The Slovak Novel Essay - Critical Essays


Slovak literature, and consequently Slovak fiction, is less well known than the neighboring Czech fiction. This could be a negative consequence of having a binational state. The country was, until it split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1993, known as Czechoslovakia, and if one thought about translating anything of “Czechoslovakian” literature, one thought first of Czech literature, not Slovak literature. (Some encyclopedias published post-1993 contain articles about “Czechoslovakian” literature.)

In addition to good poetry, interesting and occasionally brilliant works are to be found in Slovak literature. This fiction is very much unlike the fiction of any of Slovakia’s neighbors, perhaps because it reflects radically different living conditions: Slovakia, like Switzerland, is a country of mountains, of shepherds and lumberjacks, but also of rapidly growing cities; its capital, Bratislava, always had a cosmopolitan atmosphere because of its German and Hungarian populations. The center of gravity of Slovak fiction, then, not surprisingly, lies in the exploitation of the country’s mountainous geography. The Slovak village novel is characteristically concerned with unspoiled, natural people; the traditional lifestyle of the people of the mountains is juxtaposed to the artificial existence offered by the cities. This contrast is particularly well developed and fortified by an indigenous Slovak tradition of lyric prose. Indeed, while there are urban Slovak novels and experimental novels that betray common Central European—that is, Western—heritage, the main accomplishment of Slovak long fiction is the development and establishment of the rich genre of lyric prose.

Jozef Ignác Bajza (1755-1836) stands at the beginning of Slovak prose with his novel René mládenca príhodi a skúsenosti (1783; the adventures and experiences of the young man René), published even before the codification of the Slovak language (1843). The novel bears traces of the influence of Voltaire and Christoph Martin Wieland.

The first half of the nineteenth century was taken up with the gradual establishment of the revivalist movement, expressed in literature mainly through poetry. Prose reaffirmed itself in the second half of the century with Retaurácia (1860; the elections), by Ján Kaliniak (1822-1871), wherein the world of the Slovak gentry’s life is pictured in Hungary before 1848, the revolutionary year. The problem of Slovak politics in the absence of a Slovak state (for Slovakia was then a part of Hungary) is indirectly posed...

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