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  • Tears of the Prodigal Daughter: Homoeroticism in Leposava Mijušković’s Prose*
  • Žarka Svirčev

Eros, again now, the loosener of limbs troubles me, Bittersweet, sly, uncontrollable creature…


In the context of the poetic paradigm of Serbian literature in the first decade of the 20th century, it would be expected that Leposava Mijušković’s2 homoerotic prose provoked a kind of reception shock for readers and primarily critics. In the period 1905–1910, Mijušković published four stories in [End Page 241] Srpski književni glasnik (Serbian Literary Gazette), which was the literary institution par excellence at that time. In this journal the major authority of critical thought, Jovan Skerlić (1887–1914), marked Mijušković’s work as one of the most important literary phenomena. After 1910, her work was covered by decades of oblivion; a fact that raises the question of the motives for this “silence.” This silence is even more surprising because Skerlić’s criticism, both positive and negative, was a seminal reference in all the later research of literary history. Did Skerlić perhaps overestimate Mijušković’s narrative gift, or was he asking the researchers to take up a challenge for which they were not yet ready? Mijušković’s prose is still a challenge for researchers. On the one hand, it opens chapters of Serbian literature which have so far not been researched and have been only partially illuminated. On the other hand, it suggests the need for a reconceptualization of Serbian literature courses and a new perspective on the literary tradition.

The aim of this paper is to shed light on the aspects of Mijušković’s work which are not interpreted or have been interpreted insufficiently so far. What I have in mind is homoeroticism, its position in the narrative network and the ideological outcomes that it implies. The examination of homoeroticism in Mijušković’s prose suggests a different contextualization of her work within the Serbian prose tradition.

Leposava Mijušković’s work corresponds to the birth of modern Serbian prose. In fact, she has been credited as its founder. Skerlić pointed out that “her prose may represent a new direction in literature.”3 Decades later, Dragiša Vitošević (1939–87) placed her next to Veljko Milićević (1888–1929) as an innovator and one of the first modernists in Serbian literature,4 noting that in her prose everything is new: the themes, the narrative technique, and the style.5 Slavica Garonja-Radovanac (1957), in her study dedicated to Mijušković’s prose, also puts the author among the pioneers of Serbian modernism because of her “ innovativeness of themes and characters (free love, a rebellious woman, homoeroticism, self-destruction, suicide, insanity, intellectual characters), as well as literary technique (automatic writing, fragment, subconsciousness).”6 [End Page 242]

Leposava Mijušković’s prose indeed represented a novelty in every sense, even to the extent that some aspects of her prose remain insufficiently explored in terms of their interpretation. Mijušković simultaneously initiates the queer identity in Serbian literature and processes it in a way that becomes communicative only to future readers. Hence, perhaps, the absence of reception shock and the “silence” which enveloped her work in the ensuing decades. The erotic in her fiction gets outflanked by understanding of the motifs related to Serbian modernism. Therefore, the true nature of her rebellious female characters remains unperceived in its ultimate consequences. However, the erotic, articulated in a non-heterosexual matrix, is essentially the node of her first two published works of fiction. It is provocative enough to be an impetus for the reinterpretation of Mijušković’s prose in the context of the Serbian modern literary tradition. The stories “Utisci života” (Impressions of Life, 1905) and “Blizu smrti” (Near to Death, 1906), which form a single narrative unit, are the confessional-diary dramatization of “gender trouble” as defined by Judith Butler7 and a literary treatment of homoeroticism and gender identity behind the articulation of the gynomorphic “Otherness” that is rarely encountered in Serbian literature.

The mapping of the erotic in Mijušković’s prose ranges from complete suppression to a precise name-giving. The reception of her prose can also serve...


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pp. 241-258
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