Ivan Cankar is a writer and playwright who is venerated as the father of modern Slovene literature and theater. Born in extreme poverty, Ivan and his family emigrated to the capital of the ruling empire. Even before graduating from a prestigious high school, the prolific writer had formed informative and influential contacts with an elite group of leading thinkers and writers. Published as a teenager, he soon began to expand on his vast volume of work, in the process becoming an ardent nationalist for his homeland and vocal defender of his native culture. After a global war shifted geopolitical lines, Cankar dabbled in politics, but fell back on his strength as being a persuasive writer. Crafting plays bursting with diamond sharp satirical wit and renowned for using lyrically vivid passages of fiction in his novels, Cankar soon became a superstar writer of his native language. Surviving two brief spells in prison, the eloquent playwright clashed with an administration that preferred to avoid emphasizing regional cultural identities. Despite the attempts at censorship, he emerged as a leading light in the rebirth of his homeland's native literature. After his death, Cankar was championed as a stalwart defender of his culture and heritage, and is today considered a national hero in Slovenia
Childhood & Early Life
Ivan Cankar was born on May 10, 1876 in Vrhnika in the Duchy of Carniola, Austria-Hungary. His father soon abandoned the impoverished family, and Ivan was raised by his mother, Neza Cankar.
Ivan completed grammar school in Vrhnika but moved to Ljubjana to study at the ‘Technical High School’. He began to write in a wide variety of forms in this period.
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Although Cankar began writing while still in high school, in 1893 the discovery of epic poetry written by Anton Askerc drastically changed Cankar's writing style.
In 1896, he enrolled at the University of Vienna. Focusing on Slavic philology, the aspiring writer began to immerse himself in the world of contemporary European literature.
In 1897, he began producing works that were positivistic in nature, following the influence of fellow Slovene writer Fran Govekar. Later that same year, he moved home to nurse his ailing mother. After she died a few months later, he briefly moved to the city of Pula.
In 1898, Cankar returned to Vienna. Rejecting his former focus on positivism, he became devoted to spiritualism and symbolism.
In 1899, this eminent writer published his first collection of poems, entitled 'Erotika'.
In 1902, he wrote the play 'For the Welfare of the Nation'. Later the same year, he published his novel 'On the Hill'.
Cankar published three novels: 'Madame Judit', The Ward of Mary Help of Christians' and 'Cross on the Mountain', in 1904.
In 1906, the prolific author penned the novella 'Martin Kacur' in the style of an autobiography.
The nationalist writer began to get involved in politics. In 1907, he unsuccessfully ran for a seat in the Austrian Parliament.
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In 1909, he moved to Sarajevo. He lived with his brother Karlo, a Roman Catholic priest. Later the same year, Cankar's political party passed a resolution favoring amalgamating Slovene culture into a common Yugoslav identity. He strongly disapproved and began traveling Slovene lands to give speeches praising Slovene identity.
In 1913, the eminent writer-playwright gave a lecture advocating for a political, but not cultural, merger of the South Slav peoples. This act was considered defamatory to the monarchy and he was arrested, the following year.
In 1916, Ivan wrote his most influential play, 'Serfs'. The contents were considered so scandalously satirical that performance of the play was banned until the next two years.
In 1917, the monarch drafted Cankar into the military. He, however, was deemed to be too ill to serve, and was soon released.
In 1918, the prolific writer gave a memorable speech that advocated for the moral purification of Slovene culture.
Ivan Cankar wrote over 30 books and several dozen poems, plays, short stories in the Slovenian language. His best-known works are ‘Serfs’- a dramatic play, ‘Scandal in St. Florian Valley’ - a satirical look at Slovenian society and ‘On the Hill’ - a deeply lyrical novella examining the life of the common Slovene. His works revolved around the plight of common man and aimed to preserve the native culture of his country.
Personal Life & Legacy
The writer never married. He spent several years living with his brother, which was a key inspiration for several of his novels and plays.On December 11, 1918, this iconic writer-playwright died of pneumonia in Ljubljana, Slovenia and his funeral was attended by a massive crowd.
In 1920, a collection of Cankar's short stories entitled 'Images from Dreams' was published posthumously.
Ivan Cankar was an extremely influential author during his own lifetime. He was the first author writing in the Slovene language who could make a full-time living from writing. His birthplace is now a national museum in Slovenia.
This prolific writer published his first poems when he was just a teenager. The prominent literary magazine ‘Ljubljanskizvon’ printed them.
From 1929, 1934, all works written by this famous writer were removed from public school curriculum as they were deemed to be too nationalistic