The southern Slavs experienced the general European nationalist upsurge in the late 18th and early 19th cent. In Slovenia this nationalism, which received much of its impetus from Germany, was weakened by a conflict between religious and secular writers. In Croatia the writers looked to Italy for inspiration; in Serbia, to Russia. South Slavic intellectuals responded with enthusiasm to the Pan-Slavism of the Slovak Jan Kollár.
Among the Croatians a cultural movement known as Illyrianism (named after the state established by Napoleon after the defeat of Austria at Wagram in 1809) acted as a stimulant to literature. Illyrianism was suffused with romanticism and nationalism; the latter theme expressed itself throughout the 19th cent. partly in terms of antagonism to Austro-Hungarian rule. An effort at a popular, integrated literature was inaugurated by three early romantic leaders—the Croat Ljudevit Gaj (1809–72), the Slovene Jernej Kopitar (1780–1844), and the Serb Vuk Stefanović Karadžić. They developed a literary language based on popular speech. Karadžić was also a great folklorist; his collections helped stimulate the romantic-nationalist movement.
Benefiting from these beginnings, by mid-century the Serbian lyric poet Branko Radičević (1824–53), the Slovene poet and political satirist Stanko Vraz (1810–51), and the Croatian Ivan Mažuranić (1814–90)—whose epic The Death of Smail-Aga (1846, tr. 1918) tells of Christian-Muslim conflict in Turkish-ruled Herzegovina—had made important contributions to the movement. More technically perfect were the poems of France Prešeren (1800–1849), a disciple of Byron, and Petar Preradović, who cultivated medieval traditions. Considered far superior was the prince-bishop Petar Petrović Njegoš (1813–51), whose verse drama The Mountain Wreath (1847, tr. 1930) earned him the designation of the Montenegrin Shakespeare. Later romanticism is represented by Djura Jaksić (1832–78), writer of heroic, nationalistic dramas and poems, and Jovan Jovanović-Zmaj (1833–1903), a lyrical poet.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.