A Woman in the Pantheon

Although the lion’s share of Milada Součková's work falls in the second half of the 1930s and the first half of the 1940s, the author's literary legacy is extremely relevant today. Součková combines the themes of individual identity against the backdrop of watershed historical events, and the exploration of personal memory with innovative literary techniques close to the key works of Anglo-American modernism.

“May your lists exclude my name…”

The lyrical heroine of the poem “Woman in the Pantheon” by writer and literary historian Milada Součková (1898–1983) scornfully views a museum exhibition devoted to her past. She profoundly rejects the story of literature predominantly formulated by men with its distinctly limited place for “women writers”, and also ridicules the fetishization of members of the cultural canon. Součková, who decided to remain in the USA following the communist putsch in February of 1948, was erased from the history of Czech letters for forty years. Yet the timeless quality of her writings, characterized mainly by a subversive treatment of literary schemes and conventions, the deconstruction of genres and numerous references to the cultural arsenal of European culture, has ensured her place in the imaginary “pantheon”.

Jakub Hauser

Woman in the Pantheon

I see my letters displayed here under glass
My old high heels, dresses, underskirts!
What a diligent job the gentlemen did!

I know the folly of men, men’s vanity
But exhibiting fans and corsets?
Phooey, gentlemen! Now that’s what I call shady
Oh, I’m yelling? My lovers have been legion
Yet I don’t recall you, sir, among them

I would like to don your robes, dear Muses
Freed in death of those who stripped me in life
Do not ask me for memories, tenderness
If I have to stand here and sniff my own past
Then goodbye, Pantheon! goodbye, Muses!
Better my name be left off your rolls
I would sooner go down in oblivion
Dignified, alone, with no human presence
Than have you rummage around in my past
So good-bye, Pantheon! good-bye, Muses!

Manuscript and typescript of the Milada Součková poem “Woman in the Pantheon,” reproduction, 1940–49, Milada Součková Fund

The Talking Zone

“Oh words, create a new world!”

Mluvící pásmo (The Talking Zone) refers to both the avant-garde poetic genre and to the radio of that period. The polyphonic, polythematic composition can also be read as an inventory of European civilization as it ends, as an archive of images intended for future generations. Among the exhibits reminiscent of the extinct culture there is also a spokesman for the poem, “a man with a pen in hand”, whose name was forgotten: “Nobody remembers my name, / the dead world lives in my blind eyes.”


Kalady or the Sanctuary of Speech

“Words of my mother tongue, when you are at your worst, do not hide yourself in the riverbank, do not hide in stone or tree, hide in the name of a small village.” The privately printed Mluvící pásmo was typographically arranged and illustrated by the poet’s husband Zdenek Rykr, who also illustrated her earlier bibliophile publication Kaladý, aneb: útočiště řeči (Kalady or the Sanctuary of Speech) from September 1938. In this prose poem, Součková reacted to the 1938 Munich Agreement and to the ensuing formation of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. Having resided in the nearby town of Bechyně, the couple well knew the south Bohemian town of Koloděje nad Lužnicí, concealed here under the name the locals used – Kaladý. Rykr drew from the motifs on the Baroque tombstones in his expressive illustrations accompanying the poem.

"I tell you, Abdera is everywhere." Selection of correspondence from Milada Součková to Jindřich Chalupecký from the 1940s

Milada Součková’s nearly fifty-year relationship with Jindřich Chalupecký is documented by their correspondence, interrupted for many years by the author’s emigration. At the time, Chalupecký had to break off their correspondence for fear of persecution. He writes in a letter from Prague: “We are saying goodbye, it would be risky for me to prolong this correspondence […] But I would at least like to read what you write: For I think that now you will be able to do what you should do.”

"And then came your letter to Eurydice." A selection from the correspondence between Milada Součková and Jindřich Chalupecký from the 1960s to the 1980s

"This Year Has Made Us Different People" Typescript of the book Testimony. Diary from 1939

Milada Součková: Testimony. Diary from 1939, copy from 1945 (with edits and author’s notes from 1948 and 1977) 

Milada Součková began writing the original diary, the typescript version of which we present here in a small excerpt, shortly after the beginning of the German occupation in the spring of 1939, and its last pages were written a few weeks after the German invasion of Poland. The text depicts the everyday life in the stifling atmosphere of the occupation, but also the prospect of the Western powers becoming involved in the war with Nazi Germany. It reflects the writer's specific position as a participant in dramatic historical events without the knowledge of how they would play out.

The broader context of global politics and the inevitable path to war are mixed with domestic events, such as the transfer of the remains of K. H. Mácha to the Slavín tomb. Throughout the text, the multilingual voice of the radio is present as the principal, daily, single source of information and material for speculation about future developments, and of much-needed hope. Součková prepared the diary for publication shortly after the end of the Second World War, but its fate was similar to that of her novel Neznámý člověk (The Unknown Person). The publishing house Melantrich crossed it off its list of planned publications, and it could only be published many years later: Neznámý člověk (The Unknown Person) came out when she already lived in exile, and Svědectví (Testimony) was published posthumously.

From the work of Milada Součková

“only a herd of words so tame to be watched…” Poems from the 1940s: Family Portrait, A Linguistic Ode, Family Tree

The extensive “Josefina Rykrová’s Notebooks,” a work penned by Milada Součková during her American exile from the early 1970s onwards, is the only surviving manuscript of an entire collection of poems by this author in the literary archive of the Museum of Czech Literature. The texts presented here, predating the “Notebooks” in time, were published in the collection “Gradus ad Parnassum” in Lund, Sweden, in 1957 (although composed in the preceding decade). Additionally, the poem “Family Portrait” was printed in a Prague magazine in 1943. A common motif in the selected poems is the author’s engagement with fragments of her memory. She nostalgically revisits the past and the environment of her vanished childhood world, approaching it “into the strangeness… with wonder, with a feeling of loneliness.” 

“In another country again. Exchanges”. Poems from Josefina Rykrová’s Notebooks

The title of the collection, Sešity Josefiny Rykrové (Josefina Rykrová’s Notebooks), refers to one of the author’s first names and the surname of Součková’s husband, the painter Zdenek Rykr. The first two sections were published in Toronto by 68 Publishers in 1981, and the complete collection was not published until ten years after the author’s death. By naming the subject in the title of the book, Součková refers to her personal and family history, which she (re-)constructs in verse and commentary based on fragments of memories, references to photographs and paintings, elements of fiction and, with the help of a number of intertextual references, places it in a broader context.

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