Jiří Karásek ze Lvovic: Gotická duše (Gothic Soul)


The latest addition to my website is Jiří Karásek ze Lvovic‘s Gotická duše (Gothic Soul). This is Czech Decadence at its best, a response to or, more likely, a homage to J K Huysmans’ classic decadent novel, À rebours (Against the Grain). The unnamed narrator, last scion of a distinguished family, with only a few unhinged female relatives left alive, has been planning to train as a priest or monk, more for the solitude and contemplation than because of any religious fervour but abandons the idea because of melancholy, doubt and fear of people. He lives alone, with only the occasional servant appearing, and wallows in decadence, despair and melancholy. He is obsessed with death, so much so that his image of Prague is of a deserted city, with only churches, chapels, crypts, and cloisters. He only seems to come alive when contemplating death. He struggles with his soul, with his religious views and with life. He shuns people, though occasionally seeking, unsuccessfully, to make friends (though this may well be for sexual purposes, as Karásek was gay at a time when homosexuality was very much frowned upon.) He wanders around the gloomy and deserted city, often ending up at the deserted Barnabite cloisters. He visits his aunt and, after wandering around her large house looking for her, he does find her but she mistakes him for her long dead son. The nihilism of the Czech soul also hangs over him, leaving him with nothing to hope for and nothing to live for. It is a thoroughly gloomy book but is good to finally have one of the classic Czech Decadence novels in English. Indeed, apart from a few stories translated into English, German and Spanish, this is the first work of Karásek’s to be translated and we must be grateful for Twisted Spoon Press for publishing it.

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