The Novel "The Time of the Land Surveyors", 1879, by Writers Reinis Kaudzīte (1839–1920) and Matīss Kaudzīte (1848–1926)
“The Time of the Land Surveyors” (Mērnieku laiki) by brothers Reinis Kaudzīte and Matīss Kaudzīte was the first novel written in the Latvian language and had a powerful impact on the subsequent development of Latvian literature. But beyond its artistic merits, it is also an invaluable social document of a time of great change in the countryside, as Latvians rapidly moved from their traditional agricultural way of life to modern nationhood.
The Kaudzīte brothers were teachers, writers and journalists from Piebalga in Vidzeme. The novel tells the story of two fictitious families from the area, the Gaitiņš and Oliņš clans, over a 25-year period in the second half of the 19th century. Land surveyors arrive in the fictitious parishes of Slātava and Čangaliena to draw fixed boundaries, and conflicts, comic mishaps and the less pleasant sides of human nature emerge in the struggle to benefit from this new order in the rural way of life.
The novels psychological depth derives from the interplay between older people resenting the rapid changes to their world (such as Ilze, Annuža and Tenis), those welcoming the new age (Prātnieks, Pietuks Krustiņš), and those on the fence (Ķencis, Pāvuls). It satires the social mores of the age, such as the tendency of social climbers to adopt German manners, as well as providing a detailed historical picture of the social structure of Latvian country life in that era. The authors succeeded in bringing forth the colour of Latvian life while telling a universally human story.
The illustrations by Eduards Brencēns (1885–1929) for the novel’s edition of 1913 have become synonymous with the novel itself.
“The Time of the Land Surveyors” became the first Latvian literary work to attract attention abroad. In 1880 an abridged version of the novel was translated into Russian, followed in 1883 by a German version. In 2012, translator Valdis Bisenieks produced a new German translation – “Landvermesserzeiten“.
“The Time of the Land Surveyors” has been made into many theatre productions over the years, including annual open-air performances in Vecpiebalga. A feature film based on the novel was made in 1968, directed by Voldemārs Pūce (1906–1981), followed by another film in 1991 by Varis Brasla (1939).
Manuscript of the novel “The Time of the Land Surveyors” and brothers Kaudzītes handwritings in the collection of the Literature and Music Museum. (2014). Told by the museums employee Māra Eņģele. Literature and Music Museum.
Kencis' prayer and other fragments of "The Time of the Land Surveyors" [vynil record]. (19--). Rīga: Radiofons. The original is in the Literature and Music Museum. National Library of Latvia, Audiovisual collection, Latvian historical shellac record collection.
Guntis Berelis on brothers Kaudzītes in the Latvian Culture Canon, 2008. (in Latvian)
Kaudzīte, Reinis, Kaudzīte, Matīss. (1913). Mērnieku laiki. A story. 4th edition. Rīga: Latvijas grāmatu un nošu drukātava. (in Latvian)
Pogramme of Matīss Kaudzīte's 75th anniversary celebration in the Latvian National Theatre on 1 October 1923. National Library of Latvia, Collection of Small Prints. (in Latvian)
Writers brothers Kaudzītes home and workplace Kaibēni: [brochure]. (1964). Cēsis: Cēsu novadpētniecības muzejs. National Library of Latvia, Collection of Small Prints. (in Latvian)
Novel "Mērnieku laiki" – 100: [brochure]. (1979). Cēsis: Brothers Kaudzītes Memorial Museum. National Library of Latvia, Collection of Small Prints. (in Latvian)
Guntis Berelis on brothers Kaudzītes in the Latvian Culture Canon, 2008.