Where is the line that separates the “normal” from the “abnormal”? Liubov, a young Ukrainian woman of small nobility, struggles with this question in Lesia Ukrainka’s The Blue Rose. Living in Ukraine at the turn of the twentieth century, she finds herself outside the norms for a woman: she reads “thick books,” follows music and art, and is interested in science and psychology. She hosts a salon and challenges men in discussions about politics and culture. Liubov is also an orphan whose mother died in an asylum, and she worries about inheriting her mother’s disease as well as passing it on to future children. When Liubov falls in love with Orest, she proposes a radical solution to her dilemma: to pursue something as rare as a blue flower—“pure love” that foregoes the physical and abandons the requirement of marriage and motherhood.
In her commanding debut as a playwright, Ukrainka created a deep psychological rendering of an unattainable ideal. The Blue Rose highlights themes such as women’s struggles for liberation, social progress and its reliance on science, and resistance to change in traditional societies. Written in sophisticated Ukrainian, Ukrainka’s nuanced play helped Ukrainian culture break free of the Russian imperial mold that sought to first provincialize and then erase it. Presented here in contemporary English translation, The Blue Rose illuminates Ukraine’s intellectual history and its connections with Western culture.