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Narrative literature (other) : Slovenian

  • Literature (fictional prose/drama)Slovenian
  • Cultural Field:
    Texts and stories
  • Author:
    Hladnik, Miran
  • Text:

    The first narratives in Slovene were translations of Catholic educational fiction in German: legends about women’s fidelity, e.g. Genoveva of Brabant (Ena lepa [...] historia od [...] svete grafnie Genofefe [...], “A pleasant history about St Genoveva, the Countess”, 1800), young women’s stories (dekliškovzgojna povest) inculcating honesty, and stories about orphans making good in society (najdenska povest). Named after their principal author, they are known as Christoph-von-Schmid-tales (krištofšmidovske povesti). The first originally Slovenian tale of this kind is Sreča v nesreči (“Luck in misery”, 1836), a family adventure story by Janez Cigler. Critics praised it as the ideal of folk-literature, comparing its influence to the one by Robinson Crusoe. The story earned its great popularity because of the exotic settings of France, Russia, Spain, Africa, Trieste, Vienna.

    Translations of popular fiction preceded the original narrative production. Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s cabin was translated twice in 1853, only one year after it was first published in America. German narratives were not translated; the educated Slovenian readership was bilingual and read those texts in the original, while the literary system using Slovenian emerged in opposition to German cultural dominance.

    Among the various narrative genres, that of the povest (“tale”), didactic in nature, aimed at uneducated lower-social-class readers; while it lacked literary prestige, it had a high social penetration. The series Slovenske večernice (“Slovene evening tales”) by the popular Catholic publishing house Mohorjeva Družba (Hermagoras Society) had print runs of 80,000 at the end of 19th century for a population totalling 1,300,000. It canvassed Christoph-von-Schmid-tales, rural tales, and patriotic historical tales.

    The rural tale (mečka povest) became the most nationally-constitutive genre after the historical tale. Its popularity grew steeply from the later 19th century onwards; although some of its authors also wrote historical fiction, most specialized in either one or the other genre, which indicates that the two were competitive. Rural stories were published in periodicals more frequently than historical narratives and conveyed more conservative messages. As a general pattern, the greater the author’s preference for one of the competitive genres, the longer his texts in this genre.

    The narrative elements are often folkloric, drawn from the manners and customs of the countryside. Ritualized days and recurring activities (Sunday, ploughing, weddings and “timeless” tropes such as father-son conflicts) shape the characteristic atmosphere, especially in the rural idyll (Anton Koder’s Marjetica, 1877). Often the tale involves efforts to maintain family property, with the family farm having obvious national connotations. While the early authors were liberal in their politics (Josip Jurčič’s Sosedov sin, “The neighbour’s son”, 1868), the genre later came to be dominated by conservative Catholic authors, whose attitude to the poor was characterized by an imputation of crime, alcoholism, superstition, gambling addiction, etc. The most productive authors were Fran Detela, Fran Jaklič, Fran Zbašnik and Fran S. Finžgar. In 1907, Ivan Cankar attempted to give a genre a Modernist treatment (Hlapec Jernej, “The bailiff Jernej”).

    Slovene literary criticism has been reluctant to treat the rural tale as a genre. The two main reasons are the prejudice against genre literature and the conflict between the politically liberal basis of criticism and the Catholic conservative basis of the majority of rural stories. However, for the constitution and emancipation of Slovene literature it played an important role, offering mass-appeal homegrown reading matter.

    A similar pattern characterizes women’s writing. Josipina Urbančič (ps. Turnograjska) filled her short narratives (1850-52) with Pan-Slavic sentiment. Luiza Pesjak’s Beatin dnevnik (1887) and Pavlina Pajk between 1876 and 1900 established a Slovene version of the Frauenroman modelled on the German popular writer Eugenie Marlitt and cold-shouldered by the literary critics. The genre is characterized by Cinderella motifs, love triangles, illness, high-minded heroines and a happy end. Women writers were from solid middle-class milieus, as opposed to male canonical writers, half of whom are from peasant families. The naturalist Zofka Kveder (Njeno življenje, 1914) is the only canonical woman author; her stature only gained widespread acceptance in the present century.

    “Serious” Slovene literature favoured urban or cosmopolitan themes, social and psychological interest, and a tendency towards naturalism from the 1890s on.

    Originally, narratives appeared in verse form (ballads, romances and the epic poem Krst pri Savici, 1836, by France Prešeren), but were replaced by prose; the last prolific narrative poet was Anton Aškerc (Balade in romance, 1890; Zlatorog: Narodna pravljica izpod Triglava, 1904). Also noteworthy are the librettos for the genre of musical drama (Singspiel); these include Tičnik (1866) by Benjamin Ipavec and Gorenjski slavček (1870) by Luiza Pesjak and Anton Foerster.

    Word Count: 756

  • Article version:
  • DOI:
  • Hladnik, Miran (1981). “Slovenski ženski roman v 19. stoletju”, Slavistična revija, 29 .3: 259-296 [The Slovene petticoat novel in the 19th century]

    Hladnik, Miran (1987). “Slovenska planinska povest”, in Šivic Dular, Alenka (ed.) (1987). XXIII. seminar slovenskega jezika, literature in kulture: Zbornik predavanj (Ljubljana: Filozofska fakulteta), 95-102 [Slovenian Alpine tale]

    Hladnik, Miran (1990). Slovenska kmečka povest (Ljubljana: Prešernova družba) [The Slovene rural tale]

    Hladnik, Miran (1991). Povest (Literarni leksikon 36; Ljubljana: DZS) [Story]

    Hladnik, Miran (2002). “Database of the Slovenian rural tale”, Slovenska kmečka povest: Podatkovna zbirka, http://lit.ijs.si/skp1.html() [The Slovene rural tale: Database]

    Kmecl, Matjaž (1975). Novela v slovenski literarni teoriji (Maribor: Obzorja) [Novella in the Slovene literary theory]

    Kmecl, Matjaž (1975). Od pridige do kriminalke ali o meščanskih začetkih slovenske pripovedne proze (Ljubljana: Mladinska knjiga) [From the sermon to the detective story, or: About the bourgeois beginnings of the Slovene narratives]

    Kmecl, Matjaž (1981). Rojstvo slovenskega romana (Ljubljana: Mladinska knjiga) [The birth of the Slovene novel]

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    © the author and SPIN. Cite as follows (or as adapted to your stylesheet of choice): Hladnik, Miran, 2020. "Narrative literature (other) : Slovenian", Encyclopedia of Romantic Nationalism in Europe, ed. Joep Leerssen (electronic version; Amsterdam: Study Platform on Interlocking Nationalisms, https://ernie.uva.nl/), article version, last changed 16-07-2020, consulted 26-01-2022.