Vanessa Redgrave
Stane Sever


rance Prešeren is a legend, and legends have to be approached with caution. We do not doubt the literary value and importance of his work, both are indisputable and sometimes even underestimated. We are referring exclusively to the (too) frequent attempts to 'embellish' Prešeren's life. It is not difficult to see why this is done. His poetry - clear, independent and undoubtedly eternal - is in marked contrast with his rather sad and, above all, very unhappy life. This incomprehensible chasm produced such an uneasy feeling among the orderly and on the whole very obedient Slovenes, at least in previous generations, that we (they) preferred not to question the myth of Prešeren's endless goodness of heart, gentle nature, romantic dreaminess, free thinking and incorruptible principles, not to mention his physical attractiveness - the wavy black hair, the grey eyes, the gentle mouth, the decisive walk. In short, a kind of Super Prešeren.

  But the truth is not quite like that; the data we have on the poet's life are relatively modest and unreliable; one of the most important sources is, for example, the memoirs of Prešeren's daughter Ernestina, who was barely six years old when he died. Or those of his youngest sister Lenka, who was born in 1811, when France was already living with their uncle in Kopanje, preparing to enrol at the elementary school in Ribnica, and returning home to Vrba only during holidays and even then infrequently. Equally, we cannot objectively judge his appearance; there is no single reliable portrait of France Prešeren. A number of likenesses have been created on the basis of descriptions and testimonies from his contemporaries. And yet, there are enough sources for us to establish that our greatest poet was certainly not as he used to be described in the school text books and in the embellished descriptions of the literary historians. Prešeren was far from an exemplary figure, quite the opposite. But that does not matter: it is not important what Prešeren is not, but what he is. And here, there is no doubt: Prešeren is the greatest Slovene poet. Recognising this is the greatest service we can do his memory. And if we were to drain a glass on his behalf, France certainly would not mind. Your very good health!

  Boštjan Lajovic

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