Dragojla Jarnević

4.1.1812 – 12.3.1875

My heart abhors the thought of submitting to a husband — I hardly know what that word means!

She was born in 1812 in Karlovac, in a family with six children. Coming from an upper-class family, she received an education in German in a public school which she attended until the age of 13. The family fell on hard times following the death of her father in 1819, so they pressured Dragojla to marry. She, however, didn’t want to be financially dependent on a husband, stating that she “had transcended the boundaries of being a mother, wife, and homemaker.” Craving knowledge, she secretly obtained and read books in spite of her family’s disapproval. After finishing school, she made a living by sewing and teaching. She worked as a governess in aristocratic homes in Graz, Trieste and Venice.

Upon returning to Karlovac in 1840, acutely aware of the importance of women’s education and their participation in the cultural and social life, she advocated for the opening of the first school for girls. Her return to the motherland also meant a pivot towards writing in Croatian. She joined the Ilyrian movement and began publishing patriotic poetry in publications such as Kolo and Danica ilirska. She soon became Danica‘s most prolific poet, as well as its most-read fiction writer.

In 1843, she published a book of stories titled Domorodne poviesti (Popular Histories), written in the vein of Croatian Hajduk-Ottoman tales, in addition to publishing fiction in various periodicals throughout the 1860s. With her novel Dva pira (Two Weddings, 1864) she became one of the first female novelists in Croatia. Also, as one of the most notable representative of the Ilyrian movement, she was one of the only two women included in the famous lithograph Muževi ilirske dobe (The Men of the Ilyrian Era) – the other being Countess Sidonija Erdödy Rubido.

Ilustracija: Sindy Čolić / Fierce Women

She also worked as an educator, authoring several articles on the education of young women, as well as a manuscript for Moje učiteljevanje (My Time as a Teacher). She kept in touch with prominent teacher activists, lectured on education, and participated in the work of the Croatian Educational and Literary Society.

She is also considered to be the first female Croatian hiker: she climbed the Martinščak hill near Karlovac (1836) and the cliff of Okić (1843) without any mountaineering gear. The path she took to the summit of Okić is now known as Dragojlina staza (Dragojla’s path).

Her most valuable legacy, however, is an extensive diary, which she kept intermittently from January 1833 to November 1874. She started writing it in German, and later continued in Croatian. Her observations about her literary work, family and interpersonal relationships, the health condition (urinary incontinence) she suffered from her whole life, as well as the social and political circumstances of her time are brutally honest, critical, and often lacking in political correctness. In her last will and testament, she left the diary in the care of the Teachers’ Association, specifying that it was not to be read until 10 years after her death.

A selection of entries from her diary was first published in 1958 under the title Život jedne žene (A Woman’s Life), edited by Stanko Dvoržak. Feminist authors such as Divna Zečević would later criticize this edition on the grounds that the published entries mostly pertain to Jarnević’s romantic relationships with men. Some male authors disparagingly referred to her diary as “the confessions of a lonely woman” (Hrvatski narodni preporod, 1965), describing Dragojla as “the country’s greatest spinster” (Građa za povijest školstva, 1860).

On the other hand, in her own monograph on Jarnević, Zečević – folklorist, writer and poet, as well as a long-time diarist in her own right – focuses on Jarnević’s musings on her place in society and the material aspects of literary work. It is worth noting that the information on Jarnević’s life and work has been compiled and analysed primarily by women: Adela Milčinović (1907), Divna Zečević (1985), Irena Lukšić (2000), and Marija Ott Franolić (2017).

Dragojla Jarnević passed away in 1875, at the age of 63. She is buried in Dubovac cemetery, near Karlovac.

OŠ Dragojle Jarnević u Karlovcu

Godine 1959. osnovna škola u Karlovcu dobiva ime Dragojle Jarnević, a u svibnju 1976. otkrivena je pred školskom zgradom bista, rad kipara Alojzija Starešine. Dragojlina kuća nalazi se na uglu Jarnevićine i Gajeve ulice u Karlovcu, ali je zapuštena i neodržavana. Godine 2020. na zgradi u Naselju Marka Marulića autori Dalibor Juras i Leonard Lesić izradili su mural s Dragojlinim likom.