Story of the house

Milena Rohrmann, the »bride« of Cankar from Trubarjeva ulica

The large family of Roza Strzelba from Ljubljana and the successful merchant and enthusiastic nationalist Viktor Rohrmann (1858–1939) from Novo mesto lived on the former Sv. Petra cesta (renamed as Trubarjeva cesta in 1952) in the first half of the 20th century. A long-standing romance arose between Rohrmann’s daughter Milena (1885–1945) and the famous Slovenian novelist and playwright Ivan Cankar (1876–1918). Milena remained faithful to the writers memory long after his death.

Cankar most probably met the teacher Milena Rohrmann in 1907 at the Kessler family home. They were an eminent bourgeois family in Ljubljana, who organised salons and represented a centre for cultural events. Milena fell for him, as she confided to her friend, in 1910 at Rožnik, where the writer had moved from the Bohemian fellowship at the »Švicarija« in the Tivoli park.

Milena and her sister Vera often visited Cankar at Rožnik, or accompanied him on excursions. Their relationship was complicated; it was ended on a number occasions, because Cankar could not firmly commit to her.

Milena tried to pull Cankar out of the bohemian life he lived at Rožnik and he moved to Rohrmann’s house to live with Milena for a short period of time in 1917.  Family and friends all hoped that Cankar will finally settle down and marry Milena, however that never happened.

Milena took Cankar into her home once again after his serious fall at the end of October 1918. However, his condition rapidly deteriorated and he died on the 11th December in the Department of internal medicine of the Ljubljana Hospital. He was buried according to the wishes of his bride to be in the Rohrmann family tomb in the western side wall of  the Žale  central cemetery in Ljubljana.

The mortal remains of Cankar lay there until 1923, when they were moved to a tomb in the  »monument of Slovene modernism«, next to the remains of Josip Murn and Dragotin Kette, whose remains were transferred at the same time from the cemetery beside the church of St. Christopher (the modern Navje). In 1949 they were joined by a fourth set of remains, those of the recently deceased Oton Župančič. The tomb was ordered by Milena at her own expense. It was designed by the architect Dušan Grabrijan in Karst stone after an idea of the famous architect Jožef Plečnik. Milena took care of the grave until her admission to a hospital, where she died in the autumn of 1945.

»And so it happens to me with every writing I do for you. I feel awkward; I do not know how and where I should place the word. That I love you with all my heart, you yourself know well. You would notice it, even though I would rather hide such things.«

Ivan Cankar, from a letter to Milena Rohrmann, 22nd april 1914

Text: dr. Marijan Dović, Inštitut za slovensko literaturo in literarne vede ZRC SAZU

Photograped: Archive NUK and Marija Ana Kranjc, INCHRS DS.