and testimonies such as those published by Gr. G. Tocilescu, V. A. Urechia, and C. D. Aricescu around 1880; so, the novelist would now deliver the same novel in two mirrored parts that presented the hero’s deeds and temper before and after his conversion to an outlaw’s lifestyle: (a) Iancu Jianu, Zapciu/Iancu Jianu, the County-Tax Collector and (b) Iancu Jianu, Haiducul/Iancu Jianu, the Hajduk.

But the character sold too well for the publishers not to try more profitable typographic formulae or easy-going copyright transfers. The fifth edition had a third part, where the novelist developed the circumstances of Iancu Jianu’s death. The sixth edition (1912) returned to the hagiographical pattern, while the seventh edition (1912) seemed to be an aggregate of the previous ones.

Illustrations of Iancu Jianu

Why does Iancu Jianu decide to become a hajduk in king Caradja’s times? Beside his sister’s/his betrothed one’s elopement, beside his brothers’ plundering of properties, beside the strong ideological commitment to Φιλική Εταιρεία/Filiki Eteria and Tudor Vladimirescu’s riot against the Ottoman Empire, there is something about Iancu Jianu that places him in Karl Moor’s descent and makes him the most romantic Romanian hajduk of them all. Apart from his particular social status—he is an aristocrat offspring, while his kinds are rebellious peasants—it is his deep melancholy, his inexplicable longing for loneliness, isolation and perhaps self-extinction that express a modern consciousness, a troubled sense of identity, an intellectualised manner of acting. Indeed, his decision to commit himself to a hajduk lifestyle, his surrendering to the Phanariote militia and escape from the salt mine, his love affair with his host (Catinca/Ilinca/Stăncuța) and then the forced marriage to Sultana look like not entirely assumed acts, as if the hero is not thoroughly participating in his own life and story.

Taking into consideration the author’s massive interventions on the original text during half a century (1869-1912), Iancu Jianu, Haiducul could hardly be defined as a single novel. It should be considered more of a work-in-progress series. Certainly, there is magic about it, as the hajduk leader’s brave deeds and abyssal personality attracted not only N. D. Popescu’s imitators (Panait Macri, Panait Popescu, Anton Marcu, Ilie Ighel, T. M. Stoenescu, Ștefan Stoenescu, Alexandru Munte Stânceanul, Lazăr, Simion Bălănescu), but also accomplished writers such as Bucura Dumbravă or Panaït Istrati. They exported Iancu Jianu and the hajduk type through novels that were published in Germany (Der Haiduck, Der Pandur) and France (Présentation des Haïdouks). The force of this literary myth is also illustrated by a legion of texts, movie scripts, movie series and musicals that were produced under the Communist regime.

I remember that, during the 1980s when the programme of the Romanian national television was severely limited to 2 hours a day, the movie series Haiducii/The Hajduks, Pintea Haiducul/Pintea, the Hajduk, and Iancu Jianu were anticipated with restless excitement and watched in stunned admiration. Directors Dinu Cocea and Mircea Moldovan would avail of Romania’s isolation and deliver to the communist audiences a kind of Balkan western. This is another proof that Iancu Jianu, Haiducul should be recommended not only as a text authored by N. D. Popescu and restyled by many others, but also as a complex cultural phenomenon whose stretching in time and whose variety of artistic extensions makes it a perfect topic for distant-reading research.

Acknowledgements:

According to Dictionarul Cronologic al Romanului Romanesc (The Chronological Dictionary of the Romanian Novel), N. D. Popescu wrote the following novels featuring Iancu Jianu:

Iancu Jianul, căpitanul de haiduci, Bucharest, Editura Librăriei H. Steinberg, 1873, 140 p.

Iancu Jianu, zapciu de plasă. Nuvelă originală, Bucharest, Editura Librăriei H. Steinberg, 1887, V + 120 p.

Moartea lui Iancu Jianu, căpitan de haiduci. Nuvelă originală, Bucharest, Editura Librăriei H. Steinberg, 1894, 176 p.

Tinereţea lui Iancu Jianu, vestit căpitan de haiduci, Bucharest, Tip. Concurenţa, 1909, 164 p.

Jancu Jianu, polcovnic de poteraşi, Bucharest, Tip. Concurenţa, 1910, 148 p.

Scăparea lui Jancu Jianu din ocna părăsită, Bucharest, Tip. Concurenţa, 1911, 178 p.

Dragostea lui Iancu Jianu cu Smaranda Gălăşeasca. Nuvelă originală, Bucharest, Tip. Concurenţa, 1916, 174 p.

Prinderea lui Iancu Jianu căpitanul de haiduci. Nuvelă originală, Buc., Tip. Concurenţa, 1916, 143 p.

Versions of Iancu Jianu editions as well as other Romanian hajduk novels are available on Zenodo:

DOI: 10.5281/zenodo.2648515; DOI: 10.5281/zenodo.2648518; DOI: 10.5281/zenodo.2648520; DOI: 10.5281/zenodo.2648524; DOI: 10.5281/zenodo.2648528; DOI: 10.5281/zenodo.2648532; DOI: 10.5281/zenodo.2648457.

For more info on Iancu Jianu’s biography and literary legacy: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iancu_Jianu.

For more details on the hajduk movie series: https://ro.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haiducii_(film_din_1966); https://ro.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haiducii_(serie_de_filme).

Many thanks to Cornelia Viziteu and to the librarians of Botoșani County Library, who provided me with scanned copies of several volumes from the “Iancu Jianu” series.


This is the first of a new occasional series of articles called Distant Reading Recommends. In each article, an Action member will introduce a novel, published between 1850 and 1920, from one of the participating countries in our Action. These novels may be important or notable within the individual nation’s literary tradition, but less well-known in the broader European context. By bringing these novels to light, we aim to further advance our objectives of creating a broader, more inclusive, and better-grounded account of European literary history and cultural identity.

The first article of the series comes to us from Lithuania, and is written by Saulius Keturakis of Kaunas University of Technology.

The novel Kuprelis (The Hunchback) was written and published in 1913 by Lithuanian writer and diplomat Ignas Šeinius (aka Ignas Scheynius). This literary work has had a paradoxical fate in Lithuanian culture: almost every Lithuanian was and still is familiar with the plot of the novel, but the novel’s unique literary technique, psychological insights about gender relationships in Lithuanian culture, and logic of characters’ decision-making were never repeated in Lithuanian literature. So, strictly speaking, the canon of Lithuanian literature includes the name of the author, the title of the novel, and the very basics of the plot: the novel is seldom read because of its perception as a very raw literary work.

Ignas Šeinius

The novel is about a man who dreams about his flight through a happy life, but from the start he encounters the first punch of destiny – the hump, his physical disability, which separates him from the community. Still, he believes in a bright and wide world until a second punch of destiny: a hump in the heart, as the narrator says, a psychological one. He falls in love with a girl, but she runs away with a man who is uninterested in spiritual values, but holds possession of some stolen money. In response, the Hunchback breaks down, retreats from Christianity and from community to a forest and starts his solitary inner life as a misogynist and a kind of a pagan hermit. The novel has no happy end: the narrator just leaves the broken man, who actually tells the story, alone. Not exactly alone, but surrounded by philosophical texts: Immanuel Kant’s Kritik der reinen Vernunft (Critique of Pure Reason), Ludwig Feuerbach’s Das Wesen der Religion (The Essence of Christianity), some books by Wilhem Wundt. He is possibly the first character in Lithuanian literature who discovers philosophy as the way out of a miserable life, in which he had lost everything and been left alone. And to the present day the Hunchback has no companion in Lithuanian literature in terms of his reaction to reality. His nearest associate may be Mary Shelley’s Creature from Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, who, inter alia, tries to connect with society by reading the books that he finds. This final choice made by the Hunchback could be seen as a vision from the periphery of European culture about how to move a bit closer to the cultural centre.

The importance of this novel by Šeinius is related to its attempt to create a language for inner life events. The mind-events in Lithuanian literature before The Hunchback had been represented as external processes: feelings that were the cause of sweating, blushing, and weakness in the knees. The Hunchback changed the language of expression; the story is active as a stream of consciousness rather than a sequence of outer actions in the reality of the novel’s hero. But the way the main character thinks is rather bookish. As a result, the novel was sidelined in the later history of Lithuanian literature, which gave priority to novels perceived to be more closely related to everyday life experience, and those which used a more psychologically motivated way of telling “mind stories.”

The Hunchback by Ignas Šeinius is important as an intermediate stop between the literatures of the enlightenment and modernism. That is the textual kitchen, where all the main recipes of the modernist way of expression in Lithuanian were found.

The first edition of Kuprelis.

The novel has an interesting publication history. Until 1904, the printing of books in the native language was forbidden in Lithuania by Russia, which had annexed the country from 1795 until 1918. Almost all Lithuanian-language books during that time were published in Germany or the USA, where strong expatriate communities had settled. Even after the publication ban was lifted in Lithuania, the first edition of the novel The Hunchback was published in New York in 1913, while the author was studying philosophy of art in Moscow. The first edition of the novel to be published in Lithuania appeared in 1932. Plans to translate the novel are currently underway, with the first English version of the novel due for publication at the end of 2020.  

Kuprelis (The Hunchback) will be included in the Lithuanian corpus of ELTeC at a later date. For the moment, the text of the novel (in Lithuanian) can be found at: http://antologija.lt/text/ignas-seinius-kuprelis/01

Saulius Keturakis is Professor of Humanities at Kaunas University of Technology in Lithuania. His research interests are in the areas of avant-garde culture, nonlinear narrative, quantitative fiction analysis, literary text generation, and word and image relations. He is a member of WG2 and WG3.