Some time ago, in 2004, “Latvijas Avīze” (The Latvian Newspaper) together with the internet portal Apollo and Latvian television had a national poll to decide the 100 Most Influential Personalities of Latvia.
The most votes received Krišjānis Barons, Rainis and Aspazija were placed ninth and twentieth respectively.

Aspazija (born Johanna Emīlija Lizete Rozenberga; 1865–1943) – poet, playwright, social worker – was an exceptionally bright, diverse and contradictory personality who already with her first poem – published in the newspaper “Dienas lapa” (The Daily Page) – challenges society, signing it under the name of the ancient Greek feminist and Pericles lover Aspazija. Her nom de plume often times provoked a certain distrust, such as when anthology “Сборник латышской литературы” (Petrograd, 1916) (Collection of Latvian Literature) was published.

Her childhood and early adulthood is still seen with a tinge of the legendary and the mystique: in regards to her birth year and date (only after her centenary year celebration in 1968, was it made publicly known that she had actually been born three years earlier), as well as in regards to the “official” emergence of her “christian and birth name” Elza (as mentioned in her first biographical reflection), but especially her marriage and life together with Maksis Vilhelms Valters, which, if looked at through Aspazija’s memories, as well as the feeling of grievance and hatred against an unlovable husband as expressed in her earlier plays, play out in a chrestomathic singularity, only alternative view being presented by the literary fantasy story “Sātana eņģelis” (Satan’s angel, 1996) by Zigmunds Skujiņš. The same author also mystifies Aspazija’s latter life, death and burial episodes in his novels „Miesas krāsas domino” (Flesh Coloured Domino, 1999) un „Siržu zagļa uznāciens” (The Entrance of the Heart Breaker, 2001).

Aspazija – the most visible woman in the societal and literary circles of 19th century nineties – has at this time already connected her life with Rainis and further one shares with him the dramatic fate of the political prisoner and exilee, where her creative “custody”, moral support and practical help can not be overvalued. In 1984, their “epistolary romance” starts, that becomes most intensive during Rainis’ exile in Pskov and Slobodsk, when Aspazija can only periodically visit her lifepartner. Their letters have inspired multiple literary works and in 2009 were included in the UNESCO programme’s “Memory of the World” Latvia’s national register.

Aspazija’s work has been appreciated with The Order of the Three Stars (1926), II degree Croix de la reconnaissance (1938), as well as the highest country award – the Fatherland Award (1939). In 1936, in Prague, the capitalwork “The Most Remarkable Women of Our Times” is published – among the 64 women from 26 countries is Aspazija as well.
Her funeral, which, despite the harsh circumstances of war, was attended by hundred of people, turns out in a very “Aspazian” spirit”, that is, becomes a spontaneous protest demonstration against the German occupation.

Since 2009, next to the last resting place of the poetess in Dubulti, can be seen a monument made by the sculptress Arta Dumpe.

Substantial, if not inseparable, is Aspazijas role in Rainis’ literary inheritance, if looked at by modern interpretation. Examples are such works as the multi-language „Rainis un Aspazija” (Rainis and Aspazija, Lugano 2006), „Robežas. Rainis un Aspazija starp Latviju un Šveici” (Borders. Rainis and Aspazija between Latvia and Switzerland, 2006), literary scientists Gundegas Grīnumas voluminous research „Piemiņas paradoksi. Raiņa un Aspazijas atcere Kastanjolā” (Remembrance Paradoxes. The Memory of Rainis and Aspazija in Castagnola, 2009).

Jānis Zālītis,

The Rainis and Aspazija House specialist


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