Vyšehrad Codex
Karel Hynek Mácha
Kakel Čapek / R.U.R. poster

Literature of Czechia

 

 

Literature in Czechia is written mostly in the Czech language, although other languages like Old Church Slavonic, Latin or German have been also used, such as by author Franz Kafka, who—while bilingual in Czech and German—wrote his works in German, commented it “German is the language of my family, thus, it is natural for me to write in German, but Czech is closer to my heart”.

The beginnings of Czech literature are connected with the Great Moravian Empire and the mission of the Slavic heralds Constantine and Methodius (863 A.D.). Old Slavonic language literature is represented by legend První staroslověnská legenda o sv. Václavu (First Old Slavonic legend about St.Wenceslaus), written in the first half of 10th century

Influential Czech authors who wrote in Latin (some of them also in Czech) include Cosmas of Prague († 1125), Dalimil (“Chrinicle of Dalimil), John Hus († 1415), Bohuslav Hasištejnský z Lobkovic (1461–1510), Jan Dubravius (1486–1553), Tadeáš Hájek (1525–1600), Jan Campanus Vodňanský (1572–1622), Comenius (Jan Amos Komenský, 1592–1670) and Bohuslav Balbín (1621–1688), Pavel Stránský, Pavel Skála ze Zhoře etc.

The Bible translations played an important role in the development of Czech literature and standard Czech language. The oldest Czech translation of the Psalms originated in the late 13th century and the first Czech translation of the whole Bible was finished around 1360. The first complete printed Czech Bible was published in 1488 (Prague Bible). The first complete Czech Bible translation from original languages was published between 1579–93 and is known as the Bible of Kralice.

Czech-language literature can be divided into several main time periods:

(1) the Middle Ages - Dalimil - Chronicle of Dalimil; the Hussite period (Tomáš Štítný ze Štítného, Jan Hus, Petr Chelčický)

(2) the Renaissance humanism (Henry the Younger of Poděbrady, Luke of Prague, Václav Hajek, Jan Blahoslav, Daniel Adam z Veleslavína);

(3) the Baroque period (Comenius, Adam Václav Michna z Otradovic, Václav Jan Rosa, Jan František Beckovský)

(4) the “Enlightenment” and Czech reawakening in the 19th century (Václav Matěj Kramerius, great romantic poet Karel Hynek Mácha, Karel Jaromír Erben, Karel Havlíček Borovský, Božena Němcová, Jan Neruda, Alois Jirásek, Jakub Arbes, Svatopluk Čech)

(4) avant-garde of the first half of 20th century, and the interwar period (Franz Kafka, Karel Čapek (nominated for Nobel Prize), Jaroslav Hašek, Vítězslav Nezval, Jiří Wolker, Vladislav Vančura, Jaroslav Seifert - the holder of Nobel Prize, Karel Poláček, František Gellner, Antonín Sova, Otokar Březina, Ladislav Klíma, Jan Zahradníček, Jakub Deml, Viktor Dyk); some o them were representants of original Czech Czech literary and poetic genre “poetism”.

(5) second half of 20th century and later - Bohumil Hrabal, Milan Kundera (erpetual contender for the Nobel Prize), Josef Škvorecký, Ladislav Fuks, Josef kainar, František Hrubín, Ivan Klíma, Bohuslav Reynek, Ivan Vyskočil, Ota Pavel, Egon Bondy (by original name Zbyněk Fišer), Jan Weiss, sci-fi authors Josef Nesvadba and Ondřej Neff, and more.

The most famous Czech book ever is an antiwar satiric dark comedy novel “The Good Soldier Švejk” by Jaroslav Hašek. It is translated into 60 languages.

Important representatives of German literature in Czechia included Rainer Maria Rilke, Franz Werfel, Gustav Meyrink, Max Brod and the "furious reporter" Egon Erwin Kisch.

Czech literature and culture played a major role on at least two occasions, when Czechs lived under oppression and political activity was suppressed. On both of these occasions, in the early 19th century and then again in the 1960s, the Czechs used their cultural and literary effort to strive for political freedom, establishing a confident, politically aware nation.

To judge what are the greatest works of literature in Czechia is somehow matter of subjective opinion, but, I don't think I'll be wrong with following list (more or less in chronological order + easy to forget something):

Comenius - Labyrint srdce a ráj světa (Labyrinth of the World and the Paradise of the Heart),

Karel Hynek Mácha - Máj (May - poem), a masterpiece of Czech literary romanticism

Franz Kafka - novels “The Trial”, “The Castle”, and short stories (incl.the most known “Metamorphosis”)

Karel Čapek - dystopian novel “Válka s mloky (War with the Newts)”, stage play R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots), and short stories

Vladislav Vančura - novels “Markéta Lazarová” and “Rozmarné léto” (Capricious Summer)

Karel Poláček - humoristic novels “Muži v ofsajdu” (Men in off-side) and “Bylo nás pět” (There we were five)

Gustav Meyrink - novel “Der Engel vom westlichen Fenster” (Anděl ze západního okna / The Angel from the western Window)

Milan Kundera - Žert (The Joke), Směšné lásky (Laughable Loves). Kundera's best-known book in the world is The Unvearable Lighteness of Being, but it (in my opinion) does belong to his best works.

Ladislav Fuks - novel Spalovač mrtvol (The Cremator)

Jan Weiss - Dům o tisíci patrech (The House with 1000 floors)

Bohumil Hrabal - Příliš hlučná samota (Too Loud a Solitude), Ostře sledované vlaky (Closely Watched Trains) and collection of short stories

Ivan Vyskočil - surrealistically absurd short stories “Vždyť létat je tak snadné (To Fly Is So Easy)”, “Kosti (Bones)”

Significant genres in Czechia are humoristic literature and literature for children - their list would be very long.

© 2018 by Czechia Civic Initiative

 

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