Miroslav Krleza

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Miroslav Krleza

Miroslav Krleža (July 7, 1893 - December 29, 1981) was arguably the greatest Croatian writer of the 20th century.



Miroslav Krleža was born in Croatia's capital Zagreb. He entered a preparatory military school in Pecuj, Hungary (at that time Croatia was a part of Austro-Hungarian Empire) and, subsequently, Ludiviceum military academy at Budapest. Following a few embarrassing failures (he defected for Serbia in 1912 as a volunteer for Serbian army, but was kicked out as a suspected spy and, on top of that, when back in Croatia, demoted in Austro-Hungarian army and sent as a common soldier to the Eastern front in the World War I), Krleža has in the post-WWI period established himself both as a major modernist writer and politically controversial figure in Yugoslavia, a newly created country which encompassed South Slavic lands of former Habsburg Empire and kingdoms of Serbia and Montenegro.

Member of Yugoslav Communist Party from 1918 to 1939 (he was expelled because of his unorthodox views on art, intellectual freedom and unwillingness to give open support to Stalin's purges), Krleža was the driving force behind literary and political reviews «Književna republika» (1923), «Danas» (1934) and «Pečat» (1939). Undoubtedly the dominant figure in cultural life of both Yugoslav states, the monarchist one (1918-1941) and the Communist one (1945 - until his death in 1981), he was, ironically, marginalized in the pro-Nazi puppet «Independent State of Croatia» (1941-1945). Krleža spent this period in Zagreb, frequently harassed by government forces (he didn't publish anything during these years), but nevertheless, fearing the brutality and zeal of his Communist ex-comrades refused to join the partisans headed by his old friend, Communist leader Josip Broz Tito.

Following a brief period of social stigmatization after 1945, Krleža was «condoned» for his «ideological sins» and rehabilitated by Marshal Tito. In 1951 he became the head of what is now Croatian Institute for lexicography (http://www.lzmk.hr) (the position he was to hold until his death), and held the post of the president of Yugoslav writers' union between 1958 and 1961. Krleža died in Zagreb in 1981.

Krleža's work

However interesting Krleža's political and social stance toward various ideological and political events may be, his enduring legacy is as one of the finest European modernist authors — the fact frequently overlooked, not least due to his turbulent political career and general influence on cultural life in Yugoslavia. Miroslav Krleža's collected works number more than 50 volumes and cover all parts of imaginative literature: poetry, drama, short story, novels, essays, diaries, polemics and autobiographical prose.

He is the heir of two parallel traditions: a specifically Croatian one, where he conceived of his role in the Croatian literature as the shaper of national consciousness, or, in terms of James Joyce's «Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man»: «to forge in the smithy of his soul the uncreated conscience of his race»; the other one is broad European avant-garde movement. Krleža's formative influences include Scandinavian drama, French symbolism and Austrian and German expressionism and modernism, with key authors like Ibsen, Strindberg, Nietzsche, Karl Kraus, Rilke and Proust.

Krleža's opus can be divided in following categories:


Although Krleža's lyric poetry is held in high regard, by common critical consensus his greatest poetic work is «Balade Perice Kerempuha» (Ballads of Petrica Kerempuh), a visionary compendium of «Golgotha Croatica», spanning more than five centuries and centred around the figure of plebean «prophet» Petrica Kerempuh, a sort of Croatian Til Eulenspiegel. This sombre and highly complex multilayered poem evoking reminiscences on Bruegel and Bosch paintings, written in a unique hybrid language based on Croatian kajkavian dialect interspersed with Latin, German, Hungarian and archaic Croatian highly stylised idiom, irradiates universal dark verities on human condition epitomized in Croatian historical experience.


Krleža's novelistic opus consists of four novels: «Povratak Filipa Latinovicza» (The Return of Filip Latinovicz), «Na rubu pameti» (On the Edge of Reason), «Banket u Blitvi» (The Banquet in Blitva) and «Zastave» (The Banners). All four novels exemplify characteristics of Krleža's narrative prose: highly eloquent, almost «baroque» style; expressionist innovations and techniques integrated in a mature authorial voice; numerous essayist passages that define these works as novels of ideas; a blend of existentialist vision and sharp consciousness of politics as the determining factor of human lives.

The first one is a novel about artist, written in the Proustian mood, but forecasting the existentialist shadow; «On the Edge of Reason» and «The Banquet in Blitva» are essentially political-satirical novels of ideas (the latter located in an imaginary Baltic country and called «political poem»), saturated with atmosphere of all-pervading totalitarianism, while «The Banners» has been rightly dubbed «Croatian «War and Peace»». It is a multivoluminous panoramic view of Croatian (and Central European) society before, during and after World War I, revolving around prototypical theme of «fathers and sons» conflict.

All Krleža's novels except the last one, «Zastave» («The Banners»), have been translated into English.


Miroslav Krleza's essays contain both his best and his worst writing. Undubitably the literarary form he had found the most genial to his artistic temperament, Krleza has poured into essays everything that provoked his intelligence and sensibility-this genre covers more than 20 books of his collected works. Encyclopedic knowledge and polemical passion inform the meditations on various aspects and personalities of culture (Proust, Baudelaire, Erasmus, Paracelsus), political anatomies of history both contemporary and medieval («Deset krvavih godina» (Ten bloody years)), vignettes on art and music (Chopin, Grosz)-all is covered in this veritable anatomy of European history and culture.

Unfortunately, Krleza has sometimes (especially during Communist Yugoslavia period) allowed himself to sink into apologetic pro-Communist rhetoric. But, these period pieces consitute only a minor part of his essayist oeuvre.

Short stories and Novellas

The most notable collection of Krleza's short stories is anti-war book «Hrvatski bog Mars» («Croatian god Mars»), on the fates of Croatian soldiers sent to the slaughterhouse of World War 1 battlefields. However, modern readers will probably find more attractive other novellas and short stories, depicting turbulent relationships and blase boredom gnawing at upper classes of Croatian society before and after World War 1.


Considering the fact that Krleza's main artistic interest centred around drama, it is ironic that his dramatic opus, although a valuable one, cannot stand the comparison with his other achievements, especially in essay, novel and poetry genres. He began with experimental expressionist plays like «Adam i Eva» and «Michelangelo Buonarrotti», celebrating vitalist passions of heroic figures, but eventually opted for a more conventional naturalist drama patterned along examples of mature works of Ibsen and Strindberg. The best known is his cycle on the Glembajs, «Gospoda Glembajevi», on the decay of high bourgeois family sunken in the morass of adultery, corruption, theft and murder. Of course have to be mentioned even "Golgota", a drama with a political core, but so human and so touching. As in some of his poetries or short stories, Krleza deals again with biblical symbols and figures, but in a very earthly way. The end of the drama is a real surprise, totally unexpected, a tremendous finale, very likely to the "Father" of Strindberg.

Diaries and Memoirs

Krleza's memoirs and diaries (especially «Davni dani» (Olden days) and «Djetinjstvo u Agramu» (Childhood in Zagreb)) are fascinating documents of growing and expanding self-awareness grappling with the world outside and mutable inner self. Other masterpieces, like «Dnevnici» (Diaries) and posthumously published «Zapisi iz Tržiča» (Notes from Tržič) chronicle multifarious impressions (aesthetic, political, literary, social, personal, philosophical) that an inquisitive consciousness has recorded during an era that lasted more than half a century.

Selected works

· Legenda, 1914
· Maskerata, 1914
· Zarathustra i mladic, 1914
· Pan, 1917
· Tri simfonije, 1917
· Pjesme, 1918
· Lirika, 1918
· 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
· Golgota, 1922
· Hrvatski bog Mars, 1922
· Galicija, 1922
· Adam i Eva, 1922
· Novele, 1923
· Vucjak, 1923
· Vrazji otok, 1923
· Izlet u Rusiju, 1926
· Gospoda Glembajevi, 1928
· Leda, 1930
· U agoniji, 1931
· Knjiga pjesama, 1931
· Moj obracun s njima, 1932
· Knjiga Lirike, 1932
· Eseji, 1932
· Glembajevi, 1932
· Povratak Filipa Latinovicza, 1932 - The Return of Philip Latinowicz (trans. by Zora Depolo)
· Balade Petrice Kerempuha, 1936
· Deset krvavih godina, 1937
· Na rubu pameti, 1938 - On the Edge of Reason (trans. by Zora Depolo and Jeremy Catto)
· Banket u Blitvi, 1939 –The Banquet in Blitva (transl. by Jasna Levinger and E.D.Goy)
· Dijalekticki antibarbarus, 1939
· Djetinjstvo u Agramu godine 1902-1903, 1952
· Davni dani, 1956
· Aretej, 1959
· Eseji, 1961-67 (6 vols.)
· Zastave, 1967 (6 vols.)
· Izabrana dela, 1969
· 99 varijacija, 1972
· Djetinjstvo i drugi spisi, 1972
· The Cricket beneath the Waterfall, and Other Stories
· Put u raj, 1973
· Miroslav Krleza: Jubilarno izdanje, 1973
· Dnevnik, 1977 (5 vols.)

External links

hr:Miroslav Krleža sr:Мирослав Крлежа


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