Czech Republic Literature: National Rebirth, Classicism, Romanticism

National rebirth

The reforms of Maria Theresa and v. a. Joseph II (1781 abrogation of serfdom, tolerance patent, improvement of the school system) gave the impetus for a national rebirth (“obrození”) of the Czechs, which stands at the beginning of the more recent Czech literature.

Under the guidance of scholars such as Gelasius Dobner (* 1719, † 1790), F. M. Pelcl and v. a. J. Dobrovský developed a lively activity in the historical and philological field, which focused on the return to the values ​​of his own culture and language. Dobrovský’s works, v. a. his »Detailed Educational Building of the Bohemian Language« (1809) laid the foundations of modern Czech literary language, which J. Jungmann sent to with poetological and philological works, especially his Czech-German dictionary (»Slovník česko-německý«, 5 volumes, 1835– 1839).

Czech literature at that time was oriented towards v. a. on German anacreontic models that were translated and imitated, including Václav Thám (* 1765, † around 1816). The circle around A. J. Puchmajer also conveyed the poetry of European Rococo and Classicism.


In the first half of the 19th century, through contact with German Romanticism and v. a. with the ideas of J. G. Herder for a bloom of Czech literature. The Koeniginhof manuscript and Grünberger manuscript, which V. Hanka issued as literary monuments from the 13th and 9th centuries, attracted a lot of attention.

The first poetic climax of Czech classicism was the poem “Slávy dcera” (1824; German “Daughter of Slava”) by the Slovak J. Kollár, based on the example of Petrarch, Dante and F. W. Klopstock, whose sonnets symbolize national mission awareness – show historical description. Kollárs also exerted a great influence in the sense of a pan-Slavic demand for “Slavic reciprocity”. As representatives of a romanticizing historiography, the historians and archeologists F. Palacký and P. J. Šafárik created fundamental works.


According to Agooddir, the more recent Romanticism was shaped by F. L. Čelakovský, who represented a poetry based on the folk song and K. J. Erben, who also collected Slavic folk poetry and whose only collection of poems »Kytice« (1853; German »The Bouquet of Flowers«) pioneering the ballad and the epic Style became.

  1. H. Mácha formed a highlight of Czech Romanticism with the lyrical-epic poem “Máj” (1836; German “May”), which was influenced by Lord Byron.
  2. K. Klicpera and J. K. Tyl are considered the founders of modern Czech drama, who wrote not only antics but also historical and socially critical dramas.


The second half of the 19th century was marked by the transition to realism and the emphasis on Czech idiosyncrasies. At the turn of romanticism and realism stands the best-known Czech novel of the 19th century, “Babička” (1855; German “The Grandmother”) by Božena Němcová, which still has idyllic features. K. Havlíček-Borovský, a representative of critical realism, founded Czech journalism and political satire (“Tyrolské elegie”, 1852; German “Tyrolean elegies”).

In the 1860s to 1890s literary trends were grouped around three magazines: the »Máj« movement, committed to realism, with J. Neruda as the main representative, who led Czech literature through feature sections, stories (especially the humorous-realistic »Povídky malostranské “, 1878; German” Lesser Quarter Stories “), as well as the poet and narrator V. Hálek and the author Karolina Světlá, who is considered the founder of the Czech village novel. The authors of the Almanac »Máj« (1858, May) tried to break away from romantic ways of thinking and an idealistic conception of literature and to adopt realistic writing methods (H. de Balzac, Stendhal, H. Heine) to orientate. Psychological sketches, social problems and also the emancipation of women were in her literary field of vision. – The group around the magazine »Ruch« propagated national ideas, v. a. S. Čech, whose lyrical poems and historical epics served the conscious nationalism and the preservation of the Czech peasant character. A. Jirásek and Z. Winter were as close to this thought with historical novels as the representatives of a romantic-national to realistic-critical village prose around Josef Holeček (* 1853, † 1929), Karel Václav Rais (* 1859, † 1926), Teréza Nováková and the literary critic Eliška Krásnohorská. – In contrast, the group around the magazine »Lumír«, whose main representatives were the Parnassists J. Zeyer and J. Vrchlický, had a cosmopolitan outlook; they succeeded in overcoming German influence in favor of a French orientation. The work of J. V. Sládek shows a transition between the two groups. In addition to materials from Czech history, Zeyer also dealt with contemporary topics in his work and approached the symbolists in old age. The work of Vrchlickýs, v. a. his perfectly formed poetry.

In addition, socially critical works appeared under the influence of the Russian realists, T. G. Masaryk’s theory of realism (especially the brothers J. and K. Čapek, J. S. Machar) and É. Zolas (especially the brothers Alois, * 1861, † 1925, and Vilém Mrštík, * 1863, † 1912), while Jakub Arbes (* 1840, † 1914) in the shorter narrative form »Romanetto« v. a. Outcomes of modern science and social problems dealt with.

Czech Republic Literature

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