The Kiss, by Karolina Světlá.

This was a chance read: a few days ago I was going through some of my mother's books and I found Selected Czech Tales translated by Marie Busch and Otto Pick (published in 1928 by Oxford University Press). This morning I began reading them, beginning with The Kiss by Karolina Světlá, and I thought I'd write a little about the story and do some research into this author who, until this morning, I hadn't come across. I have to say - the majority of what I have read has been written in Czech and translated by Google, so there's every chance some of this may be inaccurate (I do hope not). If this is the case then my apologies, and I hope there's someone out there who can correct me if I'm wrong anywhere. Furthermore, not all of the titles I have mentioned could be translated, but where possible I have give the English translation. 

The Kiss, or Hubička in it's original language, is a short story which was written in 1871. It was written by Karolina Světlá (born in 1830 in Prague), who, before marrying Petr Mužák in 1852, was known as Johana Rottová (Karolina Světlá was a pseudonym). She was a part of the 'Májovci', or the 'May School', which published a year book titled Máj (May), and one of it's aims was to reintroduce Czech as a literary language and improve the status of their nation in the Austria-Hungary empire whilst fighting for liberty, justice, and democracy. Her sister, Sofie Podlipská, was the Czech translator of the French novelist George Sand (author of Indiana), and the two sisters greatly admired Sand's work. In 1871, Světlá founded the 'Ženský výrobní spolek český' ('The women's guild of Czech production') to help girls from poor families, and she wrote many articles on the status of women in society.

From what I've read about Světlá, it seems she wrote a lot about rural life, some of which (for example Zvonečková královna and Nemodlenec) are anti-Catholic. Marriage is a common theme: Vesnický román (1867), or Village Novel, is about a loveless marriage, and love and relationships feature also in Kříž u potoka (Cross at the Brook, 1868) and Upomínky (Reminders, 1874). In Kantůrčice she writes about problems women face in society. In Hubička, or The Kiss, which is the short story I read this morning, Světlá writes about Lukáš Paloučku, who is in love with Vendulku Palouckou and she with him, however he was unable to marry her as their great-grandfathers were brothers (this was legal, and the church did not object: the objection rested solely with Lukáš' parents). He marries another, and Vendulku refuses to marry, wishing to remain faithful to him, however (right at the very beginning of the book, this isn't really a spoiler) his wife dies and they are free to marry each other. Paloučku, Vendulku's father, has misgivings about the match and warns them that they would be incompatible owing to their stubbornness, however they pay no heed and Vendulku goes to live with Lukáš before their marriage. When they are alone, Lukáš tries to kiss Vendulku, but she refuses, and what ensues is a tale of a great battle of wills that quickly gets out of hand.

As I've said, I read the translation by Marie Busch and Otto Pick, neither of whom I know anything about. It's a fairly early translation first published in 1925, but really I'm in no position to comment on whether or not it is adequate (having struggled with Google's translations, any translation seems to me a masterpiece now). All I can say is I enjoyed it so very much, and I adored the opening - the descriptions of village life, particularly women in village life, and the gossip (and the pleasures of gossip) that takes place in these little communities. Světlá writes,
To whomsoever this may not be a repetition of a well-known feature, it should be known that gossip in and out of season is as indispensable to us mountain-dwellers, as water to a fish. If anyone ever were to stop out talking and chattering, he would condemn us to death. We who live around the Jeschken Mountain would rather do without daily bread and content ourselves with dry potatoes, that renounce our sweetest habit. We will never give up gossiping; it eases life's burdens, steels our coourage, keeps us healthy - in short, gossip is as important as going to confession.
I'm looking forward to reading a little more by Karolina Světlá when (if, perhaps) any more comes my way. It's very exciting to come across an author who is important to literature, but it's frustrating that it is so hard to come across much information in English. I loved the realism in it, the conflict, the questions raised, and the descriptions of village life. I'm so happy to have found Světlá. One to watch out for. And, of course, it's exciting to branch out from the traditional Western Canon and find new (to me) and important authors of the classics. I'm looking forward to reading the rest of the short stories in this collection.

I'll conclude with this YouTube clip of the operatic version of The Kiss, composed by Bedřich Smetana and first performed in Prague in 1876.



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Further reading:

Comments

  1. Ah, you shame me! I live in Czech Rep. and can already read in Czech pretty well, but haven't even heard about her! I guess I need to go check out a local library :)

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    1. Let me know how it goes! I'll be interested to see what you read if you find anything - I did read somewhere she kind of fell out of favour, and it was somehow linked to communism, but I couldn't understand it (the Google Translate was a nightmare at times!).

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  2. That sounds really interesting! I'd love to read some of her work. I really like reading about village life, particularly in Europe.

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    1. I do as well, like the Zola novels set in or around Aix - they're always very interesting.

      I don't think it will be too easy getting anything much written by her, but I do mean to try :)

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