Alois Jirásek (Czech pronunciation: [ˈalojs ˈjɪraːsɛk]) (August 23, 1851, Hronov, Kingdom of Bohemia – March 12, 1930, Prague) was a Czech writer, author of historical novels and plays. Jirásek was a high school history teacher in Litomyšl and later in Prague until his retirement in 1909. He wrote a series of historical novels imbued with faith in his nation and in progress toward freedom and justice. He was close to many important Czech personalities like M.Aleš, J.V. Sládek, K.V. Rais or Z.J. Nejedlý. He attended an art club in Union Cafe with them. He worked as a redactor in Zvon magazine and was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1918, 1919, 1921 and 1930.
Alois Jirásek was born on August 23, 1851, in Hronov, in the Kingdom of Bohemia (modern-day Czech Republic), which was at that time part of the Austrian Empire. He was born into a family of small farmers and weavers of modest means. His father was Josef Jirásek (1822–1901) who worked as a weaver at first and then as a baker. His mother's name was Vincencie Jirásková, née Prouzová (1821–1887). Alois had eight siblings: Helena, Josef, Emília, Rudolf, Žofie, Božena, Adolf and Antonín. He attended German Benedictine High School in Broumov (1863–1867), and Czech High School in Hradec Králové (1867–71). He then studied history at the Charles University (1871–74). After finishing his studies he moved back to Litomyšl where he taught history. He also wrote his first important works (The Philosophers' Story or Psohlavci). On August 11, 1879 he married Marie Podhajská. They had eight children together, seven daughters and one son.
In 1888 they moved to Prague. They were not satisfied with their first two apartments. But, after five years they finally found the perfect one on Ressl street, close to today's Jirasek square, where a memorial to Alois is located. They lived in this apartment from 1903 until his death in 1930. He continued in his career as a high-school teacher in Prague as well as writing literary works. Living in Prague gave him the opportunity to meet members of the artistic and scientific world. He started meeting Mikoláš Aleš with whom he shared the same artistic ideas and plans. He became friends with Zikmund Winter, K.V. Rais, but also with the younger generation including Josef Svatopluk Machar and Zdeněk Nejedlý. All of his dramas were written in Prague. On July 3, 1908, he was elected a member of Czech Academy of Arts and Sciences.
He retired in 1909 and dedicated most of his time to literature. He often visited his home town Hronov, but he also travelled around Europe which he wrote about in some of his works. He visited Chodsko, Dresden, Italy, Slovakia and Bled.
In 1917 he was one of the first to sign the Manifesto of Czech writers, which was an important proclamation that supported political efforts to have an independent country for Czechs. On October 28, 1918, Izidor Zahradník and Alois took part in the reading of the declaration of Czechoslovakia's independence. December 21, 1918, Alois greeted Tomáš Masaryk with a speech and met with him on many occasions.
Charles University awarded Alois an honorary PhD in 1919. The high school in Ressl street changed its name to Jirasek High School. He became a member of parliament in the Revolutionary National Assembly of the Czechoslovak Republic. In 1920 he became a senator in the National Assembly. He was a senator until 1925. In parliament he sat for the Czechoslovak National Democracy party.
He continued his political career until he was unable to write anymore because due to illness sick. In September 1921 he left the Roman Catholic Church; he was still a Christian, but never entered another Church. In the years 1918, 1919, 1921 and 1930 he was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature.
On March 12, 1930, he died in Prague, but was buried in his home town, Hronov. On March 15, the night before his funeral, there was a memorial service in front of the National Museum in Prague. Karel Kramář and František Soukup each gave a speech there. A national funeral took place in the National Museum. Since Alois was no longer a member of any church, the Catholic Church forbid ringing church bells in Prague. There was no priest at his funeral. T.G. Masaryk, many politicians, college professors, and diplomats attended his funeral. Ivan Dérer, Jaroslav Kvapil and Rudolf Medek each gave a speech at it. After the cremation they moved the urn to Hronov, but they stopped in many Czech cities. The last part of the funeral took place in Hronov. There were no church bells ringing; mourners could hear famous pieces by J.B. Foerster.
Jirásek is one of the most important Czech writers. He used historical details to describe the age he was writing about. The characters in his books are history makers. He described the social events of his day.
Alois began his career with verses written in a nationalistic and patriotic style. His prose works reflected the reality of contemporary countrysides. He began to write in the 1870s but was still active in the 1920s.
His first large work was an historical novel Skaláci (1875). The last work was a novel Husistký král that was never finished.
For more than 50 years he wrote stories — Povídka z hor 1878, Z bouřlivých dob 1879, Rozmanitá próza. His first story was Poklad (1873).
The range of the historical events in Jirasek's works is very comprehensive. It includes mythical periods (Staré pověsti české 1894) that are read by the young for its verses. He also wrote ballads, and romances, which were sough out by publishers, illustrators, and then by filmmakers (Filosofická historie 1888, Maryla 1885, Zahořanský hon 1889, Balda z rokoka 1905). He wrote novels V cizích službách (1885) and Psohlavci (1884). He was also the author of many chronicles. They recorded the changes in Bohemia from the beginning of the Hussites (Mezi proudy I-III 1887-1890, Proti všem 1893, Bratrstvo I-III 1900-1909), through the recatholization pressure (Temno 1913), and the uprising of the Kingdom of Bohemia in the 18th century (F. L. Věk I-V 1906, U nás I-IV 1896-1903).
Successful dramas from contemporary villages contributed to the support of realism on the stage (Vojnarka 1890, Otec 1894). Emigrant (1898) was an historical drama; it had three parts: Jan Hus, Jan Žižka, Jan Roháč.
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