Ciril Kosmač (1910–1980)

Ciril Kosmač - Biography and works, Mladinska knjiga, Ljubljana 2010. Photo: STA

December 2010

Ciril Kosmač is among the most prominent Slovenian prose writers of the 20th century. A writer of the mid-20th century, his work is concentrated into the three decades from the beginning of the 1930s to the end of the 1950s, with the Second World War as a dividing line in his life and work. His oeuvre, which is not particularly extensive, is dominated by short prose pieces which, in one or two cases, are closer to the novel in terms of length and scope. All his works, however, are highly accomplished in expressive, linguistic and stylistic terms, and polished to perfection. For literary historians and theorists, Kosmač is a difficult writer to pin down, since his literary works elude rigid definition. In terms of both his origin and the themes he dealt with, he belongs to the generation of social realists. This initial orientation, however, did not prevent him from crossing over in his writing into fantasy and approaching more contemporary literary styles, although he was not a modernist. With his creative sensitivity, particularly in the years immediately following the Second World War, he broke through the rigid frameworks of Socialist Realism, in this way opening new creative horizons to his younger contemporaries – particularly since in terms of his own character and upbringing he was broadminded and cosmopolitan.

Thematic backgrounds of Kosmač's prose works

Two notable works by Kosmač are the novel Pomladni dan [A Spring Day] and the novella Tantadruj, both of which derive thematically from the village environment in which Kosmač spent his youth. The greater part of Kosmač's other novellas are also tied to this environment.  Kosmač was born in the Primorska village of Slap ob Idrijci, in that part of Slovenia which, following the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire after the First World War, was assigned under the 1920 Treaty of Rapallo to the Kingdom of Italy, soon to come under Fascist rule, and thus separated from the rest of Slovenia, which became part of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. Among the Slovenians of Primorska there was spontaneous resistance to the Rapallo border and Italian Fascism from the very beginning. During the interwar period the Fascist authorities used brutal measures to try and crush the national consciousness and identity of Slovenians in Italy. This spontaneous resistance became organised action in the form of the illegal TIGR movement. Kosmač was involved in the work of this organisation while still a schoolboy and was arrested by the Fascist authorities and accused of terrorist activity. Because he was still a minor, however, he was acquitted at the 'Trieste Trial' which resulted in the condemnation to death and subsequent execution of four Slovenian patriots. Shortly afterwards, in 1931, Kosmač fled to Ljubljana, where he worked in organisations of Slovenian emigrants from the areas occupied by Italy after the First World War. He was also active in politics and journalism and as a writer. Towards the end of the 1930s he travelled to Paris on a scholarship from the French government. There, immediately before the start of the Second World War, he worked at the Yugoslav embassy before spending most of the war in London as an editor of Slovenian broadcasts for the BBC World Service. Before the end of the war he joined the partisans in Yugoslavia. After the war he worked as a journalist and newspaper editor and as a writer and consultant at Triglav Film, then the Slovenian state film company. He spent the last two decades of his life in Portorož, where he devoted himself to his writing. Even during his lifetime he was an undisputed literary authority. In 1961 he was elected a full member of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts

Kosmač and Slovenian cinema

Kosmač's works have been translated into some 20 languages, making him one of the most translated Slovenian authors. Also particularly notable is his work as a screenwriter, with screenplays based on his novellas. Through this work he was one of the founders of Slovenian cinema and among those responsible for its subsequent development. He wrote the screenplay for the first post-war Slovenian feature-length film On Our Own Land (1948), which was also the first sound film made in Slovenia. Later he wrote the screenplay for The Ballad of the Trumpet and the Cloud (1961), while the film comedy One Fine Day was based on one of his works.

Text by Albert Kos, Sinfo, December 2010