Literature from 1900–1945

At the end of the 19th century Czech literary modernism was moving away from the prevailing realism. Anti-realistic tendencies and a resistance to the national literary traditions grew in the first decades of the 20th century, led by a desire to follow, imitate and even anticipate European trends. This can be seen particularly in the works of the poetists and later the surrealists, such as Vítězslav Nezval (1900–1958). In interwar Prague there was a large community of authors writing in German, the most celebrated being Franz Kafka (1883–1924), who influenced literature worldwide and is still widely read. In his immortal Švejk, which is famous across the world today, the humorist Jaroslav Hašek (1883–1923) precisely captured the type of Czech mentality which outwardly appears to be kowtowing but is in actual fact not capitulating to the oppressive powers which regularly alternate in the heart of Europe. The armed mobilisations during the world wars inspired writers such as Karel Čapek (1890–1938) to write dystopias, warning against the destruction of the world. A way out from the crisis of private and social problems was offered by the Catholic literary current, for example by Jaroslav Deml (1878–1961), as well as by left-leaning authors such as Julius Fučík (1903–1943). The latter were the forerunners of the poetics of socialist realism which became institutionalised following the communist seizure of power in 1948. Attempts at authenticity and experiments on the border between literature and visual art came from Jiří Kolář (1912–2002) and the influential Skupina 42 group. Vladimír Holan (1905–1980) stands out amongst the poets as an author of intellectually demanding, reflective and meditative poetry of personal images.