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2011 | 59 | 2 | 149-175

Article title

Příběhy Nerudových lásek. Životopis jako kulturní konstrukt



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This article takes issue with the opinion that a biography is a collection of verifiable facts with clear causal links. Drawing upon current research on the historical narrative, the article sees biography as a product of collective interpretation, which changes over time. The article illustrates these processes using the example of the biographical treatment of the love affairs of the writer Jan Neruda (1834–1891). In particular it considers how social norms and cultural models of the period were employed in the writing of biography and then its variation. The first part of the article analyzes the mechanisms of the selection of real-life facts. The second part analyzes how these facts are treated, both diachronically and synchronically. In the first, on the basis of critiques of primary sources, it considers strategies that the individual figures (future characters) use to fight for their positions in the story of Neruda’s life, and how the people close to them worked on their inclusion in the Neruda myth. The author argues that although this ‘lobbying’ by the participants was important, it was equally important, if not more so, that the stories which they offered to the public were in keeping with contemporaneous aesthetic priorities and norms. In Neruda’s early work on the biography his relations with his ‘eternal betrothed’, Anna Holinová, were particularly important. He saw these relations as something between a Biedermeier idyll and a Neo-omantic fairy tale about his love for the terminally ill and unattainable Terezie Macháčková. Twenty years later the time was ripe for his ‘romance of love and honour’ with the writer Karolina Světlá (1830–1899). Because his other romantic relations tended to be considered unacceptable (for example, his love affair with Božena Vlachová), they made their way into his biography only with difficulty or have not yet been included (his affairs with actresses like Emilie Bekovská). The second part of the article considers the perspective from which these constructed ‘stories’ were read by members of various generations, that is to say, literary historians and biographers. The adaptation of the story to changing times is considered here, using the example of shifts in the interpretation of Neruda’s love affair with Holinová. This part of the article also points out the tendency of the genre to be standardized; the individual, sometimes unconventional, form of the author’s attitudes and experiences is smoothed out to make it acceptable to the majority of recipients. The author argues this using the example of Neruda and Světlá’s affair, which was, as is evident in the surviving sources, hardly an ordinary love story, though it became ordinary in its biographical treatment. This standardization is, however, clearly the price that has to be paid for the immortality of important individuals, as Milan Kundera points out in his novel Nesmrtelnost (immortality).


  • Česká literatura, redakce, Ústav pro českou literaturu AV ČR, v.v.i., Na Florenci 3, 110 00 Praha 1, Czech Republic


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