Dr. Lazar (Laza) K. Lazarević (1851-1891)

The founder of Serbian neurology and the author who first described and published the straight leg raising test

Sanja Drača

SerbianSerbian

Lazar K. Lazarević and literature

L.Lazarević - “Short stories”

The cover page of Lazarević’s “Short stories” published in Serbian in 1898.

L.Lazarević - Short stories 1903.

The cover page of Lazarević’s “Short stories” published in German in 1903.

Dr. Lazar K. Lazarević, as Anton Pavlovich Chehov, dedicated himself not only to his medical profession and science, but also to his literary instincts. Historians of Serbian literature valued L. Lazarević as the founder of psychological realism in Serbian prose, and he is called “Serbian Turgenev” (1). He is considered to be the creator of modern Serbian short story literature (2).

He began writing lyrics and collecting folk literature – dancing songs during his education at the primary school in his native town, Šabac. During his studies at Belgrade’s The Great School, his interest in literature continued growing. He translated Nikolay Gogol’s “Diary of a Madman”, and a part of Nikolay Chernyshevsky’s novel “What is to be done”.

During his life Lazarević wrote realtively little. The enormous efforts put in to working at the hospital and private practice left Lazar K. Lazarević barely any time for writing. He published only eight stories, leaving several unfinished. One story was published after his death.

His first published story, undoubtedly his best “To Matins with Father for the First Time” (1879) was immediately recognized as a great tale. Lazarević’s stories first appeared in magazines, but in 1886, after being encouraged by his friends, he published a book entitled “Six stories of Laza K. Lazarević”, which included: “To Matins with Father for the First Time”, “A School’s Icon”, “Well Done, Robbers”, “At the Well”, “Werther” and “The People Will Reward All of This”. The book was greatly welcomed by both readers and critics. After this book Lazarević published only two more stories: “The Wind” and “He Knows Everything”.

In 1898, seven years after Lazarević’s death, editors assembled the fragments from his story “The German Girl” and published it. As Lj. Jovanović wrote in 1898 in the preface to “Anthology of short stories of L. Lazarević” (1): “From the original manuscript “The German girl” it is clear how a single detail which at the beginning was just a word or short phrase is expanding and evolving into one of those parts of stone mosaic, that afterwards are assembled into entire lines and passages, which together make a perfect whole. They are all alive, natural, the result of Laza’s observations and studies, the result of his sensibility which does not remain indifferent for the things which could pass unobserved by some other kind of temperament who wouldn’t have even noticed them. And none of the selected details are redundant, although there are plenty of them in this short story; each of them contributes to a special characteristic or to the general narrative tone. In addition, they are not banal at all; we must admit that each of them, placed as it is, gives the impression of something new”.

Lazarević was above all interested in the inner world of his characters. He was a careful fabulist who excelled in fine detail, compact structure, and dramatic quality. He wrote with broad sympathy and with deep insight. He always paid much attention to the human soul, and the fact that he was fascinated with Tolstoy who was an exceptional connoisseur of the finest and the largest mental motions, is not surprising at all. Critics state that “he brought so much of his soul and himself into writing that, according to his own words, he was suffering with each story he wrote”.

From the records of Lazarević’s biographers on the day of his funeral, we can see how much he was respected by his readers: “a huge crowd of readers supported by the entire Serbian nation, were accompanied by immense crowds who have received the sad notice and have come to pay homage to the men who created a modern Serbian short story… The extraordinary individuals are distinguished by the traces left behind by them for future generations” (1).

Short stories of Lazar K. Lazarević are translated to numerous languages.

Lazarević’s best story “To Matins with Father for the First Time” (1879) in English is available online:  http://serbianstudies.org/publications/pdf/SS%2018_1_Full%20Text%20Volume-Reduced.pdf (Serbian Studies, Journal of the North American Society for Serbian Studies, 2004; vol 18, No1, 74)

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  1. Jovanović Lj. Foreword. Anthology of short stories of L. Lazarević. Srpska književna zadruga. Beograd-Zagreb, 1898. (Serbian)
  2. Lazarević LK. Short stories. Narodna knjiga. Beograd, 1961. (Serbian)