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||Miroslav Krleža (1893-1981)|
Novelist, poet, essayist, short-story writer, and playwright, a central figure in modern Croatian literature. Miroslav Krleža published his first poems and plays before World War I. He was among Yugoslavia's most prolific writers for almost seven decades. Krleža's most ambitious work is the multi-volume novel Zastave (1967-). It paints a panoramic overview, mixed with biographical reminiscences, of European life between 1912 and 1922.
"Philip stopped in front of the old crumbling wall, feeling it with his hand, as if he were touching a dear but forgotten grave. The wind and rain had washed away the corsets; the plaster was flaking off the bricks; and only in one place a tiny blue tongue of the coke flame flickered out from under the painted iron stove: catching sight of the long-faded advertisement, Philip felt the far-off, dead pictures melting away within him, and he seemed to be confronting some immeasurably vast space alone." (in The Return of Philip Latinowicz by Miroslav Krleža, translated from the Croatian by Zora Depolo, with an Introduction by Stuart Morgan, 1995; p. 12; originally published 1932)
Miroslav Krleža was born in Zagreb, Croatia, at that time in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Upon finishing the lower grades of secondary school in Zagreb, Krleža entered in 1908 a preparatory military school in Peczuj. He attended the Lucoviceum military Academy in Budapest and in 1912 he volunteered for the Serbian army. However, his military career started ironically. Krleža was suspected by the Serbs of being an Austrian spy. He was forced to return to Austria-Hungary where he was arrested by the Austrians. Finally he was deprived of his officer's rank and sent to the front of Galicia as a common soldier.
In his early literary career beginning in 1914, Krleža was an
idealist and a romanticist. After World War I Krleža returned to Zagreb
and devoted himself to writing. In 1919 he married Leposava Kangrga.
The war had shattered his illusions – his embittered prose and poetry
reflected his strong antiwar feelings. Krleža opposed the monarchist
régime of Yugoslavia and founded in 1919 Plamen, a left-wing
review. He was also in constant conflict with freemasons, nationalists
and clerics. In 1923 he founded Knjizevna republica, then Danas
(1934), Pecat (1939), and in 1945 Republika.
Deeply impressed by the Soviet revolution Krleža became attracted to Marxist ideas, but not dogmatically. He was a member of the Communist Party from 1918 until 1939, when he was expelled, after publishing Dijalekticki antibarbarus (1939), in which he mocked the orthodox Stalinists. Izlet u Russiju (1926) was Krleža's account of his visit to the USSR. In the 1950s, Krleža's published two books of memoirs, Djetinjstvo u Agramu (1952) and Davni dani (1956).
Legenda (1914), Kraljevo (1918) and Adam i Eva (1922), Krleža's early dramas, reveal his transformation from a young idealist into a socially conscious artist. His plays are characterized by straightforward dialogue and merciless revelation of social injustice. The dramatic trilogy, Gospoda Glembajevi (1928), U agoniji (1928), and Leda (1932), which depict the disintegration of the Glembay family and the downfall of bourgeois society, are considered his best. Krleža focused on individual members of the family from various generations and on their climb to the top of the Austro-Hungarian socio-economic elite, doomed by historical processes. In Gospoda Glembajevi a young painter, Leone Glembay, kills his stepmother after the bankruptcy of the family estate, in U agoniji Laura, the granddaughter of the banker Glembay's younger brother, commits suicide after disappointment in love, and in Leda the characters deceive each other sexually and otherwise. Krleža's trilogy earned him a reputation as a kind of Croatian Ibsen.
Between the two world wars, Krleža's importance as a leader of the socially oriented writers grew steadily. He produced most of his best work during the period from the late 1920s to the mid-1930s. Povratak Filipa Latinovicza (1932, The Return of Philip Latinovicz) was a story of a Croatian artist, Philip, who returns from Paris to his small native town on Croatia's Danubian plain. Philip is haunted by traumatic childhood experiences, and tries to discover the identity of his father, which turn his pilgrimage into a quest of his own identity. Other characters drift in and out of his life. Philip realizes that corruption and dishonesty reign and gradually fades into oblivion.
In the poetry collections Knjiga Lirike (1932) and Pjesme u tmini (1937) Krleža predicted the victory of Socialism. The satirical novel Banket u Blitvi (1938, 1939, 1963, The Banquet at Bliva) dealt with the political situation in Europe in the interwar period in the imaginary country Blitvian (a play on words on Litva, Serbo-Croatian for Lithuania), where human rights are brutally violated. One of the main settings is the Hotel Blitvania, which has been renovated as a first-class hotel, but which has also functioned as a torture prison. Hrvatski bog Mars (1922) was a short-story collection. It depicted the miserable condition of the Croatian soldier in the Austro-Hungarian army and exploitation of the peasants. Balade Petrice Kerempuha (1936), written in the Kajkavian dialect, was a satirical saga of Croatian history, overshadowed with suffering. With the appeareance of the third volume of Banket u Blitvi in 1963, Krleža broke his long silence in publishig new prose fiction. Other novels followed. It has been suggested, that Krleža's decision to resume writing fiction was partly affected by Ivo Andrić's receipt of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1961. (Making a Nation, Breaking a Nation: Literature and Cultural Politics in Yugoslavia by Andrew Baruch Wachtel, 1998, p. 177)
During World War II Krleža remained in Zagreb but did not join the partisans. As a writer he was silent but was still harassed by the pro-Nazi Croatian government. He supported the post-war Communist régime enthusiastically and was rehabilitated in 1952 by Marshal Tito (1892-1980), prime minister and president of Yugoslavia from 1953. Krleža was elected in 1947 vice president of the Academy of Science and Art. In 1951 he was appointed director of the Croatian Institute of Lexicography, he also was the editor-in-chief of the Encyclopedia Yugoslavia. From 1958 to 1961 Krleža served as President of the Writers' Union. In his seventies Krleža was described as "massive, blunt, yeat at the same time incongruously kind, a cherubic Jupiter with an enormous head fringed by recalcitrant tufts of white hair . . . the vigor and enthusiasm of a man half his age . . . Everything about the man conveys a lack of pretense, a spontaneous warmth which rarely appears in his work." ('Krleža, Miroslav,' in World Authors 1950-1970, edited by John Wakeman, 1975, p. 822)
Throughout his life
Krleža stood in the forefront of the struggle against petit-bourgeois
attitudes and backwardness in general. He supported Croatian national and cultural claims and
recorded his sceptical views on democratic progress in the Balkans in Razgovori
s Miroslavom Krlezom (1969).
Krleža expressed his beliefs clearly and very definitely. "Whether
folly is the work of God or not, it does not diminish in practice," he
said a year before the outbreak of WWII. "Centuries often elapse
before one human folly gives place to another, but, like the light of
an extinguished star, folly has never failed to reach its destination.
The mission of folly, to all appearances, is universal." (On the Edge of Reason
by Miroslav Krleža, translated from the Croatian by Zora Depolo,
introduction by Jeremy Catto, 1995, p. 13; originally published in 1938) In his fiction Krleža's style
was baroque, he had a keen eye for color and his characters were
sketched masterfully and with delicate nuances.
Even though Krleža was
a Marxist himself, he expressed his disdain for Stalinism and all
totalitarian systems. After the communists took power, he was often
regarded with suspicion by his fellow Marxists. In his unfinished historical masterpiece Zastave (1962-77) Krleža
used various modernist techniques paint a picture of the struggles that
were fought under different banners before and after WWI, which eventually led to the formation of Yugoslavia. "Zastave is many books in one: a chronicle, a political history, a play, and a polemic," defined the literary historian Ivo Franges. ('Miroslav Krleža's Zastave: Socialism, Yugoslavia, and the Historical Novel' by Dubravka Juraga, in Socialist Cultures East and West: A Post-Cold War Reassessment, edited by Dubravka Juraga and M. Keith Booker, 2002, p. 44) At the time of writing of the work,
he often noted in his diaries that his socialist and communist
contemporaries seem to have forgotten the past and consequently lost
direction in the present. "New generations are arriving, and they are blind and deaf to all our worries and to all our graves." (Ibid., p. 46) Krleža died in Zagreb
on December 29, 1981. His plans to extend Zastave
to indicate the death of the utopian dreams, that fuelled the Yugoslav
Communist Party in the early years, were never realized.
For further reading: Krleža, Bahtin i karneval: roman kao mikrokozmos raznolikosti by Ivana Rabadan-Zekić (2018); Contesting Europe's Eastern Rim: Cultural Indentities in Public Discourse, edited by Ljiljana Šarić et al. (2010); Socialist Cultures East and West: A Post-Cold War Reassessment, edited by Dubravka Juraga and M. Keith Booker (2002); ' Introduction' by Stuart Morgan, in The Return of Philip Latinowicz by Miroslav Krleža, translated from the Croatian by Zora Depolo (1995); 'Introduction' by Jeremy Catto, in On the Edge of Reason by Miroslav Krleža, translated from the Croatian by Zora Depolo (1995); The Writer as Naysayer by Ralph Bogert (1991); Dramatica krleziana by Darko Gasparovic (1989); Krlezini evropski obzori by Viktor Zmegac (1986); Krleza by Enes Cengic (1982); U Krlezinom sazvjezdu by Vasilije Kalezic (1982); 'Krleža, Miroslav' by A.K. [Ante Kadić], in Columbia Dictionary of Modern European Literature, edited by Jean-Albert Bédé and William B. Edgerton (1980); Thirty Years of Yugoslav Literature by T. Eekman (1978); Miroslav Krleža 1973, edited by Ivan Krolo and Marijan Matkovic (1975); 'Krleža, Miroslav,' in World Authors 1950-1970, edited by John Wakeman (1975); Interpretacija Krlezina romana "Povratak Filipa Latinovicza" by Mladen Engelsfeld (1975); O pjesnickom teatru Miroslava Krleze by Branimir Donat (1970); Razgovori s Miroslavom Krlezom by Predrag Matvejevic (1969); Studien zur Romantechnik Miroslav Krlezas by S. Schneider (1969); Contemporary Croatian Literature by M. Vaupoptic (1966)