- Svetislav Stefanović as a Translator of English Victorian Poetry: Early Versions of Rossetti’s “The Blessed Damozel” in Serbian
The beginning of the 21st century in Serbia brought about major social changes marked by the fall of the communist regime after more than half a century of rule. The country and its people have experienced the pains typical of a society in transition. While for the broad Serbian public the new post-communist age has meant job loss, capitalization, and privatization of state property, concurrently it has also been a time when some old and forgotten artistic and cultural values have emerged after being forbidden and ignored for over 60 years. Some of the greatest minds and names of Serbian culture, art, and science, such as Branko Popović, Jovan Dučić, Prince Pavle Karađorđević, and Radovan Grujić, among others, are being rehabilitated and returned to their people, where they are given the appreciation they deserve.
One such figure, who is often forgotten despite his great patriotism, humanism, and literary work, is Svetislav Stefanović (1874–1944), a medical doctor, poet, and translator whose creative work represents a significant contribution to the Serbian literary heritage (Fig. 1 following p. 237). Stefanović and his work are even more intriguing in these turbulent times of ours, which are much like the times in which Stefanović himself lived. He entered Serbian public life at the end of the 19th century, when the intelligentsia from Vojvodina open-heartedly, but with very little knowledge of the true Serbian (sr. srbijanski) mentality, brought the beacon of “enlightenment and education” (sr. pravosveštenije) to Serbia. Belonging to the same intellectual circle as Sima Pandurović, Veljko Petrović, and Jovan Dučić, Stefanović got himself noticed by the public at the end of the 19th century as a fervent defender of Laza Kostić at the time when he was severely attacked for his work by his opponents.1 This paper represents an initial effort to present [End Page 213] objectively Stefanović’s contribution to Serbian translation and interpretation practices with respect to poetry.
Svetislav Stefanović was born in 1874 in Novi Sad.2 From 1900 on he became preoccupied mainly with literary criticism. In 1905 he received Serbian citizenship, which represented the fulfillment of his lifelong wish. Ever since his student days he expressed a strong interest in English literature, poetry in particular, an interest which resulted in the publication of a collection of poems entitled Pesme: Originalne i prevedene, published in Mostar from 1903 to 1905.3 For this first collection of poems Stefanović selected poetic works written by some of the greatest names of English poetry, such as William Shakespeare, Percy Bysshe Shelley, John Keats, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Charles Swinburne, Elizabeth Barrett-Browning, and Oscar Wilde. In 1907 he had a collection of essays, Iz engleske književnosti, published. Though engaged in literary translation, Stefanović did not abandon his medical vocation, working under horrible conditions and treating patients in rural areas of Serbia. In 1907 he traveled to Vienna to specialize in and practice medicine. While working as a doctor there he joined a circle of Vienna Anglicists and began to study German and English literature. This was as close as he would get to the English language and culture, since he himself would never set foot in an English-speaking country.
Returning to Serbia, Stefanović was again sent to the poorest and most remote parts to work both as a medical doctor and veterinarian. His professional hardships seem to have served as an additional inspiration for spending hours dedicated to literary work and transforming himself from a trained medical professional into a philologist, writer, reader, and poet. From 1912 to 1918 he was actively involved first in the Balkan Wars and then in the Great War. On the Salonica Front he served as a liaison officer between the Serbian and British medical corps.
Between the two world wars Stefanović’s literary activities intensified, resulting in his second collection of English poetry, Iz novije engleske lirike, published in 1923.4 The collection contained some of the poems previously [End Page 214] translated and published in the collection from 1904/05. However, the...