Anniversary of the birth of August Šenoa

Objavljeno 14.11.2012.

Today we commemorate the great August Šenoa, the greatest of all the sons of Zagreb, as Antun Gustav Matoš called him once, the Orpheus who gave it [Zagreb] the voice and words which rang with the soul of its people.

The Croatian novelist, writer of feuilletons, critic and poet August Šenoa was born on 14 November 1838 in Zagreb. His love of art had its origins at his home, since his father loved concerts and theatre, while his mother was a passionate reader of various works of literature. His father never mastered the Croatian language, and similarly Šenoa was writing his first poems in German.

During some twenty years of his literary work he tried his hand at practically all literary genres, left a deep mark on Croatian literary culture and shaped an entire literary period, as a result of which two entire decades in the history of the Croatian literature have become termed as “the Šenoa period”.

After finishing his education at the Upper Town secondary school in Zagreb he became a student at the Zagreb Faculty of Law (then Pravoslovna akademija). He subsequently studied law in Prague, where he started working as a journalist in order to cover his financial needs. From Prague he left for Vienna where he worked for the editorial offices of Glasonoša and Slawische Bläter. He returned to Zagreb in 1866 and started working for the journal Prozor. Some two years later he was appointed the Artistic Director of the Croatian National Theatre (then Hrvatsko zemaljsko kazalište), where he also became the Literary Director.

He began his mature literary career in 1861 by works of poetry written in the tradition of the European Romanticism. Along with his works of love and patriotic poetry, which were very popular and frequently set to music (O ti dušo moje duše, Ribareva Jana, Hrvatska pjesma, Zagrebu), his lyrical-and-epic historical poems hold a prominent place in the history of the Croatian poetry (Prokleta klijet, Propast Venecije, Mile Gojslavica, etc.). His only attempt at playwriting – apart from his unfinished tragedy Slavka – was the comedy Ljubica, which heralded the introduction of realism into the theatre.

His novels, however, represent the most crucial segment in the overall history of the Croatian novel. It was precisely Šenoa who modelled the novel as a genre and created the modern reading public. Although he wrote several novels and short stories with themes from the contemporary life (Mladi gospodin, Prosjak Luka, Branka, Prijan Lovro, and others), his five historical novels are absolutely central to his entire literary output: Zlatarevo zlato, Čuvaj se senjske ruke, Seljačka buna, Diogenes and Kletva.

The newspaper Dom i sviet, available on the portal of the National and University Library in Zagreb Croatian Historic Newspapers, was publishing parts of Šenoa’s most famous novels. Some of Šenoa’s valuable manuscripts are held by the Manuscripts and Old Books Collection of the National and University Library in Zagreb.

In his article in Dom and sviet Milan Ogrizović described how, while Šenoa was lying sick in his bed and dictating Kletva, he kept dreaming about his next spring which he intended to spend in Italy. He had a strong faith in life and was looking forward to everything that lay ahead of him for as long as only several days before he died. Then suddenly, clearly sensing his approaching death, he cried out: Do not let me die, I have so much more to write! He left behind some 40 notes that should have served as the basis for his unwritten short stories and novels. The last word that crossed his lips while he was dictating Kletva, a day before he passed away, was Hrvat (Croat). Although this great writer left us too early, at the age of 44, his unique literary legacy will live forever.