Plzeňské sympozia

Vít Vlnas

Darkness before Darkness (and Afterwards)

pp. 47–60 (Czech), Summary pp. 60-61 (English)

Th?e historical novel Temno (Darkness) by Alois Jirásek was set in the reign of Charles VI and first published in 1915. Its title came to be applied to the whole High Baroque period. Th?e designation "darkness" even became an official historiographical term. Th?is happened in spite of the fact that Jirásek's view of the period he was writing about (1723-1729, i.e. from the coronation of Charles VI as King of Bohemia to the canonisation of John of Nepomuk) is in fact a balanced one and by no means accentuates the "dark" shades of that historical epoch. Th?e novel's epigraph relates the title of the book to the prophecy of Isaiah (8:20), which works with the image of metaphysical "darkness" that afflicts the Lord's enemies - which with Jirásek meant those who practised spiritual intolerance in general. ?e biblical motif of darkness had already been used as a metaphor for the contemporary historical situation by František Jan Vavák (1741-1816), whose work Jirásek knew well. In his satire Darkness during the Day Like at Night (1796) Vavák described the French Revolution as the end ("eclipse") of the spirit of the Enlightenment, referring to Paul's epistles ("What do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?" 2 Cor 6:14). If the High Baroque era, delimited by the reign of Charles VI, has in modern historiographical literature been regarded as "dark", in part thanks to Jirásek's book, the situation in the past was rather different. Th?e authors of the Enlightenment, while not approving of religious intolerance, saw this period differently as one of cultural and artistic flowering and above all of long-term peace which was in sharp contrast with the turbulent conditions that lasted from the mid-18th century to the end of the Napoleonic wars. ?is picture was to a certain extent adopted by modern Catholic historiography as well. Th?e misinterpretation of Jirásek's work perpetrated by the communist ideologist Zdeněk Nejedlý in the 1950s was simply the culmination of a series of tendential interpretations and manipulations.

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