Laza Lazarević

Laza Lazarević
Лаза Лазаревић
Born Lazar Lazarević
(1851-05-13)May 13, 1851
Died January 10, 1891(1891-01-10) (aged 39)
Other names Laza

Lazar "Laza" K. Lazarević (Serbian Cyrillic: Лазаp К. Лазаревић, 13 May 1851 – 10 January 1891, Gregorian calendar) was a Serbian writer, psychiatrist, and neurologist. The primary interest of Lazarević throughout his short life was the science of medicine. In that field he was one of the greatest figures of his time, pre-eminently distinguished and useful as a doctor, teacher, and a writer on both medical issues and literary themes. To him literature was an avocation; yet he was very good at it and thought of himself as a man of letters.

Few writers have achieved fame with such a small opus as Lazar Kuzmanović Lazarević, for it rests on nine stories; yet he is considered one of the best Serbian writers of the nineteenth century. He was often referred to as the Serbian Turgeniev. During his brief life, "the less than prolific opus" enshrined him in Serbian literature as a writer who introduced the psychological story genre.


Born in Šabac in 1851, to Kuzman Lazarević, a small trader, and his wife Jelka, Lazar Lazarević was brought up in the close atmosphere of a typical Serbian provincial, patriarchal family. When he was eleven years old his father (Kuzman) died and Jelka immediately took over the care of the family, which consisted of Lazarević and three sisters. His mother fostered a deep feeling of family unity and affection, which influenced Lazarević all his life. Lazarević's sister Milka married the Serbian writer and poet, Milorad Popović Šapčanin, and settled in Belgrade, where Lazarević stayed as a student from 1866 until 1871, before going abroad to study. In Belgrade he attended high school and in 1867 he entered the law faculty of Belgrade's Grande École, but soon decided that medicine was his true calling.

The period of Lazarević's life as a student in Belgrade (1866–1871) was one of considerable intellectual activity. In 1867 the second annual meeting of the Ujedinjena Omladina Srpska (United Serb Youth) was held there. This organization, which spun out the Serbian romantic movement, sought to unite all Serbs, whether of the Serbian principality, the Vojvodina or the European Turkish-controlled territories, in order to raise national consciousness and culture as a means of achieving the liberation of all Serbian-speaking peoples into a greater, cosmopolitan Serbia (after all Serbian territories in the hands of the Habsburg and Ottomans are redeemable to their rightful inhabitants and landowners according to law). The general development of Serbian intellectual life in the 1860s led to an increased interest in European culture, especially literature, and the literary periodicals Danica (1860) and Matica srpska (1866) in Novi Sad and Stojan Novaković's Vila (1863) in Belgrade contained many translations from French, German, Russian, and English literatures. Lazarević, absorbed by the prospective literary and political challenges that came out of these activities, undertook the task to translate Gogol's "Diary of a Madman", Nikolay Chernyshevsky's What Is To Be Done? (1863), a work that eventually had profound influence on Svetozar Marković and other members of Omladina, the United Serb Youth.

Lazarević died at Belgrade on 28 December 1890 (Julian calendar) or 10 January 1891 (Gregorian calendar). He was 39, another author to fall victim to tuberculosis.

Medical career

Laza Lazarević on a 2011 Serbian stamp

Laza Lazarević's road to the title of doctor of medicine was thorny and complicated. He chose medicine as his profession only after completing his law studies in Belgrade, and made his way to Berlin in 1872. There he had as his instructors, famous people such as Emil du Bois-Reymond (1818–1896), Rudolf Virchow (1821–1902), Carl Friedrich Otto Westphal (1833–1890), and Hermann von Helmholtz (1821–1894). In 1879 he received his doctorate, based partially on his thesis, Experimentelle Beiträge zur Wirkung Qecksibers, and partially on his excellent research work in the laboratory and his work on the battlefield as an assistant-surgeon with the Dinara and Timok divisions during the Serbo-Turkish War of 1876. After graduating, the post of "specialist doctor" at the General State Hospital in Belgrade awaited him. From then on until his premature death, Lazarević worked on reforming Serbian medicine as a primarius. He was a member of several Serbian Learned Societies, including SANU; and participated as a field doctor in the Serbo-Turkish War of 1876 and 1878. Also, he was a major organizer of the Great Reserve Hospital in Niš during the Serbo-Bulgarian War of 1885; vice-colonel, writer and translator and medicine scientist (published 72 works in local and foreign magazines). He founded the first modern geriatric hospital in Belgrade in 1881. His works were translated in numerous languages. Later he became doctor appointed to the Royal Court by King Milan Obrenović IV himself.

Early in his practice Lazarević became especially interested in the relations between body and mind, and in treatment of diseases. He was a pioneer in psychiatry and what would be called today psychosomatic medicine. He came to hold, as a major conviction of his professional life, the view that the mind plays a far greater role in health and illness than his contemporaries realized. He had seventy-two professional and scientific medical papers published, a great number of which referred to nervous diseases, such as paralysis agitans, sclerosis of Medulla spinalis, aphasia and others. It can be rightly argued that Dr. Laza Lazarević was the first Serbian neurologist. The very first cataract operation in Serbia was performed by Lazarević in aseptic conditions, when cocaine was applied to anesthesia. He was also the first doctor to be sent by Serbia to Vienna in 1884 to learn how to prepare animal lymph.

In 1880, he described, in the Serbian Archives, a sign that is now called after him and Dr. Lasèque in neurology, The Lazarević/Lasèque sign or Straight leg raise.

Short stories

To Laza Lazarević literature was an avocation for which he had more flair for than most writers of his day. Though he spoke and thought of himself as an amateur in letters, others thought otherwise, especially the literary critics who immediately recognized his genius.

More directly in the main current of Serbian national literary development were the writers who undertook to apply the methods of critical realism, as these had been practiced by Russian and French masters, to the Serbian scene. Foremost among these were the Serbian Gogol (Milovan Glisić), the Serbian Turgenev (Laza Lazarević) and the Russian pupil (Svetolik Ranković), the youngest of the three. Foremost among these was Laza Lazarević. He came very slowly to his full stature as a short story writer, however through a relatively short period of preparation as though it was instinctive with him. Reading Turgenev, Gogol and other great writers, helped Lazarević formulate his own aims as a short story writer. When finally in "Sve će to narod pozlatiti" ("People Will Reward All This"), "Verter", and other stories he deals directly with contemporary social and economic problems, though his realism was always tempered and restrained by the literary conventions of his generation, he wrote with broad sympathy and with deep insight.

He saw the greatest danger for Serbian society in the attacks on its patriarchal way of life, as manifested in "Prvi put s ocem na jutrenje" ("The First Matins with My Father"). His main stories include "Školska ikona" (The School Icon), "Švabica" ("The German Girl"), "Na bunaru" ("At the Well"), and regarded by some his best, "Prvi put s ocem na jutrenje".

In his short stories Lazarević became a spokesman of the Serbian struggle with the economic inequities of the times and the ever-present threats and dangers on his nation's culture.

The fiction of psychological analysis was cultivated by Laza Lazarević, whose originality and impeccable style continue to appeal to readers.


He is included in The 100 most prominent Serbs.



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