Jan Nepomuk Neruda (Czech: [ˈjan ˈnɛpomuk ˈnɛruda]; 9 July 1834 – 22 August 1891) was a Czech journalist, writer, poet, art critic, one of the most prominent representatives of Czech Realism and a member of the "May School".
Jan Neruda was born in Prague, Bohemia, son of a small grocer who lived in Malá Strana (Lesser Quarter) district of Prague. Firstly he lived in the Újezd Street and later his family moved to the Ostruhová Street (today called Nerudova). They owned the house “U Dvou Slunců” (At the two suns) and moved there when he was four-year-old.
His studies began in 1845 at Grammar school at Malá Strana and then in 1850 at Academic Grammar School in Klementinum. His favourite writers at the time were for example Heine, Byron, Shakespeare, Mácha or Nebeský. After graduation he tried to study law, but he failed. He worked as a clerk but he didn’t like it. He decided to study at Charles University. After studying philosophy and philology, he worked as a teacher until 1860, when he became a freelance journalist and writer.
He started his career as a journalist for Národní Listy (National Sheets), later in the Obrazy Domova (Pictures of Home) and the Čas (Time). He also cooperated with the Květy (Blossoms) and with the Lumír magazine. He became the leader of the generation (Světlá, Hálek, Heyduk, Sabina,..) which wanted to continue in the legacy of Karel Hynek Mácha. They were publishing their works in the literary almanac Máj.
In 1871 Neruda was declared to be a Traitor of the Nation. At this time he spent some time abroad, for example in Italy, Greece, France, Germany, Hungary or Egypt. He tried to record all the observations he could see. It contains some interesting pieces which can declare him as a good observer.
From 1883 to his death he lived in the Vladislavova Street 1382/14 in Nové Město, Prague.
His second love was Světlá. She was a writer. They supported each other with their works. She also supported him with money. When he had trouble, she sold her precious brooch and lent him the money. Unfortunatelly, her husband Petr Mužák found out about it and forced him to stop the relationship with his wife. He also had to give him all the letters they have written to each other. These letters were the template for the movie called “Příběh lásky a cti” (The story of love and honor).
He had a close relationship with his mother. Her death in 1869 really affected him. His works became sadder afterwards.
In his work 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. Neruda became, with Vítězslav Hálek, the most prominent representative of the new literary trends.
Since 1880, when he suffered from inflammation of veins, he was afflicted until his death by a number of diseases. In winter of 1888, he shattered his kneecap when he slipped on ice. He did not even go to the National Sheets, the feuilleurs took the messenger from him.
He was buried at the Vyšehrad Cemetery in Prague. His funeral became a social event and a manifestation of national sentiment.
Hřbitovní kvítí (“Graveyard Flowers”) - His first poetry. It was published in 1858. The entire book is pessimistic, skeptical and hopeless. Verses are growing out of disappointment with contemporary life, societies, the inactivity of the Nation, resistance of the set morality. There is also a social issue, dealing with poverty. He does not trust love or people. Feelings of loneliness, fervor.
Knihy veršů (“Books of Verses”)- published in 1867. He moderates his pessimism, finds the point of his life - at work and sacrifice to the whole Nation. It shows love for his parents.This book is much more readable than other books, the poems are of good quality. Even here we find his gloomy social ballads. This book consists of three parts: 1. Kniha veršů výpravných (“Book of Narrative Verses”), 2. Kniha veršů lyrických a smíšených (“Book of Lyrical and Mixed Verses”) 3. Kniha veršů časových a příležitostných (“Book of Time and Occasional Verses”).
Písně kosmické (“Cosmic songs”) - published in 1878. In this books he is again discovering the meaning of his life, trying to be optimistic, responding to the development of science and technology. It celebrates cosmic bodies and human desire for knowledge. There is a materialistic understanding of the world. This work expresses feelings of the Generation called Májovci.
Balady a romance ("Ballads and Romances)" - published between 1878-1883. He confuses ballads with romances so that they often sound like the opposites. The ballads often process national themes from the Bible or old legends, and the subject of mother-son relationships appears. Some of the favourite ballads or romances are for example Romance štědrovečerní (“Christmas Romance”), Romance o Karlu IV. (“Romance about Charles IV.”), Balada česká (“Czech Ballad”) or Balada o duši K. H. Borovského (“Ballad about the soul of K. H. Borovský”).
Prosté motivy ("Plain Themes / Simple Motifs") - published in 1883. This is his intimate diary. Natural theme is really important here. The human life coincides with a cycle of seasons. Spring = youth, summer = maturity, autumn = old age, winter = death. He describes this period.
Zpěvy páteční ("Friday Songs") - published in 1896. This is his top work. This book came out after his death, prepared by Jaroslav Vrchlický. The life of the nation is compared to the Great Fate, showing the belief that the resurrection will come. It speaks of great love for the nation and reflects on national history - it turns to Hussitism. Parts of this book are V zemi kalichu (“In the country of the cup”), Anděl strážný (“Guardian angel”), Ecce homo and Láska (“Love”).
Arabesky- This is his first prosaic book published in 1864. This is a set of short stories, whose core consists of stories from the late 1850s and early 1860s. In the forefront of these short stories there is no plot, but descriptive characteristics, reflection and dialogue. Significant is humor, irony, sarcasm. In the foreground there are peculiar figurines that are captured in contrast to the environment they are included in. These are people from the periphery that society has eliminated. Neruda uncovers their sad and tragic moments, presenting them as full-fledged, emotionally rich. This puts them in opposition to prejudice and a time of conventional view. Neruda uses his own experiences and familiar environments, gives readers only cuts from the lives of characters. Stories Měla Gusto! and Za půl hodiny (“Within half an hour”) when sexual and erotic motifs appear at that time, they were added after Neruda's death.
Různí lidé (“Different People”) - Studies and pictures of the nature and fate of the people he met abroad.
Trhani- A novel about railroad workers.
Pražské obrázky (“Pictures of Prague”) - This book captures the lives of the poor.
Povídky malostránské (“Tales of the Lesser Quarter”) -This is his top prosaic work published in 1877. He created the picture of Prague's Lesser Quarter before 1848 on the basis of his own memories. Neruda's stories take the reader to its streets and yards, shops, churches, houses, and restaurants. It shows typical figures of Czech Bourgeoisie. With humor depicting their qualities, he criticizes local life. It uses the form of a novelistically integrated story, sometimes its narrative consists of a series of tiny shots of everyday life. Heroes are precisely characterized, each with a different expression. It was translated into English in 1957 by the novelist and mystery writer Ellis Peters.
He wrote some theatre plays but they weren’t really good.
Ženich z hladu (“Groom from hunger”)
Prodaná láska (“Sold love”)
Já to nejsem (“It’s not me”)
Žerty hravé a dravé (“Playful and predatory jokes”)
Studie krátké a kratší (“Short and shorter studies”)
Menší cesty (“Smaller trips”)
Obrazy z ciziny (“Pictures from abroad”)
Obrazy z ciziny (“Pictures from abroad”)
Rodinná kronika (“Family chronicle”)
After his death, one of the streets in Lesser Quarter (Ostruhová Street well-known from his books), now Nerudova ulice (Neruda Street), was named after him.The Chilean poet Neftalí Ricardo Reyes Basoalto (Pablo Neruda), who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1971, took his pseudonym after Jan Neruda.
Jan Neruda Grammar School is named for him.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Jan Neruda.|