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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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Ivan Cankar’s life played itself out during a tempestuous period in European modern history. Present-day Slovenia was in the midst of a linguistic and cultural renaissance, and becoming ever more aware of its affinity with other Slavic nations. Politically and ideologically, Slovenia fell into two camps: the Catholic and the liberal camp, according to a “division of souls.” As far as literati go, some Slovenian poets and writers looked inward to Slovenia, while others wrote in realist and naturalist styles. Cankar, meanwhile, looked beyond Slovenia’s borders and it was through his influence that broader Europe’s symbolism asserted itself in Slovenia. Cankar, however, was not alone in this project, for the development of literature and the other arts in Slovenia was equally influenced also by particular indigenous cultural institutions. Among writers, Cankar was joined by Dragotin Kette (18761899), Josip Murn (1879–1901) and Oton Župančič (1878–1949) as the main representatives of Slovenian modernity. Cankar’s work marks a radical break with tradition, since he shows immense stylistic variety that is imbued with elements of decadence, impressionism, symbolism, naturalism and expressionism. In his poetry, prose fiction and drama he was indeed abreast of the most contemporary movements in European literature, while dealing with issues that are of national, social, confessional and existential import.

Like many leading Slovenian intellectuals of the time, Cankar worked outside Slovenia, namely, in Vienna from 1900–1909. It was there, in his daily observations of and contact with the poor in the Ottakring...

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