Ivana Brlić-Mažuranić

Illustration: Nataša Rašović Bodiš / Fierce Women

18.4.1874 – 21.9.1938

My great desire to sometimes put pen to paper was suppressed early on by another very strong feeling: my thinking had led me to the conclusion that writing did not agree with women’s duties.

Ivana Brlić-Mažuranić, one of the most important Croatian writers, was born in 1874 in Ogulin. Growing up in a well-to-do bourgeois family enabled her to enjoy literature, music and languages from an early age. The love of writing was further instilled in her by her teacher Marija Jambrišak, to whom she dedicated an essay on the occasion of her 80th birthday.

Already at the age of 17, her parents engaged Ivana to a lawyer, Vatroslav Brlić, whom she married a year later and had her first child. She spent most of her life in Slavonski Brod, performing maternal duties (she gave birth to seven children, five of whom survived), but at the same time longing for a literary career. Her uninterrupted contact with children encouraged her to write short stories, songs and tales for children, which were published under the titles The Good and the Mischievous (1902) and School and Holidays (1905).

However, it was only after the children had grown up that Ivana was able to devote herself to literary creation; as she herself wrote, only then did her desire to write come to terms with her understanding of duty. Her writing talent was expressed on the literary scene in 1913 with the novel The Brave Adventures of Lapitch, which became the prototype of the children’s novel in Croatia and a template for numerous theatrical and film adaptations. The first edition of the book was illustrated by artist Nasta Rojc.

The collection of fairy tales Croatian Tales of Long Ago (1916), into which she weaved the elements of Slavic mythology, achieved even greater success and was translated into many languages. The first edition consisted of six stories: How Quest Sought the Truth, Fisherman Plunk and His Wife, Reygoch, Bridesman Sun and Bride Bridekins, Stribor’s Forest and Little Brother Primrose and Sister Lavender, while the third edition was supplemented with two more: Toporko and Nine Brothers and Yagor. Through her work, Ivana managed to change the attitudes of many of her male colleagues about women’s writing abilities, and her works are today an integral part of school reading and enjoy widespread popularity.

The Yugoslav Academy of Sciences and Arts (now the Croatian Academy of Science and Arts) nominated her for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1931 (she would be nominated three more times), and in 1937 she became the first woman accepted into the Academy (although only as a corresponding member).Ivana had a difficult time dealing with the death of her mother and husband, as well as the financial problems caused by her son Ivo. From 1926 onwards, due to her poor health she often stayed in sanatoriums. After a long struggle with depression and deteriorating health, in the fall of 1938 she committed suicide. This fact is rarely mentioned even today, primarily because her family felt that such an act did not fit into the notion of Ivana as a public figure and a children’s writer. While some critics have tried to romanticize her mental health problems, referring to them as “severe storms in the soul”, Sanja Lovrenčić in her biography In Search of Ivana provided a more nuanced perspective on the complex impact of family and social circumstances on the author’s life.

Ivana Brlić Mažuranić Square, Slavonski Brod

The monument to Ivana Brlić-Mažuranić in Slavonski Brod was erected to mark the 130th anniversary of her birth and was made by sculptor Marija Ujević-Galetović. The monument was erected in 2004 on the road between the Brlić House and the Ivana Brlić-Mažuranić Theater and Concert Hall, and in 2011 it was moved to the Ivana Brlić-Mažuranić Square, where it is still located today. Ujević-Galetović is also the author of a sculpture in Velika Gorica depicting Ivana and her characters Gita and Hlapić.A memorial plaque dedicated to Ivana Brlić-Mažuranić is located at Jurjevska Street 5 in Zagreb, where she lived prior to her marriage and towards the end of her life.The Memorial Room of Ivana Brlić Mažuranić was established at The Ogulin Heritage Museum in 1974, and in 2013 the multimedia center Ivana's Fairytale House was opened in Ogulin.