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366 NĚMCOVÁ, Božena (born Barbora Panklová) (1820?–1862) Czech fiction writer, poet, journalist, collector and editor of folk narratives; key figure of the Czech National Revival and representative of the national literary canon; one of the first Czech women to publicly address the question of women’s identity and their position in society. Although there have been some attempts to prove her noble origins, most sources agree that Barbora Panklová was born out of wedlock in Vienna on 5 February 1820 (?), to Marie Magdalena Terezie Novotná (1797–1863), a fifteen-yearold Czech servant, and Johann Baptist Pankel (1794–1850), an Austrian coachman . She was the first of their twelve children. The Pankl family soon moved to Ratibořice, an estate in north-east Bohemia belonging to Countess Zaháňská, for whom both Barbora’s parents worked. Barbora was raised in a humble rural environment . Her grandmother Magdaléna Novotná, who inspired her literary masterpiece Babička (The grandmother, 1855), significantly influenced her during her childhood (1825–1830). She received a basic elementary education at a local Czech Catholic school (from 1826) and spent three years (1830–1833) with a German-speaking family who worked at Chvalkovice castle. Having access to the library there, she became a passionate reader of German Romantic literature. In 1837, at the age of seventeen, Barbora Panklová was forced into a loveless marriage with an excise officer, Josef Němec (1805–1879). Although a committed patriot, who was also persecuted for his patriotic activities, he was anything but a Romantic and over ten years her senior. Due to the nature of his job, the couple had to move frequently in the first years of their marriage, during which time Němcová also bore four of their children (Hynek, b. 1838; Karel, b. 1839; Theodora, b. 1841 and Jaroslav, b. 1842). Between 1842 and 1845, the family lived in Prague, where Němcová became familiar with the patriotic salons and growing circles of the young, pro-Czech literati. This period represented a turning point in her intellectual development. Němcová published her first lyrical poems in local journals—the first one entitled “Ženám českým” (To Czech women, 1843)—combining naive patriotism with an explicit call for women’s participation in the nationalist struggle. In 367 1845, in keeping with her patriotic convictions, she accepted a more Czech-sounding literary name, Božena. It was not only her unusual talent, but also the long-lasting desire of the patriotic community for an emancipated creative heroine that turned this exceptionally beautiful and charismatic woman into an idol. Němcová’s (mostly male) peers soon celebrated her as the first Czech poetess. This first ‘Prague period’ was marked by deep friendships with leading women of Prague patriotic families, such as Bohuslava Rajská and her sisters. She began collecting and adapting folk tales for publication, resulting in her Národní báchorky a pověsti (Czech and Slovak folk tales, 1845–1847). Her folkloric interests developed even further after 1845, when she and her family had to move once again, this time to the west Bohemian region of Chodsko; later to south Bohemia . She also collected folkloric material during travels to Slovakia. Despite the popularity of her stories among generations of Czech and Slovak children (continuing to this day), her fellow revivalists often criticized her particular poetic renditions of the stories for distorting their ‘authentic’ form. The revolutionary year of 1848 dashed the liberal and patriotic expectations of many Czechs. Němec faced further political persecutions and both he and his wife were put under secret police surveillance. They kept moving, mostly to Germanized towns in north Bohemia (Nymburk, Liberec), where Němcová suffered from intellectual and social isolation. She was becoming trapped between her literary and spiritual ambitions and pressure from close patriotic friends, who accused her of wasting her talent on folkloric material. These creative dilemmas, along with the increasing poverty of her family and the poor health of both her and her children, exacerbated growing conflicts between her and her husband, resulting occasionally in outbursts of domestic violence. These were controversies which were to shape much of her life and to which she responded in part by writing a great number of personal letters to her family members, lovers, friends and numerous key personalities of the local cultural and social scene. These texts not only form a valuable part of Czech epistolary literary culture, but also represent a unique testimony to the struggles and...


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