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Justice and Redemption

Anthropological Realities and Literary Visions by Ivan Cankar

Irena Avsenik Nabergoj

The book shows Ivan Cankar (1876–1918) as the first Slovenian writer to examine the human conscience, justice, guilt and punishment in a way comparable to Shakespeare, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, and influenced also by the Bible. Given Cankar’s own bitter childhood experience of poverty and his awareness of the ceaseless injustice which rules the world, he has compassion for the wrongdoings carried out by people from lower social realms, especially children, and is all the more critical towards higher classes who cause their suffering. In his last book, Dream Visions, he reveals his experience of the First World War. He encompasses feelings of fear and anguish before death and surpasses them with the faith in redemption of all suffering people.
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In order to understand the intellectual-historical, aesthetic and personal values in Ivan Cankar’s literature, both as a subject of academic research and in terms of the aesthetic experiences of the reader, it is helpful to begin this study with a brief look into Cankar’s character. Ivan Cankar was born May 10, 1876, in Vrhnika (in what is now Slovenia) into the poor, multi-child family of a craftsman. Having been awarded excellent grades in primary school in Vrhnika, he moved to Ljubljana in 1888 to attend high school. He graduated in 1896. After graduation he left for Vienna to study engineering but soon switched to Slavic studies. In spring 1897 he returned to Vrhnika, and it was in the fall of that year that his mother died. In 1898 he lived for a time with relatives in Pula, before returning to Vienna, where he was to remain until 1909; he lived for most of this period in the workers’ suburb of Ottakring with a family named Löffler. There he became emotionally attached to his landlady Albina Löffler, and then to her daughter Stefi (“Štefka”), before turning his attention to the high school pupil Mici Kes- sler, who lived in his homeland of Slovenia. This love, however, remained unfulfilled. In 1909 he paid a two-month visit to his brother Karlo in Sarajevo, where Karlo was working as a priest at the Sarajevo bishopric. Although Cankar was engaged at the time to Steffi Löffler, he did not return...

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