Bohumil Hrabal Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

One of the most prominent Czech writers of the last half of the twentieth century, Bohumil Hrabal (HRUHB-uhl) was widely celebrated for his comic, surrealistic narratives of ordinary people struggling to survive. Born in Brünn, Moravia, Austria-Hungary (now Brno, Czech Republic), to Francin and Maryka Hrabal, he grew up in Nymburk, where his father worked as a brewery agent. After school and during vacations, Hrabal rode with his father on a motorcycle to taverns throughout the region. These childhood experiences gave him a lifelong love of taverns as well as wide experience with common people and with vernacular speech.

Hrabal entered Charles University in Prague in 1934, but the closing of all Czechoslovakian universities by the Nazis interrupted his studies. During World War II, he worked as a clerk in a notary’s office, a train dispatcher, an insurance agent, and a salesman. Although he eventually earned a law degree, Hrabal never practiced law, continuing to work instead at various occupations. In 1949, he was employed at the steel works of Klodno, where he remained until a serious accident. After a stint as a paper salvage worker, he became a stagehand and a stage extra at the S. K. Neumann Theater in Prague.

Although Hrabal began writing poetry and prose in the late 1930’s, he believed that it was necessary, following the Communist takeover of Czechoslovakia after World War II, to keep his works hidden rather than seek publication. He did share his works with others, however, particularly in the late 1940’s and the 1950’s, when he met with such writers as Josef kvorecký and Jií Kolá. In 1956, the same year in which he married Elika Plevová, Hrabal had his first work published, two short stories in a limited private edition. With the Khrushchevite thaw reaching Czechoslovakia, Hrabal also had a volume of stories accepted for publication. The printer took so long getting his book ready, however, that the political climate shifted again, and Hrabal’s work was withdrawn only a few days prior to publication.


(The entire section is 846 words.)


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Birnbaum, Henrik, and Thomas Eekman, eds. Fiction and Drama in Eastern and Southeastern Europe. Columbus, Ohio: Slavica, 1980. Contains the essays “Forward Movement Through Backward Glances: Soviet Russian and Czech Fiction (Hrabal, Syomin, Granin),” by George Gibian, and “Hrabal’s Aesthetic of the Powerful Experience,” by Michael Heim.

Gibian, George. “The Haircutting and I Waited on the King of England: Two Recent Works by Bohumil Hrabal.” In Czech Literature Since 1956: A Symposium, edited by William Edward Harkins and Paul I. Trenský. New York: Bohemica, 1980. Provides one of the earliest pieces of criticism on Hrabal in English.

Kadlec, Václav. “Bohumil Hrabal.” In Twentieth-Century Eastern European Writers, Third Series, edited by Steven Serafin. Vol. 232 in Dictionary of Literary Biography. Detroit: Gale Group, 2001. A thorough overview of Hrabal’s career.

Miron, Susan. “Central and East European Fiction Chronicle.” Partisan Review 61 (Fall, 1994). Examines The Little Town Where Time Stood Still in the context of writings by Hrabal’s contemporaries.

Weststeijn, Willem G. “The Semantic Function of the Colours in Bohumil Hrabal’s Oste sledované vlaky.” Russian Literature 33 (April, 1993). Focuses on the novel’s use of white, black, and red.