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Robert Elsie

Albanian literature: a short history

ISBN 1-84511-031-5
I.B. Tauris in association with the Centre for Albanian Studies, London / Palgrave Macmillan, New York 2005
vi + 291 pp.


    Albanian literature is a European literature and yet it has evolved in relative isolation from the mainstream of European culture. The Albanian people, who stem from the indigenous nomadic tribes of the southwestern Balkans, and who are at home in some of the roughest mountain terrain of the whole peninsula, consolidated their settlements far from the major crossroads of European civilization. Theirs was and continues to be a different, and quite unique European culture, and their written literature still reflects many of its particular characteristics. This is indeed one of the factors that make Albanian literature so fascinating.
    Unfortunately, very little has been written about Albanian letters, with the exception, of course, of works published in Albanian itself. At the international level, the subject is still largely neglected. This neglect derives primarily from the lack of international specialists with a solid knowledge of literary Albanian and is not due to any lack of creative literature itself.
    The present volume, Albanian literature: a short history, endeavours to fill the gap by providing a concise overview of the development of creative writing in Albanian. It focusses on the major authors and currents of Albanian literature from the earliest texts in the thirteenth, fifteenth and sixteenth centuries to the beginning of the new millennium, and is designed for the general reader who may not have any particular knowledge of the field. As such, it should serve as a useful reference guide for all those interested in Balkan cultures, in comparative literature and in European cultural history in general.
    Albanian literature was late to evolve, and its development, indeed its very existence, was threatened in many periods. The first book published in Albanian that we know of was written in 1555. Despite this and other early works, one can only really speak of a national literature in Albania from the late nineteenth century onwards.
    The tender plant of Albanian literature grew in a rocky soil. Time and again it sprouted and blossomed, and, time and again, it was torn out of the earth by the brutal course of political history in the Balkans. The early literature of Christian Albania disappeared under the banners of Islam when the country was forcefully incorporated into the Ottoman Empire. The still little-known literature of Muslim Albania withered in the late nineteenth century when the Albanians turned their backs on the Sublime Porte and strove to become an independent European nation. The solid beginnings of modern literature in the 1930s were weeded out ruthlessly by the Stalinist rulers who took power in 1944 and held onto it until 1990. Finally, the literature of Albanian socialist realism, which the communist regime had created, became outdated, untenable and unwanted the moment the dictatorship collapsed. Over long periods of their history, the Albanians were even forbidden by law to write and publish in their own language. A ban on Albanian-language books and schooling was in force throughout Albania virtually until the end of Ottoman rule in 1912, and a similar ban was maintained in Kosova under Serb rule, officially or unofficially, until the 1960s.
    Nonetheless, this tender plant has produced some stunning blossoms in that rocky and legendary soil, many of which merit the attention of the outside world.
    Albanian literature: a short history hopes to contribute to an awakening of interest in the field, but it can only be a first step. For further research, the English-speaking reader may consult my earlier, two-volume History of Albanian literature, New York 1995, which, with its 1,054 pages, also includes much detailed information on a myriad of minor authors and works up to 1990, and my Dictionary of Albanian literature, Westport 1986. Other valuable resources in English include: Arshi Pipa's Albanian literature: social perspectives, Munich 1978, and his Contemporary Albanian literature, New York 1991; and Stuart Mann's Albanian literature: an outline of prose, poetry and drama, London 1955, the latter specifically for the pre-WWII period. Koço Bihiku's monograph, History of Albanian literature, Tirana 1980, which was widely distributed abroad during the communist era, should be understood as a work of Stalinist propaganda, i.e. the Party's official view of what Albanian literature was supposed to consist of and the values it was supposed to reflect.
    The six to seven million Albanians in the Balkans are now, after a long absence, in the process of regaining their place in Europe, and their vigorously thriving culture deserves greater recognition. It is thus to be hoped that this book will provide stimulus.
    It remains for me to express my appreciation to the many people and institutions who have assisted me in the preparation of this book. Particular thanks go to Janice Mathie-Heck of Calgary (Canada) for her kind revision of the final manuscript.

Robert Elsie
Eifel mountains, Germany
May 2005



  1.     Early Albanian Literature (15th-17th cent.)

  1.1   The beginnings of writing in Albanian
  1.2   Theodor of Shkodra (1210) and other early texts
  1.3   Gjon Buzuku and the first Albanian book (1555)
  1.4   Lekë Matrënga and the Christian Doctrine (1592)
  1.5   The works of Pjetër Budi (1618-1621)
  1.6   Frang Bardhi and his Latin-Albanian dictionary (1635)
  1.7   Pjetër Bogdani and the Cuneus Prophetarum (1685)
  1.8   The demise of early Albanian literature

  2.     Muslim Literature in Albania (18th-19th cent.)

  2.1   The rise of Islam
  2.2   The literature of the Bejtexhinj

  3.     Italo-Albanian Literature (18th-19th cent.)

  3.1   Albanian emigration to Italy
  3.2   Early Arbëresh literature
  3.3   Girolamo De Rada and the national awakening
  3.4   Romantic poets: Francesco Santori, Gabriele Dara and Giuseppe Serembe
  3.5   Sicily's scion: Giuseppe Schirò

  4.     Rilindja Literature of the National Awakening (19th cent.)

  4.1   The beginnings of the national awakening
  4.2   The Frashëri brothers and the literature of romantic nationalism
  4.3   Rilindja culture in northern Albania
  4.4   The significance of Rilindja literature

  5.     Writing in the Independence Period (early 20th cent. to 1944)

  5.1   Poets of transition: A. Z. Çajupi, Ndre Mjeda and Asdreni
  5.2   Masters of finesse: Faik bey Konitza and Fan Noli
  5.3   The voice of the nation: Gjergj Fishta
  5.4   Harbingers of modernity: Migjeni and Lasgush Poradeci
  5.5   The prose of the independence period: Ernest Koliqi and Mitrush Kuteli
  5.6   Other authors before the communist takeover
  5.7   The cultural zenith of the mid-thirties

  6.     Albanian Socialist Realism and Beyond (late 20th cent.)

  6.1   The onslaught of socialist realism
  6.2   Innovation and dissent: the works of Ismail Kadare
  6.3   Other prose writers of the socialist period and thereafter
  6.4   The people's poets

  7.     Modern Albanian literature in Kosova, Macedonia and the Diaspora

  7.1   The Albanians in the former Yugoslavia
  7.2   The rise of Albanian prose in Kosova
  7.3   Poetry on the Plain of the Blackbirds
  7.4   Contemporary Italo-Albanian letters

  8.     Freedom and Chaos: Contemporary Albanian Letters

  9.     Glossary

10.     Bibliography

11.     Index

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