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Miroslav Krleža (1893-1981)


Novelist, poet, essayist, short-story writer, and playwright, a central figure in modern Croatian literature. 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." (from The Return of Philip Latinowicz, 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 he became attracted to Marxist ideas, but not dogmatically. Krleža a 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).

Krleža's early dramas, Legenda (1914), Kraljevo (1918), and Adam i Eva (1922) reveal his transformation from a young idealist into a socially conscious artist. Throughout his life Krleža stood in the forefront of the struggle against petit-bourgeois attitudes and backwardness in general. Krleža's 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 importance as a leader of the socially oriented writers grew steadily between the two world wars. Krleža 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, Filip, who returns from Paris to his small native town on Croatia's Danubian plain. Filip 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. Filip survives his while other characters die. He realizes that corruption and dishonesty reign and gradually fades into oblivion. "Paris had its Balzac and Zola; Dublin its Joyce; Croatia its Krleža... one of the most accomplished, profound authors in European literature," wrote The Saturday Review.

In the poetry collections Knjiga Lirike (1932) and Pjesme u tmini (1937) Krleža predicted the victory of Socialism. The satirical novel Banket u Blitvi (1938-1962) 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.

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.

Krleža supported Croatian national and cultural claims and recorded his sceptical views on democratic progress in the Balkans in Razgovori s Miroslavom Krlezom (1969). He wrote with enormous creative energy, and defended his views fiercely and fearlessly. "Whether human folly is the work of God or not, it does not diminish in practice," he wrote in On the Edge of Reason (1938). "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." Krleža's style was baroque, he had a keen eye for color and his characters were sketched masterfully and with delicate nuances.

In his historical masterpiece Zastave (1962-77) Krleža used various modernist techniques paint a picture of the struggles that were fought under different banners in the years during and after WW I. 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. At the time of writing Zastave, 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. 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: Contesting Europe's Eastern Rim: Cultural Indentities in Public Discourse, ed. 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); Encyclopedia of World Literature in the 20th Century, vol. 2, ed. by Steven R. Serafin (1999); 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); Columbia Dictionary of Modern European Literature, ed. by Jean-Albert Bédé and William B. Edgerton (1980); Thirty Years of Yugoslav Literature by T. Eekman (1978); 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) - For further information: Vjetrovi nad provincijalnim gradom; Miroslav Krleza

Selected works:

  • Legenda, 1914
  • Maskerata, 1914
  • Zarathustra i mladic, 1914
  • Pan, 1917 (verse)
  • Tri simfonije, 1917 (verse)
  • Pjesme, 1918-19 (3 vols., verse)
  • Lirika, 1918 (verse)
  • Saloma, 1918
  • Pjesme, 1918-19 (3 vols.)
  • Michelangelo Buonnarroti, 1919
  • Eppur si muove, 1919
  • Tri kavalira gospodjice Melanije, 1920
  • Hrvatska rapsodija, 1921 (includes Smrt Franje Kadavera and Veliki meštar sviju hulja)
  • Magyar kiralyi honvéd novela-Kraljevsko-ugarska domobranska novela, 1921
  • Hrvatski bog Mars, 1922
  • Galicija, 922
  • Novele, 1923
  • Vucjak, 1923 (play, prod.)
  • Vrazji otok, 1923
  • Michelangelo Buonarroti, 1925 (play)
  • Adam i Eva, 1925 (play, prod. 1925)
  • Golgota, 1926 (play, prod. 1922)
  • Izlet u Rusiju, 1926
  • Gospoda Glembajevi, 1928 (play, prod.)
  • Leda, 1930 (play, prod. 1930)
  • U agoniji, 1931 (play, rev. version prod. 1959)
  • Knjiga pjesama, 1931 (verse)
  • Moj obračun s njima, 1932
  • Knjiga Lirike, 1932 (verse)
  • Eseji, 1932
  • Glembajevi, 1932
  • Povratak Filipa Latinovicza, 1932
    - The Return of Philip Latinowicz (translated by Zora Depolo, 1959)
  • Knjiga lirike, 1932
  • Hiljadu i jedna smrt, 1933
  • Simfonije, 1933
  • Legende, 1933 (6 plays)
  • Vicjak, 1934
  • Sabrana djela, 1932-34 (8 vols.)
  • Evropa danas, 1935
  • Balade Petrice Kerempuha, 1936 (verse)
  • Pjesme u tmini, 1937 (verse)
  • Deset krvavih godina, 1937
  • U loguru, 1937 (play, prod. 1937, with Vucjak, 1934)
  • Na rubu pameti, 1938
    - On the Edge of Reason (translated by Zora Depolo and Jeremy Catto, 1979)
  • Banket u Blitvi, 1939-1956 (3 vols.)
    - The Banquet in Blitva (translated by Jasna Levinger-Goy and Edward Dennis Goy, 2004)
  • Dijalekticki antibarbarus, 1939
  • Djela, 1937-39 (12 vols.)
  • Eppur si muove, 1938
  • Knjiga proze, 1938
  • Knjiga studija i putopisa, 1939
  • Dijalektickio antibarbarus, 1939
  • Francisco José Goya y Lucientes, 1948
  • O M Drzicu, 1949
  • Govor na kongresu knijiževnika u Ljubljani, 1952
  • Djetinjstvo u Agramu godine 1902-1903, 1952
  • O Erazmu Roterdamskom, 1953
  • Kalendar jedne parlamentarne komedije, 1953
  • Sabrana djela, 1953-72 (27 vols.)
  • Maskerata, 1955 (play)
  • Kraljevo, 1955 (play, prod. 1955)
  • Kristofor Kolombo, 1955 (play, prod.)
  • Davni dani, 1956
  • Eseji, 1961-67 (6 vols.)
  • Saloma, 1963 (play, prod.)
  • Aretej; ili, Legenda o Svetoj Ancili, 1962 (play, prod. 1959)
  • Izabrana djela, 1966
  • Zastave, 1967-1977 (The Banners)
  • Poezija, 1967
  • Izabrana dela, 1969
  • Razgovori s Miroslavom Krlezom, 1969
  • 99 varijacija lexicographia, 1972
  • Djetinjstvo1902-1903 i drugi zapisi, 1972
  • The Cricket Beneath the Waterfall, and Other Stories, 1971
  • Put u raj, 1973 (play, prod.)
  • Miroslav Krleza: Jubilarno izdanje, 1973
  • Pet stoljeca hravtske knjizevnosti, vols 91-94, 1973
  • Tito 1892-1937-1977, 1977 (with Edvard Kardelj)
  • Dnevnik, 1977 (5 vols.)
  • Krleža o religiji, 1982
  • Gdje smo i kako smo: suvremene političke teme, 1988
  • Glumište života, 1993
  • Djela Miroslava Krleže, 2000-
  • Razgovori i svjedočanstva, 2006
  • Miroslav Krleža: mnogopoštovanoj gospodi mravima, 2009

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