Jelena J. Dimitrijević

Published by Katja Mihurko Poniz on

One of the First Female World Travelers

Written by Goran Petrović, doctoral student at the University of Beograd and member of the project Knjiženstvo


Jelena J. Dimitrijević (1862–1945) is one of the most renowned 20th century Serbian women writers, the first Serbian globe-trotter, and a fervent supporter of feminism. She was a prolific author of poetry and prose (fictional and non-fictional). In her writings, which were strongly influenced by her journeys.

Dimitrijević described and explored the cultures she encountered, and therefore left a very variegated oeuvre as touching upon different regions of both the Western (Europe and North America) and the Eastern world (Egypt, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, India, China, and Japan). The prose works of Jelena J. Dimitrijević, as the better part of her overall opus, are imbued with open-mindedness, humaneness, and fair treatment of all human beings, regardless of race, gender or social status. It is precisely in her devotion to these values that the main significance of her body of work resides because it is through the propagation of such beliefs that she established her authentic philosophical voice, which was in opposition to the conservatism of the Serbian milieu in which she lived and worked. As a pioneer of Western values in Serbia, she helped her native society modernize and open its views.

Jelena J. Dimitrijević’ in her own words: “The American Woman” (1912)

Finally, having returned, awfully tired of walking and emotions, I did not go where I had left her, but to my room. Through the open windows I saw the noon sky, totally white, where, clearly outlined from the houses, were small red chimneys “that looked like freshly extracted bloody teeth”, in the words of Heine, and from the old magnificent churches and palaces, black cupolas that looked like the shadows of giants; and the small northern sun poured its cold golden dust on my bed sheets. I tumbled down on this golden layer, but not with her in my thoughts as before our kisses. Inside of me awoke a different, higher man… But when I smelled the bed sheets and saw that they smelled of a physical man, a passion appeared inside of me, a desire, a thought, an original thought that overwhelmed the whole of me: that someone kissed her. Someone other than myself. And that the man had brought into his love all his passion, all his purity…

Full book is available at the Knjiženstvo website.

Find out more about Jelena J. Dimitrijević

Goran Petrović: “Jelena J. Dimitrijević and Katherine Flagg: Free-Thinking Women from Different Worlds”
This scholarly article looks into two pieces of Jelena J. Dimitrijević’s prose literature, “The American Woman” (1912) and “On the Weekend at Mrs. Flagg’s” (1934), which deal with this Serbian woman author’s early 20th-century friendship with Katherine Flagg, an American feminist from Brockton, Massachusetts. The article focuses on the philosophical ideas that make the core of these two prose works, and argues that the two writings advocate the Western libertarian ideas that were part of Jelena J. Dimitrijević’s personal credo.

Foto: jelenajdimitrijevic.wixsite.com

These ideas are manifested through the libertarian ideology of the American woman (i.e. Katherine Flagg) as a fellow intellectual woman that Dimitrijević loved and admired not only in spiritual but also in physical terms, and are as follows: free (lesbian) love, gender equality (i.e. feminism), republicanism (i.e. democracy), and the spirit of industriousness or entrepreneurship. The article presents Katherine Flagg as the epitome of early 20th-century American ideology as a product of three hundred years of evolution, and argues that, through admiring the American woman, Dimitrijević actually admires American libertarianism, which she favors over the conservatism of early 20th-century Serbia. The text also stresses the great literary skills of Dimitrijević’s as particularly exhibited in these two pieces of hers. Full article is available at the Knjiženstvo website.