Zofka Kveder

Zofka Kveder (detail). Collection of portrait photographs of famous Slovenians (1997), National and University Library, Ljubljana

Born in 1878 in Ljubljana; died in 1926 in Zagreb. First Slovenian professional female writer.

Zofka Kveder came from a difficult family background as the daughter of an alcoholic father and an emotionally absent mother. Her growing up was filled with destitution and violence and she could hardly wait to become emancipated and live an independent life. Her first taste of freedom was education. She went to school in Ljubljana, but that period of momentary relief ended when she turned 16. She moved back in with her parents, yet she constantly tried to earn enough money to go her own way again. At 19, she rented her own room in Kočevje, where she did administrative and technical work. Even though she was glad of the peace and freedom, she missed the city and soon returned to Ljubljana where she found an office job, working all the time. She would spend the remaining time writing stories, which had to be published under a male pseudonym because of the conservative environment in which she lived.

She quickly outgrew Ljubljana so she moved to Trieste where she became close with the circle of people around the first Slovenian women’s paper Slovenka. Kveder’s pieces for the paper covered topics previously not discussed in Slovenian press: abortion, prostitution, infanticide, sexual education, and divorce. The first editor of Slovenka was Marica Nadlišek Bartol, teacher, writer and a woman who was not afraid of starting a public polemic with the authorities; however, the flame of her fighting spirit died with her marriage. She was succeeded by twenty-four-year-old Ivanka Anžič, who became friends with Zofka Kveder when she worked as a clerk at a Ljubljana law firm. As the new editor of Slovenka, she focused on more radical feminist and social issues, which made the paper better, more advanced and worldly, but also resulted in a severe loss of traditional readership. After five years of publication, Slovenka went out of print; however, its importance was not only in the topics it discussed but also in the fact that it published female authors who never had the opportunity to be recognised along with renowned Slovenian male authors.

Zofka Kveder did not conform to aesthetic or social norms, and balanced her family and professional life like few women of her time did.

At the turn of the century, after a few years of traveling, Zofka Kveder moved to Prague. She lived separately from her husband and made a living for herself and her daughter Vladka doing exclusively intellectual work – writing and editing – which was extremely challenging and rare for a woman at the time. Both in literature and life, she was free-minded and progressive. She did not conform to aesthetic or social norms, and balanced her family and professional life like few women of her time did. After years of living in Prague, at the explicit wish of her husband, the family moved to Zagreb where she worked as an editor for the paper Agramer Tagblatt, giving birth to two more daughters while working continuously. Her husband’s manipulations and infidelity, the struggles of motherhood, and constant work led her to suffer a nervous breakdown. In the years of turmoil that followed – several suicide attempts, divorce, marriage, abortion –, despite the harsh realities of life, she managed to write her first novel and perhaps her best literary work, Her Life.

World War I made her life even more difficult. She had to earn a living for herself and her three daughters while her position in the Zagreb society had changed dramatically after the war. She was publicly ridiculed, her second marriage was more and more fragile, and she was experiencing writer’s block. In 1920, her first-born Vladka, with whom they had an extremely turbulent relationship, succumbed to the Spanish flu in Prague. Kveder never truly recovered after her death and finally, after several failed attempts, took her own life.

She left behind a body of literary works that are now part of the Slovenian literary canon. In addition to the novel Her Life (1914), her other notable works include the collections of short stories Misterij žene (1900) and Vladka, Mitka, Mirica (1928), and the novel Hanka (1938).

National Hall

The National Hall was the central cultural institution of the Slovenian population in Trieste. Among other things, it housed the Edinost Association, which published a paper of the same name with a supplement called Slovenka. In 1920, the National Hall was burnt down by the Fascists, one of the first demonstrative acts of violence against the non-Italian population in northern Mediterranean. On the 100th anniversary of the arson, 13 July 2020, the National Hall again became the formal property of the Slovenian minority.