Vladislav Vančura

Vladislav Vančura

Vladislav Vančura (IPA2|ˈvlaɟɪslaf ˈvantʃura) (23 June 1891, Háj near Opava – 1 June 1942, Prague) was one of the most important Bohemian (Czech) writers of the 20th century. He was also active as a film director, playwright and screenwriter.

Early years

Born on June 26, 1891 in Háj near Opava in the province of Bohemian Silesia in Austria-Hungary (today Czech Republic), of an old non-catholic nobility; his parents were Václav Vojtěch Vančura, born 1856 in Čáslav, Evangelical, Director of sugar refinery in Háj and Marie Svobodová, Catholic, born 1863 in Kluky near Čáslav. In 1896, the family moved to Davle, a beautiful place on the riverside of Vltava, ca 12 miles south of Prague where they lived in a large country-house. The broadminded father became the director of a complex of nearby stone pits and brickworks. In Davle, young Vladislav was educated by a home teacher (tutor) between 1898-1904. In 1905, he and his older sisters moved to Prague to study there; Vladislav entered the fifth class of Elementary School in Josefská Street.

First prose-works and teenage years

In 1907 Vladislav entered the Royal Gymnasium in Prague Lesser Town, but problems with school routine and pedantry of professors made him leave the next year. Between 1909 and 1910, he attended Royal Gymnasium in a small town of Benešov, ca 30 miles SE of Prague. It was an old school founded in 1704 and formerly led by the Piarist Order, with severe discipline and rigid professors. Vančura hate this school extremely; on May 14, 1909, he published his first short story "V aleji" (In Alley) in the Literary Supplement of "Horkého týdeník" (Horký's weekly magazine). The studies in Benešov ended in 1910 by a "consilium abeundi" because of his membership in a secret student club. Parents sent him to Vysoké Mýto for trade practice to a bookseller Čermák. He felt depressed and dreamed to be a painter. In 1911, he studied technology of photography in Prague and also entered course at Arts and Crafts School; unsuccessful was his attempt to enter Royal Academy of Arts and start a career of a painter. He considered suicide because his parents wanted him to be a marine officer or soldier. Due to the illness of his mother Vladislav returned to Davle. In 1912 he studied private at home and did the exams of 4th and 5th class of the gymnasium. The next year he entered Royal Gymnasium in Křemencová Street, Prague and finished the 6th class and between 1914 and 1915 was again a student of Prague Lesser Town Royal Gymnasium where he took the final exam on June 6, 1915.

University studies, journalism

In October 1915, Vladislav entered the Faculty of Law of Charles University, but this bored him; from winter 1916 he studied medicine at the same university; his family changed Davle for a country manor Humburky, not far from Prague and Vladislav met 19-years old Ludmila 'Lida' Tuhá, a student of medicine. In 1917, painter group "Tvrdošíjní" (Stubborns) was founded by Josef Čapek, Jan Zrzavý, Václav Špála, Vlastimil Hofman, Bedřich Feuerstein, Zdeněk Rykr and other close friends of Vladislav. He wrote about them and Josef Čapek became the congenial illustrator of his later book "Rozmarné leto" in 1926. Between October 1 and December 31, 1918, Vladislav took medicine practice in hospital in Německý Brod. Few days later, on October 3, he published his small prose "Ráj" (Paradise) in S. K. Neumann's magazine "Červen" (June) and worked on a fairy-tale book "Kolébka" (Cradle) and on a play "Iason". In 1919 Vladislav returned to Prague to continue his university studies; in years 1919-1920 he published many art reviews in daily newspaper "České slovo" (The Czech Word).

1920s and great novels

On June 2, 1921, Vladislav and Lída graduated as doctors of medicine and married on August 16, the same year. In autumn, they moved to Zbraslav, where they opened a surgery. In 1923, Vladislav published a book of short stories "Amazonský proud" (Amazon Stream). More important was his second short stories book, published in 1924, "Dlouhý, Široký a Bystrozraký" (Long, Thick and Sharpsighted), containing excellent texts like "Cesta do světa" (Journey to the World) or "F. C. Ball". The third book, "Pekař Jan Marhoul" (Baker Jan Marhoul), published in 1924, introduced him as a great author to the public. It is Vančura's first novel and maybe also his best - story of tragical life of a wealthy baker who is continuously declining into destitute and death for his gentleness and goodness. The story is written with extraordinary language and style brillancy. In 1925, Vančura published novel "Pole orná a válečná" (Fields of Plough, Fields of War) and the next year novel "Rozmarné léto" (Peevish Summer), which became a bestseller. It is a humorous story of three men - a colonel, a priest and a bath-keeper - during rainy summer holidays. In 1967, the book was successfully filmed by the Czech director Jiří Menzel who also played the role of Arnoštek in this movie. In 1928 Vancura wrote his fourth novel, "Poslední soud" (Last Judgement), published 1929 and built his new white functionalistic villa in Zbraslav designed by architect Jaromír Krejcar, the husband of Franz Kafka's friend, journalist and translator Milena Jesenská.

1930s and great novels

Vančura's fifth novel "Hrdelní pře aneb Přísloví" (Criminal Dispute or The Proverbs) published in 1930 in Aventinum Publishing House, Prague, was not very popular at its time; it is the most complicated of Vančura's novels, the genre of which lays between a detective novel and a tractate on noetics. From the language point of view this book is a serious problem for translators because of hundreds of old proverbs used in text; there is only one translation today - Polish. In 1931, the novel "Markéta Lazarová" (Marketa Lazarova) was published and became a bestseller. The novel was inspired by a true Middle Ages story of the knights of the Vančura family who were in a private war with other noblemen and with the King's town Mladá Boleslav. Vančura dedicated this book to cousin and friend Jiří Mahen. In 1967, the book was successfully filmed by director František Vláčil. In the same year (1931) Vančura also published a fairy-tale book "Kubula a Kuba Kubikula" (Kubula and Kuba Kubikula) that remained popular for decades. Vančura's activity continued next year as he published the novel "Útěk do Budína" (Escape to Budapest), a contemporary story of love, marriage and life of a Prague middle-class woman and a Slovak nobleman. In 1934, two other books were published: "Luk královny Dorotky" (Bow of Little Queen Dorothy), a collection of short stories and "Konec starých časů" (End of the Old Times) a bestseller, satirical and humorous novel about the life at a Bohemian country-chateau in the first years of the republic. Book was also successfully filmed by Jiří Menzel in 1989. With the 'End of the Old Times', the time of Vančura's best books ended too. His next two books, a play "Jezero Ukerewe" (Ukerewe Lake) from 1935 and a socialism-influenced book "Tři řeky" (Three Rivers), 1936 were not successful.

1940s, political crisis and war

In March 1938, Hitler annexed Austria. Vančura's friend, playwright Otokar Fischer died of a heart-attack as he got known about it; Vancura wrote an obituary about him to "Literární listy" magazine. In 1938, "Rodina Horvátova" (Horvat Family), a novel about life of three generations of a gentry family was published with no interest of readers due to the political crisis. In December 1938, Vančura took part on the burial of Karel Čapek, the famous writer and his friend who died after psychic and health problems originated by the capitulation of Czechoslovakia. Vančura entered the strong anti-Hitler cultural movement and started to write the book "Obrazy z dějin národa českého" (Pictures of the History of the Bohemian Nation); its first parts were published and became a bestseller and symbol of resistance. On March 15, 1939, the rest of Czechoslovakia was occupied by Hitler and a week later, on May 22, Jiři Mahen committed suicide in a protest against nazism. Vančura was a member of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia. As a response to Hitler's terror against Czechs, Vančura joined a secret communist resistance group in Autumn 1939. On May 12, 1942, at 5:00 a.m., Gestapo assaulted his house in Zbraslav, arrested him and tortured him in the Prague Gestapo headquarters. On May 27, 1942, a commando of the Czechoslovak Foreign Army from Britain assassinated Reinhard Heydrich, Hitler's Prague governor. Nazis started a wave of revenge: in next weeks more than 2.000 people of Czech elites were executed. One of them was also Vančura, executed by SS members in the military area Prague-Kobylisy on June 1, 1942, 6:45 p.m.

External links

* [http://www.freewebs.com/vvancura Complete list of Vančura translations] (English, French, Spanish, German and other translations)
* A four minutes [http://www.radio.cz/cz/clanek/56369 recording of part of the "Peevish Summer"] (in Czech language)


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