Jovan Skerlić

Jovan Skerlić (Serbian Cyrillic: Јован Скерлић, Serbian pronunciation: [jɔ̌ʋan skɛ̂ːrlitɕ]; 20 August 1877 – 15 May 1914) was a Serbian writer and literary critic.[1] He is regarded as one of the most influential Serbian literary critics of the early 20th century, [2]after Bogdan Popović, his professor and early mentor.

Jovan Skerlić
Jovan skerlic.jpg
Born(1877-08-20)20 August 1877
Belgrade, Principality of Serbia
Died15 May 1914(1914-05-15) (aged 36)
Belgrade, Kingdom of Serbia
OccupationWriter and critic


It is said that Skerlić revolutionized the Serbian literary scene around the turn of the nineteenth century as a young dashing critic, historian of literature, politician and polemicist.[3]Although he died relatively young (he was 37), Skerlić still managed to complete an impressive body of work that linked criticism and literary history. According to his biographer, he became interested in the socialism advocated by Vaso Pelagić and Svetozar Marković as a very young man. At sixteen Skerlić began writing for the Zanatlijiski savez ("The Craftsmen Union", 1893). In 1895, he began to contribute his writings to various newspapers, such as Socialdemokrat, Radničke novine, and Delo. At the university in Belgrade, he studied history and French philology. He received an excellent post-graduate education at Belgrade's Grande École (his professor and mentor was Bogdan Popović) before embarking on a graduate program abroad at the universities of Lausanne, Paris and Munich. He completed his doctorate in French Literature in Lausanne in 1901. After three years of post-graduate research in Paris and Munich, he returned in 1904 to Serbia, where he taught French and French Literature at the Grandes Écoles where he had been educated before becoming professor of Serbian Literature at the same institution (when the University of Belgrade was established) the following year. Skerlić was a member of the Skupština (Serbian Parliament), and founder and editor of several literary periodicals. His political sympathies made him an ally of the Serbian socialist Svetozar Marković, whose posthumous biography Skerlić came to write.[1] Skerlić always insisted on the parallel between Svetozar Marković and Dositej Obradović, seeing in the former a reincarnation of the latter: "This young man's role in our public life in the nineteenth century was the same as that of the ex-monk Dositej Obradović at the end of the eighteenth century...."

At the beginning of the 20th century, Skerlić became a member of the Independent Radical Party. As such, he was one of the ideologists of Yugoslav national youth and advocated a common Serbo-Croatian language and national unity.

Memorial tablet on the house where Jovan Skerlić lived, in the Gospodar Jovanova street, Belgrade, Serbia

Skerlić viewed literature in terms of his political beliefs, and he adopted some aesthetic ideas from Bogdan Popović. His main intellectual sympathies in literary criticism lay, however, with the French: his Lausanne professors, Georges Renard and Hippolyte Taine. Though he did not follow Svetozar Marković's utilitarian ideas on literature, he believed, like Ljubomir Nedić, that literature was linked to progress.[1] He was familiar with Petrus Hofman Peerlkamp, the founder of the subjective method of textual criticism, which consisted in rejecting in a classical author whatever failed to come up to the standard of what that author, in the critic's opinion, ought to have written.[4]

Writes Jovan Skerlić in Istorija Nove Srpske Književnosti (Second Edition, Belgrade, 1921, page 43):

The authors of the 19th century, with all their differences nevertheless share a unity of literary ideas and theories. Each of the young poets of the 20th century had his own concepts and well-defined ideas. This phenomenon made it extremely difficult for the literary critic to label new poetic achievements as specific schools, and place them in a continuation of the organized pattern that evolved from Romanticism of the 1860–1870 decade to Realism after 1870.

He published a seminal literary history of the 18th century Serbian Literature (1909).

Life and workEdit

Upon the completion of his doctorate work in Lausanne in 1901, he spent the next three years in Paris and Munich, where he broadened his knowledge of Western European thought and literary theory and fell under the influence of the French thinkers, Jean-Marie Guyau in particular. Also, Skerlić was at the beginning influenced by French literary aesthetics, but later found himself in complete opposition to any movement of l'art pour l'art. Skerlić used his influence to fight any egoistic or decadent movement energetically. His concepts on literary aesthetics were so strongly influenced by his patriotic tendencies that he often reacted to artistic problems more as a national and political thinker than as an art critic.

After his return to Serbia in 1904 Skerlić was offered a chair of national literature at the University of Belgrade, a position that he held throughout the rest of his short but productive life. At the same time he became the editor of the respectable literary magazine called Srpski književni glasnik (Serbian Literary Herald). As a critic, he stood for the importance of the content of the literary text, and no less for its expressive and artistic form.

The method of his analysis involved the reconstruction of the social, cultural and political circumstances that formed the background and context of literary activity. Skerlić became famous for his style of writing, which was clear, picturesque, and concise.

Skerlić soon revealed a talent for scholarly, analytical thinking and for literary criticism. In a single decade Skerlić published several hundred essays and critical studies on all the major Serbian authors, collected in nine volumes as Pisci i knige (1907-1926; Writers and Books) as well as a cluster of long monographs, the more notable of which are Jakov Ignjatović, Svetozar Marković, Vojislav Ilić, Omladina i njena književnost 1848-1871 (Young Serbia and Its Literature 1848–1871), Srpska književnosti u XVIII veku (Serbian Literature in the 18th Century), and many others. These monographs provided a foundation for his major seminal work, Istorija nove srpske književnosti (A History of Modern Serbian Literature), completed just two months prior to his untimely death. The Istorija contains an objective, erudite, and thorough critical analysis of Serbian writers and poets who succeeded in extricating themselves and their countrymen from the thraldom of the Holy Roman Empire (Habsburg Monarchy) and the Ottoman Empire in the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries.[5]

When Istorija nove srpske književnosti was first released in 1914, Bogdan Popović praised it in a lead article in a literary review as a sensitive and definitive study of modern Serbian literature. In the years that followed, Jovan Skerlić's biographies of poets, writers, novelists and men of letters became a standard critical work, an indispensable tool for readers concerned with modern Serbian literature. Literary critics described the book as "a seminal study of the modern literary imagination." Skerlić demonstrates the continuing relevance of his own provocative concept and provides important insight into the literary achievements of Serbia's most significant poets and writers.

From Skerlić's writings, we know that he wished the new Serbian poetry to be "clear, intense, and straightforward." His article Jedna Književna Zaraza (A Literary Infection) demonstrates how repulsed he was by what he termed, with utter contempt, "decadence". Above all, he feared the influence of foreign, decadent poetry on the new Serbian poetry, since he never lost sight of the concept that poetry should serve to build a healthy and strong new generation. He challenged the pessimistic and sombre tones in the new poems, and he detested the foreign poetic movements of cainism, satanism, and, generally, all the isms.

Skerlić had a great talent for rhetoric and for describing the lives and works of literary authors. His history consisted of critical essays on authors, accounts of the socio-historic context, and text analysis. Bio-bibliographical data would follow this critical nucleus. Skerlić's unique talent for integrating, his tendency to epitomize, condense, and classify according to a precise, pre-established historical roster, usually succeeded in synthesizing the individual pieces into a convincing whole.[1]

Jovan Skerlić's role in literature and general cultural and political development led Predrag Protić[6] to suggest that the period in Serbian history from 1900 until May 1914 should be named after him.[7]

Skerlić was buried in the Novo groblje cemetery in Belgrade.[8]


His collected works include:

  • Pisci i knjige I
  • Pisci i knjige II
  • Pisci i knjige III
  • Pisci i knjige IV
  • Pisci i knjige V
  • Pisci i knjige VI
  • Feljtoni skice i govori
  • Istorijski pregled srpske štampe 1791–1911
  • Javno mnenje u Francuskoj prema političkoj i socijalnoj poeziji od 1830 do 1848.
  • Srpska književnost u XVIII veku
  • Omladina i njena književnost (1848–1871) izučavanja o nacionalnom i književnom romantizmu kod Srba
  • Svetozar Marković njegov život, rad i ideje
  • Jakov Ignjatović književna studija
  • Istorija nove srpske književnosti
  • Jovan Skerlić čovek i dela by dr Midhat Begić


  1. ^ a b c d Jovan Skerlić u srpskoj književnosti 1877–1977: Zbornik radova. Posebna izdanja, Institut za knjizevnost i umetnost, Belgrade.[page needed]
  2. ^
  3. ^ Milojkovic-Djuric, Jelena (1988). "The Roles of Jovan Skerlic, Steven Mokranjac, and Paja Jovanovic in Serbian Cultural History, 1900-1914". Slavic Review. 47 (4): 687–701. doi:10.2307/2498188. JSTOR 2498188.
  4. ^ Jovan Skerlić is born on this day RTS, Serbia (in Serbian)
  5. ^ The Roles of Jovan Skerlić, Steven Mokranjac, and Paja Jovanović in Serbian Cultural History, 1900–1914, Jelena Milojković-Djurić, Slavic Review, Vol. 47, No. 4 (Winter, 1988), pp. 687–701, Published by: Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies
  6. ^ Milojkovic-Djuric, Jelena (1988). "The Roles of Jovan Skerlic, Steven Mokranjac, and Paja Jovanovic in Serbian Cultural History, 1900–1914". Slavic Review. 47 (4): 687–701. doi:10.2307/2498188. JSTOR 2498188.
  7. ^ Dominanti i usputni tokovi u srpskoj književnosti, Razvojne etape u srpskoj književnosti XX veka i njihove osnovne odlike, ed. Miroslav Pantić (Belgrade, SANU, 1981), pp. 60–61.
  8. ^ Jovan Skerlić at the New Graveyard

External linksEdit


  • Midhat Begić, Jovan Skerlić et la critique littéraire en Serbie, Paris, Institut d’Études slaves 1963.