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Zofka Kveder, Slovenian writer, journalist, editor, feminist, 1878-1926



By Katja Mihurko Poniz

Zofka Kveder (1878-1926) played an important role in cultural life at the end of the 19th century and at the begin of the 20th century in Slovenia, which was then a part of the Austrian Empire. She spent her difficult childhood (both of her parents often abused her physically) in the countryside. When she was only sixteen years old, she fled to the nearest large town where she worked as a secretary. In January 1899, she moved to Trieste, where Slovenka [Slovenian woman] magazine was published. Although she had not attended secondary school, she longed to study. Her dream came true in Bern (Switzerland), where female students could study at the university after a successful interview with the rector. After a few months she dropped out of the university, because she could not simultaneously study and earn enough money to make it from one day to another.

By the year 1900, she already made it to Prague, where she published her literary debut Misterij žene [The Mystery of a Woman]. She depicted violence against women within the proletariat, but also more subtle mechanisms of constraint, such as those of middle-class pre-arranged marriages. Her images of proletarian women, prostitutes, and emancipated women who didn’t want to deny their own sexuality upset her contemporaries. Even though there is a number of artistic modes of expression in the texts many of her male and female contemporaries denied the collection artistic value. Among those few who defended her was also Slovenian writer Ivan Cankar (1876-1918), who himself had to fight the philistine response to his own writing. He wrote: “Zofka has left a beaten path; she is independent; she wanted to say something she herself saw and she herself felt; her work is not pictures, not copies of works created by male artists: she looked through her own eyes, not through spectacles patented by our worthless tradition. And that is her ‘tragic guilt’. Even before I read any of the reviews I knew exactly what would happen; but that they’d storm on the author with such a stinky weapon, well, I didn’t expect that. They attacked her from all sides, sticks were flying onto her from all corners. The method was different but the reason was one and only. Dirty grumblers and hypocritical moralists united in the ‘destruction’ of individuality.” Ivan Cankar, Zbrano delo 28, Ljubljana, p. 125.

The book and the articles published in Slovenian magazines (especially in Slovenka), made Zofka Kveder a central figure in the Slovenian women’s rights movement. Moreover, she established many contacts with feminists from various countries of Central and South-East Europe, including the Austrian feminists Martha Tausk and Marie Lang and the Czech politician, editor and feminist Karla Máchová. She was friend of Croatian writers Adela Milčinović and Marija Jurić Zagorka (1873-1956). In 1901, Kveder gave birth in Prague to a daughter, Vladoša. In 1906, Kveder moved with her family to Zagreb (Croatia), where she became the editor of a supplement of Agramer Tagblatt (Zagreb daily newspaper published in German). It was called Frauenzeitung [Women’s newspaper]. Her daughters Marija and Mira were born in 1906 and 1911. In 1915, during World War I, Croatian women chose Kveder as their delegate to the International Women’s Congress at The Hague.

Kveder’s originality lay in her introduction of topics such as abortion, violence against women and suicide, which previously had been considered inappropriate in Slovenian literature. Moreover, she wrote about them with relentlessness, accuracy and candour. While noticing the naturalism in her work and finding an aesthetic of the unpleasant and a desire to shock, critics and literary historians overlooked that the fact that she depicted images from the lives of women who until then were rarely cast in leading roles in literature.

In both her journalistic and literary writing, Kveder continually emphasized the problems faced particularly by poor young girls who wanted to study. She knew first-hand that the path to completing higher education was closed for most of them, as their everyday struggle for survival drained the energy and strength necessary for completing such studies. Kveder also rejected the traditional feminine model. She was interested in concrete possibilities that would allow women to overcome their position as the Other, to change their relationship with their own bodies and to overcome feelings of guilt and uselessness, which, as Kveder demonstrated, could lead to the disintegration of identity or even death. Kveder gave her readers multilayered and various presentations of motherhood, as well as captivating explorations of female identity and sexual desire. Her writing reflected wider trends shaping the work of German authors such as Hedwig Dohm, Franziska zu Reventlow and the work of German authors as that of Swedish feminist Ellen Key.

To Kveder, the modern emancipatory goals of women were not only empty phrases on paper; throughout her lifetime, she consistently worked towards realization of these goals.




Sources

Prose works:

  • 1900. Misterij žene. Praga. 58p.
  • 1901. 'Drei Skizzen aus Zofka Kveder: »Mysterium der Frau«'. In: Dokumente der Frauen, Nr. 19, 1.1, 617-619.
  • 1901 ‘Ljübas Sylvesterabend’. In: Reclams Universum, II. Halbband, 1035-1042
  • 1902. Odsevi I. Gorica. 238p.
  • 1903. Iz naših krajev. Ljubljana. 169p.
  • 1904. Pijanec. Ljubljana. p. 56-64
  • 1905. Iskre. Praga. 128p.
  • 1906. ‘Auf der Klinik.’ In: Die Zeit (Die Frauen-Zeit) 1244 (13.3.). 1250 (20.3). 1258 (23.3)
  • 1913. Jednaest novela. Zagreb. 131p.
  • 1914. Njeno življenje. Ljubljana. 175p.
  • 1917. Hanka. Zagreb. 272p.
  • 1926. Po putevima života. Zagreb. 67p.

Dramatic works:

  • 1901. Ljubezen. Praga. 155p.
  • 1908. Amerikanci. Ljubljana. 140p.
  • 1922. Unuk Kraljevića Marka. Zagreb. 319p.
  • 1923. Arditi na otoku Krku. Zagreb. 73p.

Translations:

  • Kveder, Zofka - 'Drei Frauen-Schicksale. Skizzen von Zofka Kveder'. , 3, Schweizerisches Familien-Wochenblatt. - 1900, 24
  • Kveder, Zofka - 'Drei Skizzen aus Zofka Kveder: "Mysterium der Frau."', Dokumente der Frauen - 1.1.1900, 617-619
  • Kveder, Zofka - Geheimnisse des Weibes. Tr.: Karl Linhart; (Karl Linhart), Arbeiter Wille - 15.11. 1900, 3-4
  • Kveder, Zofka - Nada – Praga. 1907, p. 135
  • Kveder, Zofka - Povidky – 1910. p. 116
  • Kveder, Zofka - Vesnicke povidky – 1907
  • Kveder, Zofka - Vlada a Marja - Praha: 1913, 150
  • Kveder, Zofka - Ze zivota zahrebske sluzky - Praha: 1908
  • Kveder, Zofka - Hanka - Moravska Ostrava: 1927
  • Kveder, Zofka - Jeji zivot - Brno: 1923, 211
  • Kveder, Zofka - 'Eva. Hanka'. (In: The Veiled Landscape. Slovenian Women Writing.) - Ljubljana: 1995, 49-53. 54-64
  • Kveder, Zofka - Misterij zene. Tr. Anamarija Paljetak. Zagreb. 2004



AsK May 2011



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