on Hana Kvapilova

Re-Inflecting Femininity on the Czech Fin-de-Siècle Stage: An Analysis of Hana Kvapilová’s Acting Style.

This essay focuses on the career of the most popular Czech fin-de-siècle actress, Hana Kvapilova (1860-1907). Kvapilova has been widely considered by her contemporaries and theatre historians both a “national actress” and a chief representative of Czech women’s emancipation on the fin-de-siecle stage. Most Czech scholars have praised, idealized, and idolized Kvapilova. During her lifetime the actress did have to deal with political intrigues and sometimes harsh criticisms. But following her early death stemming from neglected diabetes and exhaustion, the actress became a sort of untouchable martyr for Czech drama scholarship. Kvapilova’s predisposition to martyrdom and personal sacrifice may in fact have contributed significantly to her transformation into an ideal (because unthreatening) representative of Czech women’s emancipation.

Kvapilova earned her reputation as an emancipated woman for her rejection of some traditions harmful to women, such as arranged marriages or women’s confinement in the domestic space. At the same time, she was encouraged to embrace (and did embrace) what some scholars of Czech nationalism have labeled the “Czech cult of martyrdom” or “Czech masochistic nationalism,” which in her case translated into a performance of self effacing and body-obliterating femininity. Analyzing her ethereal acting style and the roles that made her famous, Jusova traces the process through which Kvapilova was transformed into a symbol of appropriate Czech emancipated womanhood and later into a martyr figure by means of denying and effacing her corporeality.