Aloys Skoumal


Aloys Skoumal (1904-1988) at the Intersection of Roads of the 20th Century Czech Culture


The proceedings from a symposium of the same name, which took place in České Budějovice on 11 and 12 November 2004, are the first cultural-history presentation of the literary and cultural activities of a translator, reviewer, literary historian, and original commentator on Czech society, Aloys Skoumal. His name has faded down over the time even though his 1930s and 1940s activities largely mingled with the main streams of the then Czech culture, ranging from presentations of ideas formulated by a university grouping around Vilém Mathesius, pro-Christian literary efforts, criticism of the pragmatic inclinations of culture, to - in the latter half of the 1940s - official promotion of Czech culture abroad and preservation of the mission of Czech literature in a new political environment. In the 1950s, he proceeded to criticism of literary and cultural pseudovalues although very little was published. It was only afterwards that his best-known translation period began.

Thanks to Skoumal's active and curious spirit, a study of his life and works means also meeting the key milestones of the development and forms of Czech culture of the 20th century. The symposium, the research findings of which are presented in the proceedings, was not intended to summarize and conclude the topic but, on the contrary, to open the same, to define a real cultural-history space by outlining a wide and purposive activity of the creative subject (Aloys Skoumal), not omitting his life story, which played an important role.

The symposium, supported by the Grant Agency of the Czech Republic (grant No. 405/04/0660), was organized by the Historical Institute (HI) within the University of South Bohemia (USB) in České Budějovice.

The proceedings are opened with an introduction by Vladimír Papoušek, the USB Research Vice-Rector and a bohemicist, who points out the underestimated significance of the translation phenomenon in Czech culture. In particular Skoumal's works (translations of innovative novels by Laurence Stern and James Joyce) evidently inspired the contemporary Czech prose. V. Papoušek also mentions foreign response to English-Czech translations as well as the absence of a comprehensive assessment of the translated literature within the Czech cultural and literary history of the 20th century.

The title of the first contribution "Život a názory blahorodého pana Aloyse Skoumala" (Dagmar Blümlová, České Budějovice) paraphrases the name of the Czech translation of L. Stern's novel The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, with which Skoumal identified in many regards in terms of its philosophical background (humanistic irony) and trust in the potential of language. The biographical text highlights the key moments of Skoumal's life and work. It builds on two crucial features of his family background: authentic Christianity experienced in rural Moravia (Skoumal was born in Pačlavice near Kroměříž) and actively perceived musicianship. Another milestone is his studies at the Episcopal Grammar School in Kroměříž and meeting teachers such as Josef Vašica. The following Skoumal's Prague stay and studies at the Charles University Faculty of Philosophy shaped the young attendant of the English, Bohemian, and German Studies through the personal influence of professors Vilém Mathesius and Otokar Fischer and a strong generation of his fellow students, future researchers and artists born during the first five years of the 20th century, who became his close friends. They included students in Mathesius's and Fischer's seminars such as Erik Adolf Saudek, René Wellek, and Vojtěch Jirát as well as artists such as Jan Čep, Vilém and Jaroslav Závada, Jan Zahradníček, and František Halas. D. Blümlová's paper pays attention also to Skoumal's university colleague and later his wife, Hana Duxová, who was an excellent translator, too. In addition, the author outlines the particularity of Skoumal's position in the so-called "Catholic Literature" and pronounces a hypothesis of origination of Skoumal's personal programme consisting of critical, publishing, translation, and satiric activities, which was aimed at cultivation of Czech literature and which Skoumal was systematically fulfilling throughout his life. Furthermore, Blümlová depicts the Skoumal family, focusing on the war years and reminding one of Skoumal's diplomatic career and his troublesome status within the 1950s Czech culture, and explains his concentration on translations. The paper is concluded with a view of the poetics of Skoumal's own epigrammatic and aphoristic works.

The following papers develop the private and career sketches of Skoumal's heritage. Jindřich Růžička (Litomyšl) is the only representative of a memoir group. His Vzpomínka na Hanu a Aloyse Skoumalovy ("A Memory of Hana and Aloys Skoumal") recalls the relationship of the Skoumal couple to the rural countryside at Budislav near Litomyšl, where they took refuge from the Prague rush and found concentration for their work from the mid 1950s to the end of their lives.

A set of depictions of Skoumal's relationships within the university is opened with Aloys Skoumal a E. A. Saudek ("Aloys Skoumal and E. A. Saudek") by Jan Vrtiš (Prague), which characterizes the Saudek personality as well as his translation approach, outlines his forming by the family and university background, follows - in detail and from a critical distance - Saudek's career in which the dark parts (his work at the National Theatre after February 1948) are balanced by his humane features, which are apparent in particular in his private relationships, among which his friendship with Skoumal belonged to the crucial ones.

Contributing the essay Na rozhraní vědy a umění - R. Wellek a A. Skoumal jako posluchači seminářů V. Mathesia a O. Fischera ("At the Edge between Science and Arts - R. Wellek and A. Skoumal as V. Mathesius's and O. Fischer's Seminars Students"), Miloš Zelenka (České Budějovice - Prague) provides insight into the methodologically and humanly creative atmosphere of the two named seminar workshops. In his interpretative comparison the author focuses in particular on Wellek and his works, mentioning also Wellek's later view of translations made by his former colleagues including Skoumal.

Relationships and Skoumal's England-related activities are discussed in Martina Jiroušková's paper Aloys Skoumal a Anglie ("Aloys Skoumal and England"). The author exploited the available archival resources in order to present Skoumal's diplomatic career as a cultural attaché in England from 1947 to 1950, when he was officially dismissed. Step by step, Skoumal's liking to English literature, his study trips to England, and his specific interest in Ireland are tracked. Attention is paid also to his sophisticated promotion of Czech (especially musical) culture in England and to a depiction of the Skoumal family during Aloys's diplomatic service as well as after his premature removal.

Introduction to relationships, both friendly and hostile, within Skoumal's publishing activities is the topic of Rober Sak's (České Budějovice) paper O jednom "ostnatém" přátelství ("About a Thorny Friendship") subtitled as Aloys Skoumal a Bedřich Fučík ("Aloys Skoumal and Bedřich Fučík"). As the title implies, the relationship between the two, typologically similar yet strange, personalities was multivalent and did not lack dramatic features, which affected the operations of the Vyšehrad Publishing House where both the men were involved. Sak's argumentation endeavours to clarify the liaison or, to be more precise, its development curves. This paper shifts the central topic towards literature and Czech literary environment.

The literature-related set is opened with Membra disiecta kolem Aloyse Skoumala ("Membra Disiecta Concerning Aloys Skoumal") by Michal Bauer (České Budějovice). From six viewpoints the author lets Skoumal enter Czech literature in new contexts and meanings, disputing a rather simplistic scholastic classification of the Czech interwar literature and stressing the impossibility to "squeeze" Skoumal into a single traditionally delimited category. The paper continues with a definition of the Skoumal phenomenon on the basis of memoir resources and presents a surprising revelation about a considerable importance of Skoumal's speeches at major events of writer organisations (The Czech Writers Syndicate and The Union of Czechoslovak Writers). In particular Skoumal's appearance at the Writers Congress in 1946 is rated as crucial; this can be - apart from other things - attributed to the fact that the speech clearly warned about Socialist-Realism art, which the author documents by numerous quotations from archival resources. Bauer also touches on Skoumal's interpretations of English literature and finally he proceeds to unveiling expression parallels between Skoumal and his poet friends, Závada and Halas. The link is seen in their fight for the word. A convincing confirmation of a human dimension of these three men's relationship is the words of condolence to Halas's wife after the poet's death.

The next paper by Jitka Bednářová (Brno) Aloys Skoumal a Stará Říše ("Aloys Skoumal and Stará Říše") is dedicated to Aloys Skoumal's relationship to the personality of Josef Florian of Stará Říše, to his Dobré dílo publishing house and spiritual culture centre, and to Stará Říše periodicals (in particular Archy), commenting also on Skoumal's contributions to the "Stará Říše workshop".

The subject of literature is closed by Jitka Rauchová (České Budějovice) with her short text Aloys Skoumal a divadlo ("Aloys Skoumal and the Theatre"). In a chronological summary the author follows Skoumal's vivid interest in this phenomenon, seeing its climax especially in Skoumal's concept of drama reviews, which goes far beyond the usual standard of this genre both in terms of its width and depth.

The following two papers pertain to a wider perception of history among people around Skoumal. Josef Blüml (České Budějovice), in his Poselství Jana Čepa o člověku v dějinách ("Jan Čep's Message on Man in History"), introduces one of Skoumal's closest friends, Jan Čep, searching for a typological link between the two personalities in a sketch of Čep's view of man in the course of human history.

In his supplementary paper Křesťanství jako orientační mezník Bohdana Chudoby ("Christianity as Bohdan Chudoba's Orientation Background"), Bohumil Jiroušek (České Budějovice - Prague) discusses the possible impact of a Catholic background on the research interpretation of an issue, namely Chudoba's interpretation of Czech history. The author transfers a debate on the rights and possibilities of Catholicism within the process of creation, in which both young Skoumal and Čep passionately and untiringly participated, to the present days.

The final text contained in the proceedings is a demonstration of the contemporary literary-science interpretation methods, using a text that Skoumal accompanied by his afterword. Marcela Pátková's paper Možnost interpretace románu Nevykoupení ("A Possible Interpretation of Maria Zef") offers the author's insight into a novel by Paola Drigo, Italy, using its Czech translation by Nina Tučková, which Pátková (České Budějovice) confronts with Skoumal's approach. In addition to its other merits, Pátková's interpretation gives one a better idea of A. Skoumal's philological capacities, since Italian belonged to languages he had an active command of.

On the occasion of the conference, the NTP Pelhřimov publishing house published Malý Budiždán Aloyse Skoumala, a selection of Skoumal's aphorisms, epigrams, and sarcasms, edited by Dagmar Blümlová.