Nováková, Teréza (1853–1912)

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Nováková, Teréza (1853–1912)

Czech regionalist writer and ethnographer who is regarded as one of the masters of the realist novel in Czech literature. Name variations: Tereza Novakova; Theresa Lanhaus. Born Teréza Lanhausová in Prague, Czechoslovakia, on July 31, 1853; died in Prague on November 13, 1912; married; children: at least four.

Born in Prague five years after the failed political revolution of 1848, Teréza Nováková grew up in an atmosphere permeated by Czech cultural nationalism. Although many Czechs did not believe that political freedom from Austrian rule was possible, most were convinced that as a people they needed to create a cultural tradition which could compete with that of the Austro-Germans, who looked down on them as ignorant peasants and servants. Nováková began writing short stories and novels while still in her teens, but these early works lack an original style, are derivative of Romanticism, and waver "between sentimentality and Byronism," writes Arne Novák. Didacticism informs her early published works, which deal with such issues as "true" and "hollow" patriotism and the major public controversies of the day, particularly the nationality conflicts between Czechs and Germans in the city of Prague.

During the last years of her life, after fate had dealt Nováková major blows (by 1908, her husband and four of her children had died), she retired from Prague to live in the city of Litomysl. She remained in regular contact with Prague's lively intellectual community by corresponding with a number of friends, including Adolf Heyduk, Alois Jirásek, Otakar Theer, and Ruzena Svobodová (1868–1920). For most of her life, Nováková had lived in the world of the Prague intelligentsia. One of her mentors during the formative years of her literary career was the lyric Romantic writer Caroline Svetla (1830–1899), whose biography Nováková published in 1890. Both Nováková and Svetla were heavily influenced by specific regions of Bohemia, Svetla by the Jestedi area and Nováková by the unspoiled countryside of easternmost Bohemia. Nováková made extensive field trips to this region, studying the various aspects of folk culture there not only from the view of a writer and artist, but also from an ethnographic perspective. These investigations resulted in several important publications, including Kroj llidovy a národni vysiváni na Litomyslsku (Folk Costume and Embroidery in Litomysl, 1890) and Z nejvychodnejsich Cech (From Easternmost Bohemia, 1898). In 1895, she was able to share her knowledge of the folkways of the Czech peasantry with her Prague colleagues by participating in the famous Czech Ethnographic Exhibition that took place that year, contributing both written essays of her observations and authentic costumes she had collected in villages.

Although Teréza Nováková was born and would die in Prague, her writings set in that tradition-soaked city are considered to be among her weaker works. They include Z mest i ze samot (From the Cities and From Loneliness, 1890) and Malomestsky román (A Petty Bourgeois Novel, 1890). Both critics and readers were much more enthusiastic about Nováková's stories and novels set in Eastern Bohemia. Although not overtly political, these works reflect the determined attitudes of Czech nationalists in the closing decades of the 19th century, when Prague's intellectuals were inspired by a "neo-Revivalist" ideology based on the Czech national revival movement of the early 1800s that had created a modern Czech consciousness. The collection of stories set in Eastern Bohemia, Ulomky 'uly (Chunks of Granite, 1902), pleased critics and readers alike, and set the stage for a successful series of regional works that have become classics.

Nováková regarded history as a vast storehouse of human experience that could serve modern society as it struggled to move closer to national liberation and social justice. In her novel Jan Jilek, set during the late Middle Ages when the Protestant Czech Brethren rose up to protest the corruptions of the Roman Catholic Church, she drew a clear analogy between that period in her nation's past and the working-class struggle for social justice in modern times. The same theme is treated in Jiri Smatlán, a novel in which a poor weaver decides to improve his world by joining the Social Democratic movement. In the novel Na Librove grunte (On the Libra Estate), class struggles between peasants and landlords during the revolutionary upheavals of 1848 are depicted in great, and often tragic, detail.

Although all of these books paint positive portraits of an exploited peasantry and proletariat fighting for its rights, Nováková's sympathy for her subjects did not blind her to the fact that, in history, the deserving do not always win. In Drasar, one of her last books, the protagonist, who was based on an actual member of the national revival movement, fails to achieve his goals. Both individuals and society are profoundly flawed, she argues, thus making it difficult if not impossible to translate ideals into reality. Modern readers have found many of Nováková's works to be too polemical. At the same time, in recent years critics have shown a growing respect for her ability to fill rich historical canvases with stunning details, based either on her knowledge of Czech history or her ethnographic investigations.

As a feminist, Nováková made a case for both social legislation and transformation of attitudes that would lift the burdens society placed on women at all of life's stages. From 1897 to 1907, she edited the journal Zensky svet (Women's World). She also wrote The Hall of Fame of Czech Women (1894) and From the Women's Movement, a volume published in 1912, the year of her death. Teréza Nováková died in Prague on November 13, 1912. Publication of her collected works, which began in 1914 under the editorship of Arne Novák but was delayed by war and the creation of the Czechoslovak Republic in 1918, was finally completed in 1930, when the 17th and final volume of the set came off the press. Nováková's major works continue to be read in the Czech Republic, and she is regarded as one of the indispensable writers of a classic period of the Czech nation's cultural renaissance.


Chaloupka, Otakar. Teréza Nováková, a vychodni Cechy. Havlickuv Brod: Vychodceské nakl., 1963.

"Dopisy Terézy Novákové Zdenku Nejedlemu," in Ceska Literaturá. Vol. 24, 1976, pp. 53–64.

Forst, Vladimir. "Jedna Zapomenuta prace Terézy Novákové," in Ceská Literaturá: Casopis pro Literarni Vedu. Vol. 13, 1965, pp. 146–154.

Janácková, Jaroslava. "Osobnost a Konvence: Nad Prvni Knihou Korespondence Terézy Novákové" [Personality and Convention: The First Book of the Correspondence of Teréza Nováková], in Ceská Literatura. Vol. 37, no. 5, 1989, pp. 447–450.

Kellnerová, Anna. "Prvni narodopisne studie Terézy Novákové a jeji ucast Narodopisne vystave Ceskoslovanske," in Cesky Lid: Narodopisny Casopis. Vol. 58, 1971, pp. 291–294.

Mamatey, Professor Victor. Personal communication.

Novák, Arne. Czech Literature. Translated by Peter Kussi. Edited by William E. Harkins. Ann Arbor, MI: Michigan Slavic Publications, 1976.

——. O Tereze Novákové. Ceska Trebova: F. Lukavsky, 1930.

Pynsent, Robert B. "The Liberation of Woman and Nation: Czech Nationalism and Women Writers of the Fin de Siecle," in Robert B. Pynsent, ed., The Literature of Nationalism: Essays on East European Identity. NY: Macmillan-St. Martin's Press in Association with the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University of London, 1996, pp. 83–155.

——, and S.I. Kanikova, eds., Reader's Encyclopedia of Eastern European Literature. NY: HarperCollins, 1993.

Svadbová, Blanka. "Praha a Litomysl v Rané Tvorbe Terézy Novákové" [Prague and Litomysl in the Early Work of Teréza Nováková], in Ceská Literatura, Vol. 34, no. 3, 1986, pp. 208–226.

——. "Teréza Nováková, a Czech Regionalist Writer," in Ceská Literatura, Vol. 29, no. 5, 1981, pp. 398–415.

——. "Z Listáre Terézy Novákové: Vzájemná Korespondence s Adolfem Heydukem" [From Teréza Nováková's Letters: Correspondence with Adolf Heyduk], in Ceská Literatura. Vol. 32, no. 1, 1984, pp. 75–87.

——, and Irena Stepanová. "Tereza Novakova a jei narodopisne prace," in Cesky Lid: Narodopisny Casopis. Vol. 80, no. 2, 1993, pp. 109–117.

John Haag , Associate Professor of History, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia