“High” and popular women’s literature in Croatian modernism

Published by Katja Mihurko Poniz on

The next webinar of our network will take place on April, 29 at 18.00 CET.

Assist. Prof. Dr. Maša Grdešić from the University of Zagreb (Odsjek za komparativnu književnost – FFZG) will speak about “High” and popular women’s literature in Croatian modernism. For the Zoom link please register here: https://docs.google.com/…/1WqmpcuVSyC0CHMKG3AG1pK_D….

This presentation will compare two Croatian women writers active in the late 19th and early 20th century, Jagoda Truhelka and Marija Jurić Zagorka, as examples of “high” and popular literature in an attempt to investigate their differences and similarities. I will start by outlining the field of early modernist Croatian literature, which was still dominantly tied to realism and characterized by a strong social and political function. This was especially true in the case of the novel, which was modernized far more slowly than poetry or the short story (K. Nemec). Even though most of the novels written up until the end of the First World War were either popular or realist, and modernist and avant-garde tendencies in the novel were rare or modest, Croatian literary history, always striving to establish parallels with European and Western literature, focused on literary texts demonstrating at least some modernist characteristics and therefore disregarded the majority of novels written in that period. In addition to privileging modernist writing and “high” art over popular literature, Croatian literary history also favoured male over female authors.

This could explain why Jagoda Truhelka’s 1897 novel Plein air, one of the first Croatian novels with modernist features, is still rarely included in historical overviews of Croatian literature. Plein air is narrated from the point of view of a young man infatuated with Zdenka, a strong-willed and independent painter. The novel highlights Zdenka’s social and economic position as a single woman artist trying to provide for her elderly father, and in this way portrays one of the first openly feminist heroines in Croatian literature. Such heroines are also the main ingredient of the majority of Marija Jurić Zagorka’s popular novels. Therefore, relying on Easthope’s and Gelder’s theories of popular and “high” literature, I will present the obvious, mostly formal differences between the work of these two women authors, but mainly call attention to their many thought-provoking similarities, such as the use of the romance plot, conventional but precarious happy endings, and the construction of independent heroines which also function as spokeswomen of feminist ideas emerging at the time.

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