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Remembering Ivana Brlić-Mažuranić: The first Croatian children’s novelist

Remembering Ivana Brlić-Mažuranić: The first Croatian children’s novelist

Ivana Brlić-Mažuranić (Photo: Public domain)

One of the most acclaimed Croatian writers in history, Ivana Brlić-Mažuranić, was born on this day 149 years ago. 

Ivana was born into the well-known Croatian family of Mažuranić on 18 April 1874 in Ogulin, Croatia. Her father, Vladimir Mažuranić, was a writer, lawyer, and historian who authored “Prinosi za hrvatski pravno-povjestni rječnik” (Croatian dictionary for history and law) in 1882.

Her grandfather, Ivan Mažuranić, was a politician, poet, and Ban of Croatia, while her grandmother, Aleksandra Demeter, was the sister of Dimitrija Demeter, a key person in the Croatian national revival movement.

Ivana’s education was mostly home-schooled, and she moved with her family to different locations, including Karlovac, Jastrebarsko, and Zagreb. In 1892, she married Vatroslav Brlić, a politician and prominent lawyer, and moved to Brod na Savi (now Slavonski Brod), where she lived for most of her life. They had seven children, and Ivana dedicated her work to her family and their education.

Remembering Ivana Brlić-Mažuranić: The first Croatian children’s novelist

House of Ivana Brlić-Mažuranić in Slavonski Brod (Photo credit: Frka/CC BY 3.0)

Ivana’s first literary creations were initially written in French, but she later went on to write in Croatian. Her debut novel, “Čudnovate zgode šegrta Hlapića”, known in English as “The Marvellous Adventures of Hlapić the Apprentice”, was published in 1913 and became the prototype of a children’s novel in Croatian literature. 

It is considered one of the most famous works of Croatian children’s literature and has been adapted into several theater plays and films.

The story follows Hlapić, a cobbler’s assistant, on a seven-day journey to trample on the small narrow boots that caused him trouble with his strict Master Mrkonja. The journey is fraught with adventures and encounters with various people, including the little girl Gita, who becomes Hlapić’s companion. The narrative is characterized by a mix of realistic and fairy tale elements, as the real world is stylized and abstracted to suit the author’s humanistic worldview.

Hlapić himself is depicted as a heroic figure, “small as an elbow, cheerful as a bird, brave as Kraljević Marko, wise as a book, and good as the sun.” The story’s lively and simple narration combined with its humanistic outlook has made it a cherished work of Croatian children’s literature. 

Even a century after its publication, it continues to captivate generations of readers, young and old alike and has been translated into all of Europe’s major languages, as well as in Esperanto, Japanese, Vietnamese, Persian and Bengali.

Ivana is known for her remarkable contributions to Croatian literature, and another of her most notable works is the book “Croatian Tales of Long Ago” (Priče iz davnine) published in 1916. The book has become immensely popular and has gained more recognition in recent years, thanks to its adaptation into a computerized interactive fiction product by Helena Bulaja in 2003/2006.

In the book Ivana created a series of new fairy-tales, but using names and motifs from Slavic mythology of Croats. It was this that earned her comparisons to Hans Christian Andersen and Tolkien who also wrote completely new stories but based in some elements of real mythology.

The book is considered one of the most significant works of Croatian literature and has been translated into several languages, including English, French, German, Italian, and Russian.

Throughout her lifetime, Ivana’s literary works gained recognition, leading to her being nominated four times for the Nobel Prize in Literature. The first two nominations came in 1931 and 1935 by the historian Gabriel Manojlović, while in 1937 and 1938, he was joined by the philosopher Albert Bazala, both of whom were based in Zagreb. 

Remembering Ivana Brlić-Mažuranić: The first Croatian children’s novelist

Bust of Ivana in her native Ogulin (Photo: Quahadi Añtó/CC BY-SA 3.0)

In 1937, Ivana also made history by becoming the first woman to be accepted as a Corresponding Member into the Yugoslav Academy of Sciences and Arts. Her contributions to literature and society did not go unnoticed, and she was awarded the prestigious Order of Saint Sava.

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