Description

Janko Kersnik (1852–1897) was involved in various fields: as a notary (briefly as an attorney), in economics and finance (property management, farming, forestry, hunting, etc.), in administration (as a mayor), in political and party circles, and in theater, journalism (feature pieces), writing (poetry, storytelling, playwriting), and other areas.

He was known among his contemporaries for his work as a notary: as such, he was successful, esteemed, and respected, not only as an expert but also as a man that carried out his work properly, industriously, and politely, helping those that sought his assistance and his professional and administrative services. His good reputation remained in people’s memories. One must not forget his notary records, which were not only professionally faultless and reliable, but also written in beautiful Slovenian, using exemplary legal terminology. They were written in a more or less informal style, so that they would also be understood by common people.

There are few records of his economic and financial activities; however, one can assume that Kersnik was a prudent master that, at the same time, ruled somewhat with “a velvet glove," generously and obligingly. This caused his domestic management to often fall into straits, resulting in him falling into debt or selling large pieces of property. The Kersnik family lived comfortably, yet by no means luxuriously. Their fields and livestock were well taken care of, and their crop yield was also sufficient. Kersnik managed his forests relatively successfully; however, he occasionally needed the forests to help him out of his financial difficulties. He hunted for entertainment and recreation, and sometimes also to contribute something to holiday meals or provide gifts for his friends (e.g., Fran Levec). Hunting proved to be fatal for the writer because while hunting he caught a cold that he never recovered from. The exterior of his manor and the grounds were always well taken care of and the manor was well known for this.

Kersnik found a love for the theater in Ljubljana. He tried very much (especially as a secretary of the Theater Society) to help theater move forward as much as possible, gain popularity among the public, become an important factor in esthetic education, and encourage Slovenian identity. Kersnik’s contribution to raising people’s awareness about the importance of theater is highly significant to the cultural development of the nation and individuals. He primarily achieved this by his meticulous (and at the same time benevolent) work as a theater critic on Slovenian theater productions in Ljubljana. Special attention was dedicated to actors’ performances, the effect of the play as a whole, and repertoire selections. He found the advancement of actors and actresses very important, and thus much of his reporting was dedicated to individual creative pieces (primarily successful ones). Kersnik’s reviews of individual plays (published in Slovenski Narod), which amounted to no less than 57 from 1874 to 1878, will remain valuable material informing future generations about the efforts, labors, and successes of Ljubljana’s theater community, resulting in the advancement of theater in Ljubljana and elsewhere in Slovenia in the second half of the nineteenth century. One could state that Kersnik’s theater reviews were a serious and solid foundation for the development of theater criticism among Slovenians in the following decades.

Kersnik’s journalistic work includes editorials in Slovenski Narod and feature pieces. His opus of feature pieces is not a small one; quite to the contrary, it is quite an extensive body of work. In addition to a few individual compositions, it includes eight cycles of various length (published between 1873 and 1884). A special place in Slovenian literary features is held by the cycles Nedeljska pisma (Sunday Letters, 1–18), Popotna pisma (A Traveler’s Letters, 1–6), Stricu v Ameriko (To My Uncle in America, 1–6), and Vieux saxe (Old Meißen Porcelain, 1–12). With these, the writer found recognition, even admiration, but it caused some anger, disapproval, and resentment. He wrote about current social issues (the Slovenian ethnic question, political conditions, cultural and literary phenomena, the moral image of his contemporaries, etc.), and mocked and critically highlighted general and individual peculiarities in Slovenian society of his day. His writing was clever, infused with a humor and irony that always seemed to hit the nail on the head. Even today, Kersnik’s literary features (in addition to his commentaries) are lively, interesting, and often relate to current conditions. Along with Levstik, Zarnik, Jurčič, and others, Kersnik is credited with establishing the Slovenian literary feature and giving it impetus for the coming decades, when this form of writing continued to develop successfully.

Kersnik believed that only a small step separated writing feature pieces from political engagement. He served three terms as a member of the Provincial Assembly. He supported the freethinking liberal orientation, which is why he was connected with the National Progressive Party (the Liberals). Due to his moderateness and flexibility, he chose the moderate government faction. He tried to prevent excessive tension and too great of a disagreement between the moderate and radical factions within the party and to achieve prompt consensus. It is true, however, that the moderates (under the leadership of Fran Šuklje) and the radicals (under the leadership of Ivan Tavčar and Ivan Hribar) preferred to walk their own path. Even when reconciliation and stronger cooperation and alignment of operations were achieved, many old resentments and intolerances remained (Šuklje vs. Tavčar and Hribar). Kersnik warned that it was necessary to take a unified approach and to stick together in their stance towards the Conservative Party, which was much better organized than the National Progressive Party. As a member of the assembly, he was relatively frequently active in the sessions of the Provincial Assembly and in its various departments. When necessary, he chose to intervene briefly or reply, or deliver shorter or longer speeches, in which he elaborated his views, suggestions, and demands, suggested measures, offered incentives, and so on. He tackled many important questions, such as the financial aspect of being a teacher, entering Slovenian place names into the land register, budget distribution, the funding of cultural institutions (the theater), the role and significance of notaries, and so on. There are many written documents and testimonies about Kersnik’s political activities: from correspondence, memoirs, assembly documentation, and other sources, to relatively extensive coverage in daily newspapers. This part of his efforts will be enshrined in history. Many of his ideas (or actions) are interesting and might be useful for future generations; however, he will not be remembered in political annals as a major player, but as one of many politicians that were the pillars of Slovenian politics in the second half of the nineteenth century and that, with a high level of awareness and culture, strove for ethnic equality as well as the cultural and economic progress of Slovenians in multinational Austria-Hungary. His demeanor, actions, and views often made him a clearly atypical politician, so that a singular oddity was his distinctive feature. Sometimes he evoked astonishment, other times indignation; very often he won approval, especially for his political culture, and in certain instances he also experienced rejection.

There is no doubt that literary creativity took a central position in Kersnik’s work. His poetry is characterized by youthful experience (it was written from the time he was approximately 13 until he was 23 years old), Weltschmerz, and, at the same time, radicalism, the pangs of love and initial disappointments in life, and also joy. He mainly focused on lyric poetry dealing with love and homeland; there was a bit of reflective poetry, and also some narrative poetry. He followed the examples of Simon Jenko, France Prešeren, Josip Stritar, Heinrich Heine, and folk song. The expressive and formal aspect of his poetry reflects a high level of refinement, and the verses are rhythmically melodious. One cannot deny Kersnik’s talent as a poet and his desire for excellence; however, as a poet he went with the flow, only occasionally introducing something new with regard to motifs and expression; he has earned a spot among poets that contributed to the cultivation and popularization of Slovenian poetry in the second half of the nineteenth century. Kersnik was not forgotten thanks to his cycles of poetry; for example, Cvetje (Flowers), Dekliške pesmi (Girls’ Poems), Ob Savinji (Along the Savinja River), and Nove pesmi (New Poems; 1870–1877).

Kersnik did not devote much time to writing plays. He wrote only a single one-act play titled Berite Novice (Read the Novice Newspaper, 1878/1879), which he coauthored with Josip Jurčič to commemorate a special occasion. Due to its emphasis on national awakening and the simplicity of acting, it remained on the repertoires of Slovenian reading societies for quite a while. The writer bid farewell to both of these literary genres relatively quickly and devoted his time to narrative prose.

Storytelling was Kersnik’s domain. He created works that placed him among Slovenian classics. The transition from poetry and newspaper literary features into narrative prose were the narrative/belletristic literary pieces written between 1873 and 1875: Nadepoln (Filled with Hope), Raztreseni listi (Scattered Leaves), Pomlad (Spring), Bujanov Matejka (Matteo Bujan), and so on. His initial narrative phase was characterized by relatively distinctive romantic features and, at the same time, a transition from a more romantic into a more realistic style of writing. This includes the “novel" Na Žerinjah (At Žerinje, 1876), the novel Rokovnjači (Bandits, coauthored with Josip Jurčič, 1881), the story Lutrski ljudje (Protestant People, 1882), and the long novella Gospod Janez (Master John, 1884). The characteristics that make these stories almost romantic include the following: the storyline is largely its own and does not depend on the character traits of the characters, the plot and the resolution have their own event logic dictated by the writer’s imagination; coincidences are still largely present, so that the motivational system has no power and the laws of cause and effect do not have the final say; the analytical composition technique with a retrospective view helps reveal the mysterious background that influences the plot and directs the actions of the characters; in this case, love affairs form independent plot centers (this is not true in the case of Rokovnjači); they control entire stories and also provide them with communicative emphases. All other areas of life are marginal and to a large extent outside of the plot. The plot, characters, and settings are not a consequence of the writer’s relatively careful observation of reality, but a result of his imagination. In Kersnik’s case, this stage of his narrative prose development showed that he followed Jurčič in many ways, especially regarding the role of the storyline; however, at the same time, he already excelled in creating dynamic, beautiful, and dramatically eventful scenes in his stories, vivid and suspenseful dialog, in skillfully reporting action and portraying characters, and in his typical use of lyricized passages in describing nature. He made an impression of being the continuer of Jurčič’s style of writing, and so his contemporaries labeled him Jurčič’s successor. The novel Rokovnjači as a whole, made up of Jurčič’s and Kersnik’s writing contributions, has remained well received until today. He also established his principle of ethical and esthetic satisfaction and resolution at the end of a story, which was in line with his premise about the “golden transparent veil of idealism."

Kersnik’s transition into realism became more evident in the novel Ciklamen (The Cyclamen, 1883) and especially with the novel Agitator (The Canvasser, 1885) as well as with short stories, which later became known under the collective title Kmetske slike (Rural Portraits, 1882–1891). The first two short stories, Ponkrčev oča (Ponkrec’s Father) and Rojenica (The Fate), still partly belong to Kersnik’s first phase of storytelling. The fact that he began developing from an “instinctive realist" (his own label) into an author consciously following a realistic direction (his variants) was probably influenced by Celestin’s paper “Naše obzorje" (Our Horizon). It must be noted that Kersnik found his own direction and that their views differed in many regards. With Ciklamen, he surpassed most of the romantic narrative characteristics but he insisted in the dominant role of the love story, and only to a certain degree managed to expand the romantic conception to a critical view of the story’s small-town setting. He began using a more careful observation of the real environment and the characters by also taking into consideration the model expression of human characters. Alongside the topic of love, other subject matters and themes (e.g., the social environment, social and economic relationships, and social issues) were marginal. The writer achieved a more pronounced shift towards his own version of realistic narration with the novel Agitator, in which the love story and current social events are balanced. The thickening and unfolding of the plot more or less depends on the traits of the characters. A relevant role in the structure of the novel is played by the social and political scenes and the rhythm of life in a small-town setting. The author’s critical eye inspected the spiritual, mental, ethnic, and other aspects of this environment, and by means of a narrative – by reporting on the action and with a series of narrative scenes – showed moral deviations, provincial narrow-mindedness, the narrowness of a small town, plotting, and so on. All of this was reflected in the social and political happenings of that time; that is, in the elections, which particularly revealed the parties’ tendencies towards the takeover of power through slander, keeping the public ignorant, unfair deals, and so on. This novel realistically and critically presented the life and spirit of the Slovenian small-town environment.

Writing short stories served Kersnik as a tool for revealing ethical and character traits of the Slovenian farmer in the machinery of economic, social, and bureaucratic processes in the society of his day. He wrote about how farmers’ personal and social identities had begun to be seriously harmed. The stories V zemljiški knjigi (In the Land Registry), Mačkova očeta (Maček’s Father), and Otroški dohtar (The Pediatrician) place social issues at the forefront; in addition to the driving forces of society, property and possession control the farmer and destroy him. However, with great efforts and great ethical strength, people control property and do not allow it to shape their destiny. Such is the image of Planjavec in the short story Kmetska smrt (Death of a Farmer), which is undoubtedly among Kersnik’s most realistic stories. Kersnik’s collection of short narratives is not extensive, yet it is a great achievement in Slovenian narrative prose of the second half of the nineteenth century, with regard to both narrative style and genre. Together with Tavčar, he laid the foundation for further development of short prose. These stories have remained fresh and evocative until the present day, mostly due to their creative power, the weight of their message, and esthetic perfection.

Kersnik also wrote about subjects from rural life in the stories Testament (1887) and Očetov greh (Sin of the Father, 1894), and in four short stories published by the Hermagoras Society: Kako je stari Molek tatu iskal (How Old Molek Looked for a Thief), Znojilčevega Marka božja pot (Marko Znojilec’s Pilgrimage), Za čast (For Honor), and Rejenčeva osveta (The Foster Son’s Revenge). He returned to subjects pertaining to life in a manor, including motifs from the (petit) bourgeoisie, in the story Rošlin in Vrjanko (Rošlin and Verjanko, 1889), and he wrote about the “parvenu syndrome" in a small-town setting in the story Jara gospoda (The Upstarts, 1893).

The story Testament talks about the hunger for money that ends up being fatal for the main character. The story was written partly following the example of detective stories: justice triumphs, the perpetrator is punished, just as dictated by the rules of the genre. There are no longer any traces of romantic elements in the story; the story is more or less a result of an imaginative combination but told in a way that such a thing could happen in real life, and that, following the realistic principle, the action is likely. Both the characters and the environment are based on the author’s observation of reality. Similarly, in the story Očetov greh, life in the country is portrayed with realistic images. The role of the narrator is made very objective and is based solely on narration about what happened in reality; any subjectivity is eliminated. Somewhat esthetically problematic is the composition, which is not consistent enough. The same goes for the denouement that leads one of the central characters to commit suicide. The message fits with the author’s moral convictions and strongly emphasizes goodness as the thing that satisfies the readers and wins their approval. Both stories were written for a large circle of readers, including the less educated. Kersnik tried to come close to them with short stories published by the Hermagoras Society. It was significant where his stories were published and the Hermagoras Society calendar was issued in relatively large print runs. Except for the short stories published by the Hermagoras Society, all of Kersnik’s stories were published in the newspaper Ljubljanski Zvon, which made them accessible only to the educated class, to educated readers, and they were not published as separate books (with the exception of Na Žerinjah and Rokovnjači). It is therefore understandable that this made it much more difficult if not impossible for his stories to be accessible to a larger audience.

Just as he implemented his variant of realistic narration in Ciklamen in part and in Agitator more distinctively, he did this in stories about the rural world as well. Kersnik took a similar approach in Rošlin in Vrjanko and it was especially obvious in Jara gospoda. In Rošlin in Vrjanko, he chose the folk song about Rošlin and Verjanko as his central theme. The story has too much going on and it tries to unfold a conflict situation (which arose due to a similar problem as the one in the folk song) between two friends of different ages. The author did not use a bloody ending like in the folk ballad, but found a way out in resignation, which is to appease violent impulses and allow both sides to develop in line with their different situations in life. The much-talked-about reliance of Kersnik’s narration on Ivan Turgenev’s novel Fathers and Sons (about the divide between fathers and sons) proved to be very approximate and insignificant, which is understandable because the works were created in completely different times and under different circumstances, in different social and cultural environments, and at a different level of spiritual and national consciousness. Within Kersnik’s collection of stories, Rošlin in Vrjanko stands out for its lack of emphasis and expression regarding ideas and messages. The author had difficulty discovering where he should look for a way out for the future of the middle class, of which he was a member, and how to find a more promising way than the one up to that point by shedding some critical light on the middle-class people of that time, and especially their morals; however, he was not successful.

By writing Jara gospoda, Kersnik decided to continue his work as an author focusing on more radical criticisms of human relationships in the modern small-town middle-class society whose ethical and moral deviations, egotistic behavior, and the isolation of its community sapped the healthy essence of people and replaced it with opportunism, a small-minded mentality, and conformity to a rotten atmosphere. These things weaken people’s confidence and push them into impersonality and a poor existence without ideals in life. As usual, Kersnik constructed a critical image of both society at large as well as narrower social circles (the small-town community) by telling stories of social events, which became the mirror image of nineteenth-century community life and the life of individuals. He used love stories as a medium to communicate this. A love affair in Jara gospoda is also the bearer of the small-minded middle-class mentality as the most obvious sign of deviation in contemporary society and the lack of prospects for middle-class society if it continues on its course. This realization, which was also a warning, ended Kersnik’s writing career on a slightly bitter note with some unease and disappointment with his contemporaries.

Kersnik perfected and stylistically improved his narration style, which was otherwise not very diverse, sticking to certain forms and devices. He developed his storytelling, characterized by a post-romantic style and view, into his own version of advanced realism, which undoubtedly marked Slovenian narrative prose of the second half of the nineteenth century. It was Jara gospoda that contributed to this the most. The author was not enthusiastic about new literary genres (from naturalism to new romanticism) but it is quite interesting that, in his own way, he anticipated some of the narrative approaches of the new movements. By this is meant the documentary style, lyrical elements, symbolic parallelisms, and, in part, also the idea and the message of Jara gospoda and Očetov greh. Along with Kmetske slike and the novel Agitator, the critical thought, message, and narrative form of Jara gospoda was the achievement in Kersnik’s opus of narrative prose that rank this author among the Slovenian classics and have kept these works alive, readable, and informative until this day.

Table of content

Slovo

Zgodnja leta in pesniški poskusi

Feljtonist

Sredi literarno-kulturnega dogajanja v Ljubljani

Kersnikovo ustvarjalno sodelovanje z Jurčičem

Kersnik in Ljubljanski zvon

Kersnikovi literarnoestetski pogledi in literarnokritična merila

Premik v realizem

Kratka pripovedna proza

Povestna proza z vrhom v Jari gospodi

Politik

Usihanje ustvarjalnih moči in postopen umik iz javnega življenja

Sklepno poglavje

Viri in literatura

Kazalo osebnih imen

Summary

Publishing House

Založba ZRC

ISBN

978-961-254-134-7

Specifications

hardback • 14 × 20,5 cm • 432 pages

Price

28,00 EUR (Regular)
21,00 EUR (Club)