Saturday 14 January 2017

A Literary Profile of Ivan Mestrovic - Ante Kadic - J Croatian Studies


There have been many prominent sculptors and painters, who excelled also as writers. Meštrović is one. This suggests that there exists an inner link between all branches of human creativity.

Since Meštrović is a sculptor of world wide fame, he is usually neglected as a writer. It is interesting to speak about his literary activity, because through it we understand and appreciate him even better as a sculptor.

I will divide my presentation into five sections: In the first I will speak about Meštrović as a singer and a creator of folk poems; in the second, I will analyze his superb stories, which were included in the collection Ludi Mile (The Crazy Mile, Zagreb 1970); in the third, I will discuss his unpublished autobiographical novella Fire and Ashes, which sheds a new light upon Meštrović's character; in the fourth, I will summarize his also unpublished drama called Alexander; and in the fifth section, I will point out certain literary qualities of his Memoirs (Uspomene na političke ljude i dogadjaje, Buenos Aires 1961) in which he narrates his encounters with important personalities from the beginning of this century until 1947, when he emigrated to the United States.


Meštrović was deeply influenced by folk poetry throughout his entire life.

Before he knew how to read and write, he learned many folk songs from his villagers and particularly his paternal grand-mother. Though she was illiterate, her repertory of popular ballads was enviable.

It was from her that he heard the well-known ballad about the wife of Hasanaga. He did not write it down then, but much later, upon the insistence of his friend Milan Ćurčin, he did so.

Some scholars greeted it as evident proof that "Hasanaginica" was still alive in the Dalmatian hinterland, in the same region that the original song was created, while others denied its authenticity, saying that it was influenced by a poem included in Vuk Karadiić's famous collection.

I follow a realistic and more plausible theory, which takes into consideration both the historical facts and also the possible impact which each man's memory undergoes in the course of several decades.

The ballad "Hasanaginica" was created and written down on the territory between Imotski and Drniš; it was kept alive among the Catholic inhabitants of that region. When Fortis copied it in 1774, he got it directly from someone living there, most probably in Split.

Meštrović at first had memorised it as he heard it from his grandmother. It is a pity that he or someone else did not record it at that moment, at the turn of the century.

The years and decades passed by, he became a learned man, and among other books, he read Karadiić too. When he recited it in 1932, at least in certain passages, he no longer distinguished the original version from Karadžiić's redaction.

His version neverthelles is precious for several reasons: it betrays its natural habitat, it has verses which stand by themselves or are closer to he "Split manuscript" or Fortis than Karadiić, and it testifies to the great artistic talent of Meštrović who produced a ballad which is superior to other versions supposedly still alive.

Meštrovh's version has confirmed a tradition, which was alive in the Dalmatian hinterland, that "Hasanaginica", which had stimulated a strong interest in South Slavic folklore, was created by the Moslems of the Dalmatian region: there are in it words and customs typical only of them. It portrays, however, a tragic destiny common to all men.

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Journal of Croatian Studies, XXIV, 1983, – Annual Review of the Croatian Academy of America, Inc. New York, N.Y., Electronic edition by Studia Croatica, by permission. All rights reserved by the Croatian Academy of America.

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