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The Period of the 
Press Ban (1864-1904)




When the Russian administration forbade the Lithuanians to print anything in the Latin alphabet (1864), Lithuanian publications began to be printed in East Prussia (Lithuania Minor) and then secretly carried across the border and distributed in Lithuania proper. In this way they became the clandestine literature of Lithuanian national liberation. The creators of this literature were more often than not members of the clergy, chief among whom was Bishop Motiejus Valančius. Besides religious writings he also authored popular stories such as Palangos Juzė (Joe of Palanga) and others, which served as examples of good Lithuanian writing for later authors. The time of the Press Ban also gave rise to the first Lithuanian poet of youth, love, and, finally, resignation, namely Antanas Vienažindis. As is typical of this period, his first collection of lyric poems was published only in 1894, two years after his death. By that time his poems had already become widely familiar and appreciated, some of them even being sung as folk songs.
A significant development occurred in 1883, when Lithuanian newspapers began to be printed in East Prussia for clandestine distribution in Lithuania (Aušra, Šviesa, Varpas, Apžvalga, Tėvynės Sargas). During the following two decades nearly 40 writers came to occupy pioneering or even leading roles in Lithuanian literary history. At the very top were Vincas Kudirka and the poet Maironis, followed by the prosaists Biliunas, Pie taris, Lazdynu Peleda, Šatrijos Ragana, Vaižgantas, and Žemaitė. Some of these new talents substituted a romantic tendency for the didactic approach, while others turned from romanticism to realism. The most significant achievements were in poetry, then in narrative fiction, and only marginally in drama.
The poetry of this period expressed the ideology 'of nationalist romanticism, with its differential evaluation of past and present. The past, espe- cially the age of Lithuanian political power, was apotheosized; remnants of this past, such as graves of heroes and ruins of ancient fortresses, were treated with the deepest appreciation as were the Lithuanian language, the customs of its people and their natural environment itself. In contrast, the present was deplored. Nevertheless, sympathy and love were expressed for the common people of the present day since they were regarded as continuing to constitute the vital factor de termining national self-preservation.
This sympathy which poets extended to the common people for their suffering from oppression and unwanted Russianizing pressures was conveyed not in a garb of will-weakening pessimism but with a rousing call to "raise up our own Lithuania" (Maironis). In order to resuscitate national feeling it was poetically urged to maintain the Lithuanian tongue, customs, to appreciate Lithuania's heritage, to love its people and its land, to promote harmony amongst the Lithuanian people, and to progress in knowledge, culture and economic wellbeing. A new theme in Lithuanian poetry was the candid acknowledgment that Lithuania's decadence was due not only to foreign oppression but also to the moral decline and lack of co-operation among Lithuanians themselves.
Toward the end of this period individualistic motifs likewise began asserting themselves, but they became fully prominent only after the repeal of the Press Ban in 1904.
From an esthetic point of view the poetry of the Press Ban was elegiac or glorificatory and almost always clearly pathetic. This character was imparted to Lithuanian poetry mainly by Maironis; it stayed dominant for a long time and was considered to express the natural Lithuanian attitude towards life. Intellectual poetry (Kudirka, Dambrauskas) played a relatively insignificant role. The elegy was the dominant poetic form (Maironis, Vaičaitis); in second place were the satire (Vaičaitis, Dambrauskas) and the parody (Dambrauskas, Mačys). Quite a few epic fables were produced (Arminas, Kudirka, Dagilis), since there was a precedent for this from earlier times (Donelaitis, Stanevičius, Tatarė). New historical songs appeared (Vaičaitis), likewise continuing a tradition (Valiūnas). There were ballads (Maironis, Margalis), epicidylls (Žilius), and grand narrative lyric poems (Maironis). The predominant meter was classic, alternating with a folkloristic free verse. An innovation was the change from the syllabic to the tonic meter, the latter of which Maironis enshrined in Lithuanian poetry for all time. Maironis also created a distinct literary school, whose main characteristics were an idealistic conception of life, an emotionally pathetic way of experiencing it, a clear logic of expression, a use of traditional classic poetic technique, and a use of direct images and terms taken from the surrounding nature and the idiom of ordinary people.
After Valancius, narrative prose, developing somewhat later than poetry, was represented by Krikščiukaitis, Kudirka, Pakalniškis, Pietaris;subsequently by Pečkauskaitė-Šatrijos Ragana, Psibiliauskiene-Lazdynų Pelėda, Žymantienė-Žemaitė, Petkevičaitė-Bitė, Biliūnas and Tumas-Vaižgantas. (Some of these authors matured only after the time of the Press Ban). The actual concerns of the patriotic movement were effectively expressed in Vincas Pietaris' historical novel Algimantas. Like Maironis' poetry, the prose of Pietaris was a patriotic proclamation, asserting a bright faith in the rebirth of Lithuania. The satire of Pakalniškis and Kudirka, and the allegories of Tumas-Vaižgantas were aimed at the Russian administration of the time. The most frequent prose topic was Lithuanian village life. Its depiction served as an occasion to explore the raising of national consciousness; the education of the peasantry; the expectation that certain sons would enter the clergy and the resultant conflict when another path of life was preferred; the disenchantment of some of the new intelligentsia with religion; the question of education for women; the improvement of family relations as a result of better education; the impact of economic changes; and attachment to one's people and land. Simultaneously certain stereotypic characters, such as the peasant, the former serf, the county official, and so on, came into existence. Especially rich in ethnographic detail and typology are the writings of Žemaitė, from which we can get a good picture of the economic tasks associated with the different seasons, the process of forming a new family in the village, its cultural tenor, the relations between village and gentry estate and, to a lesser extent, between village and town. The conflict betweeen worker and factory manager was touched on by Lazdynu Peleda, but industry had not yet developed enough in Lithuania for such class relations to be a conspicuous subject matter for literary treatment. The newest motif in prose was a humanistic concern with man's experiences in seeking happiness or self-assertion. In some of her characters Lazdynų Pelėda revealed the psychology of the village artist. Biliūnas' prose also approached psychological analysis.
Prose fiction at that time consisted largely of short narratives. Longer works came from Pietaris and later from Lazdynu Peleda and Satrijos Ragana. Description of nature accounted for significant portions of the narrative, as did depictions of people and objects from an ethnographic perspective. Pietaris, and later Lazdynų Pelėda, knew how to spin a suspenseful tale of events. The stories of Žemaitė are monotonous, dominated by a realistically depicted squalor only rarely interrupted by a lighter moment. Petkevičaitė's narrative mixes naturalism with sentimentality, while Šatrijos Ragana's is filled with an idyllic realism. Kriksciukaitis and Pietaris are noticeable for their humor and irony, whereas Kudirka and Pakalniskis employ sarcasm and parody. Biliūnas is lyrical in a melancholy way. None of these authors towers above the rest, as Maironis did above other poets.
Dramatic literature began with Fromas-Guzutis, who wrote roughly ten pieces for the stage, mostly drawn from Lithuanian history. Since theatrical activity was practically impossible at that time due to Russian-imposed restrictions, and since the author himself lacked any experience in this field, his plays remained without significant influence. Somewhat more consequential was Vilkutaitis-Keturakis' comedy Amerika pirtyje (America in the Bathhouse), written in 1895 and performed in the first Lithuanian-language theatrical production in Lithuania at Palanga in 1899. Vaižgantas and other prose authors of that period attempted to write for the stage, but the results failed to achieve permanent status in Lithuanian dramatic literature. Maironis wrote an opera libretto in verse entitled Kame išganymas? (What is Salvation?) which has never been produced on the stage.
The appearance of newspapers stimulated the first essays in literary criticism and theory. The earliest literary review appeared in Aušrra (Dawn) enthusiastically receiving Kraszewski's Witolorauda. The same publication in 1885 carried a severe criticism by Macys of the poor versification then practiced by Lithuanian poets. The next year Dagilis published the first instructions on versification, while the first more comprehensive treatment of versification theory was presented by Kudirka in Varpas (The Bell) in 1898. Three years earlier Stasys Matulaitis had condemned as worthless almost all of the hitherto known Lithuanian poetry on the grounds that it lacked Marxist ideas. Similar one-sided judgments were shown by reviewers with unbridled patriotic or Christian attitudes. The tendency to view literature in ideological terms was also revealed in the choice of foreign works to be translated. At the top of the list were Polish romanticists, especially those who originated from Lithuania or wrote about it, such as Mickiewicz, Kraszewski, Kondratowicz, Asnyk, and Slowacki. From the Russian, translations were made 'of Krylov's fables and of some works of Pushkin, Lermontov, Gogol, Turgenev, Saltykov-Shchedrin. Most significant were Kudirka's translations from Western European literatures: Schiller's Wilhelm Tell and The Maid of Orleans, and Byron's Coin. This choice of works attests to the fact that they were valued for their ideas 'of national and personal liberty and of resistance against oppression.

Text from the ENCYCLOPEDIA LITUANICA I-VI.  Boston, 1970-1978