Ioan Slavici needs no introduction if you’ve been paying attention, at least casually, in your school literature class. Whether you liked his writings or not, it is impossible not to remember Pădureanca, Moara cu Noroc, Popa Tanda or Mara.
Even so, perhaps you didn’t know that, apart from his writing activity, Ioan Slavici was also active for a good period in the press of those times, touching the political representatives, which obviously brought him hard times, being sent to prison several times.
He was imprisoned three times, but he managed to regain his freedom three times, despite repeated charges of “espionage” and “agitation”.
The great trials and failures of the man who was to become the great Romanian writer Ioan Slavici
The great Romanian writer Ioan Slavici was born on January 18, 1848, in Șiria, in the county of Arad, the son of a peeler who owned his own business. According to the testimonies, Slavici would have been a rather energetic child, often considered even naughty. He is said to have been very spoiled by his father, but his passion for writing and reading is said to have come from his grandfather, who wanted him to become a scholar.
He attended his first three classes in Șiria, and was later sent to study in Arad, where he learnt the secrets of the Hungarian language from the children he played with, and German from a teacher. Later, he attended a Hungarian high school.
In 1865 he transferred to the German grammar school, but as his father had made a bad business deal and was impoverished, he found himself in the position of taking a job as a tutor for a restaurant owner in Timișoara, where he was given board and lodging.
In 1869 he enrolled at the Law Faculty in Pest, despite the fact that his parents wanted their son to become a copyist at a notary’s office in order to be close to them. Unfortunately for them, Slavici stayed in this city for four years.
Later he arrived in Vienna, where he joined the army of the empire and was given room and board and was able to complete his studies. Or so he hoped.
He got to know Mihai Eminescu and founded with him the famous Young Romania Society (1871), which was obviously the beginning of a beautiful friendship between the two writers.
After graduating from university he returned to Șiria, but without many financial prospects.
At Eminescu’s urging, Slavici began to write memoirs and stories, making his debut in Convorbiri Literare with the comedy Fata de birău, later publishing Zâna Zorilor, Ileana cea șireată, Peștele pe brazdă, Florița din codru and Doi feți cu stella în frunte.
At the same time, he worked in Arad, where he found his first love as a teenager, a seamstress named Luiza. This period is marked by another series of troubles, as he is left by Luiza and his parents die.
However, he is helped by the Junimea to return to Vienna, where he fails to continue his studies as he had intended, being bedridden for several months by an infection in his left arm.
In 1875 Slavici married Ecaterina Magyarosy (whom he divorced in 1885), and at the same time began work on the volume Die Rumänen in Ungarn, Siebenbürgen und der Bukowina, published in 1881.
Years later he marries Eleonora Tănăsescu and, in the meantime, sets up an independent newspaper with a political niche, in which he aims to expose everything that government institutions do.
Ioan Slavici, sent to prison three times and released three times
In 1887 Ioan Slavici laid the foundations for the Memorandum of the Romanians of Transylvania and Hungary, which was to be signed in Sibiu in 1892, and this is where his real troubles began, as the writer came under the scrutiny of the authorities. He was accused of “agitation” and sent to prison in Vác, near Budapest, for one day in 1888. Eleonora, his wife, moves near the prison to be near him, as she is pregnant with their second child.
After his release from prison, between 1902 and 1904, he tried to build a spa resort in Bușteni, but the business was unsuccessful, and this sent him into bankruptcy, causing him to sell almost everything he had to support himself.
Still, he does what he does and recovers, and at the dawn of World War I, Slavici becomes editor of the Bucharest newspaper Ziua, a publication financed by the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In 1916, after Romania enters the war on the side of the Entente, Slavici is arrested again and sent to the Domnești fort, and his manuscripts confiscated and lost forever.
He is released the same year, a few months later, by the Romanian authorities because his actions could not be classified under the provisions of the espionage law, as he had originally been accused.
In January 1919 he was arrested for the third time and sentenced to five years in prison for collaboration with enemy forces, but was released in December of the same year.
In 1920 Slavici wrote the first draft of the memoir My Prisons, but also the novel The Last Soldier. In the last two years of his life he wrote the novel From Sin to Sin.
His novella, The Lucky Mill, was made into the film The Lucky Mill in 1955, directed by Victor Iliu. The 1976 film Dincolo de pod, directed by Mircea Veroiu, is also an adaptation of the novel Mara. The novel Pădureanca was screened in 1986, directed by Nicolae Mărgineanu.