Ilka Vašte – a writer who transformed the past of Slovenia into novels from the past
Klotilda Franja Burger, later renamed to Ilka Vašte, was born on 2 June 1891 in Novo mesto. She was the first child of Franja Rohrmann and Anton Burger, a proud Slovene who often resisted his superiors with his hot-tempered and rebellious nature. Thus, he underwent penal transfer, first from Novo mesto to Kostanjevica na Krki, then to Ribnica and finally to Ljubljana, where Ilka went to school. She was an excellent student, the best one in the entire college; she graduated with honours, yearned for knowledge and read eagerly. She also wanted to paint. Her painting teacher was Ivana Kobilca, who recognised her talent and taught her in her own studio. Unfortunately, Ilka could not attend the academy of painting due to poor financial situation of her parents who found it difficult to pay even for her brother’s university study. She expressed her feelings about giving up painting in her autobiography Podobe iz mojega življenja (1964): “In the bitter mockery of my childhood humbleness, I was making fun of the brave fighters for the equality of women; but for the first time I was facing injustice just because I was a woman. I stepped in the shadow only because I knew my parents expected me to do it, but deep inside me I made a firm decision to work hard to get my own place in the sun ...” (p. 79)
Ilka was a person with an above-average intelligence and had a sincere, curt, rebellious and hot-tempered character, just like her father. Under the influence of liberal-minded writers (Sienkiewicz, Rousseau etc.) she became an atheist and stood up for the weak and suppressed. She took up her first job in Krašnja near Lukovica, where she also began to write (the essay titled Aljana). She got her next two jobs in Jesenice and in Breznica near Žirovnica. She was known as a demanding, but fair teacher. As she once said, she did not choose to be a teacher by herself, but was given this profession by the nature. In 1939, the managing staff of the Cyril Methodist Association sent her to Trieste, where she met Avgust Vašte, a member of Slovene minority in Trieste, who was a teacher, mountaineer, pianist and baritone singer. She fell in love with him and they got married. They had two daughters. This was the happiest period of her life. Unfortunately, World War I destroyed their family happiness. Avgust was inducted into the army. He came back in poor health and died of Spanish flu. Besides her husband’s death, Ilka was also hurt by the newly established borders. After the collapse of Austria-Hungary, Trieste was annexed to Italy and the young widow and her daughters moved to Ljubljana to live with Ilka’s mother and father. There, Ilka started to teach again and write novels. During the occupation, she cooperated with the Liberation Front of the Slovene Nation and became a secondary school teacher in 1945. The after-war life was difficult for her. She took up many political functions and was a strong support for her two daughters and a granddaughter. She has never married again. Here is how she described her life: “I was not spared from experiences, but everything was healed by the best medicine for emotional pain - work, the stiff obligation towards the children and the cold mind in mature ages.” All the burdens constantly exhausted her and she fell ill. She died on 3 July 1967 in Ljubljana and she carried on helping in the household and her younger daughter as well as literary work almost to the very end.
Ilka Vašte wrote for ordinary people and the youth. The literary critics have often (and still do) criticised her for her triviality, but she has never let critics hurt her. In 1921, she published tales named Pravljice in Trieste. Moreover, she wrote historical and autobiographical works for adults distinguished by their realistic writing style. She is one of the most prolific female novelists in Slovenia.
Most of all, her novel Roman o Prešernu (1937) should be mentioned. In this novel, she wanted to present France Prešeren, the greatest Slovenian poet, his life and the characteristics of the time in which he had lived. The novel has been reprinted many times, which proofs that it was well accepted among the readers. In 1940, Ilka dramatised the novel and named itVisoka pesem. The dramatised version was staged in the theatre Šentjakobsko gledališče in Ljubljana.
In her trilogy Zaklad v Emoni, Svet v zatonu and Mejaši she described the fights between the Slavs living in the Tolmin region and the Lombards. In the later period, she wrote the novels Umirajoče duše, Rožna devica iz dni Napoleonove Ilirije in pesnika Valentina Vodnika and Vražje dekle, taking place at the Bogenšperk Castle, where Janez Vajkard Valvasor lived, and in Krško. The last three novels taking place in the past - Gričarji, Upor and Izobčenec - deal with the life in Novo mesto. The main character in the latter novel is Janez Trdina, a Slovene writer and historian.
The fate of her last novel Žrtev novega življenja is somehow special - it was published only in spring 2017 by the Goga publishing house from Novo mesto. On request by Prešernova družba publisher in 1959, she wrote a story about the operations by young Communists before World War II, during the occupation and after the liberation. However, Miško Kranjec, who was the editor at Prešernova družba publishing house at that time, rejected it and claimed it is unconvincing and improper for publishing. Although Ilka adapted the novel on Mara, a medicine student and Communist, she has not decided to publish it.
Ilka Vašte deserves a special place among the Slovene writers for her literary work. The people from Novo mesto have not forgotten her and named a street in the town after her. In 1955, she received the award Trdinova nagrada for her works. The local studies section at the Miran Jarc library keeps many manuscripts, letters, photos and a book showcase featuring the first editions of her novels and other works. All the collected and preserved material forms an important part of the writer’s literature legacy.
Pozabljena polovica: portreti žensk 19. in 20. stoletja na Slovenskem. Ljubljana: Založba Tuma, 2007.
Emil Cesar: O romanu Žrtev novega življenja. In: Ilka Vašte: Žrtev novega življenja. Novo mesto: Goga, 2017.