Friday, January 15, 2010

Croatian Tales of Long Ago

Croatian Tales of Long Ago by Marijana Dworski

I am much too old to have loved or even been scared by Roald Dahl's B.F.G. My childhood giant was Regoč, and on our long summer-holiday car journeys from Britain to Yugoslavia I pestered my father to tell and re-tell the story of that kindly giant's adventures with Kosjenka, his little fairy friend.

The Giant and The Shoemaker's Apprentice.

Regoč is just one of the fantastical characters dreamed up by the Croatian writer, poet and children's author, Ivana Brlić-Mažuranić. At home she was hailed as the Croatian "Andersen" and her stories have delighted children for generations. She was even twice nominated for the Nobel Prize in the early 1930s. Her most famous works internationally have been: 'The Brave Adventures of Lapitch', also translated as 'The Marvelous Adventures and Misadventures of Hlapić the Apprentice' (Čudnovate zgode i nezgode Šegrta Hlapića) and 'Croatian Tales of Long Ago' (Priče iz davnine).

Ivana Brlic Mažuranić

Ivana Mažuranić was born into an elite, highly educated and politically powerful family in Ogulin, Croatia in 1874 and through her marriage she became part of the prominent and influential family Brlic. Their family home was at Slavonski Brod (in Slavonia, Croatia) where much of both families’ vast library and archives is still stored. Writing and being published was second nature to her, as to all her family. However, it was not until the publication of “The Brave Adventures of Lapitch” in 1913 that she achieved real popularity and fame. Sadly, despite her success, her impressive literary career, her many children and privileged family background, Ivana Brlić-Mažuranić was dogged by depression and ended her own life in 1938. But her name lived on and she has remained popular both in former Yugoslavia and abroad.

F. S. Copeland's Translation

Although I was brought up on my father's retold versions and sometimes loose translations of Brlić-Mažuranić's stories, I was lucky enough recently, and at some expense, to find the F. S. Copeland 1924 English translation of her tales. It was published in London by Allen and Unwin under the title of 'Croatian Tales of Long Ago', with the author's name transcribed as Iv. Berlic-Mazuranic. This is a sumptuous children's book, very much of its time, bound in bright yellow cloth, red ruled and decorated. The brown wrappers are printed in blue and feature a Kirin colour plate as an on-lay. The ten tipped-in plates as well as the numerous head and tail pieces and thirteen in-text illustrations are also all by Vladimir Kirin.

Vladimir Kirin

Although little known outside former Austria-Hungary, Kirin (1894-1963), a prolific artist and illustrator, who spent some time in London in the nineteen twenties, could well be called the Central European Rackham. Indeed his spiky representations of dwarf and wizard, fairy and imp, gnarled and twisted trees, seascapes and magical landscapes must certainly be influenced by Arthur Rackham, but also there are many hints that he knew the works of the Russian book illustrators of the time: Nicolas Roerich in particular and though stylistically different, many of his themes are shared with that most popular of Russian illustrators, Ivan Bilibin. Kirin collaborated on many of Ivana Brlić Mažuranić's publications and his works are still much collected both in former Yugoslavia and abroad.

Ivana Brlić-Mažuranić Today

My own connections with Ivana Brlić-Mažuranić stem from the marriage between my great- uncle Viktor Ružic and Ivana's daughter, Nada. So although not a 'blood' relative, her name has always been part of my life. It is in great part thanks to Viktor and Nada's son, a second Viktor Ružic, that her name has been kept alive and her works translated into more than 40 languages. To many of her foreign readers it was not clear that these 'fairy tales' were not just adaptations of the Slavonic myths: Ivana Brlić-Mažuranić 's Croatian tales and her other stories were all of her own manufacture although inspired and influenced by the rich folklore and history of the South Slavs. In the early 1970s the popular British children's television programme 'Jackanory' ran a series of her tales 'retold', understanding they were folktales and under no copyright obligations. Thanks to the energy and enthusiasm of Viktor Ružic II, the true origins of Croatian Tales were clarified and Ivana's works continue to be published under her own name. An adaptation by the Croatian editor Bulaja on CD-Rom is now available and apparently a computer game, too.

Ivana's great-granddaughter, Matilda, along with her family, continues Viktor's work in promoting her great-grandmother as well as care-taking the 8,000 volume library, vast archives and numerous antique artefacts and pieces of furniture inherited from the Mažuranić and Brlić families. These, along with an impressive collection of framed Vladimir Kirin originals, can be viewed at the Villa Ružic in Rijeka, Croatia. If you can't get there physcially, then do, please, visit virtually here and for more on Ivana Brlić-Mažuranić see here.

Some books available on the net by Ivana Brlić-Mažuranić and other members of her family:

MAZURANIC, Ivana-Berlic: Croatian Tales of Long Ago: Allen and Unwin, London 1924. 1st English edition. Illustrated by Vladimir Kirin, translated by F. S. Copeland. Colour on-lay to dustjacket, 259pp., colour tipped-in plates, b/w in-text illustrations, (This is a very rare children's book and very collectable both in the English speaking market and the Croatian one. Only one imperfect copy lacking a dust-wrapper available on the net at the moment).

MAZURANIC, Matija: Pogled u Bosnu, ili kratak put u onu krajinu, ucinjen 1839-40. (A Glance into Bosnia, or a short journey to that land, completed 1839-40) xi+80pp., original printed card covers, Zagreb, 1842. Original edition, short print run. (This book is very rare in its first edition and sought after in Croatia and amongst any collectors of original travel writing in the Balkans. It was reprinted in the 1930s and it has also been translated into English)

MAZURANIC, Matija: Pogled u Bosnu, ili kratak put u onu krajinu, ucinjen 1839-40. (A Glance into Bosnia, or a short journey to that land, completed 1839-40) xi+80pp., printed card covers, Zagreb, 1938 Facsimile.

BRLIC-MAZURANIC, Ivana: Cudnovate Zgode Segerta Hlapica. (Original Croatian edition of The Marvellous Adventures and Misadventures of Hlapić the Apprentice) Zagreb 1921 reprint. Illustrated cover by Vladimir Kirin, 86pp. Early edition of this important children's story.

MAZURANIC, Ivan: The Death of Smail Aga. Translated by J Wiles, Allen and Unwin, London 1925, 1st English edition. Original printed wrappers, 63pp.. In very good condition, unusually so for a softback of this age.

MAZURANIC, Ivana Brlic: Fischer Palunko und seine Frau. Vienna, c. 1970. Illustrated chidlren's book, quarto. Nice copy.Miscellaneous translations of Ivana Brlic Mazuranic's childrens' stories published in 1970s by Mladost, Zagreb. (The stories were translated into a variety of languages)

Mazuranic, Ivana Brlic. The Brave Adventures of Lapitch: H. Z. Walck, New York, 1972. With dust-wrapper. Into English by Lorna Wood, with illustrations by Harold Berson.

You can view more books on Croatian language and literature here.

1 comment:

Jane Badger said...

Thanks Marijana - that was fascinating. It just shows how much is out there about which one knows nothing. When you started talking about Jackanory, I wondered if Ivana Brlic Mažuranić was the author of the Singing Ringing Tree, which I remember very fondly, but of course that's Czech!

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