Lesia Ukrainka’s first prose drama The Blue Rose explores the vital topics of the European fin de siècle: heredity and madness, female hysteria and sexuality. It is an important example of the New Drama situated at the intersection of Symbolism and Naturalism. As the translator Marta Sakhno explains, the chosen scenes relate to ‘the climax of the play, when the hero’s mother tries to dissuade him from his relationship with a young woman’ who has a family history of madness ‘and then the hero and heroine […] try to hang on to their ill-fated love’. The symbolic blue rose of the title stands for ‘attaining the impossible’.
Act 3, Scene ІХ
Orest and Mrs. Hruyicheva.
HRUYICHEVA (comes out onto the veranda and takes Orest by the hand). No, Orest, wait. You have to hear me out.
OREST. Mother, you’ve picked a bad time for a conversation, I’m not in the mood for that right now.
HRUYICHEVA. There’s no time to pick and choose moods. Forgive me, but I’m going ahead without preamble. Listen, I’m not happy about your relationship with Lyuba.
OREST. What do you see that’s so bad about our friendship?
HRUYICHEVA. The word ‘friendship’ is hardly the right word for what’s going on. Such scenes as just took place don’t happen between friends. What can I say? Everyone considers the two of you engaged. People have hinted that to me more than once. At the same time, you know quite well that this isn’t right. You need to stop and think about it and not let things go too far. Break up while there’s still time.
OREST. Why break up?
HRUYICHEVA. What kind of alternative is there, in your opinion? Is it better to drive yourself and her crazy? This can’t possibly go on for long. It’s false and it’s difficult, a game of some kind of unearthly love that only suits adolescents. I’ll never believe that Lyuba was really as naive as she makes herself out to be. She’s not 16! She’s just very conveniently calculated all the possible moves.
OREST. Mother, please don’t talk about Lyuba like that, otherwise I will stop this conversation.
HRUYICHEVA. Please, no censure. I have the right to express my opinion and not mince my words with my own son. So, you tell me—how it is that she keeps you close to her as though on a leash and holds onto you like a spider?
OREST. Actually, it’s hard to say who’s holding on to whom more.
HRUYICHEVA. Obviously, she’s holding you. What does it matter that she’s not officially your wife? It’s better that way. All the privileges and not a single obligation!
OREST. Mother, you’re contradicting yourself. That’s completely illogical!
HRUYICHEVA. Where’s the logic in the two of you? Lots of theories, new morals!.. Nice and moral, is it, to tie up someone’s world? No, this won’t happen. I will not sacrifice you to this demi-vierge, this vampire. You have to leave her.
OREST. That’s not going to happen. Never, not ever. I’ll sooner say good-bye to life. You have no right to demand something like this.
HRUYICHEVA. Orest! I own you. I have loved you, raised you, gave you all my life. There’s no sacrifice I would not make for your sake.
OREST. I never asked you for any sacrifices and I’m not asking you for anything now, but you want to take my life from me, my happiness. It’s just egoism, coercion.
HRUYICHEVA. Orest, Orest, my son! What are you saying? I’m ready to do anything for your sake! Get married, abandon me, do what you want, just don’t lose yourself. Don’t you understand that you will drown if you marry her? Her mother was crazy…
OREST. What does her mother have to do with anything?
HRUYICHEVA. Oh, how awful! Don’t tell me you’re going to marry this madwoman!
Lyuba’s grief-stricken cry can be heard from the window.
OREST. Yes, I’ll take her or go crazy myself, if that’s what you want.
He leaves abruptly. His mother grabs at his hand, but he pulls away and rushes to the building on the right.
HRUYICHEVA. Orest, Orest!
Orest enters through the door.
Oh my Lord! Oh God! (He comes out again, holding his head in his hands.)
Orest and Lyubov.
LYUBOV (runs out onto the veranda, one hand pressed to her head, the other turning Orest away from her). Leave me, leave me, it’s all over. I’ll go away. We won’t see each other any more. Your mother’s right. You shouldn’t marry a madwoman!
OREST. Lyuba, forgive her. It’s just a mother being jealous. She’s not used to sharing me with anyone. She’ll see how happy you make me and she’ll be the first to ask your forgiveness later on.
LYUBOV. No, no, she was telling the truth. I’m a vampire, I’m feeding on your blood.
OREST. Darling, what are you talking about? You’re just upset today. Calm down. Forget this stupid conversation. What’s it to you! After all, I love you as always—no, more than before!
LYUBOV (weeps, slumping against a column). Oh, our beautiful blue flower… What’s happened to it?!
OREST. Don’t worry about what happened. It was bound to happen. Let’s just take whatever life has to offer.
LYUBOV. I can’t. I don’t have the right.
OREST. Right? I know only one right—the right to happiness! What right do you have to sacrifice me to some fantasies, fictions. You know that if you leave me, you’ll lose me, body and soul. Without you, there won’t be anything left in my life.
LYUBOV (overcomes herself, stops crying, and puts her hand on his shoulder). No, my love, don’t you say that. You’ll always have your talent.
OREST. It will die without you. Because you are my muse, my poetry. I’m not writing any more now, because I have no thought in my head other than one: that you aren’t mine and that I can’t live like this… You want my fame and everything to disappear forever, everything that I might create? Because I feel a fire inside me, a fire that could create wonders, but you’re trying to put it out. Well then, let it die. I don’t care about anything anymore…
LYUBOV. Orest, — oh, how hard it is for me to talk about this — you’re young, you’ll survive this. You’ll forget about all this and find yourself someone better.
OREST (sharply raising his voice). Don’t insult me. I won’t put up with this! There’s no one better than you in this world. And even if there were, I don’t need her. Oh, if only you loved me as much as I love you!…
LYUBOV. Orest, you know that I love you. You’re the only one I love in this world.
OREST. I don’t believe it. Someone who loves will never sacrifice his love for a dead theory, for something dreamed up in an office.
LYUBOV (goes towards him but stops herself in horror). But what if this isn’t just my imagination?
OREST. Forget it! With you, I’m ready for anything. Everything. I will share it all with you…
LYUBOV.. Even madness…?
OREST. Yes. Everything! Just be mine! Say it? Mine? (embraces her)
LYUBOV (her voice falls to a whisper). Yours… (Slips to the floor from his embrace, in a dead faint.)
OREST (crouches down to her̈). Lyuba, Lyuba, what’s happening to you? Oh, she’s dead. I killed her. Lyuba, Lyuba, wake up!
LYUBOV (awakens from her faint). Oh, what am I doing, lying down? (Comes to herself quickly and lightly. To Orest.) Why did you throw me to the floor? See what you’re like?
OREST. Are you feeling better, dear heart? What’s going on, Lyuba?
LYUBOV. Oh, it was nothing?! I feel so good, so good. I’ve never felt so good. I’m so happy! (Throws herself on his neck.) And you’re happy, right?
OREST. Yes, you’re right, my happiness, my star! When will we finally be together forever? When will you refer to me as your spouse in public?
LYUBOV. Let’s go! (Takes him by the hand.)
LYUBOV. To church.
OREST (a bit frightened). Why?
LYUBOV. To get married.
OREST. No, my dear, let’s not joke! Lyuba, is this a time for jokes?
LYUBOV. What jokes are you talking about? They’ve been waiting for us a long time already… Oh, wait, I’m not dressed. It’s nothing, I’ll— hold on a minute, just a minute…
(Runs out onto the veranda, stops, turns and blows a few kisses towards Orest.) In a flash, my love!.. Auntie Lipa, Auntie Lipa, where’s my white dress? (Disappears through the doorway.)
OREST. Lyuba, what’s going on with you? (Runs to the door.)
Lyuba suddenly slams the door shut and locks it. Her voice can be heard: ‘You can’t come in. The groom isn’t supposed to be in the house when the bride is getting dressed!’
Orest knocks on the door, but no one opens it for him. He runs to the building on the left.
OREST: Serhiy Petrovych! Oleksandra Viktorivna! Anybody, please God! Help, help! (Runs through the doorway, then shortly runs out again.) Nobody anywhere! Oh, Lord! (Once again throws himself at the building to the right and knocks, then runs behind the building and from there his knocking can be heard).
31 August 1896
Image: Photo of Lesia Ukrainka, 1896.