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The Czech Avant-Garde Literary Movement Between the World Wars

edited by Ondrej Sládek and Michael Heim

Thomas G. Winner, Ondrej Sládek and Michael Heim

The Czech Avant-Garde Literary Movement Between the Two World Wars tells the little-known story of the renaissance of Czech literary arts in the period between the two world wars. The avant-garde writers during this period broke down the barrier between the elite literary language and the vernacular and turned to spoken language, substandard forms, everyday sources such as newspapers and detective stories, and forms of popular entertainment such as the circus and the cabaret. In his analyses of the writings of this period, Thomas G. Winner illuminates the aesthetic and linguistic characteristics of these works and shows how poetry and linguistics can be combined. The Czech Avant-Garde Literary Movement Between the Two World Wars is essential reading for courses on modern Czech literature, comparative literature, and Slavic literature.
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Author’s Preface


My interest in the Czech avant-garde grew out of the experiences of my youth and young adulthood. I was born in Prague during the period in which the Czech artistic avant-garde flourished, and I became an enthusiastic reader of the works of the poets, prose writers, painters, dramatists and theatrical artists who were members of the poetist and surrealist movements of the time. I read the avant-garde literature, visited the exhibits of paintings, and attended the theatrical productions of the two principal avant-garde theaters in Prague, the Liberated Theater (Osvobozené divadlo) directed by the young student-actors Voskovec and Werich, popularly abbreviated simply as V+W, and the theater directed by E. F. Burian, known popularly as 2Déčko (The “D”), which changed its name every year as D (for divadlo, theater) plus the current year: D31, D32, etc. The spirit of the avant-garde art persisted in spite of the threatening clouds of German Hitlerism and war that hung over us all during the second half of the thirties. In 1939 I won a refugee fellowship to Harvard University where I pursued my studies of literature. My interest in the Czech avant-garde was further stimulated when I went to work for the U.S. Office of War Information’s overseas branch charged with preparing and spreading anti-Hitler propaganda to occupied Europe. My duties lay in the area of Central and Eastern Europe, and I had the opportunity to work personally with the leading spiritus moventes of the V+W theater, Jan Werich, Ji...

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