Rūdolfs Blaumanis (1863–1908) was the founder of the realistic psychological narrative and drama in Latvia. After Blaumanis the question whether in a remote European and Russian province great literature can be created no longer existed. In Latvian literature Blaumanis was the first to formulate the thought that at some point must be topical for every literature and every writer, by remarking in a letter: "It is not important whether you describe a rose or a pile of manure; what is important is how you do it."

A journalist most of his life, Blaumanis was the author of many a feuilleton and satiric observation; he also wrote poetry. Yet the core of his oeuvre is about ten short stories, among them "Pērkona negaiss" ("Thunderstorm" (1887)), "Raudupiete" (1889), "Salna pavasarī" ("Spring Frost"), "Purva bridējs" ("Quagmire Runner") (both 1898), "Andriksons", "Nāves ēnā" ("Under the Shadow of Death") (both 1899), and several plays, including the drama "Indrāni" (1904). Blaumanis freed fiction and drama from too insistent a presence of the author and his views on what is "good" or "bad".  In Blaumanis’s fiction, Latvian literature for the first time wanted to see itself as literature instead of a moralizing commentary on various everyday situations. In other words, for Blaumanis text instead of some idea or ethical formula becomes paramount and what to do with it he leaves up to the reader. In the 19th century Latvian literature such a shift in emphasis represented a milestone: rejecting morality tales that tended to predominate in both prose and drama, Blaumanis turned to very real psychological and existential problems. For Blaumanis, literature became an art form.

Blaumanis’s narrative seems to be coolly observant: he is interested in facts, events, and the related psychological collisions. His short stories and drama are a confirmation that it is not just the urban "high society" where Shakespearean passions are found: all that is needed is a talented writer to see and describe them. The story plots tend to move to a tragic or at least a dramatic resolution, yet something always remains unsaid: a kind of "crack" remains in the text allowing one to peer into the bottomless depths of psychology and existence. That is the case in the short stories "Raudupiete", "Andriksons", "Salna pavasarī",  and especially in "Nāve ēnā", which, with its abstracted situation and problem of existential choice can be considered the beginning of 20th century Latvian literature. Similar principles are at the bottom of Blaumanis’s dramas as well. In "Indrāni", the classical father-son problem overgrows the limits of the quotidian plot and the precisely delineated era. Blaumanis’s plays lifted the Latvian stage art to a new level.

Guntis Berelis

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