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Krleza, Miroslav

Miroslav Krleza

Yugoslavian novelist, poet, essayist, playwright, translator, editor, diarist, polemic writer, lexicographer, and cultural and political force Miroslav Krleza (1893–1981) was a major twentieth century literary voice.

Military Years

The son of Miroslav (a city clerk) and Ivanka Krleza, Miroslav Krleza was born on July 7, 1893, in Zagreb, Yugoslavia (or Croatia; a newly-created country which included South Slavic lands of former Hasberg and the kingdoms of Serbia and Montenegro), in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Krleza completed the lower grades of secondary school in Zagreb. In 1908, he began preparatory military school in Peczuj and was also educated at Lucoviceum military academy in Budapest, Hungary.

In 1912, Krleza defected from the Austro-Hungarian Empire and volunteered for the Serbian army. He was quickly suspected by the Serbs of being an Austrian spy and Serbia kicked him out of the army and forced him to return to Austria-Hungary. The Austrians arrested him. He was then stripped of his officer's rank and sent to the Eastern front of World War I—Galicia—as a common soldier.

Controversy Began

Krleza's literary career began with idealism and romanticism in 1914, when he wrote his early drama Legenda. He published other first poems and plays in that same year, when he joined the Austrian Army. At the conclusion of his Austrian army service in 1918, he wrote the drama Kraljevo and returned to Zagreb. His writing took on an embitterment and antiwar sentiment, opposing the Yugoslavian anarchist regime and conflicting with freemasons, nationalists, and clerics.

Krleza married Bela Kangrga and, in 1918, became a member of the Communist Party. The following year, he founded a left-wing literary review, Plamen (Flame). In 1920, the play Galicija was slated to open but was shut down an hour before it began. Krleza was already a controversial figure, with the attention of the authorities.

Writing Career Began

In 1922, Krleza published Adam i Eva (Adam and Eve), an experimental, expressionist play. With Adam i Eva, as Pegasos noted, Krleza completed his "transformation from a young idealist into a socially conscious artist." In 1922, he published Hrvatski bog Mars (The Croatian God Mars), a short story collection that depicted the exploitation of peasants and the miserable condition of the Croatian soldier. Hrvatski bog Mars proved to be his most notable short story collection. In 1923, Krleza founded the periodical Knjizevna republika (Literary Republic). In 1924, he produced the failed Galicija as O logoru and published Novele (Novellas).

Best Writing Years

The late 1920s to the mid-1930s were to see the majority of Krleza's best work. In 1928, he published the dramatic trilogy—considered by some to be his best drama—that began with Gospoda Glembajevi (The Glembajs) and U agoniji (Death-throes). The trilogy documents the disintegration of the Glembajs, their move from peasantry to affluence while degenerating morally, and the fall of bourgeois society. All in all, Krleza's dealing with the Glembajs spanned eleven stories and three plays. In 1932, the trilogy was completed with the publication of Leda.

In 1932, Krleza published a poetry collection—Knjiga Lirike (A Book of Lyric Poetry)—which predicted the victory of Socialism. In 1934, he founded the periodical Danas (Today). In 1936, Krleza published Balade Petrice Kerempuha (The Ballad of Patricia Kerempuh), written in the Kajkavian (Croatian kajkavski) dialect, interspersed with Latin, German, Hungarian, and archaic Croatian highly stylized idiom. The story in Balade spanned more than five centuries and is regarded as Krleza's best poetry.

Writing Continued

In 1937, Krleza published the poetry collection, Pjesme u tmini (Poems in the Darkness). A year later, he began the blanket-novel Banket u Blitvi (Banquet in Blitva), which dealt with the political situation in Europe in the interwar period. Banket u Blitvi takes place in a fictional country, Blitvian. The word "Blitvian" was an unflattering play on the Croatian word for Lithuania.

Political Controversy Heightened

Krleza published Dijalekticki antibarbarus in 1939, mocking the orthodox Stalinists. For his controversial views on art and intellectual freedom and for his unwillingness to give open support of Stalin's purges, Krleza was expelled from the Communist Party after the publication of Dijalekticki antibarbarus. Meanwhile, he founded the periodical Pecat (Seal).

During World War II, Krleza remained in Zagreb, but fell silent and was harassed by the pro-Nazi Croatian government. He refused to join the partisans headed by Communist leader Josip Broz Tito—an old friend—for fear of the Communists' brutality and zeal. He refused to cooperate with the Quisling government, putting his life in danger multiple times.

Political Rehabilitation

After the war, Krleza supported a post-war Communist regime. From 1945 to 1946, Krleza founded the periodical Republika (Republic) and in 1947 was elected Vice President of the Academy of Science and Art. In 1951, he became Director of Yugoslav Lexicographical Institute in Zagreb, a position he would hold until 1981. As such, he was the editor-in-chief of Encyclopedia Yugoslavia.

Introspective Writing

In 1952, Krleza delivered a famous speech at a writer's conference in Ljubljana. In it, he attacked social realism and Stalinist aesthetics and the result was the strengthening of his following among the younger Yugoslavian artists. In that year, he published Djetinjstvo u Agramu (Childhood in Zagreb), which documented his growing self-awareness, and in 1956, he published a memoir/diary, Davni dani, (Olden Days), which grappled with the world outside himself.

From 1958 to 1961, Krleza served as President of the Writer's Union. From 1962 to 1977, he published Zastave (Banners), a six-volume novel that provides a panoramic view of European life between 1912 and 1922, complete with biographical reminiscences. In 1967, he published Razgovori s Miroslavom Krlezom, in which he supported Croatian national and cultural claims and aired his skeptical views of democratic progress in the Balkans. In 1977, he published the seven volume Dvenici (Diaries), chronicling his impressions on the aesthetic, political, literary, social, personal, and philosophical. Krleza died in Zagreb, Yugoslavia, on December 29, 1981.

A Significant Cultural Figure

Krleza holds a simultaneous position as the shaper of both Croatian culture and the European avant garde movement. The Swarthmore College website asserted that he "is generally considered the most significant figure in Croatian literature in the 20th century." The Yugoslavian government banned most of his work until 1940, and, despite official restrictions, Krleza turned out plays, novels, short stories, poetry, and essays that would draw praise for years to come. By the 1950s—during his lifetime—he had become a driving force in Yugoslavian culture.

Krleza's themes and politics were sometimes ambiguous. His style was baroque and highly eloquent. He wrote with materialistic convictions, strong emotion, Marxist ideals, liberal philosophy, as a socialist, in defense of personal freedom, for radical humanism, and in a highly controversial way. Pegasos said about Krleza, "Throughout his life Krleza stood in the forefront of the struggle against petit-bourgeois attitudes and backwardness in general. He wrote with enormous creative energy, and defended his views fiercely and fearlessly."

Publishers Weekly called him a "convinced communist" and a "shrewd observer of man as social animal." He wrote with disdain for the robber-baron capitalism of an inter-war Croatia and rejected his Catholic upbringing for atheistic existentialism. Many of his works proclaimed his constant faith in the power of humanity, his socialist revolutionary ideas, belief in moral and artistic integrity, and his convictions of artistic and intellectual liberty.

Krleza was attracted to Marxist ideas because of his impressions of the Soviet revolution, but he disdained Stalinism and all totalitarian systems. Because of this, he was regarded with suspicion by fellow Marxists. His influences included Arthur Schopenhauer, Friedrich Nietzche, Feuerbach, Karl Marx, Charles Darwin, Vladimir Lenin, Scandinavian drama, French symbolism, and Austrian and German expressionism and modernism. His memberships included the Yugoslav Writers' Union (as president), Yugoslav Academy of Science and Art (as vice president), and the Yugoslav National Assembly (as deputy).

Krleza wrote numerous essays on politics, literary criticism, and other topics, vehemently defending and proclaiming his beliefs. His essays contain both his best and worst work (thanks to the occasional apologetic pro-Communist rhetoric) and are contained in more than 20 collected volumes. Wicapedia said about his essays, "Encyclopedic knowledge and polemical passion inform the meditations on various aspects and personalities of culture …, political anatomies of history both contemporary and medieval …, vignettes on art and music—all is covered in this veritable anatomy of European history and culture."

Krleza wrote several plays about the hardships of Croatian peasants, contrasted with aristocratic decadence. His plays are "characterized by straightforward dialogue and merciless revelation of social injustice," according to Pegasos.

Only a small portion of Krleza's work has been published in English, including Povratek Filipa Latinovicza (The Return of Philip Latinovicz), his most highly praised novel; Cvrcak pod vodopadom (The Cricket Beneath the Waterfall), six stories about Eastern Europe during the early part of the twentieth century; Na rubu pameti (On the Edge of Reason), a first-person narrative; and Selected Correspondence.


The Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 147, Gale, 1994.


Kirkus Reviews, December 15, 2002.

Publishers Weekly, September 25, 1995.


"Miroslav Krleza," BiblioMonde, (January 10, 2004).

"Miroslav Krleza," Contemporary Authors Online, Biography Resource Center, (January 10, 2004).

"Miroslav Krleza," Pegasos, (January 10, 2004).

"Miroslav Krleza," Swarthmore College, (January 10, 2004).

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Krleža, Miroslav

Miroslav Krleža, 1893–1981, Croatian novelist, playwright, and poet. He captured the concerns of a revolutionary era in Yugoslavia in his trilogy of social dramas about the Glembay family (1928–32) and in novels like The Return of Philip Latinovicz (1932) and Banners (1963–65), a multivolume saga of the Croatian bourgeoisie beginning in the early 20th cent.

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