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Impure blood - a modern turn in Serbian literature





Among all writers at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century, Bora Stanković was the most expressive modernist. He laid the foundations of modern prosaic expression in Serbian literature. Although the novel Impure Blood is most often described as a realism, it certainly has strong reflections of naturalism, as well as impressionistic features.


Features of Borisav Stanković's work


Stanković's entire literary work is related to his hometown, Vranje. From realism, he inherited a turn to dialectal language, as well as painting polarized relations between old and new generations.


He makes a turn towards the inner, subjective life of the heroes, towards the depiction of their dreams, mental states and erotic energy. That is why his prose is based on internal monologues, experienced speeches. His literary heroes have a privileged status, so their thoughts, longings and dreams are very close to the position of writer and narrator.


Literary critics of that time enthusiastically accepted the appearance of his first collection of short stories From the Old Gospel (1899). He was proclaimed as one of the most talented new age narrators of Serbian literature.


However, well-known critics of the time, Jovan Skerlić and Bogdan Popović, acknowledged his literary gift, but challenged his literary style. They considered his literary language "illiterate". Other essays on Stanković's work (Branko Lazarević, Vladimir Ćorović) were written in similar critical assessments. Only after his death, Milan Kašanin opposed that opinion in a 1928 debate. He stated that his language was unusual because it was poeticized and that only in that way could Stanković express strong lyrical feelings and the enthusiasm of heroes.


Popović and Skerlić valued Serbian prose, but also the entire Serbian literature of the 20th century. Their Belgrade-based style meant that the literary style of the writers was almost perfectly matched to the standard language. Since Stanković's dialect, as well as being poeticized, did not fit into the standard of the Belgrade style, the biggest names in literary criticism misjudged his work.


After Milan Kašanin, Bora was accepted as "one of his" by a generation of expressionists led by Miloš Crnjanski and Momčilo Nastasijević.


From Stankovic's life


Born in Vranje, of unknown date (1875/1876), he grew up without parents. After finishing primary school in Vranje, and the eighth grade in Nis, he studied law in Belgrade. He started publishing as a student.


The years of the First World War, which he spent in occupied Belgrade, are a great controversy in Stanković's life. In order to survive and feed his family, he was forced to cooperate with the Austrian occupation newspaper. In them, he published twenty sequels of the feuilleton Belgrade under occupation, where he branded war profiteers, collaborators, women from respectable families who were in love with Austrian officers. After the war, those he ridiculed declared him a traitor and collaborator of the occupiers.


Long after that, he could not get a civil service, until 1923, when he became an official in the Ministry of Education. He died in 1927, withdrawn from public life, deeply disappointed in the new political elite in Serbia at the time, but also in the new literary relations among Serbian writers.


Stanković's most famous work was published in the first, narrative version in the magazine Gradina in Niš, in 1901; an expanded version in Kolo magazine in 1907; a definitive version in the form of a 1910 novel. In the second half of the 20th century, the work was completely rehabilitated, so Impure Blood is one of the greatest works written in the Serbian language so far.


Genre determinants of Impure Blood


The whole discussion of the novel begins with an unusual title. The discussion of the title also opens the discussion of the morphological or genre aspects of the work. At first, Stanković had in mind to describe the family chronicle of the hajji-Trifunov family in the form of a longer story and to present the naturalistic phenomenon of biological degeneration of the once rich and influential Vranje family.


On the other hand, it includes social aspects after 1878 and the liberation of the city of Vranje from the Turks. This is shown through the conflict of old families with newly rich families. From that perspective, Impure Blood is not only a family chronicle but also a social novel, in which a completely authentic picture of life at the crossroads of great historical and political changes is presented.


On the third side, Impure Blood is a typical psychological type of novel, in the center of which is the character and destiny of the heroine Sofka, the last offspring of the famous Hajji-Trifun's lineage. As this dimension of the novel is so strong and suppresses other aspects, today the novel is mostly perceived as a psychological or personality novel.


However, Sofka's drama, in the final excerpt, is not only of a family or individual psychological order, but it contains deeper and more hidden shifts in culture.


Composition of the novel Impure Blood


The composition of the novel is conditioned by one extremely banal reason: since none of the publishers wanted to print the novel, Stanković decided to publish it in a private edition. However, in the printing house, when the text was already complex and ready for printing, it turned out that Stanković did not have enough money, so he had to shorten the chapters.


Fortunately, this shortening did not disturb the composition, but significantly accelerated the narration in the unfolding and thus made the ending, the point, even more effective.


From a compositional perspective, the novel has a double exposition in the first three chapters. The first refers to the family chronicle of the hajji-Trifun family, where unusual characters stand out. The second also shows a family chronicle, but now in the center are Sofka's father efendi-Mita and the collapse of the family.


Chapter IV begins the novel's plot and the story of Sofka, and the novel is transformed from a family chronicle into a novel of a character, i.e. the psychological characterization of the main heroine of the work.


Stanković had models for his characters in real personalities from old Vranje. However, one should not confuse the material from which the characters are created with themselves. He created a literary town, as utopian as it was real; its boundaries coincide with the space in which the characters move and live.


Narrative turn in Impure Blood

In the last chapters, Stanković makes a narrative turn and gives a completely different narrative flow and epilogue. Tomca experiences a great psychological transformation (a consequence of discovering the truth about their marriage), and from an obedient husband she becomes a cruel master like his father was. Humiliation influences Tomča to mature and reveal the darkest sides of his personality, and he shows his sadomasochistic passion for Sofka.


The epilogue best confirms the self-destructive and destructive result - Sofka is completely destroyed, mentally and physically, and the children are weak and sick.


Thus, one family lineage that was at the biological end destroyed the strength of one family that was at the biological beginning. Sofka's impure blood destroyed and destroyed everything around her. Sofka, who is woven of the same matter as her ancestors with her character and her whole being, longs for the same free scope of life, but life does not give it to her. She is sacrificed and sacrifices herself on the altar of life in order for the past to continue to live, and she is unconscious (or insufficiently aware) of the delusion that it is really possible.


However, the novel is not just about hereditary impure blood (at least not in the main part). The novel is not about sin and punishment. Although Sofka's sacrifice can be understood as the author occasionally carried her away and tempted her, only to later drag her into the abyss she feared. But that fall at the end of the novel, when she was half drunk and irritated and then left sinning with deaf-mute servants, is a consequence rather than a cause. That is why it serves for a symbolic framing of her sad destiny rather than explaining it.


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