Vuk Stefanović Karadžić

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(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

Vuk Stefanović Karadžić 1787-1864

(Also referred to as Vuk Stefanović, Vuk Karadžić, and Vuk) Serbian folklorist and language reformer.

Karadžić's contributions to Serbian culture stem from his interest in developing a national literature and language that would reflect and preserve the language, songs, and stories of Serbia's peasantry. His career is defined by two main areas of scholarship: the collection of Serbian folklore and the reform of Serbian language. Karadžić edited and published numerous collections of folksongs, folklore, and customs, as well as a Serbian grammar and dictionary. Because of his extensive documentation of the folk culture and the vernacular language of the Serbian people, Karadžić is affectionately known by his first name, Vuk, in his native country.

Biographical Information

Karadžić was born on November 6, 1787, in Tršić, Serbia, then under Turkish rule, in a village not far from Belgrade. His parents, Stefan and Jegda Joksimovic, were peasant farmers whose five previous children had all died in infancy. They named their sixth child Vuk, or wolf, to protect him from death. Little is known about Karadžić's early childhood except that he taught himself to read and write and briefly attended school at the monastery of Tronosa. His most valuable education came from living at home where he learned the folk customs, rituals, and songs that would inform his early writings. In 1804, a Serb uprising against the Turks resulted in a period of Serbian liberation that lasted until 1813. During this time Karadžić went to Austria where he attended school, learned German and Latin, and was exposed to Western culture. In 1808, Karadžić began to suffer from pain in his legs, feet, and hands; an undiagnosed illness affecting his left leg forced him to walk with a crutch for the rest of his life.

In 1813, when the Turks again conquered Serbia, Karadžić fled to Vienna. It was shortly after his move to Austria that Karadžić attracted the attention of Jernej Kopitar, an Austrian censor, by submitting an article written in the Serbian popular language. Kopitar became Karadžić's friend, advisor, and supporter; not only did he praise and publicize Karadžić's work but he also suggested directions for future scholarship. In 1814, Karadžić published his first collection of folksongs and a grammar to help readers understand his materials. Based on the positive response to these two works, Karadžić published another volume of folksongs the following year. In 1818 Karadžić traveled to Russia to seek intellectual and financial support for his research and writings, and then returned to Serbia to gather additional material for the second and third volumes of an enlarged, four-volume collection of folksongs. In 1823, Karadžić visited Jacob Grimm, who had written a positive review of the third volume of the folksongs, and who introduced him to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Between 1828 and 1832, Karadžić worked for Prince Milos Obrenovic, who had led a successful overthrow of the Turks in 1815. Karadžić's duties included teaching French to Obrenovic's sons, translating Napoleonic Laws into Serbian, and writing Serbian history. Karadžić's work for Obrenovic, and by extension for Serbia, ended in 1832 when Karadžić's alphabet and folksongs were condemned by the Orthodox Church as subversive and vulgar. The opposition to his work failed to discourage Karadžić, however, and in 1833 when he was permitted to re-enter Austria, he published the fourth volume of his expanded folksong collection in violation of the Church's ban. By 1835, much of the opposition to his work had subsided, and Karadžić was awarded a pension for service to his country. The pension and the official recognition that accompanied it enabled Karadžić to travel, collect material, and revise his earlier collections of Serbian folklore, culture, and history. Karadžić died in Vienna in 1864.

Major Works

Karadžić's interest in...

(The entire section is 1,205 words.)