Czech Republic Literature in the 20th Century


At the beginning of the 20th century. the figure of the poet O. Březina stands out, a mystic with cosmic tones and profound religious meditations. In the interwar period, prose counts writers such as J. Hašek, the author of Dobrý voják Švejk (“The good soldier Švejk”), a ruthless caricature of militarism and the Austro-Hungarian bureaucracy; M. Majerová, who analyzes modern social impulses; M. Pujmanová, sensitive to social problems; I. Olbracht, who paints a vivid picture of sub-Carpathian Russia in the novel Nikola Shuhaj loupežnik (“Nicholas Shuhaj the robber”); K. Čapek, author of utopian novels, detective stories, travel impressions and numerous plays. In the field of poetry we move from social trends, represented by J. Wolker and J. Hořejšf, to poetry, the Czech equivalent of the Western avant-gardes. According to Topschoolsintheusa, this group includes V. Nezval, J. Seifert (Nobel Prize for literature in 1984) and initially also F. Halas, who, together with J. Hora, represent the major poetic experiences of the interwar period. Poetism is followed by surrealism (V. Nezval, K. Bíebl) and metaphysical tendencies (R. Weiner, V. Holan, J. Orten). After 1948, in a general affirmation of Marxist cultural orientations, the historical-political and social themes take on particular importance, which also inspired representatives of previous generations (V. Neff, J. Otčenášek, A. Lustig, J. Drda and V. Řezáč). In the 1960s, new orientations were established, against the background of an increasingly critical attitude towards the social and cultural reality of the country and in contact with the avant-garde Western literary currents. Noteworthy are the playwright and novelist M. Kundera, formerly known as a poet, V. Havel, author of dramas of the absurd, the narrators J. Škvorecký and B. Hrabal. The crisis of 1968 brought about the end of this course, which had also established itself within the Association of Writers.

Starting from August 1968, in fact, with the end of the ‘Prague spring’ and the consequent normalization that forced many writers to editorial silence or exile, Czech literature developed in different ways: alongside the official production of writers politically welcome, they begin to circulate in samizdat , i.e. in typewritten copies (generally 15 or 30), the texts that official publishing refuses to publish, while abroad Czech publishing houses print books by emigrated writers (such as J. Škvorecký and M . Kundera) and works ignored by official channels (eg by declared opponents such as V. Havel): an evidently anomalous situation which, thanks to a compliant literary criticism, sometimes leads to overestimation of authors and works. With the beginning of the 1970s, therefore, political interventions interrupted the literary flourishing of the previous decade. Among the poets of the Květen group (“May”), which had characterized the Czech poetry of the 1960s in a notable way, only K. Šiktanc, although forced to publish in samizdat or abroad, continues his poetic of distressing tragicity. A growing meditative bitterness is perceived in the verses of Z. Hejda and I. Diviš, in the cutting and disarming laconicity of the quatrains by J. Skácel, in the ironic detachment and violent sarcasm of the imaginative I. Wernisch. The evolution of prose is also marked by external interventions, which block writers such as J. Fried, J. Šotola (1924-1989), the promising K. Sidon or the cerebral V. Páral. I. Klíma, after a busy season, writes a gloomy novel about the inability to live and the disappointments of the late 1980s (Láska a smetí, 1988); L. Fuks, after a few volumes of obsequious with respect to the official climate, with the extensive novel Vévodkyně a kuchařka (“The Duchess and the Cook”, 1983), returns to the stylistic refinement and disturbing atmospheres that had always characterized him. The prose of the 1970s, however, is marked above all by the fiction of Hrabal, who after years of editorial ostracism abandons the short story and moves on to wider-ranging prose of an increasingly autobiographical nature, by Škvorecký, who successfully continues the tragicomic saga in Canada. by Danny Smiřický started in his homeland twenty years earlier, and above all by M. Kundera, who moved to France inaugurates a season of undisputed international success with Nesnesitelná lehkost bytí (The unsustainable lightness of being, 1985, in French in 1984).

In the 1980s, a new generation of storytellers appeared, escaping the rules of dominant realism for the privileged role they assigned to fantasy and language, such as A. Berková, or for refined narrative procedures, such as V. Macura, Z. Brabcová, but especially J. Kratochvíl. They conquered a separate place in the last years of the 20th century. the prose writer M. Viewegh and the hyperrealist poet J. Topol, the first with his rewriting of the years of real socialism and the hard impact with capitalism, the second with the long novel Sestra.

In 1989, the collapse of the regime allowed the return to a condition of normality even in the literary field. With the publication of authors for years left in oblivion, the threads of a forcedly interrupted tradition are reconnected. Thus we know the ‘total realism’ of the poetry of E. Bondy (pseud. Of Zbynek Fišer), the prose of the philosopher L. Klíma (1878-1928), as well as the long opposed works of J. Kolář and V. Linhartová. The separation from Slovakia leads to an ever closer relationship with other European literatures and an ever greater detachment from the Slovak one.

Czech Republic Literature