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December 11, 2001

Professor Luckyj: 1919-2001

On November 22, Professor George Stephen Nestor Luckyj, a pioneering and towering figure in postwar Ukrainian and Slavic studies in the Western world, particularly in Canada, died in Toronto following a brief illness. He was 82 years old. In addition to his many accomplishments as a literary scholar, Professor Luckyj played a major role in the establishment and early years of the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies (CIUS) and the Canadian Association of Slavists (CAS). He also served as the first editor of Canadian Slavonic Papers (1956–61), the journal of CAS. During his long career as a lecturer and then professor in the University of Toronto's Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures (1952–84), he helped to turn that department into a leading centre of Slavic studies in North America in his capacity as chairman (1957–61).

George Luckyj was born in 1919 in the village of Yanchyn (now Ivanivka) in Peremyshliany county, near L'viv. He was the son of Ostap Lutsky, a Western Ukrainian modernist poet, co-operative leader, politician, and member of the Polish Sejm and Senate, and of Irena Smal'-Stots'ka, the daughter of Stepan Smal'-Stots'ky, the well-known Slavic philologist, Bukovynian community leader and Austrian parliamentarian. He thus had the fortune of growing up in a nationally conscious family that also held dear the highest values of European culture and civilization.

After graduating from the Academic Gymnasium in Lviv in 1937, he traveled to Italy and Germany and studied German literature at the University of Berlin. On his father's advice, he left Berlin for England on the eve of World War II to attend a summer school at Cambridge University. Soon after the Soviet occupation of Western Ukraine in 1939 his father was arrested by the NKVD and perished in a Soviet concentration camp in 1941.

In England George Luckyj soon enrolled at the University of Birmingham, where he received a master's degree and met Moira McShane, his wife to be and his closest intellectual collaborator. He joined the British army in December 1943 and served as a Russian interpreter for British military intelligence in occupied postwar Germany. There his Anglophile sentiments were undermined by his experience of the brutal repatriation of Soviet refugees and deserters and the complicity of British authorities in that inhumane chapter in postwar history.

Demobilized in 1947, he accepted that year a position to teach English literature at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon and emigrated to Canada with his wife and twin daughters. Two years later he left Saskatoon to pursue a doctorate at Columbia University, New York.

It was during his doctoral studies that George Luckyj made the first of his many important contributions to Ukrainian studies. His Ph.D. dissertation (1953) became the pioneering monograph Literary Politics in the Soviet Ukraine, 1917–1934 (1956; revised ed., 1990). In New York he also became involved in the work of the Ukrainian Academy of Arts and Sciences in the U.S., a scholarly institution founded by postwar émigré scholars, serving as the founding editor (1951–53) and translator of the academy's Annals.

From that time on, George Luckyj devoted his intellectual energies to informing the English-speaking world about Ukrainian literature, civilization, and cultural and political issues. With the help of his wife, Moira, he became the most prolific English-language translator of Ukrainian monographs and works of Ukrainian literature in the twentieth century. His translations include The Hunters and the Hunted by Ivan Bahriany (1954, 1956); Iwan Majstrenko's Borot'bism: A Chapter in the History of Ukrainian Communism (1954); Elie Borschak's Hryhor Orlyk: France's Cossack General (1956); Dmytro Doroshenko's Survey of Ukrainian Historiography (1957); Mykola Khvylovy's Stories from the Ukraine (1960); Hryhory Kostiuk's Stalinist Rule in the Ukraine: A Decade of Mass Terror (1960); George Y. Shevelov's Syntax of Modern Literary Ukrainian (1963); A Little Touch of Drama by Valerian Pidmohylny (1972); Panteleimon Kulish's Black Council (1973); Mykola Kulish's Sonata Pathétique (1975); Ievhen Sverstiuk's Clandestine Essays (1976); and Pavlo Zaitsev's Taras Shevchenko: A Life (1988). Other works of Ukrainian literature in English edited by Professor Luckyjj include Four Ukrainian Poets (1969), Modern Ukrainian Short Stories (1973); and Mykhailo Kotsiubyns'kyi's Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (1981).

As a literary scholar, George Luckyj is best known for two seminal monographs: the aforementioned Literary Politics in the Soviet Ukraine, 1917–1934, and Between Gogol' and Ševcenko: Polarity in the Literary Ukraine, 1798–1847 (1971), a now classic study of the Ukrainian Romantic generation. Just prior to his retirement he wrote the monograph Panteleimon Kulish: A Sketch of His Life and Times (1983). Professor Luckyj also wrote many articles on Ukrainian literature, Soviet literary politics and dissent, and individual Ukrainian and Russian writers to scholarly journals, encyclopedias, and other reference books. He served as the editor of the section on Ukrainian literature in vol. 1 of Ukraine: A Concise Encyclopaedia (1963).

Professor Luckyj believed in and lobbied for a publicly-funded institute of Ukrainian studies in Canada, and was involved in the creation of CIUS in 1976. Upon its founding, he was appointed associate director in charge of its Toronto office, and was closely associated with the Institute during its early years. As associate director, Professor Luckyj implemented a plan to publish several university textbooks in Ukrainian language and literature. Among them were two books that he edited: Vaplitianskyi zbirnyk (1977), an important collection of archival documents on the most important Ukrainian writers' group of the 1920s; and Shevchenko and the Critics (1980), a major collection of articles in English translation about Ukraine's national poet. At CIUS, Professor Luckyj also founded the Journal of Ukrainian Graduate Studies (now Journal of Ukrainian Studies), and served as its faculty advisor and de facto editor-in-chief until 1982.

The most important project that Professor Luckyj helped initiate at CIUS was the preparation and publication of the Encyclopedia of Ukraine (5 vols., 1984-1993). He served as its English-language editor until 1982. That same year he resigned from his position as associate director of the CIUS and in 1984 retired from the University of Toronto.

Following retirement, George Luckyj's intellectual output increased. He continued to write entries for the Encyclopedia of Ukraine and other articles on Ukrainian literature. He also edited Before the Storm: Soviet Ukrainian Fiction of the 1920s, translated by Yuri Tkacz (1986), and served as the literary editor of the monthly journal Suchasnist' (1986–88). From 1988 he published eleven books that he wrote, translated, compiled, or edited. In English, in addition to his translation of the above-mentioned classic biography of Shevchenko by Zaitsev, they include four textbooks: Young Ukraine: The Brotherhood of Saints Cyril and Methodius, 1845–1847 (1991); Ukrainian Literature in the Twentieth Century: A Reader's Guide (1992), revised as "An Overview of the Twentieth Century" in Dmytro Cyzevs'kyj's History of Ukrainian Literature, 2d ed. (1997), which George Luckyj edited, as he did the first edition in 1975; Towards an Intellectual History of Ukraine: An Anthology, co-edited with Ralph Lindheim (1996

In his last years, George Luckyj concentrated on writing in a popular vein. These included biographies: Shevchenko's Unforgotten Journey (1996); and The Anguish of Mykola Hohol, a.k.a. Nikolai Gogol (1997). He also contributed occasional commentaries on Ukrainian social and cultural issues to the Kyiv daily newspaper Den'. In 1999 and 2000 he published his memoirs in two volumes in Kyiv.

Despite his many achievements, Professor Luckyj did not receive the accolades one would have expected. In 1989, A Festschrift in his honor, In Working Order: Essays presented to G. S. N. Luckyj, was published as a volume of the Journal of Ukrainian Studies by CIUS. In 1999 he received the Antonovych Prize in recognition of his works on major Ukrainian literary figures—in particular his writings on Gogol (his Between Gogol' and Ševcenko was published in Ukrainian translation under the title Mizh Hoholem i Shevchenkom in Kyiv in 1998)—and of his great contribution to the dissemination of knowledge about Ukrainian literature in the West.

As a teacher, Professor Luckyj introduced many undergraduate students to the complexities of Ukrainian literature and culture. To more advanced students, he gave invaluable insights into the relationship between literature and politics, and nationalism and literature. He was known to his many students as an erudite gentleman who was tolerant of other points of view.

Professor Luckyj leaves behind his wife, Moira Patricia McShane, daughters Natalie (Michael), Anna, and Christina (Keith), his sister, Marta Spyra (Josef), two grandchildren and other family members. Private funeral services were held at the request of Professor Luckyj. He will be dearly missed by his many colleagues, friends and students. His legacy in Ukrainian and Slavic studies will be an enduring one.

 

 

 

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