Dobře prověřená Lizetka

This story was first published in Škvorecký’s collection Hořkej svět (The Bitter World) in 1969). It represents an early phase of the author’s writing. Using first-person narrative and a deliberately subjective perspective, the author introduces an “angry young man” trapped under social (and especially) political circumstances. Such a narrative structure has the advantage of using the pattern of the Bildungsroman in a short story; the narrator goes through a process of recognizing aspects of life he had not expected before.

The story takes places during the years right after the Communist takeover in 1948. It talks about the prověrky, a political screening; newly established committees made both of proletarian university students and a few former professors who met the ideological criteria would decide who should continue his/her studies and who should be expelled from his/her universities. Using such a topic, Škvorecký introduces the typical Czech Communist newspeak (e.g. živel (element), třída (class), dělnictví (proletariat), původ (origin)). As a response to this language, the narrator escapes into the “authentic” vulgar language that is paradoxically more human than that of the ideology.

The other topic of the story is the role of the image. Such an image, shaped according to the demands and needs of each era, allows Lizetka to make career under any circumstances. In a way quite similar to that of Václav Havel’s plays from the 1960s, Škvorecký shows the smoothness of one’s career after adapting one’s language and approach to the necessary ideological style.

One might guess how much the story refers to real personae. Jan Nacamec [pronounced in Czech in the same way as Nadsamec (“supermale” fromnad “beyond” samec “male animal”) may stand for Pavel Kohout; it may be possible find an equivalent to Lizetka as well. Škvorecký, however, is more interested in types than in taking his revenge from the 1960’s point of view. Though he hyperbolizes and simplifies a lot, one aspect is evident: as a whole, Škvorecký finds the Czech reality of 1950’s bizarre, grotesque, and absurd enough to quote it, allude to it without the need of a writer’s fancy and imagination.

The story utilizes tension between the “high” ideological language and the “low” authentic vernacular. Some vulgar words play the role of boxes for emotions, disgust, and, last but not least, fascination with the events.