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Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Czech and Slovak Literature Resources; Dr. James Naughton

Czech and Slovak Literature Resources, Dr James Naughton


I have only just read that Dr. Naughton died on 9th February, 2014.


Prague, Athens of the Centre; Greek Revival Architecture and the Promise of Freedom; Bohumil Hrabal.

I keep re-reading this wonderful passage from Bohumil Hrabal's Too Loud a Solitude (Příliš hlučná samota, 1976), in the English translation by Michael Henry Heim (1991):

“Wandering through the streets of Prague…I noticed something I had never noticed before, namely that the facades, the fronts of all the buildings, public and residential - and I could see them all the way up to the drainpipes – were a reflection of everything Hegel and Goethe had dreamed of and aspired to, to the Greece in us, the beautiful Hellenic model and goal. I saw Doric columns and frieze-covered gutters, I saw Corinthian columns with florid leafage, I saw Ionic columns with volutes and shapely shafts, I saw garlanded cornices, templelike vestibules, caryatids and balustrades reaching to the roofs of the buildings – and I walked in their shadows. I had seen it all in the poorer sections of town, too, Greece plastered over the most ordinary buildings, their portals adorned with naked men and naked women and the boughs and buds of alien flora. Anyway, on I walked, thinking about what the boilerman with the university education had told me, that Eastern Europe doesn’t start outside the gates of Prague, it starts at the last Empire-style railroad station somewhere in Galicia, at the outer limits of the Greek tympanum, and Prague’s involvement with the Greek spirit goes deeper than the facades of its buildings, it goes straight into the heads of the populace, because classical gymnasia and humanistic universities have stuffed millions of Czech heads full of Greece and Rome. And while the sewers of Prague provide the scene for a senseless war between two armies of rats, the cellars are headquarters for Prague’s fallen angels, university-educated men who have lost a battle they never fought, yet continue to work toward a clearer image of the world”.

Thanks to Dr. Flavio Andreis for bringing this quirky classic Czech novella (about life in a police state, and much more) to my attention. I'd somehow missed it (although a huge fan of Closely Observed Trains). I'm not sure I really liked the book, or empathized with the narrator, apart from a few passages:

"If I could go to Greece, I said to myself, I'd make a pilgrimage to Stagira, the birthplace of Aristotle, I'd run around the track at Olympia...If I could go to Greece with that Brigade of Socialist Labour, I'd lecture to them on all the suicides, on Demosthenes, on Plato, on Socrates, if I could go to Greece with the Brigade of Socialist Labour. But they belonged to a new era, a new world, it would all go right over their heads...Instead of compacting clean paper in the Melantrich cellar I will follow Seneca, I will follow Socrates, and here, in my press, in my cellar, choose my own fall, which is ascension..."

Listening to Hrabal (on the right)

The Prague Winter

Příliš hlučná samota, samizdat 1976; first official publication 1989

"Bohumil Hrabal suffered a fatal fall from the fifth floor of a hospital while feeding pigeons. Suicide from the fifth floor can be found in his stories and he wrote letters in which he admires certain people who had chosen that particular method to end their lives" (Wikipedia).

Hrabal: The View from the fifth floor, James Hopkin, TLS

Obituary, The Independent

Radio Praha on the literary legend

How many of its readers truly appreciated this grimly philosophical novella, Too Loud a Solitude? Perhaps the majority of them, at least in Socialist Czechoslovakia, and not just the censors, had "no feeling for what the book might mean".

"Somebody had to decide that the book was unfit to read, and someone had to order it pulped", as Hrabal describes the complicated life-cycle of a book and the skills of many skilled individuals that go into its production, and its ultimate destruction.

Monday, 15 January 2018

Axel Scheffler's sketchbooks; Childrens' Book Illustrator

Axel Scheffler opens his sketchbooks – in pictures

After hearing an interview this morning on the BBC World Service, I found this interesting article in The Guardian

BBC World Service Radio:

Why The Gruffalo’s Axel Scheffler Draws for Europe, The Cultural Frontline

"This week on The Cultural Frontline we find out how leading international artists are responding to some of the world’s biggest news stories. The Grufallo illustrator Axel Scheffler tells The Cultural Frontline why he has responded to Brexit through illustration".

On his drawing of the owl (Eule, or EU-le), illustrated in the article below:

'We can't be quiet’: Gruffalo co-creator and fellow illustrators respond to Brexit, The Guardian

Saturday, 13 January 2018

On the Photographer Bill Brandt

From Christie's: Harry Seymour explores the life and work of the pioneering Anglo-German photographer

See also, 2014 posting:

Bill Brandt, Photographer of Social Contrasts; Maiden Castle; Pulpit Rock; Hardy's Wessex

Bill Brandt, Maiden Castle, Thomas Hardy's Wessex, 
Lilliput, May 1946

Patrick Leigh Fermor: Remembering Steven Runciman

From the Patrick Leigh Fermor blog ( - first published in The Spectator

"We bumped into each other now and then in London later on, and after the war Steven was appointed British Council Representative in Athens; the novelist, poet and translator of Euripedes, Rex Warner, was in charge of the British Institute and I was rashly created his deputy director. It was a fascinating time to be in Athens. The war was over and the later troubles had not yet really begun. It was the Athens of the songs of Sophia Vembo and the rebirth of bouzottki; the place was full of Greek and English friends, and there were wonderful parties and newly discovered tavernas every single night. When it was thought that I might be more useful outside the capital. I was sent to lecture all over the mainland and the islands. This involved six months in the remotest places I could find. They were of the greatest possible value for literary purposes later on. But I was far from an ideal deputy director, and when this became plain and departure loomed, not an atom of blame attached to Steven".

See also: The British Council in Corfu, 1946-1955