Janko Lavrin was born in 1887, in Krupa in Bela Krajina, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Before he turned eighteen, he left Austria-Hungary to avoid military service. He travelled across Europe, studying in Norway, Paris, Prague and finally St Petersburg. He swiftly gained entry into the circles of the intellectual and cultural elite of the Russian capital. He began publishing and co-editing a journal, Slavianskii Mir (The Slavonic World), featuring literary articles and translations of Slavonic languages. This work brought him into contact with many distinguished writers and academics, and he counted Vladimir Mayakovsky, Anna Akhmatova and Velimir Khlebnikov amongst his acquaintances.
Janko travelled extensively across Russia, and worked as Balkan correspondent for the newspaper Novoe Vremia during the First World War. He took part in the Serbian Army’s retreat over the mountains into Albania, and eventually travelled to Corfu. From there he moved to Paris, and then finally London.
He soon found work, teaching and writing for the A R Orage’s literary journal The New Age. Janko was then encouraged to apply for the lectureship at Nottingham, and was duly appointed in September 1918. On his arrival, there were only “a handful of students brave enough to tackle Russian”, and as for textbooks, only “an old-fashioned Russian grammar” was available. Janko soon found recognition for his skills, and was appointed Professor in 1921.
Upon the outbreak of World War II, Janko joined the BBC, broadcasting to occupied Europe. He returned to The University of Nottingham in 1944, before eventually retiring in 1952.
Janko published many influential books and articles on Russian and Comparative Literature during his career, with his book on Dostoyevsky translated into 12 languages. One of the most important aspects of his legacy, however, was his pioneering contribution to the study of Serbian, Croatian and Slovene in the UK. As Malcolm Jones notes, ‘If Lavrin had not come to Nottingham so unexpectedly in 1918, then the study of the Slovene language would surely never have taken root here in Nottingham, or perhaps more widely in Britain at all.’