Vladislav Vančura: Rozmarné léto (Summer Caprice)
Vančura’s third novel was a bestseller in Czechoslovakia, though it had to wait till 2006 till it was translated into English. However, It was a very successful film by Jirí Menzel. Indeed, it has been suggested that Vančura’s novel may be better suited to film than the printed page. It is a witty slice-of-life tale, full of trademark Czech wit and humour, not to mention lots of sex.
Antonín Dura runs a swimming pool on a river bank in the health resort of Little Karlsbad. (Note that the English translation translates the Czech names into English. I have left them in the original Czech.) It is the first Sunday of June in 1891 but the weather is still miserable. Nevertheless, Antonín, who is very keen on physical exercise, is going for his morning swim, naked, of course, The local canon passes by and is shocked by Antonín’s behaviour and criticises him. They are joined by Major Hugo, who is indifferent, and Katerina, Antonín’s wife, who takes the canon’s side. Katerina’s reasons for supporting the canon are less for moral reasons than because she is not getting on with her husband and does not agree with his obsession with physical exercise. There is a lot of banter between the four of them till other ladies arrive to swim. Finally they are joined by Ernesto, a travelling magician, who is in town to give some performances.
That evening the three men go out to eat and then to Ernesto’s show. (Katerina is also there but Antonín does not realise till he sees her after the show.) Ernesto is joined by a girl in a mask, called Anna, who collects the money from the audience. She is not very successful with the three men but Antonín does manage to talk to her and get her to remove her mask. Ernesto walks on a tight rope and performs magic tricks on the tight rope as well as somersaults. After the show, Katerina climbs out of the house – Antonín is already sleeping in the swimming pool cabin, apparently to guard against thieves. It is not clear if Katerina is after Ernesto or wishes to spy on Antonín. She does find Antonín locked in the cabin and, when she breaks the door down, finds him there with Anna. He claims that he had just rescued her from drowning, though she does not believe him.
The rest of the novel recounts the sexual adventures of all the main characters, the canon included, with a variety of adventures, as they are caught out by their partners and/or the townspeople in their transgressions. Some of them suffer physical injury but all of them seem to more or less remain friendly by the end. It is not high literature but it is a lot of fun, full of Czech humour and wit. But I think I preferred the film.
First published by Jan Fromek in 1926
First published in English by the Charles University, Prague in 2006
Translated by Mark Corner