Marija Jurić Zagorka – the impact of a pioneer Croatian female journalist on society
Marija Jurić Zagorka was a pioneering Croatian journalist, feminist, and novelist. The work of this courageous and rebellious woman who was far ahead of her time shaped the Croatian literary landscape.
Zagorka was crucial in promoting women’s rights and advocating social justice in Croatia during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Her activism had a lasting impact, making her a symbol of women’s empowerment in the region.
In this post, we cover:
- Who is Zagorka?
- Early life
- Literary career
- Social issues
- Women’s rights
- Center for Women’s Studies
- Prominent novels
- Final thoughts
The facts are these…
Marija Jurić Zagorka’s role in Croatian history and culture
Marija Jurić Zagorka is one of Croatia’s most significant and influential figures. Her literary works are considered an essential part of the cultural heritage and instill a sense of national identity and pride among her readers.
Marija Jurić Zagorka was a pioneer of female journalism in Croatia and an overall advocate for women’s rights. Through her work, she highlighted the need for gender equality and women’s education, suffrage, and emancipation. Zagorka helped pave the way for other women to pursue careers in male-dominated industries, which played a pivotal role in shaping Croatia’s cultural and social landscape.
Even though she faced constant criticism and opposition, Zagorka’s determination and persistence didn’t waver. She left a lasting legacy and is revered as a national literary figure. Many awards and institutions have even been named in her honor, while her statue stands in the center of Zagreb in Tkalčićeva ulica (Tkalčić street) as a tribute.
Zagorka’s significance lies not only in her groundbreaking contributions to Croatian literature, journalism, and women’s rights but also in inspiring generations of individuals to challenge societal norms and pursue their passions.
Zagorka’s early life was challenging. She was born on March 2, 1873, in the small village of Negovec, Croatia (view map). After her birth, her family moved near Krapina (view map), Hrvatsko zagorje, where her father Ivan became the manager of the estate of a Croatian-Hungarian baron.
Zagorka received her first lessons in Hungarian alongside noble children in the Hungarian-Croatian baroque fortress known as Dvorac Bežanec (Bežanec Castle) in Hrvatsko zagorje. Later, the castle and its surroundings became a source of inspiration for her fictional works set in historical settings.
Due to the prevailing social norms, especially in such rural settings, education for girls was extremely limited. However, Zagorka was determined to go against the mold. She attended elementary school in a rural area but finished high school for girls at the Sisters of Mercy in Zagreb.
Although her talent for writing was quickly emerging, her parents did not allow her to finish her studies. Instead, they married her off as a minor and sent her to Hungary. She suffered a nervous breakdown and ended up running away from her husband back to Zagreb. She refused parental care and money, determined to make it on her own terms.
Since she had to support herself, Zagorka found work as a governess and teacher but continued writing whenever she could find spare time. This dedication to her craft led to the beginning of her literary and journalist career. Zagorka’s early life experiences and determination to overcome societal barriers significantly shaped her career.
Zagorka’s professional career started when she became a reporter for a prominent Zagreb daily newspaper, Obzor. She was employed in their editorial office from 1895 to 1910 and progressed from an anonymous reporter to a political journalist.
Zagorka often published her articles under male pseudonyms because of the general risqué themes of her work. Out of this necessity, her most famous pseudonym was born – Zagorka, an ode to her love for the Croatian people, Hrvatsko zagorje, and her mother language.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the Croatian language and many cultural elements were suppressed from the public due to the official use of Hungarian and German under the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In 1910, Zagorka stopped working as a journalist and began to write historical novels from Croatia’s forgotten past that would appeal to a wider readership.
She combined documentary materials from national archives in Zagreb, Budapest, and Vienna with her literary imagination to build exciting stories using female protagonists. These historical fiction novels were first published as articles in daily newspapers, which quickly surged Zagorka’s popularity. One of the most well-known is Grička Vještica (The Witch of Grič).
Zagorka’s literary works confronted prevailing social issues of the 19th century, including topics like peasants’ rebellion, aristocracy, socialism, revolt, and misogyny. Many Croatians identified with these stories. Hrvatsko narodno kazalište (Croatian National Theater) in Zagreb began its own dramatization of her famous works in 1918, which garnered unprecedented success.
In the 1930s, Zagorka returned to journalism and independently launched and edited magazines Ženski list (Women’s Paper) and Hrvatica (Croatian Woman). She continued to publish novels and autobiographies focused heavily on strong female characters and themes of social justice.
In the 1940s, Zagorka faced yet another great difficulty in her life with the establishment of the NDH (Independent State of Croatia), when ustaše (a Croatian fascist and ultranationalist organization) banned her from continuing her work and confiscated her property. Having run out of the means to live, she unsuccessfully attempted suicide.
With the financial help and care of loyal readers, Zagorka lived to see the end of the war in her Zagreb home at the address of Dolac 8, where her memorial apartment is today. While her work inspired subsequent generations of writers and journalists in Croatia, she created a support network for female writers. She continued the fight for expanding women’s role in society through her lectures.
Through her writing, Zagorka was passionate about promoting women’s rights and addressing prevalent social issues. She was the first female journalist in Croatia and the entire region.
Zagorka broke gender barriers and showed that women could succeed in fields traditionally dominated by men. Although she was a role model for many aspiring female writers and journalists, Zagorka inspired generations of other Croatian women to break free from traditional constraints and fight against patriarchal norms.
She advocated for social justice and equality at a time when women faced significant challenges in Croatian society. She used her platform to highlight issues such as suffrage, education, independence, and access to professional opportunities. Her novels focused on the struggles and triumphs of Croatian women throughout history.
Zagorka’s goal was to portray strong female characters set against the backdrop of historical events. She intended to re-write history from the woman’s point of view and give them credit for their influence on Croatia’s national history.
View our guides on other notable Croatian women:
Zagorka also participated in political activism with the organization of typographical workers in the Circle of Working Women (1896) and led the first women’s demonstrations in Zagreb (1903). She delivered a hundred lectures on women and politics in Austro-Hungarian countries until 1918.
Zagorka supported the initiative of the younger generation of women writers, co-signing the founding of the Hrvatsko društvo pisaca (Croatian Writers Society (1935-1939). Even when she battled old age and poor health in the 1950s, she held lectures all over Croatia.
She passed away on November 30, 1957, in Zagreb, leaving behind a legacy that continues to resonate with women. Her relentless fight for female emancipation led to continuous critique from male colleagues in literary and political spheres. They declared her novels “trivial junk literature” and ridiculed her appearance.
The lack of appreciation for her talent and work continued from pre-war to post-war socialist Yugoslavia. It was a harrowing dichotomy; on one hand, noise and ridicule, and on the other, hunger for newly printed volumes of Grička vještica by Slobodna Dalmacija.
Although her work played a significant role in shaping public opinion and initiating discussions, the value of its activism only became possible with the acceptance of pluralistic values in society. The 1980s saw a surge in the poetics of women’s writing, but unfortunately, it was quickly suppressed by the rhetoric of war writing in the 1990s.
In 1995, the Centar za ženske studije (Center for Women’s Studies) was founded in Zagreb. This paved the way for women’s studies programs in the academic community. With a new theoretical, scientific, and cultural approach to feminism and women’s literature in Croatia, the reception of Zagorka’s work was finally renewed.
The Center provides education in women’s studies, raises women’s awareness, and encourages research and publishing related to women’s studies and feminist topics. They organize cultural events and support women’s and civil initiatives in Croatia.
The Center also cares for the Memorijalni stan Marije Jurić Zagorke (Memorial Apartment of Marija Jurić Zagorka) and Zagorka’s heritage. Namely, the Memorial Apartment at Dolac 8 was opened to visitors in 2009 after the City of Zagreb bought her apartment from her heirs and allocated it for use by the Center.
The selection of novels selected below are among Zagorka’s most renowned works. They are known for their historical and romantic themes, often set against the backdrop of Croatia’s past.
#1 Grička vještica (The Grič Witch)
A historical and narrative novel set in 18th-century Zagreb, intertwining elements of romance, political intrigue, and the supernatural. This is Zagorka’s most recognized work that has left an indelible mark on Croatian literature.
#2 Gordana (Queen Of The Croats)
Set in the 17th century, the novel revolves around Gordana, a strong-willed and courageous woman. The setting unfolds against the backdrop of the Zrinski-Frankopan conspiracy, a significant historical event in Croatian medieval history. It shows the desire to tackle the great themes of Croatian national history.
#3 Kneginja iz Petrinjske ulice (The Princess from Petrinjska Street)
With this first crime novel in Croatian literature, Zagorka began a series of novels that would earn her the adjectives “master of storytelling” and “the most widely read Croatian writer”. It unfolds the fascinating life of a noblewoman, masterfully blending themes of love, ambition, and societal challenges in the vivid setting of Zagreb.
#4 Mala Revolucionarka (Little Revolutionary)
Zagorka presents a humorous synthesis of her real revolutionary experiences. Her autobiographical genre is more than just facts about her own interpretations of the causes and circumstances that caused her to suffer in life. It is a depiction of her strength and how she did not accept a subordinate female status.
#5 Kći Lotrščaka (The Daughter of Lotrščak)
A tale of love, intrigue, and societal challenges against the vivid backdrop of Zagreb. It tackles the legends and folk tales about the city’s origins, intertwined with historical content.
#6 Republikanci (Republicans)
Intricately weaves together the tumultuous events of the French Revolution and Napoleonic era. This novel showcased Zagorka’s adept storytelling and keen insight into the political and social dynamics of the time.
#7 Plameni inkvizitori (The Fiery Inquisitors)
Intricately explores the historical backdrop of the Inquisition in medieval Croatia. The novel depicts three completely different love couples, “each of whom will have their own audience with their own love and idea”. It is centered around the monarchy, nobles, and the Catholic Church, with themes of power, bloodlust, and lunatic superstition.
#8 Kamen na cesti (A Stone On The Road)
Unfolds as a poignant historical novel, primarily mediated through the protagonist, a self-aware and independent woman, a spokesperson for feminist views. Unlike Zagorka’s other characters who inhabit the utopian world of popular romance with happy endings, this novel has a realistic (social-psychological) approach to storytelling and quite a pessimistic tone.
Marija Jurić Zagorka remains a beloved and influential figure in Croatian culture. Throughout her life, Zagorka authored numerous novels, short stories, and plays, exploring historical and risqué social themes. Her writing often featured strong female characters and reflected her feminist ideals.
During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Croatia was experiencing a period of national awakening and identity formation. Zagorka contributed to this movement and played a crucial role in shaping Croatia’s cultural and social landscape. Her stories entertained the public and educated readers about Croatia’s history and cultural identity.
Zagorka continues to be celebrated as a significant figure in Croatian literature and journalism. Her contributions are recognized in Croatia and the broader context of women’s history and literature.
Please note: Information provided by Expat in Croatia is only for the purposes of guidance. It does not constitute legal or financial advice in any form. Croatian laws and bureaucratic rules often change, and each personal case is individual, so different rules may apply. For legal advice, contact us to consult with a licensed Croatian lawyer. For financial advice, contact us to consult with a licensed Croatian tax advisor or accountant.