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Corinne Fournier Kiss, Alenka Jensterle, Zofia Taraj?o-Lipowska

Prague as a cultural center for Slav women writers


The 19th century saw the awakening of national consciousness in many European countries. In the Slavic regions of Central Europe, which all were under the yoke of foreign powers (Russian, Austrian or Prussian), this awakening was accompanied by a fight for independence on the political, and also on the cultural level : the Slavs wanted to be free to express themselves in their vernacular language. However, these efforts of Central European intellectuals did not occur in isolation. Reciprocal influences were important, which sometimes went to take the form of panslav movements. The first significant gesture toward realization of a panslav ideal was given by the Czechs, who organised a Slavic Congress in Prague in 1848. This Congress was a failure from the political point of view, but did have unexpected socio-cultural repercussions: it notably served as a pretext for the advancement of women's issues in Bohemia.

On the occasion of a meeting convened for the purpose of getting the political prisoners released, Honorata z Wi?niowskich Zapová (1825-1856), a young Polish woman from Galicia who moved to Prague after her marriage with a Czech writer, took the floor to point out that the collaboration between Slavic women could bring a great support to men if only there would be better taken care of their education. The result of this speech was the foundation of the first women's association in Prag, the Spolek Slovanek, or "Association of Slav Women" (1848). Honorata, honoured as an « apostle of Slavic reciprocity » (quote of Karolina Sv?tlá), inaugurated then a (short-lived) bilingual Czech-Polish institute for girls, and last but not least, wrote many essays in Czech journals on her native country as well as a book of pedagogy, strongly inspired by the Polish writer Klementyna Ta?ska-Hoffmanowa (1798-1845).

Honorata was certainly at the origin of the polonophilia wind that blew over the Czech emancipation movement in the second half of the 19th century. In this respect, two Polish women writers, Eliza Orzeszkowa (1841-1910) and Maria Konopnicka (1842-1910), caught in particular the attention of the Czech women, and were translated into Czech as soon as published in Poland. For their part, the two Polish writers did not miss an opportunity to express their interest for Czech issues. Both came several times to Prague and developed a close friendship with Czech intellectuals and Czech women writers (especially with Eliška Krásnohorská and Pavla Maternová).

At the turn of the 19th and 20th century, Prague continues to play for women writers the role of the capital of Slav solidarities. Nevertheless, if in the second half of the 19th century, the Polish female impact was the most noticeable of all Slav impacts, at the end of the 19th century, Slovene women writers began to get themselves talked about in the « Golden city» : that is mainly the case of Zofka Kveder (1878-1926), the first Slovene professional women writer. She felt so attracted by Czech culture that she moved to Prague in 1900 and stayed there till 1906. Here she became conscious of her gender identity, and she began soon to write in Czech and publish novels about tragic women’s fates, as well as articles in women’s journals. Her work was very favourably received in Prague, especially by Czech feminist women writers and critics like R?žena Svobodova and Zdenka Hasková. Her need for a Slavic solidarity as large as possible was so strong that after a few years, it made her move to another Slav country: in 1906, she left Prague for Zagreb, where she pursued her writing career in Croat language.

SvD, 26 May 2013

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