10 October 2016
Readings in Czech Literature by Dr. Martina Moravcova
On Thursday, 6th October 2016, Dr. Martina Moravcova of the Czech Republic gave a lecture to BU English students and faculty about Czech literature in the early 20th century. The event, which was very well-attended, was held in Furno Hall and organized by the English Student Activities Committee. After an introduction from Dr. Michel Sansour and brief remarks from Radek Rubes, head of the Czech representative office in Ramallah, about the relationship between Palestine and the Czech Republic, Dr. Moravcova delved into her subject matter.
Dr. Moravcova’s lecture focused on two Czech brothers, Karel and Josef Čapek, who were very influential in the period between World War I and World War II, approximately 1918-1938. Both brothers were very involved in the conversation about the societal issues of their time, and frequently advocated for children and the poor through their artistic expression.
Josef, the elder and the less critically acclaimed of the two brothers, was a painter who was influenced by diverse global influences and movements such as cubism and expressionism. He had a penchant for melding “high” and “low” art, and often used common figures from every day Czech life to express humanistic and anti-war sentiments. He was arrested in 1939 because of his anti-Nazi stance, and died in 1945 after spending 6 years in concentration camps. Dr. Moravcova shared several of Josef Čapek’s paintings and drawings with Bethlehem University students, pointing out features of each piece that illustrated his artistic influences.
Karel Čapek, Josef’s younger brother, was a renowned author. He was nominated for the Nobel prize in Literature 7 times, though he never won. Though Karel was very well known for his science fiction and his anti-fascist political writings, Dr. Moravcova chose to examine some of his apocryphal short stories, one of which was set in Bethlehem. Dr. Moravcova highlighted for the English students Karel’s ability to play with perspective in his narratives, often retelling well-known biblical stories from the viewpoint of unexpected or marginal characters. All of the stories that Dr. Moravcova discussed (Pilate’s Creed, Holy Night, and Five Loaves)are humorous, but also carry a serious message about human love and understanding. Dr. Moravcova emphasized in particular Karel Capek’s focus on the idea that people often lose sight of individual humanity when placed in the context of group conflict, a concern of Karel Čapek’s day that is still relevant in today’s world.
After the lecture, students and faculty had the opportunity to ask Dr. Moravcova questions, and there was a discussion that ranged from literature to art to themes of politics and the artistic struggle against oppression. The audience was very engaged throughout the event, and found Dr. Moravcova’s chosen topics within the field of Czech literature and visual art to be both informative and interesting.