Jane Austen has a substantial following in Ukraine, it seems. This is not something I knew two years ago, but a lot has changed in the past two years.
First came a spring 2022 story about a retired English teacher in an eastern Ukrainian town who read Austen to distract herself from Russian shelling. Then there was the December appearance of a Jane Austen quote in the Twitter feed of the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense. And last month brought a piece in the English-language Kyiv Post by a Ukrainian expat in Great Britain, who warns her fellow countrypeople that the modern-day UK is not quite as portrayed in classic novels, including Austen’s.
“Like many Ukrainians, I learned English at school and–yes–grew up on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice,” writes Elvira Kasimova. According to Kasimova’s husband, a Brit who taught English in Ukraine, that Austenian experience colors the speech of the country’s English-language learners.
“English vocabulary among many young Ukrainians shows clear links to classic English literature,” Kasimova says. “Apparently, we use words like ‘seldom’ and ‘moreover’ quite regularly in conversation, which I’m told are no longer common in everyday speech in Britain.”
Kasimova’s piece is kind of adorable—who can resist her reference to “little bready cakes called ‘scones’ ”?—even if her assertions that Brits love spicy food (because: Indian restaurants) and are “more open” than Ukrainians (because: ultrasound pictures on social media) seem questionable.
For her fellow Janeites, however, Kasimova’s key revelation may be a sad one: Although “the upper classes in Pride and Prejudice definitely still exist,” she writes, “I haven’t seen any handsome men galloping along on horseback like Mr. Darcy.”
Nor have I, during my many trips to the UK. But if memory serves, Mr. Darcy himself never does ride a horse in P&P—that’s an image straight out of the opening shots of the BBC’s iconic 1995 adaptation. It seems that Ukrainian Janeites—that previously unsuspected cohort--are just as susceptible as the rest of us to the slippage between Book Austen and Movie Austen.