Milos Crnjanski S Links With England

Milos Crnjanski's Links with England

By Dušan Puvačić

Milos Crnjanski's (1893-1977) links with England began long before he came 'temporarily' to London in August 1941, summoned by the Yugoslav Premier, General Simovic (1882-1962), to work in the legation as his 'press counsellor'. There are no records of Crnjanski's father having been an Anglophile; it is certainly not the case that only English tea was drunk in his household, as it was in the family of the Russian prince Nikolai Ryepnin in Roman o Londonu (The Novel about London). We know, however, that Crnjanski's interest in England began while he was still a boy; on the other hand, he did not take from home a devotion to everything English, as was the case with Ryepnin, whose story would later become instrumental in expressing Crnjanski's disappointment with England.
Crnjanski began to learn English when he was thirteen. In the 1920s and 1930s he occasionally wrote about English authors and even translated from English, but when, in 1941, he found himself in Bristol, in a situation which, according to his friend Milenko Popovic, 'started the war between Milos Crnjanski and Great Britain', he 'stuttered' when he spoke English. 'I know English well, but I still speak it with difficulty', he explained to the detectives who questioned him upon his arrival from Lisbon. They were surprised that a man who, as they had been informed, had a good knowledge of their language was answering their questions with difficulty.
Crnjanski felt that his knowledge of English was inadequate for the jobs in which he was involved in the 1930s as a diplomat, declining a transfer from Berlin to London in 1938 because he could not speak English well, and later acquiring a teacher of English in Rome (1939-40). These facts indicate that Crnjanski's interest in English language and literature was continuous although relatively marginal. His pre-war texts, in which one can notice the first traces of his interest in England, indicate how far this was secondary relative to his central concerns, and that the knowledge he had was fragmentary, superficial and gathered mainly from non-English sources.
At the time when Crnjanski was starting to make his mark in literature, there were very few people in Yugoslavia who had an expert knowledge of English language, literature and theatre. A man as vain as the young Crnjanski undoubtedly enjoyed flaunting his exotic erudition. As early as 1921, in Dnevnik o Carnojevicu (The Diary about Carnojevic), for instance, Crnjanski refers to English literature (Yorick, Romeo and Juliet, Lord Byron, Elizabeth Browning), and skillfully incorporates two English phrases – ‘Thou art hearing’, and ‘Mad, bad and dangerous to know’ - in describing the encounter in Vienna between the narrator of the novel and his 'double', the young 'Sumatraist' from Dalmatia. Similar examples of erudite pretentiousness occur in his Price o muskom (The Tales about the Male), particularly in the stories O bogovima (About Gods) – where he mentions the British Museum, bush of feathers, burgonet, crest - and Legenda (A Legend).
Legenda is certainly the most English of all the texts mentioned above. This story of the shameless love of Queen Elizabeth for a young monk who 'does not have the desire for a woman's body' and rejects her royal charms, yet out of mere pity succumbs to the pressures of the lowest harbour whore, is a belated example of decadent fin de siecle literature. This lascivious melodrama, where the lyrical and the erotic complement and support each other, gave Crnjanski the opportunity to flaunt his erudition again. An enormous number of both historical and pseudo-historical characters, both from England and the continent, are mentioned without any substantial narrative justification. From all the pages of this lyrical legend, in which the author self-consciously employs features of the chronique scandaleuse, the most impressive paragraph is a short description of the English capital which directly anticipates the later, and far more complex and comprehensive vision of that town, as developed in his Roman o Londonu:

“Then, London, in the fog, was fathomless and shapeless, and was black and dark like a sea gulf, full of rocks, and black unfortunate galleys. Their masts, piercing the dark sky, did not fly the happy, silk banners of the blue heaven. London was black and stank like a huge corpse… Only in the afternoon the sun would some out, exhausted and bleeding from the fight with the fog. Then the crowd would happily rush around and stop in front of shacks resounding with laughter. There, an actor called Shakespeare made up all sorts of farces, so that one could burst with laughter and cry to one's heart's content until it was pitch-dark…”

How much Crnjanski held to his early links with English literature is evident in the fact that many years later he proudly remembered that he was the first to translate Shakespeare's sonnets in the prestigious Belgrade literary review Srpski knjizevni glasnik, or that 'already in 1920', in some magazine, he had mentioned John Donne.
However, in a long text on Shakespeare's sonnets, published in 1930 in Srpski knjizevni glasnik, except for sincere admiration for the English poet and his style, there was nothing which was Crnjanski's own or original. He himself admits that everything in that text was either translated or taken from the two-volume work on Shakespeare by the German critic Gustav Landauer. One critic, hostile towards Crnjanski, saw in this detailed summary of Landauer's book only a 'high-school compilation on Shakespeare'. In her essay on Crnjanski's non-fictional prose, the Serbian literary historian Ivanka Udovicki (1932-1992) notices that this essay is 'weaker than other Crnjanski essays… because here the author did not give free rein to his artistic imagination'. However, she analyses it with full respect and claims that Crnjanski's conviction of 'the close connection between the artist's experience and the act of creation' has here been transformed into 'a particular methodo-logical procedure'. On the other hand, she admits that Crnjanski, 'in the major part of the text… does not make any comments but only states ideas which are not his own'. However, she considers this essay important for scholars who wish to examine the author's poetics, his creative impulses, motivation, and methods of writing some of his essays. Ivanka Udovicki approaches this text as a eulogist of Crnjanski and with a distinct absence of critical rigour, attributing to it a greater importance than it actually deserves. Before proceeding with a discussion of the scope and importance attributed by her to this essay, one should perform a detailed comparative analysis of Landauer's original text, as well as of Crnjanski's adaptation, which he himself calls 'a mere review'.
Summarizing Landauer's book, Crnjanski also incorporates into his 'review' a large number of Shakespeare's sonnets, in the original and in translation.

“Only the original, and in no way can the translation reveal those unforgettable verses of the English 16th century. Our only intention is, by quoting an approximate translation of these words, to evoke in the reader the inkling of the boundless beauty of these sonnets”.

In order to make his reader better understand why Shakespearean sonnets can often be translated only approximately and why translation is sometimes completely impossible, Crnjanski points out that for some English words it is often difficult to find an appropriate equivalent in Serbo-Croat. He lingers especially at the 45th sonnet, and the words like ‘slight air’, ‘purging fire’ and ‘these present-absent’. It is certainly true that Crnjanski used the German translation from Landauer's book, and maybe even some renderings into French which he also mentions, while translating the complex and difficult language of Shakespeare. This con-clusion can be drawn from errors and imprecisions in his translations, which are more likely the result of his following other translators than of his own incapacity to comprehend the original text.
In his other two texts about English writers - a very short one on William Blake (1757-1827), and another, about twelve pages long, on Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) - Crnjanski mainly sum-marizes what he has read in other writers' books. 'One should be familiar with the life of Wilde in order to enjoy his books,' he wrote in 1920, in the introduction to The Picture of Dorian Gray, the work which was for him “the most brilliant novel about decadent English aristocracy”. Giving, in the first place, a sympathetic description of the life of the author who was for him primarily an aesthete, but also 'an ironic psychologist and impetuous moralist', Crnjanski did not try to moderate his opinion of Wilde: “No one has ever, with so much irony and wit, exposed morality and laws and stripped off their false masks”, claims Crnjanski. He does not even try to analyse or critically assess the works that he mentions, but mainly delights in them.

“There is no other book which could show art as more mysterious and magical than this one. It is full of sentences which could be engraved in gold and marble plaques. It is full of sentences which reveal new worlds in art; it is full of thoughts the likes of which nobody before him, or after him, has even expressed”,

he says of Intentions, unaware of how much Wilde had borrowed from Charles Baudelaire, (1821-1867) Théophile Gautier (1811-1872) and the American painter James McNeall Whistler (1834-1903) in the writing of these essays. Exaggerations and inaccuracies of this sort have their origins in the books which Crnjanski consulted and which he scrupulously refers to, either in the footnotes or in the texts themselves.
Before the Second World War, Crnjanski published three theatre reviews on the production of Shakespeare's plays: King Lear (1924), Julius Caesar (1925) and The Taming of the Shrew (1927). In this area Crnjanski writes with much more self-assurance, critical self-consciousness and originality. He was undoubtedly well acquainted with the European theatre, and he knew something about the production of Shakespeare's tragedies and comedies on the London stage. There is a thought running through all three texts that 'in spite of all necessary innovations' it is indispensable to perform the authentic Shakespeare, and that every 'severance' of his plays from the spirit and atmosphere of the time in which they originated is totally absurd. The European theatre of his time, he claims, is dominated by directors whose treatment of Shakespeare's works is completely arbitrary. For Crnjanski, Shakespeare was first and foremost an actor, a man of the theatre, and he writes accordingly about all these productions.

“Shakespeare loved acting for the sake of acting, an actor for being an actor, a role for the sake of a role, a mask and poetry. The relationship to the age, reality and history is totally obscure. The Elizabethan theatre cannot be used in the same way as Greek tragedy, which was written and performed for thousands and thousands of spectators; otherwise it leads to the false and the absurd”.

In his reviews, Crnjanski does not touch upon the text, the literary basis of the performance.
Comparing the Belgrade productions of Shakespeare's plays with the performances he saw in European capitals, Crnjanski gives the most praise to Branko Gavela's (1885-1962) direction of The Taming of the Shrew, because in that production there was 'something which resembled the stage of Elizabethan times'. His general attitude towards Shakespeare is most succinctly expressed in the following words: “Shakespeare is baroque English theatre, and it is less absurd to produce him in contemporary costumes, as they do in London, nowadays, than to turn him into a huge historical reality, for the masses, and for the sake of the masses”.
Crnjanski visited Britain for the first time in August 1937, on his way to Iceland. The visit was recorded in three articles which he published in the Belgrade daily paper Vreme. The first is political - Engleska ratna industrija uposlila je mase besposlenih (The English War Industry has Employed Masses of the Unemployed, 31 August); the other two deal with Scotland - Impresije iz Skotske (Impressions from Scotland, 29 August) and U gradu Marije Stjuart (In the town of Mary Stuart, 30 August). At that time he never even dreamed that he would return to Britain so soon and live in London for some twenty-five years (1941-1965).
The basic facts from the London part of Crnjanski's biography are too well known to be repeated here in any detail. The accumulated unpleasant experiences of England and the English, as well as of Yugoslav émigré circles; unsuccessful attempts to find a job which he could perform with pride and dignity; his failure to establish himself as a writer; the very status of a displaced person, all resulted in the bitterness and despair of a vulnerable and overly sensitive man. He poured out his feelings onto the pages of Roman o Londonu, the book which is the most comprehensive recreation and transposition of the English experiences of Milos Crnjanski and his links with England. However, I propose not to discuss this novel, firstly, because it deals with the experiences of a Russian prince rather than a Serbian writer; and, secondly, because I have written about it elsewhere.
Nevertheless, one episode should be mentioned. It was, according to Crnjanski's friend Milenko Popovic, the most decisive for Crnjanski's attitude towards Great Britain. All the more so because Crnjanski himself writes about it, in the fourth volume of his diplomatic memoirs, Embahade (Embassies). His version of the story is less dramatic but more or less identical with Popovic's interpretation. Although he was invited by the Premier of an allied government, Crnjanski arrived in Britain branded as a Fascist. He was aware of this while still in Lisbon and attributed this label to the intrigue of his Yugoslav compatriots. He never even suspected that the British, who questioned him on 21 August 1941, upon his landing in Bristol, could have some other intelligence information of their own about his pre-war activities in Belgrade and abroad.
This is how Crnjanski remembers his first day in England:

“There the police took us over and led us for questioning to a hut, both myself and my wife. Two detectives and a young officer questioned me, courteously but offensively.
They took away all my books, all my papers. They broke open the cigarettes which they found in a porte cigarettes in a suitcase. Perhaps they thought that poets put their spy reports in cigarettes? I held a diplomatic passport, and protested, but they did their job totally phlegmatically. Later, all my papers were returned to me in order.
They questioned me especially about my acquaintances in Rome- and about Count Ciano…
The detectives became increasingly rough, and even wanted to open sealed diplomatic mail, which I was taking from Lisbon to General Simovic. The young officer prevented this, cut short the questioning and brought in my wife. He put us politely onto a bus and took us to a hotel in Bristol”.

This kind of welcome, says Crnjanski, devastated his wife, while he himself, who had lain in Austrian prisons, accepted this 'with disgust, but calmly'. And he adds: “I say that we should consider this a silly comedy”. Popovic claims that this interrogation, and particularly the tearing of cigarettes lengthwise, and the spilling of the tobacco onto a newspaper had far more serious consequences than one would conclude from reading the description of the event in Embahade.

“At first, comforting myself, I thought that he wished to see whether something was written on the cigarette paper. But he did not even look at the paper. He was calmly tearing the cigarettes apart, watching me with one eye and the window behind my back with the other.”

Popovic quotes Crnjanski and continues:

“Perhaps the interrogator was at that moment, for whatever reason, mentally absent; perhaps it was his personal disposition; perhaps Great Britain was not behind the way he behaved; but Milos Crnjanski, a mature man with a firmly established outlook, an intellectual individualist with precisely moulded rules of fair play, was offended to the core of his being, and so the war started between Milos Crnjanski and Great Britain…
Others, whether Yugoslav or foreign, would have got over it quickly, but not Milos Crnjanski. Perhaps the English later forgot everything, but Crnjanski not a bit. He complained on many occasions about those cigarettes”.

However, that was not the only unpleasant surprise awaiting him as he took his first steps in England. He experienced Bristol, all in ruins, as a phantasmagoria; the old, smoky, and sooty Bristol railway station reminded him of a Dickens novel, whereas 'We had expected it to be like the modern ones in Leipzig or Rome'. From the train, Bath appeared to him 'as a red row of brick houses which resembled hen-coops', while London suburbs were 'all identical, all the same, ugly. England is full of such surprises', says Crnjanski as he sums up his first impressions, suggesting that surprises of this and other sorts were to be found wherever one turned.
Crnjanski arrived in London in a state of increasing irritation with England and the English. And since his first official assignment in London ended in a 'catastrophe', it is not surprising that his irritation only increased in the years to come; it was made worse by his conviction that he was constantly under police surveillance, followed and watched. He thought that BBC radio programmes for Yugoslavia were very bad, and so he expressed his dissatisfaction to Simovic. Eventually he discussed the matter with Miss Elizabeth Hill (1900-1996), a lecturer in Russian at the University of Cambridge and the head of a department in the Ministry of Propaganda. 'She speaks our language, as the Russians do', comments Crnjanski. Miss Hill rejected his criticism, arguing that her London friends, the press attaché Jeftic and the poet and philosopher Dimitrije Mitrinovic (1888-1953), 'claim that we have a very good programme'. But this was not the end of the conversation. Miss Hill at first tried to get rid of him, giving the excuse of being 'very busy'; then she let him know that she had heard that as attaché in Rome he was 'very enthusiastic about Fascism'; and worst of all, she later complained to his superiors, accusing him of demanding, on behalf of Simovic, that the Yugoslav section of the BBC be handed over to him. Afterwards he was upbraided by Simovic, and almost resigned his post. 'My VOICE was never heard on London radio', says Crnjanski with characteristic bitterness. 'Today, I am pleased about that'.
Immediately afterwards, in the section of his memoirs which follows the account of this 'catastrophe', with a disdain typical of his writing about England, Crnjanski, without mentioning her by name, attempts to disqualify Miss Hill as a person appropriate for her job. He writes:

“I was a student at Vienna University, so I had the opportunity to see Slavonic studies in Vienna. I was also a student at the University of Berlin, and saw Slavonic studies there as well.
Working in the legation in Rome, I had the opportunity to meet professors of literature and Slavonic languages in Rome, too, and I find that their knowledge of the Slavs was of a very high standard.
I was also, for some time, a student at the Sorbonne in Paris, and Slavonic studies are of a very high standard there as well. They are, in my opinion, worst at the University of Cambridge and Oxford, and as far as the interest for Slavonic studies is concerned, in 1947 there were 3, literally three students who were interested in Slavonic studies in England, excluding Russian studies, for which no greater interest was shown.
This fact can explain a lot of things to the reader of these memoirs”.

There is undoubtedly some truth in his words, but they are aimed not only against Miss Hill. They are also a result of Crnjanski's accumulated dissatisfaction with his circumstances in England. One should not forget that Crnjanski himself unsuccessfully attempted to obtain a post as a lecturer in Serbo-Croat in Cambridge, and that, instead of him, the position was given to a Serbian Orthodox priest, Irinej Djordjevic, former vladika of Dalmatia. Such a cynical and jesting attitude towards the British who had anything to do with Yugoslavia was conditioned by his conviction that among them there was practically nobody for whom it could be said that they were right for the job they were doing. “Europeans are often wrong about the English, and they are wrong about who is important for the English. However, English people, even when they want to, often do not know who is who”, Crnjanski writes in Volume 4 of his Embahade and “In any case, confusions are, in English heads, common”. To prove this, he quotes some mistakes from Encyclopaedia Britannica, 'which is considered in Europe, the gospel of English knowledge and accurate facts'.
In about twenty articles, published as an appendix to Volume 4 of Embahade, Crnjanski mercilessly exposes those 'confusions'. Filled with destructive, negative charges, his pen notes mainly those details which deserve to be ridiculed. Whether he translates or summarizes them, Crnjanski rarely comments on them; he is convinced that anyone who reads them will be on the same wave-length as he, and that they will feel the same revulsion towards that sort of 'expert opinion'. He thinks that it is sufficient for him to emphasize those funny examples of ignorance or animosity towards Serbs, and to a lesser extent Croats, by printing them in capital letters or accompanying them with exclamation and question marks. But when he does decide to comment upon them, he is either scathingly mocking, or destructively critical. For example, The General Histories of the Turks by Richard Knolles (c.1550-1610) is 'a galimatias … of archaisms, mixed up geographical and personal names, titles and correct facts of the time', while in the text of the comical opera The Siege of Belgrade, by an anonymous author, there dominates 'a characteristic muddle of brains and morality'.
Neither has he a single word of approval for Rebecca West's (1892-1983) Black Lamb and Grey Falcon. His comment on this book, which he admits is 'considered … a classical work about our country and our people', consists of a list of curiosities in which he recognizes a characteristic lack of knowledge and understanding of the country she writes about. He finds a similar list in reading a book about village life in Yugoslavia, written by Olive Lodge (1915-1953) who in 1941 'as "our friend and expert"', was employed in the Yugoslav government information depart-ment; the same applies to There’s a German Right Behind Me by Claire Hollingworth, who happened to be in Yugoslavia at the time of the German attack on 6 April 1941. Here are some representative examples of Crnjanski's criticism by quotation:

“The most dangerous occupation in Yugo-slavia, according to Miss Lodge, is not to fight the battle at the "Slivica". The most dangerous occupation in our country is to be a teacher. Pupils' pistols explode at the end of the school year, and so the teachers have to carry pistols as well.”

“In Pristina, she says, the people say that ‘bed-bugs bring luck’".

“She says that (in 1929) on Macedonian railways she read the following inscription: ‘Kill bed-bugs, the dead ones should be shown to the ticket collector!’"

“In Serbia, she says, pigs are treated as members of the family! In the case of emergency they are saved BEFORE CHILDREN.

“Dogs in Serbia are kept hungry. They let them loose only at night to guard the house from wolves, BEARS and the like”.

Crnjanski is equally hurt, or cheered up as he puts it, by the writing of Claire Hollingworth. Copying and translating from her book, he writes in brackets the original English phrases which, obviously, irritate him the most:

“In Dalmatia peasants live along the coast, but up in the mountains are people who are practically cannibals”.

“She says, however, that ‘Hungarians have a charming English-speaking aristocracy’”.

“’Macek is’, as she says, ‘a stupid old man’. She had lunch with him…”

“When Stojadinovic was having lunch with Prince Paul, the Prince was constantly afraid that Stojadin would drink the water meant for washing one's fingers in.”

“On the day she writes all this she admits that SHE DID NOT WASH HER FACE.”

“’Belgrade’, she says, ‘is a monstrosity of a modern city’, and ‘she could feel little sadness that the Germans have now destroyed it by bombing!’”

Quoting these last words, Crnjanski is asking himself what kind of a person could have written such a sentence during a war in which the city where the book was published had itself suffered tragic losses from German bombs. Crnjanski suggests that the lack of basic human decency and sympathy for the victims of that bombing, and the apparent lack of awareness that they even exist, make Claire Hollingworth's writing a drastic example of inhumanity.
However, he not only criticizes those texts in which his country and people are treated arrogantly, with lack of respect, with derision and in a misleading way. He is equally censorious towards those historians, politicians and political commentators in whose actions and words were reflected the traditionally hostile policies of Great Britain towards Serbia and Yugoslavia. “England, throughout the 19th century, has been not only the best ally of Turkey and the worst enemy of Serbia - in the diplomatic area - but also of Montenegro and the Montenegrins”, he says, stating an undeniable historical fact. He notes the continuation of that policy into the 20th century.
For instance, in order to prepare his readers for Winston Churchill's (1874-1965) books about the Second World War, he offers a few examples from Churchill's The World Crisis which show clearly that during the First World War the British statesman sided with Bulgaria, and against Serbia, and from The Unknown War in which the author viewed the question of the annexation of Bosnia and Hercegovina by the Austrians in 1908 exclusively from the point of view of British interests. What embittered him particularly was Churchill's unfounded claim that the Serbian Prime minister Nikola Pasic (1845-1926) knew about the preparations for the assassination of Franz Ferdinand (1863-1914) in Sarajevo, and his assertion that a monument erected by Gavrilo Princip's (1894-1918) fellow countrymen 'records his infamy and their own'. In a similar ironic way, Crnjanski draws our attention to Stanley Casson's (1889-1944) statement, 'worthy of attention', that the glory for all the victories in the Balkan wars and on the Salonika front in the First World War should be attributed to the Greeks; he reserves a similar comment for the work of Henry Baerlein (1875-1960), A Difficult Frontier, which, in his mind, clearly shows that England was 'the main enemy of Serbia in the matter of the border with Albania'.
When, in the few books written by more objective and less anti-Serb writers, Crnjanski came across confirmation of his deeply felt belief that the English had dealt unjustly with his country, he quotes from them as if they were precious allies in the crusade against England. One of these writers was the British diplomat Sir Neville Henderson (1882-1942). In his two books of diplomatic memoirs, Water Under the Bridges and Failure of a Mission, he talks 'very warmly' about the days he spent both in Serbia, before the First World War, and in Yugoslavia after the war. Crnjanski approvingly quotes Henderson's claims that for years it was expected of him to 'exert pressure in Belgrade in support of Bulgaria'; that the British press was always anti-Yugoslav and 'far more friendly towards our late enemies, either Bulgarians or Hungarians, than our gallant and loyal allies the Serbs'; 'as for the Foreign Office, almost anybody was to be preferred to our late allies the Serbs'. Crnjanski twice refers to Henderson's claim that the English King George V (1865-1936) liked the Bulgarian King Boris (1894-1943), because he could speak English, but that he did not care for the Serbian King Aleksandar Karadjordjevic (1888-1934) because he could not, and also because he considered him the 'murderer' of King Aleksandar Obrenovic (1876-1903) and his wife Draga (1866-1903). Prejudices and half-truths, the lack of understanding for the historical role and interests of his country, the ignorance of its idiosyncrasies and the absence of a sincere effort to investigate it objectively, provided a polemical reader like Crnjanski with an abundance of material for his critical analysis.
But in writing about the links between his country and England, Crnjanski did not always take this hostile position. When he moved away from the sensitive areas of history, politics, and current affairs, he wrote with less polemical fervour, although he continued to be as passionate and probing as before. In the four texts published in the Belgrade weekly Nin in 1964, investigating the prehistoric links between the Balkans and the British Isles, Crnjanski re-discovered his youthful interest in archeology.
Inspired by the conviction of the American archeologist, Professor Albright, that the names of hills and rivers 'are sometimes preserved for thousands of years' - Crnjanski read Ptolemy's antique maps and studied ancient monuments of Ireland, Wales, England and Scotland, discovering parallels between 'philological traces in the names of hills and rivers' in Britain and the Balkans. “The majority of British hills were later, following invasions from the North, given Scandinavian and Anglo-Saxon names, but in antique maps… they are still Celtic”, Crnjanski discovers. On the other hand, the Slav archeologists who researched the settling of the Balkans argue that geographical names in the area were of purely Slavonic origin. However, Crnjanski maintains that they are almost all Celtic. “Every philologist will easily and immediately notice that… The illusion that the names Sava, Drava, and the like are Slavonic is dispelled by the mere fact that ‘aw’ and ‘dur’ are Celtic roots in those names, meaning water”.
Crnjanski gives long lists of names of rivers, mountains and islands discovered in ancient maps of the British Isles, and establishes the phonetic similarities between their roots and those in the geographic names used in the Balkans. These common Celtic features 'should not, perhaps, by themselves be so unusual… What is surprising is their Slavophony'. For example, the names of two Scottish rivers, Derwent and Ram, 'are not only Slavophonic, but they can be found in Bosnia, an eminently Celtic area in prehistory'.
For a British professor, the prehistoric names of the tiny Scottish rivers, Lado and Malena, were 'simply fun'; Crnjanski, however, is convinced that they are Slavonic. He thinks that this Slavophony certainly cannot be accidental, and it proves 'prehistoric contacts and links' caused by migrations. He himself attributed great importance to these investigations. Writing about them, he rediscovered the importance of migrations - the central theme of his literature - in the history of mankind, and found tangible evidence for what he himself considered his 'crazy' Sumatraist theory of hidden links between apparently distant and unrelated phenomena.
One feels that Crnjanski had to leave England in order to be able to stop writing and thinking about it in a hostile way. Only a few years after his return to his native country in 1965, he published in the Belgrade literary paper Knjizevne novine, in 1973, a series of essays on his favourite English poets: Geoffrey Chaucer (1340-1400), Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593), Walter Raleigh (1552-1618), John Donne (1572-1631), P. B. Shelley (1792-1822), as well as on some of the features of contemporary English poetry. The overall title of these essays, Moji engleski pesnici (My English Poets), itself suggests that between Crnjanski and the writers he discussed there existed a close relationship, something which linked them not only in a literary and intellectual way, but also in intimate human terms. “What primarily attracted me to these poets is their poetical destiny, their personal tragedies in their poetry, what the English call personal feeling”. And when he writes about their work, Crnjanski emphasizes first of all those elements which are similar to traits in his own poetry. The very poets that he writes about are his chosen kin.
In Chaucer, for example, Crnjanski saw the first English poet who was primarily European; what attracted him to his poetry was his love of nature, the combination of lyrical melancholy and despair, 'the gait of the drunken man who knows that somewhere he has a house, but doesn't know how to find it'. Marlowe was attractive to Crnjanski because of the way in which his own personality was incarnated in the characters of his plays, and because he was once 'clothed in silk, and later had to beg'; besides, he was 'a thorn in the side of some ruffians from the Court', as well as an 'intellectual and a melancholic'. Raleigh, on the other hand, brought into his poetry 'his life, his wars, his victories, his tragedies, and turned them all into verse'; his is the poetry of 'a man of action, of adventures, of an important historical and intellectual character, who knows the world and its people, and life'. This man, 'even when he was in disgrace, and in a dungeon… had a constant desire to return to his homeland', although many people ridiculed 'this provincial love'.
Crnjanski had a special liking for John Donne. He admired Donne's intellectualism, his passion for learning, his morbid sadness, his melancholy, his cynicism and modern, almost Kierkegaardian sense of the passage of time. Above all, he was fascinated by the 'duality' of his life - 'the first half, when he was young, was spent in romantic adventures, in the revolt against his own world. In the second half he became a preacher of human death'.
Among the English Romantics, Shelley, as a poet attached to Italy, was Crnjanski's favourite, and his poetry, 'obviously the result of an absurd life', was the closest to him, particularly those stanzas which 'reveal an emigrant from England who is aware that he has lost his native land for ever'. Shelley was a lonely intellectual, a poet whom 'a foreign country… exile' changed greatly, and who achieved 'the peak of his poetic ideals' when away from home. Like Crnjanski.
Crnjanski, symptomatically, concludes his survey of the poets who made their mark in modern English poetry with an analysis of a poem by John Fuller (b. 1937). In a Railway Compartment is, as Crnjanski describes it, 'a gruesome poem about a sex-maniac' who becomes 'a symbol of the dark side of the London moonlight'. The life of a poet is identified both with the life of a modern industrial metropolis, and with that of the lonely individual living there amongst millions. John Fuller's contemporary London does not differ much from the London of Crnjanski's novel.
In his stimulating account of his English poets, Crnjanski evokes one of his essential English experiences: “During the twenty years I spent in London, I came to the conclusion that those deep rifts between generations do not exist, but that the past returns to the present - although it changes into something else”.

Embahade IV, Izabrana dela, Belgrade, Nolit, 1983, Vol. XIV, p. 36)
Ibid., p. 64.
Ibid., p. 33.
Milenko Popovic, Crnjanski izmedju dva sveta, Belgrade, 1984, p. 89.
Embahade IV, p. 33.
Dnevnik o Carnojevicu, Izabrana dela, Vol. II
Izabrana dela, Vol, II
Izabrana dela, Vol. II
Ibid. p. 178-9.
Embahade IV, p. 33.
Eseji, Izabrana dela, Vol. XII, p. 173.
Ibid., p. 198.
Novak Simic, 'Milos Crnjanski - u povodu putopisa 'Ljubav i Toskani', Knjizevnik, No. 9 (1930). Quoted in Vladimir Bunjac, Kamenovani Crnjanski, Valjevo, 1986, p. 84.
Ivanka Udovicki, 'Eseji Milosa Crnjanskog', in Knjizevno delo Milosa Crnjanskog, P. Palavestra & S. Radulovic (Eds.), Belgrade, 1972, p. 326.
Ibid, p. 327.
Ibid., p. 326.
Ibid., p. 327.
Eseji, Izabrana dela, Vol. XII, p. 271.
Ibid., p. 218.
Ibid., p. 256.
Ibid., p. 259.
Ibid., p. 256.
Ibid., p. 258.
Ibid., p. 306.
Ibid., p. 305.
Ibid., p. 302.
Ibid., p. 307.
Ibid., p. 302.
'Izgnanik ili problem samoce u Romanu u Londonu, in Knjizevno delo Milosa Crnjanskog, pp. 269-280.
Embahade IV, p. 27.
Ibid., p. 33-34.
Ibid., p. 34.
Popovic, Op. cit., p. 88.
Ibid., p. 34.
Embahade IV, p. 35.
Ibid., p. 42.
When I met Crnjanski in London, in June 1965, he claimed that he never drank tap-water, because he was certain that it was poisoned; and that he was constantly disturbed in his apartment on Queensway by the people living below and above him. He implied that behind these 'sinister forces' was either British Intelligence or hostile Yugoslav emigré circles.
Embahade IV, p. 40-42.
Ibid., p. 41.
Ibid., p. 80.
Ibid., p. 120.
Ibid., p. 130.
Ibid., p. 166-67.
Ibid., p. 138.
Ibid., p. 149-51.
Ibid., p. 165.
Ibid., p. 157.
Ibid., p. 171-75.
'Prvi pomeni Srba u Engleskoj', No. 703, 28 June; 'Arheoloske veze Balkana', No. 711, 23 August; 'Vendski trag u Britaniji', No. 717, 4 October; 'Otkud poticu imena nasih reka i brda', No. 721, 1 November.
'Otkud poticu imena nasih reka i brda', Nin, No. 721, 1 November 1964.
'Vendski trag u Britaniji', Nin, No. 717, 4 October, 1964.
They were later included in his Eseji, Izabrana dela. Vol. XII, pp. 138-93.
Ibid. p. 142.
Ibid., p. 140.
Ibid., p. 143.
Ibid., p. 149.
Ibid., p. 149
Ibid., p. 153.
Ibid., p. 151.
Ibid., p. 150.
Ibid., p. 150-58.
Ibid., p. 167.
Ibid., p. 176.
Ibid., p. 180.
Ibid., p. 182.
Ibid., p. 182.
Ibid., p. 192.
Ibid., p. 193.
Ibid., p. 192.
Ibid., p. 183.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License