Central and Southeastern European Long Fiction Critical Essays


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

The Central and Southeastern European literatures—Polish, Czech, Slovak, Hungarian, Serbian, Croatian, Slovenian, and Macedonian—have a long history, yet their long fiction did not develop until the second half of the nineteenth century, long after the genre had established itself in Western literatures. There had been earlier manifestations—in 1810 in Serbian literature, in 1836 in Hungarian, in the 1840’s in Polish—but they were only beginnings, while the full bloom would come decades later. There is a valid reason for this delay. All these countries lived under a similar historical handicap: They were all dominated, until some time in the nineteenth century, by foreign powers that prevented them from fulfilling their national potential. While the novel flourished in other, more fortunate nations, the Polish, Czech, Slovak, Hungarian, and South Slavic lands were either in the process of liberating themselves from a centuries-old yoke or were still under domination. For the same reason, the literary movements that prevailed in Western and Russian literatures in the eighteenth century and the first half of the nineteenth century came to Central and Southeastern European literatures decades later. Furthermore, all of these peoples found themselves, around the middle of the nineteenth century, in the middle of a powerful national revival, during which literature began to flourish suddenly and, understandably, in a somewhat emotional and romantic manner. It is normal that, at such times, genres other than the novel—poetry, drama, even the short story—occupy prominent positions. (Three poets from this region have won the Nobel Prize in Literature since 1980.) All of these factors contributed to the slow rise of the novel in these literatures.

As these national reawakenings began to draw to a close, the novel began to grow. Because romanticism lingered and the euphoria of the national renaissance was still in the air, there were still romantic, patriotic, and historical novels. Thus, the national renaissance contributed after all to the growth of the novel in the second half of the nineteenth century, which would eventually—and organically—lead to a flood in the next decades. The flood swelled as realism reached these literatures, again belatedly, and social conditions and problems swayed writers to pay more attention to them. The readership, hitherto rather small, grew to the extent that it demanded more...

(The entire section is 994 words.)