The Uniqueness of Gabrielė Petkevičaitė-Bitė’s World of Short Prose: A Search for a Meaningful Existence
Gabrielė Petkevičaitė-Bitė’s work is colourful and diverse in terms of content and genre. She strove to reveal the most prominent conflicts of the public life of the late nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries, the problems of the individual’s spiritual development and the discovery of one’s own identity, the reflections of the life of the intelligentsia and the rural people, the search for a meaningful life by different representatives of the ethnic community and to bring up the question of the individual’s self-esteem. To this end, the writer created distinctive examples of the genre of small prose, such as short stories, essays, sketches, reflections, and reminiscences, which enriched the world of Lithuanian prose. Petkevičaitė-Bitė’s creative space was strongly affected by the epoch of national revival. The author wrote a number of vivid traditional realistic short stories, which reflected the actual reality and in many cases were strongly autobiographical. In her prose, the writer often depicts a young person is striving for new ideals of the national community: a different model of life characteristic of the secular intelligentsia, responsible activity for the sake of the nation, and ideas of nation building. The hero of her short prose is a person capable of creating a sincere and spiritual relationship between the members of society that is based on mutual assistance and understanding. For Petkevičaitė-Bitė, a young person is perhaps most closely associated with a romantic hero’s burning love for the world, the pursuit of ideals, impetuous feelings, passionate and courageous quests, ethical maximalism, uncompromising nature, refusal to put up with the ills of life, and individual truth, i.e., the qualities that are most typical of young people. It is not careerism or the search for a more diverse existence, but the pursuit of a more enriching form of life, a meaningful foundation for it, and a quest for spiritual discovery that motivates these young seekers, dreamers, and altruists to open themselves wholeheartedly to life. This existential stance of the characters arises from the actual efforts of the intelligentsia to change the established moral, social, and cultural order of the nineteenth century and to oppose the constraining stereotypes of previous years. Petkevičaitė-Bitė’s works mostly reflect the process of the national revival movement and the colourful portraits of strong personalities whom she had met and remembered: book smugglers, rebels, and spiritually rich villagers, who made every effort to enlighten their children and pave the way for their education. She perceives and treats an individual’s meaningful activity, which is focused on helping others, as the pivotal factor of the nation’s spiritual rebirth that guaranteed its survival and the sustainability of its life. In her prose, the writer seeks to reveal both the dark and the light side of human nature, to show its beauty, power, and strength. Unconditional sacrifice for the sake of the other – book smuggling, secret teaching of children from forbidden books, care of orphans and the needy – were the fundamental existential imperatives and the foundation of the life and activities of Gabrielė Petkevičaitė-Bitė, who was an aristocrat of the spirit herself.