Under the Yoke is the most famous piece of classic Bulgarian literature both in Bulgaria and abroad, the first Bulgarian novel to be translated into English, and later into another 30 languages.
The novel commemorates the April Uprising from 1876, the culmination of the Bulgarian revolutionary movement, which historically failed due to poor organisation, betrayal, limited resources and the strength of the Ottoman Empire, yet became the alleged reason for the start of the Russian-Ottoman war, bringing autonomy to Bulgaria.
The country was under Ottoman ruling for nearly 500 years, to see its Liberation in 1878, and to come out as an independent state that preserved its language, religion and traditions, yet of hardly any interest to the rest of the world.
Under the Yoke, centred around a patriotic topic, describing a national revolutionary cornerstone, has often been rewarded as Bulgaria’s favourite novel, but in its essence as a tale of love and war, depicting the personal drama of the characters, it equally appeals to readers across the world.
A shortened version of Under the Yoke became the first Bulgarian novel to be translated into English and furthermore, the English version even predated the book’s publication into Bulgarian. Translated by William Morfill, the first professor of Russian language in Britain, who established lecture course in Bulgarian language in the Oxford University and wrote the first grammar of Bulgarian in English, and published in 1894 by Heinemann’s International Library, London at times when the political events in Bulgaria were reported by the British media. In his preface to the first English edition, the literary critic Edmond Goss described Under the Yoke as: “one of the best novels which East Europe has sent to the West“. The second edition was published in 1912, stimulated by the outbreak of the war in the Balkans and the interest in the region.
The author, Ivan Vazov, coming from a wealthy merchant family, had the chance to get a proper education and to develop an interest in literature. In his early years, he became involved with Bulgarian revolutionary circles in Romania, to later join the Revolutionary Committee in his home town and engage in political activities throughout the country. In 1886, Vazov was exiled to Odessa by the current Bulgarian government because of his pro-Russian views, and it was during the author’s exile in Russia that he wrote his internationally renowned novel.
To later return to Bulgaria and serve as a Minister of Education and considered the living patriarch of Bulgarian literature, to nowadays, when Vazov is still praised as and one of the most influential authors in modern Bulgarian literature.
A rare first edition of the English translation of Ivan Vazov’s Under the Yoke (William Heinemann, ed. Edmund Gosse, published in London, in 1894) is available at display at EVS Translations Bulgaria office, as part of EVS Translations Book Museum.