I’ve got this thing I’m working on – a collage, biography, homage; a correction, dedication, amalgamation.
It’s about her:
You’ve probably never heard of her. I hadn’t either – until I went to Prague.
She was a woman and a writer. And she is on the 500 crown note of Czech currency. (A woman! A writer!)
That image was the inspiration for my painting:
(A woman in America would probably have to invent the moon and the stars before she’d get put on a dollar bill, but that’s another sad story.)
She spent much of her 19th-century life promoting Czech nationalism, traveling the Czech and Slovak Republics (aka Bohemia and Moravia) and recording the folk tales of the people – in their own languages. She was fighting against German – though, oh how she loved German Romanticism – both the language and culture that threatened her native lands. Ironically, her last name (the one she got from her husband, who hated her as much as he loved her) means GERMAN.
So she’s a fairy tale writer and story writer. Her Babička was one of the most famous Czech books ever. Babička means grandmother, and the book, based on her own grandmother, celebrates rural Czech life. Here’s a copy I bought at a used book store in Prague this summer:
You can see how warm and homey the images are. You just want to sit on Granny’s lap and hear another story. Or toss some yarn to the kitties. But Granny’s stories and not all happy stories. (There’s poor Viktorka…seduced by a soldier…drowned her baby…killed by lightning…)
And there’s more to Božena Němcová than you find when you start looking around, like I did. What I found was that all the sources said how bitter she was.
For good reason: she had a miserable marriage and more miserable affairs. She had four children whom she struggled to afford, and one of them died at age 14. She wrote and wrote and got paid almost nothing. Her husband said she’d amount to nothing. And she died in her 40s, probably of cancer, definitely in poverty. Then her body was carried through the streets of Prague in a huge procession and she was buried at the Vyšehrad Cemetery in the company of folks like Antonín Dvořák, Bedřich Smetana, Karel Čapek, and Alphonse Mucha.
But! Then I started reading her letters and fairy tales, and this woman was so much more than bitter. So I started arranging all those words – hers, theirs – to see what new story might emerge.
Part of my progress is posted here at Shadowbox Magazine. (Scroll over the CAR, which will say FOLIO. Click. Read. Scroll down.)
I got an Individual Artist Grant from the Indiana Arts Commission to keep on keeping on. Which is good because I’ve got more to do: more paintings, more images, and some letters of my own addressed to B. About being a woman/writer/mother/desirer.
Oh wow! That’s awesome!
It’s wonderful that you are helping disseminate Czech culture here in America. I am of Czech heritage and recently (this past July) visited Prague for several weeks for the first time. I sincerely admire Czech culture and the unique place that the Czech lands have held throughout history. I highly enjoy the writings of Karel Capek, as well as Jaroslav Hasek, and the illustrious Jara Cimrman (the greatest Czech in history). As you told me I would be, I am unfamiliar with Bozena Nemcova, but am extremely pleased to see Czech perspectives reaching our often culturally-deaf ears.
Ivan, I’m Czechoslovak, and it was only after the countries split that I found out I’m just Slovak. 🙂 But I love both countries, and I love love love Prague, and its writers and artists – like Capek and Hasek and Kafka and Kundera and Ivan Klima and Bohumil Hrabal and on and on. I’ve got a couple other Prague posts if you click “Prague” on my category list. Thanks for your comment! – Kelcey
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