Václav Havel Additional Biography


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Václav Havel (HAH-vehl) was born in Prague, Czechoslovakia (now in the Czech Republic), on October 5, 1936, into a wealthy patrician family. Sharing the fate of their entire class, the Havels lost their property to collectivization when the Communist government came to power in 1948, nationalizing all private enterprises and assets. Because of the bourgeois background of his father, Václav Havel, and mother, Bozena Vavreckova, young Havel was barred from institutions of higher learning.

He nevertheless attained schooling in night classes while working in a chemical laboratory. After completing his secondary education, he became a stage technician at the ABC Theatre in Prague in 1959. Between 1960 and 1969, he worked in various positions with several playhouses, including the Theater on the Balustrade, beginning as a menial worker and advancing to become a dramaturge and playwright; concurrently, he studied dramaturgy at the Academy of Dramatic Arts in Prague.

During the years that led up to the political liberalization and reforms of the Prague Spring in 1968, the Theater on the Balustrade became the most influential theater company in Prague. Havel coauthored three plays before his first independent effort, Zahradní slavnost (pr., pb. 1963; The Garden Party, 1969), which immediately brought him critical acclaim and wider audiences. Yet all hopes for democratization, evident, for example, in a greater freedom of the press, were crushed in August, 1968, when the invasion of the Warsaw Pact armies headed by the Soviet Union restored a hard-line Communist regime under Gustáv Husák and established rigid control of the political and economic life.

During the brief period of reform, Havel had his previously confiscated passport returned to him and was permitted to travel to New York in mid-1968 to witness the first American production of his play Vyrozumní (pr. 1965, pb. 1966; The Memorandum, 1967) under Joseph Papp, a production that won an Obie Award. Two years later, Ztíená monost soustední (pr., pb. 1968; The Increased Difficulty of Concentration, 1969) met with similar success in another New York production. Immediately after the Soviet invasion, Havel, like other artists and representatives of public life, made radio broadcasts from the underground to appeal to the West for support and to call for continued protest among his compatriots against repression of civil liberties. As a result of his unequivocal championing of human rights, Havel again had his passport confiscated, and, along with thousands of others, was forced into various blue-collar jobs, some of which later provided him with subject matter for his plays and infused his vision.

Havel’s writings were not published, and his plays were banned from the stage in Czechoslovakia between 1970 and 1989. Yet he categorically refused to emigrate and continued to write regardless of all pressure and hardship. ebrácká opera (pr. 1975, pb. 1977; The Beggar’s Opera,...

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(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Václav Havel’s life and work bear witness to his unwavering humanism, his assertion of individual conscience and responsibility under adverse conditions. His primary interest is devoted to universal dilemmas that transcend the mere historical circumstances of Communist totalitarianism in central Europe and include questions of human identity, fragmentation and alienation, communicational collapse, and existential schizophrenia.

In his essay “Words on Words,” Havel describes the earthshaking potential, both beneficial and detrimental, of language. That words of truth prevail and indeed can change history has been proven by him and the thousands of students, artists, intellectuals, and ordinary citizens who peacefully toppled Czechoslovakia’s hard-line Communist regime in 1989.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Václav Havel (HAH-vehl) emerged from socialist Czechoslovakia as the most important representative of the Theater of the Absurd in Eastern Europe. Jailed for his dissident activities, Havel’s career took a remarkable turn once democracy returned to Czechoslovakia in 1989. He was acclaimed the leader of the Czech democratic movement and within a year he had been elected president of his country; he continued as president of the Czech Republic after Czechoslovakia split in two, retiring only in early 2003. Fundamental to his early development was the circumstance that he was born to the wealthy engineer Václav M. Havel and his wife, Bozena Vavreckova. Recalling childhood years later, Havel wrote that being the son in a wealthy...

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(Critical Guide to Censorship and Literature)

Havel grew up under the repressive communist regimes imposed on Czechoslovakia after the end of World War II. He was attracted to the avant garde theater, but communist authorities treated it as antisocial and subversive, so he always felt himself an outsider. Alienation became a theme of his earliest plays, The Garden Party (1963) and The Memorandum (1965). From 1969 through 1989 Havel was a subject of police persecution and was imprisoned several times for terms lasting from two days to nearly four years. By the mid-1970’s, he was considered the leading Czech dissident, admired for his outspoken “Letter to Dr. Gustav Husak” (1975), then the country’s leader.

A turning point in Havel’s...

(The entire section is 464 words.)