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AFTERWORD

Vladislav Vančura wrote Summer of Caprice over the course of a few months in the summer of 1926. He was 35 at the time and living in a town near Prague called Zbraslav, where he had a medical practice. It is fair to say that medicine did not greatly interest him, given the fact that he passed on both the practice and its patients to his wife soon afterwards, devoting himself mainly to literature. He was hailed as the spiritual father of the young poets and painters grouped around Vítězslav Nezval, Jaroslav Seifert and Karel Teige. Vančura himself, however, wrote exclusively in prose, to be found in various literary and cultural journals, though later he also became a prominent figure in Czech film and theatre. Summer of Caprice was his fourth book, written to some extent under the influence of Poetism, the Czech avant-garde movement which shortly after the first world war represented a sense of collective optimism, joie de vivre and a fascination with all things exotic. However, it is an unusual work when viewed in the context of his oeuvre taken as a whole. It contains none of the social dimension found in most of his novels and is built around a mosaic of short scenes that are not always clearly connected. Above all it is, as its sub-title states, a ‘comic novel’. The humour in the story is realised through a mixture of linguistic dexterity and the situations in which its characters find themselves. It cannot be doubted that Vančura wrote this novella for fun, as an expression of the good times he was living through and indeed that the newly-formed Czechoslovak Republic was living through in the first half of the twentieth century. Summer of Caprice was published only once in Vančura’s lifetime, shortly after he completed it, and fell rather flat with the public. Another edition followed after the second world war, by which time Vančura was already dead. At that time the critics were often in two minds about the ( 98 )

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work. The author himself was valued mainly for his onetime allegiance to communism and his commitment to resisting fascism and this was also reflected in the appreciation of his works. Moreover, the peculiar richness and extreme difficulty of Vančura’s language held up his translation into other languages, with the consequence that he remained known only in Czech literary circles. The turning point came through Jiří Menzel’s film version of Summer of Caprice in 1967, which brought the novel into the public eye. This is due to excellent acting performances depicting with passion and humour the atmosphere of a small and sleepy spa town, where three friends encounter one another around the swimming pool bereft of its public due to the ‘capricious’ June weather, ‘caprice’ being understood in the form of rain. The discussions between Antony (Antonín), the manager of the pool, Canon Gruntley (Roch) and Hugo, a retired major, which range over every possible subject-matter, each one doing so in his own way, are disturbed by the arrival of the magician Ernesto and his comely companion Anna. Their presence in the town and the acrobatic display in the evening provide the inhabitants of Krokovy Vary (Little Karlsbad) with a night to remember and disturb the quiet lives of the heroes of our story. None of them is able to resist the natural charms of Anna. The tragicomic love affairs which they enjoy with her bring about a no less tragicomic rupture in the relations between Antony and his wife Kateřina (Catherine). The upshot of this delightful farce is a return to what went before, the sleepy life of a small spa town and an empty bathing area where three friends reminisce over a glass of wine. They reminisce about what they have just lived through, even though they, like Catherine, know that while they might still muse over and dream of something new or even a different life, it is not something their own future has in store for them. ( 99 )

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Like any adaptation, Menzel’s film couldn’t carry over into another genre what is a distinctive characteristic of the novel, namely its language. A similar problem confronts any translator. Vančura tells his story using very distinctive terminology, in which the colloquial mixes with the archaic, the metaphorical with the idiomatic, and truisms join neologisms in wandering digressions. Language is the unifying feature of the novel, in which a sophisticated richness of discourse contrasts with the more plebeian tones of the heroes of the tale. Those tones are skilfully disguised by the refined discourse of Major Hugo, the learning of Canon Gruntley and the hedonism and bon-vivant jollity of Antony, as well as the assiduous petit-bourgeois aspirations of his wife Catherine. And this contrast between refinement and rawness is the founding principle of the humour in Summer of Caprice. Several sentences have become part and parcel of common speech in certain situations, such as Antony’s brief sigh in front of the thermometer in the bathing area where he says: tento způsob léta zdá se mi poněkud nešťastným (‘Such a summer, seems to me, spells misfortune’). The extent to which such expressions are taken over into common parlance is evidently not something that can be captured in a translation. Naturally a translation can relatively faithfully describe the situations in which the heroes of the tale find themselves, even though a question remains concerning how far the comic character is communicable. For example in the chapter entitled Představení třetí (The third performance) an old man, apparently somewhat the worse for wear, warns the acrobat Ernesto, who is walking the tight-rope, that he should climb down or risk a fall. Whereupon the old man persistently yanks on the rope, eventually causing one of the poles supporting Ernesto’s rope to fall, after which the acrobat himself comes tumbling down. Doubtless this grandpa said to himself, as he fled from the square, that ( 100 )

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Summer of Caprice (Ukázka, strana 99)  
Summer of Caprice (Ukázka, strana 99)