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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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18. Admission of a Childhood Theft in the Autobiographical Tale The Sinner Lenart (1913/1914; 1921)


← 270 | 271 → 18.Admission of a Childhood Theft in the Autobiographical Tale The Sinner Lenart (1913/1914; 1921)

Not until his Ljubljana period did Cankar confess those agonizing personal experiences from his childhood and youth that had always weighed heavily and guiltily on his conscience. The memory of a theft he had committed as a second-year high school student in Ljubljana in 1890 – Cankar recalls the precise day of this shameful event and says it occurred on “the tenth of May, on the birthday” (i.e. Lenart’s and Cankar’s) – must have been so agonizing for him that he had never before found himself able to describe it in any of his confessional sketches. The theme of a minor theft that has great psychological consequences is one which contains confessional elements, and such an event is often described in Cankar’s third-person stories – for example, in the sketch “From the Outskirts” from A Book for the Lighthearted (1901), in the sketch “A Story of Dishonesty” (1914), and in others. This can show that the thought of this torturous and shameful experience from the past lay always in his subconscious. In The Sinner Lenart, Cankar reshapes the event artistically and interweaves it with other personal experiences from his high school years; at the centre of the tale is a veritable longing to absolve himself of guilt by coming to terms with this theft committed in youth.

According to the memorial notes of Cankar’s schoolmates, Cankar once stole from the Tavčar family,...

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