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37 ASPAZIJA (Elza Rozenberga, in marriage Pliekša -ne) (1865–1943) Latvian poetess, public figure, feminist. Pen-names ‘Aspazija’ and ‘Kalna.’ Elza Rozenberga was born on 16 March 1865 at the farmstead Zaļenieku Daukšas. Her parents were the landowner Da – vis Rozenbergs-Rozenvalds and his wife Grieta. Elza had two brothers, Kristaps and Zamue -ls, and one sister, Dora. The pen-name ‘Aspazija’ came from Elza’s fascination with the Austrian writer Robert Hammerling’s cultural-historical novel Aspasia (1876) about the great Aspasia of Miletus. The young Elza Rozenberga was attracted to Aspasia’s exceptional life and accomplishments, as well as to her knowledge , which had influenced great thinkers such as Plato, Pericles and Socrates. Ironically for the future life of Elza Rozenberga , Aspasia’s work survived only through the voices of the men she had inspired. In a similar vein, even nowadays, Aspazija is valued not so much for her own works, as for her influence on and assistance to the poet Rainis, her life-long partner. For ten years, Elza Rozenberga studied at Doroteja’s school for girls in the city of Jelgava. Under the pen-name of ‘Kalna’ (literal translation: ‘She-Mountain’), Rozenberga published her first article in the newspaper Baltijas Ve -stnesis (Baltic herald). In 1886, she married Vilhelms Maksis Valters who, in accordance with contemporary marriage law, became the legal owner of her homestead property, subsequently lost it and later disappeared after leaving for America. Together with her relatives, Rozenberga moved to the city of Jelgava, where she held several jobs to support her family. Her first poem, published under the new pen-name of ‘Aspazija,’ appeared in 1887 in the newspaper Dienas Lapa (Daily paper). In 1888, she took part in a contest arranged by the Rı-ga Latvian Society (which was at the helm of the Latvian national awakening movement in the second half of the nineteenth century). Her play Atriebe -ja (She—the avenger) won first prize but was never staged due to stringent criticisms by members of the contest commission, who wanted to see a happy ending. Even reworked , the play was not staged because of its critical representation of the economic and social colonization of Latvian peasants by despotic Baltic German oppressors. 38 In 1891–93, Aspazija, while working as a private teacher, wrote the social drama Vaidelote and the poem “Saules meita” (The daughter of the sun) about women’s experiences and values. In 1893, she began working at the Latvian Theater in Riga as a playright, and was introduced to the cultural, poetic and artistic milieu of Riga. She also tried to launch an acting career, but soon gave up. The following year, this theater staged Aspazija’s Zaude -tas tiesı-bas (Lost rights), which explored a young working woman’s insecurities, the social and sexual pressures restricting her choices in life, and society’s double standards. In the same year, The Latvian Theatre in Riga staged Aspazija’s earlier work, Vaidelote, in which she employed mythology to represent a woman’s struggle against prejudice and dogma, her right to live and feel on her own terms. Aspazija’s plays caused controversy in a society that was coming to grips with modern ideas of women’s emancipation and rights. In the 1890s, Aspazija not only became a well-known journalist and literary critic, but also an outstanding figure in women’s groups connected with the organization Jauna - Stra -va (The new current), which she joined in 1894. Jauna - Stra -va fought against the Russian imperial power on the one hand, and local Baltic German rule on the other, but also openly supported women’s emancipation. This movement attracted a number of young women, still school students, from the educated circles of Latvian society, who linked the emancipation of women with the political and economic emancipation of the nation. Of all the social issues of her time, ‘the woman question’ and the debates it generated in Europe and in the Russian Empire interested Aspazija the most. She was particularly influenced by August Bebel’s Die Frau und der Sozialismus (Woman and socialism, 1879; published in Latvian in 1912). For Aspazija, the idea of a free Latvian nation was directly related to the overall emancipation of Latvian women. Together with other women from Jauna - Stra -va, she became an active supporter of women’s rights and emancipation, contributing to debates in Latvian literature and the press. Latvian women of the late nineteenth century could not organize political...


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