Božena Němcová Museum to celebrate a rebirth, milestone anniversary

Božena Němcová Museum in Česká Skalice, photo: Romana Pacáková / Czech Radio

Some special events planned to mark the 200th anniversary of the birth of the writer last year were muted due to the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. But a literary museum dedicated the memory of the “mother of Czech literature” in Česká Skalice, where she attended grammar school, plans an extraordinary spring season to celebrate another milestone.

The Božena Němcová Museum reopened its permanent exhibition last year, following a complete renovation, from floor to ceiling, and the installation of new lighting and modern display cases, designed to best preserve artefacts from her life, including original manuscripts of short stories and editions of her famous novel, Babička (The Grandmother), for generations to come. But few had a chance to see it.

Photo: Romana Pacáková / Czech Radio

Now, says Martina Zálišová, head of Česká Skalice’s cultural department, the plan is to open the Božena Němcová Museum on May Day, a holiday originally tied to an ancient festival of spring – and symbolic rebirth.

“This year, we are commemorating the 90th anniversary of the official founding of the oldest literary museum not only in our country, but in central Europe. It is also among the oldest in all of Europe. So, this is one of the topics we want to remember. There are always many themes in a given year. We also have the 155th anniversary of the Prussian-Austrian war.”

On a private tour of the permanent exhibition along with a Czech Radio correspondent, museum documentarist and educator Martina Kolinská picked up a box with the words Legacy – Božena Němcová, yet to be sorted for display to the public. What could be inside?

“It’s surprise! Let’s have a look. Of course, everything is described. There is even a strand of hair. It was cut after her death on January 21, 1862. She had dark black hair, but it has faded, so this dark brown colour doesn’t quite match. But as the poet František Halas described in his collection Our Lady Božena Němcová, she had raven hair.

Božena Němcová Museum in Česká Skalice,  photo: Romana Pacáková / Czech Radio

“Apart from the famous writer’ personal objects of the from the estate, there are various editions of The Grandmother signed by Božena Němcová herself. And, of course, a rich collection of correspondence that has survived.”

One item that did not survive is the birth record of Božena Němcová, who is thought to have been born in Vienna in February 1820, to one Johann Pankel of Lower Austria and Teresie Novotná, a maid of Bohemian origin. But other theories place her birth several years earlier, and out of wedlock, to a duchess.

Whatever the case, Božena Němcová – whose arranged marriage in her late teens to a customs officer 15 years her senior did not prove to be a happy one – did write in a letter to a fellow figure of the Czech National Revival, “If I could so choose, I’d wish to be born again in 200 years or later, for I don’t know if until then there will be such a world in which I would be pleased to live.”

Authors: Brian Kenety , Romana Pacáková
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