Czech writer, poet, one of the most prominent representantives of Czech Realism. Jan Neruda’s poetry collections were based on contemporary spoken language. He was a member of “the May school”, which dominated Czech literature in the 1860s and 1870s, and which opened doors to the currents in European literature. The cosmo-political group took its name from the title of Karel Mácha’s (1810-1836) lyrico-epic poem, Máj, published shortly before the poet’s premature death. Its plot centers on the execution of an outlaw, a victim of his passions and alienation from society. ‘The May school’ expressed its desire to break away from the narrow provincialism and nationalism of the preceding period, and emphasized general human themes.
“Bylo by smešné, kdybych pochyboval, že nekterý z mých ctenáru nezná malostranský hostinec „u Štajnicu”. Prední to tamejší restaurace: první dum za mosteckou veží v levo, roh ulice Mostecké a Lázenské, velká okna, sklenené velké dvére. Jediná restaurace, která se smele postavila do nejverejnejší ulic, odvírajíc se k tomu ješte prímo na chodník – všechny restaurace ostatní jsou bud ve vedlejších ulicích, nebo se do nich vchází domem, nebo mají alespon pred sebou podloubí, v pravé malostranské skromnosti. Proto také pravý Malostranák, syn tech tichých, zamlklých ulic, plných poetických zákoutí, k Štajnicum nejde. Chodí tam vyšší úradníci, professori, dustojníci, jež tam na Malou stranu zavála náhoda a brzy snad zase odtamtud odveje, s nimi pak jen málo ješte pensistu, nekolik starých, bohatých domácích pánu, kterí živnost svou již dávno odevzdali jiným, a dost. Ráz bureaukraticko-aristokratický.” (from Povídky malostranské, 1878)
Jan Neruda was born in Prague, Bohemia, and grew up in a colorful part of old Prague called Malá Strana (Little Quarter). His father, who was an ex-serviceman. “For having helped to defeat Napoleon at Leipzing and occupy France as far as Lyon (yes, really!),” Neruda later said, “he was granted the position of porter or supplier ar various barracs”. Neruda was educated in Prague’s German schools, but at the age of thirteen he began attending lectures on the Czech language. After studying law at his father’s request, and philosophy, he worked as a teacher until 1860, when he became a free-lance writer and journalist, contributing influential essays to Národni Listy, a liberal newspaper. There were many women in Neruda’s life, but he remained a bachelor; his close friend was the writer Karolina Svetlá, she was married.
Neruda traveled widely in Europe and Near East, recording his observations in numerous feuilletons, short sketches. Altogether Neruda published 2,260 feuilletons on various subjets. In his poems, hymns and ballads Neruda promoted the idea of rebirth of Czech patriotism. He participated in all the central cultural and political struggles of his generation, and gained a reputation as a sensitive critic, followed the rapid rise of Czech literature, theatre, and fine arts. Neruda became with Vitezslav Hálek the most prominent advocate of the new literary trends.
Neruda was known for his satirical depiction of the petty bourgeois of Prague. His childhood and youth the author described in his most popular prose work, POVIDKY MALOSTRANSKÉ (1878, Tales of the Little Quarter; Prague Tales), a collection of short stories, which was translated into English first time in 1957 by the novelist and mystery writer Ellis Peters (pseudonym of Edith Pargeter). The tales take the reader to Malá Strana, to its streets and yards, shops, churches, houses, and restaurants. Neruda’s rich gallery of people include Mr. Schlegl and Mr. Ryšánek, who cannot stand each other, Mr. Vojtišek, a beggar, who is ruined by rumors of his supposed two houses, a man who wakes up in his own funeral. Behind Neruda’s laughter and descriptions of human follies are also tragic tones, as in Gogol’s short stories. Death and funerals are often present in the stories – Neruda himself had surgery for a malignant tumor at the age of forty. In ‘U trí lilií’, the narrator – Neruda – sits outside a small pub. Graves in an old cemetery nearby have been opened. It is raining heavily and he sees in a flash of lighting white human bones. A beautiful girl dances inside the pub. She goes out in the rain, but returns after some fifteen minutes. She says she just heard that her mother died. The storm rages; the narrator walks with the girl under an arcade and he feels the touch of her soft body. “Cítil jsem, jak se mi k prsoum lepí vlhký její šat, cítil mekké telo, teplý, sálající dech – bylo mne, jako bych musil vypít tu zlotrilou duši z ní!”
Neruda’s poetry collections include HRBITOVNÍ KVITÍ (1858), KNIHY VERŠU (1867), PÍSNE KOSMICKÉ (1878), which was inspired by modern science, PROSTÉ MOTIVY (1883), an intimate diary, BALADY A ROMANCES (1883), a collection of epic poems with political and social themes, and ZPWVY PÁTECNI (1896), published posthumously. After Neruda’s death on August 22, 1891, one of the streets in Prague’s Old Town, Nerudova ulice (Nerudagasse), was named after him. Neruda lived at 47 Nerudova.
For further reading: Nerudsa v dopisech by A. Prazák (1941); Jan Nruda a jeho doba by B. Stanislav (1953); Jan Neruda a jeho doba by Stanislav Budín Stanislav (1960); Neruda prozaik by A. Hamas (1968); Jan Neruda a konstituováni realismu v ceské literature by S.A Petrovna (1982); Jan Neruda – Bibliograficeskij ukazatel by Š.I. Aleksandrova and P. Pavel (1984); ‘Introduction’ by Ivan Klíma, in Praque Tales, tr. by Michael Henry Heim (1993); La Calle Neruda by J. Kresadlo (1995). – An Anthology of Czechoslovak Literature (tr. by Paul Selver, 1929) contains translations from such writers as Otokar Brezina, Antonín Sova, J.S. Machar, Jan Neruda, K. Capek and others. – Suomeksi: runokäännöksiä teoksessa Slaavilaisen kirjallisuuden kultainen kirja (1936). Nerudan Prahalaistarinoita ilmestyi Taifuunin kustantamana vuonna 2000.
- HRBITOVNÍ KVÍTÍ, 1857 (Cemetery Flowers)
- ZENICH Z HLADU, 1859
- PRODANÁ LÁSKA, 1859
- ZENA MILUJE SRDNATOST, 1860
- MERENDA NESTRÍDMÝCH, 1860
- FRANCESCA DA RIMINI, 1860
- JÁ TO NOJSEM, 1863
- ARABESKY, 1864
- PARIZSKÉ OBRÁZKY, 1864
- KNIHY VERŠU, 1867 (Books of Verses)
- ZPEVY PÁTECNI, 1869
- RUZNI LIDÉ, 1871
- OBRAZY Z CIZINY, 1872
- STUDIE, KRÁTKÉ A KRATŠI, 1876
- ZERTY, HRAVÉ A DRAVÉ, 1877
- MENŠI CESTY, 1877
- POVIDKY MALOSTRANKÉ, 1878 – Tales of the Little Quarter (tr. by Edith Pargeter, 1957) / Prague Tales (tr. Michael Henry Heim, introduction by Ivan Klíma, 1993) / Malá Strana Stories: a Week in a Quiet House (tr. 1999) – Prahalaistarinoita (suom. Eero Balk, 2000)
- KOSMICÉ PISNE, 1878 (Cosmic Songs)
- BALLADY A ROMANCE, 1878-83 (Ballads and Romances)
- PROSTÉ MOTIVY, 1883 (Plain Themes / Simple Motifs)
- ZPÉVY PÁTECNÍ, 1896 (Friday Songs)
- SEBRANE SPISY, 1907-13
- SPISY, 1950
- JAN NERUDA: KNIHY BÁSNÍ, 1998 (ed. by Aleš Haman)
- Summer Recollections: a Malá Strana feuilleton, 1999 (translated by Alice Bauerová)