Ivo Vojnović: Letters to Emka

The collection „Letters to Emka Krstelj“ consists of letters, photos and postcards belonging to (or sent by) a famous Dubrovnik poet and playwright Ivo Vojnović (1857-1929). The collection has around 200 items and they are all in Croatian.

By Dubrovnik Libraries

This collection of correspondence has been in Dubrovnik libraries since 1951 when it was purchased from Mrs Emka Krstelj. The Krstelj couple had been among Vojnović's closest friends ever since the two men were imprisoned in Šibenik together in 1914/1915.

Photograph 1918 Photograph 1918 (1918-03-02)Dubrovnik Libraries

Ivo Vojnović

Ivo Vojnović   (Dubrovnik, 9 October 1857 – Belgrade, 30 August 1929) was born in a prominent family in Dubrovnik. He was educated in Dubrovnik and Split and eventually Zagreb, where he studied law.   

Early professional life

Vojnović was devoted to theatre and was a playwright at the Croatian National Theatre in Zagreb until 1911, after which he decided to live as a professional writer and travelled to Italy, Prague, Budapest and Belgrade looking for work.

Photo after play 1903 Photo after play 1903 (1903) by Vojnović, IvoDubrovnik Libraries

"Ekvinocio (Equinox)", 1903

Photograph after the play "Ekvinocio", his famous social drama about life in 19th century Dubrovnik with the cast in Dubrovnik

Photo after play 1903Dubrovnik Libraries

Cast of "Ekvinocio"

One of the characters, "Blind Vlaho" was based on a real person and he actually played himself

World War I

Photograph from prison Photograph from prisonDubrovnik Libraries

Prison in Šibenik, 1914/1915

In July 1914, the Austro-Hungarian government accused him of high treason and he was arrested and imprisoned in Šibenik where his cellmate was Ivo Krstelj.  Emka often came to visit her husband and so a deep and strong friendship was formed for life.          

Photo from hospital 1916 Photo from hospital 1916 (1916-05-07)Dubrovnik Libraries

Hospital, 1916

In 1915, Vojnović was transferred from Šibenik to hospital in Zagreb.  

Photo from hospital 1916 Photo from hospital 1916 (1916-07-05)Dubrovnik Libraries

Hospital, 1916

Vojnović, Emka, and his roommate at the Sisters of Mercy hospital in Zagreb  

Letter 1917 (1917-05-24) by Vojnović, IvoDubrovnik Libraries

Letter, 1917

After World War I, Emka's husband Ivo Krstelj became  the governor of Dalmatia and later a minister in the government in the Kingdom of SHS in Belgrade.  

Letter 1917 (1917-05-24) by Vojnović, IvoDubrovnik Libraries

Letter, 1917 pt. 2

Upon Ivo's release from prison, both he and the Krstelj's lived in Zagreb for a while. Emka helped Ivo in those troubled times when he was unemployed and ill. In this letter, V. mentions the 2nd anniversary of his release from Šibenik.

Business card 1917 by Vojnović, IvoDubrovnik Libraries

Short letter, 1917

Vojnović is asking for help from Emka's husband in finding employment for a friend

Note 1917 (1917-06-26) by Vojnović, IvoDubrovnik Libraries

Note, 1917

Vojnović is thanking Emka for a favour and sending her a small painting

Even in very difficult war times Vojnović occasionally found work in the theatre. In 1918 he went to Osijek where his play was staged, and subsequently his work took him to Prague, as shown on these two postcards.

Postcard from Osijek 1918 Postcard from Osijek 1918, Vojnović, Ivo, 1918-02-13, From the collection of: Dubrovnik Libraries
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Postcard from Osijek 1918, From the collection of: Dubrovnik Libraries
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Postcard from Prague 1918 Postcard from Prague 1918, Vojnović, Ivo, 1918-05-17, From the collection of: Dubrovnik Libraries
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Postcard from Prague 1918, From the collection of: Dubrovnik Libraries
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1918 - the war ends

2 letters 1918, Vojnović, Ivo, 1918-10-29, From the collection of: Dubrovnik Libraries
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2 letters 1918, From the collection of: Dubrovnik Libraries
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Immediately after the War, Vojnović's play Death of mother Jugovići was staged in the Croatian National Theatre in Zagreb. The play itself was a political statement by the new SHS regime, which, at the time, Vojnović very much supported. In this letter he describes to Emka and Ivo his utmost joy, excitement and sense of accomplishment as he was being taken from hospital to theatre and back in a carriage on the evening of the opening night on October 27th, 1918

1919 - 1922 Nice, France

In early 1919, Ivo received a letter from his brother Lujo (who was in Paris at the time) asking him to join their ailing mother in France. After a three-day journey via Belgrade, Ivo first arrived in Paris where he stayed with Lujo for two weeks, and then took the train to Nice.

Family photos from Nice Family photos from Nice (Aout) by Vojnović, IvoDubrovnik Libraries

Ivo with his mother and sister in Hotel Bixby, Nice, 1919

Arrival to Nice and being reunited with his mother was a welcome change in Ivo's life.

Family photos from NiceDubrovnik Libraries

Nice, summer 1919

Visiting plays and concerts in France inspired Ivo to continue writing plays.

Photo of promenade in Nice, 1919-08, From the collection of: Dubrovnik Libraries
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In letters and postcards from 1919, especially after the peace conference in Paris, Ivo expresses his disappointment and concerns about European politics. His initial post-war optimism has subsided and he is very critical about politicians and their negotiations. Hence the mentioning of border ("granica") in this photo.

Back home in Dubrovnik

Ivo's mother died in Zagreb on the journey from France and was buried in Dubrovnik in 1922. Ivo spent his final years between Zagreb, Dubrovnik and Belgrade writing plays, working in the theatre and, of course, writing letters.

Last postcard to Emka Last postcard to Emka, 1928-01-05, From the collection of: Dubrovnik Libraries
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Last postcard to Emka, From the collection of: Dubrovnik Libraries
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Ivo's health deteriorated in 1927. He moved first to Zagreb and then to Belgrade where he died in hospital on August 30th, 1929. He wrote his last postcard to Emka, almost completely blind, in 1928.

2 photos from Nice 2 photos from Nice (1919-06) by Vojnović, IvoDubrovnik Libraries

Ivo Vojnović (1857-1929)

Ivo was buried in Dubrovnik, at St. Michael’s cemetery, which had once been portrayed so beautifully in his sonnets. The city officials organized a solemn public funeral and the sorrowful procession was attended by a multitude of citizens. 

Credits: Story

Text and layout:  Paula Raguž
Scan of exhibits: Vlaho Bazdan, Robert Kralj
Technical support: Marijana Krilanović

Author and project manager of virtual exhibitions Jelena Bogdanović (since 2020.) 
Concept of virtual exhibits for Dubrovnik libraries: Marijana Krilanović

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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