Category Archives: Karel Poláček


(My translation of Karel Poláček’s short story Nejdříve mluvili o vzdělanosti a pak jí hodil lampu na hlavu, which was published in Večerní České slovo on 26 June 1929 and, in book form, in Soudničky [Little Stories from the Courts] in 1999)


“My, oh my!” cooed Mrs Klinkáčová, gazing tenderly at her husband. “Those were the days! Yes, indeed. When my hubby was courting me,” – here she gestured towards her husband, who had a corn on his toe and was soaking his foot in a basin of hot water – “we had a fine old time. We went on excursions, we ate bread and butter and drank coffee, and in the evenings we hit the town, didn’t we, sweetheart?”

“Uh,” muttered the man with the corn.

“And sometimes… Sometimes, if it was raining, we’d go to a pub where they played lovely music, didn’t we, sweetheart?”

The man with the corn made a sound like distant thunder.

Mrs Klinkáčová continued as if in a trance: “Ah, young love… What fond memories! It’s no fun for youngsters nowadays, all those modern goings-on. It was different for us. My hubby didn’t have the courage even to ask me for a kiss! As I say, the youngsters of today won’t have any nice memories, and it’s so nice to have nice memories, isn’t it, sweetheart?”

The man with the corn glanced at his wife and made a sound rather like a groan. His wife understood it to be agreement.

“And we took trouble to educate ourselves at the same time. The money we spent on theatre tickets! Once – I can remember it as if it was yesterday – we saw such a wonderful show. The young ladies were all holding hands and dancing on the stage, and the men were clapping along to the music. What was it called, now? Garmen, I think, wasn’t it, sweetheart?”

“No, it wasn’t,” growled the man with the corn. “It was A Waltz Dream. And it’s not Garmen, it’s Carmen.”

“Well, Garmen, Carmen, whatever, it’s all the same to me. I’m just a silly woman…”

“If I say it’s Carmen,” bellowed the man with the corn, banging his fist on the table, “it’s Carmen!”

Seeing that things were heading towards a domestic misunderstanding, their visitor stood up.

“I better be going,” she said. “It seems there’s going to be a domestic misunderstanding…”

The lady who didn’t care whether it was Garmen or Carmen, bristled:

“I beg your pardon! Misunderstanding?! I’ll have you know we never ever argue. We’re like a pair of turtle doves. Loving and faithful. Off you go, you old trout!”

“Excuse me!” said the departing visitor, “I didn’t know you have a mouth like a fishwife’s.”

“What?!” roared the man with the corn. “No one calls my wife a fishwife.”

At which, he grabbed the lamp from the shelf beside him and hurled it at the departing visitor.


Yesterday he appeared in court, accused of defamation and actual bodily harm. He was sentenced to three days, suspended for a year.


"House by the Railroad," Edward Hopper, 1925

From Czech: THE ENMITY OF X AND Y by Karel Poláček

(My translation of Karel Poláček’s short story Potyčka jistého rolníka s jistou bábou, which was published in České slovo on 11 June 1933 and, in book form, in Soudničky [Little Stories from the Courts] in 1999)

Prague Regional Court


This is about two villages not far from the town of Příbram. I won’t give their names because I don’t want to get into trouble, so I’ll just call them X and Y.

There are lots of similar villages in our country, but the point about X and Y is that they detest each other, even though the residents of X can’t explain why, and nor can the residents of Y. The origins of this enmity are lost in the mists of time – which doesn’t stop X and Y still being as nasty as possible to each other.




On the fifth of April this year – how could we forget?! – Farmer Prouříslo, from X, met Babička Pejšáková from Y. Babička Pejšáková was carrying a basket of alfafa on her back and was unable to avoid Farmer Prouříslo. As soon as he saw Babička Pejšáková, Farmer Prouříslo started making obscene gestures and shouting offensive remarks.

“Babička Pejšáková!” he hollered. “When shall we get married? I can’t live without you. I dream about you all the time.”

Now, Babička Pejšácka is as deaf as a post, but she guessed that Farmer Prouříslo was insulting her in public by casting aspersions upon her chastity. What helped her to guess correctly was that, a little way off, she could see some other residents from X, who were nearly pissing themselves with laughter.

Enfuriated, she lifted her skirt.

“Here’s what I think of you, you sack of shite!” she screeched.




It ended up in court, each accusing the other of defamation.

One of Babička Pejšáková’s witnesses was a young woman from Y who would have liked nothing better than to see Farmer Prouříslo rotting in prison. Under her oath on the Bible, she testified that it was completely untrue that Babička Pejšáková had lifted her skirt. She was an upstanding resident of Y. Whereas Farmer Prouříslo was a foul-mouthed swine.

That caused the plot to thicken, because Farmer Prouříslo’s lawyer laid a charge of false testimony against the witness. So the witness found herself sitting in the dock alongside Babička Pejšáková, who was being accused by Prosecuting Attorney Urban of offending public morals.

It was a very difficult hearing. At first, Judge Hraba thought he was speaking loud enough for Babička Pejšáková to understand what he was saying. Not a chance! And even when he raised his voice so high that the windows started to rattle, she still shook her head.

In the end, the judge lifted the charges against the two women. In doing so, he took into account the enmity between X and Y, and the fact that Babička Pejšáková had a basket of alfafa on her back: it would have been difficult for her to lift her skirt so high as to offend public morality.


"House by the Railroad," Edward Hopper, 1925

From Czech: RUSTIC REVELS by Karel Poláček

(My translation of Karel Poláček’s short story Radovánky lidu venkovského, which was published in České slovo on 30 April 1931 and, in book form, in Soudničky [Little Stories from the Courts] in 1999)

Prague Regional Court


Yay! What fun there was that day in Lochov, a charming little village not far from Prague. On the fifteenth of September 1930, six of the residents had met up in the pub. Three of them were bricklayers, and the others were the miller, the barber and the blacksmith. Once they’d settled down to their drinks, it occurred to them they might have a bit of fun, liven things up, so to speak.

On the other side of the pub, there was a hurdy-gurdy man who was – forgive the expression – so pissed that he didn’t know what year it was, let alone what day of the week. He was lying flat-out on the floor by the wall and wouldn’t have stirred a muscle even if a cannon had gone off right over his head. Alcohol had got the better of him, the beer had won out, drink held him firmly in its grip.

What occurred to the six drinking companions was that a funeral for the hurdy-gurdy man would be just the thing. And the landlady was all for it too; she lent them a table and a tablecloth, the blacksmith putting the latter round his shoulders to look like the priest. They placed the hurdy-gurdy man on the table, the three bricklayers lifted it on to their shoulders, and they shuffled out of the pub.

The blacksmith walked behind the deceased, holding some scraps of paper and mumbling Latin words as if he were reciting the funeral rites. The miller was playing a funeral march on his accordion. And off they went over the village green.

People – boggle-eyed – came spilling out of their cottages, and in no time there was a crowd of youngsters and children accompanying the dear deceased and making a merry din. The older villagers, too, said they couldn’t remember such fun. Some of them were doubled-up with laughter.

But, as they say, you can’t please all of the people all of the time. Some of them were scandalised at the sight of such depravity and dissipation. It wasn’t right. It was the road to ruin. A fine example for the youngsters. And one of them went straight off to the authorities.


The six drinking companions and the landlady were charged with sacrilege on account of publicly making fun of the teachings, customs and decrees of the Roman Catholic Church or, at least, of disrespecting the same. At the end of the hearing, His Honour Dr Masák sentenced all seven of them to fourteen days in jail. The prosecutor was Dr Stibral.


"House by the Railroad," Edward Hopper, 1925

From Czech: OPERATICS by Karel Poláček

(My translation of Karel Poláček’s short story Studující zpěvu, which was published in České slovo on 2 February 1932 and, in book form, in Soudničky [Little Stories from the Courts] in 1999)

Prague Regional Court


He’s about forty-five years old. He’s wearing a rusty-coloured raglan sweater. His bald pate is shiny. He’s standing before Judge Nedvěda in the Regional Court. In response to a question from the judge, he says he’s a student.

The judge sounds surprised: “A student?!”

Unphased, the man replies, “Yes, Your Honour, a student.”

“And what are you studying? You look rather too old to be studying…”

The man looks taken aback: “You’re never too old to learn something new, Your Honour. I’m a qualified pharmacist, but I gave that up for health reasons. I’ve always had an inclination for the arts. So I’m currently taking singing lessons in order to become an opera singer.”

The judge sounds even more surprised: “An opera singer?!”

The man in the rusty-coloured sweater nods enthusiastically: “Yes, Your Honour. What’s so unusual about that?”

(Indeed, why shouldn’t the man in the rusty-coloured sweater become an opera singer?)

“My friends tell me,” he continues, “that I’ve got a wonderful voice, that I’d be excellent as a heroic tenor. I can easily convince Your Honour of that.”

And, as good as his word, he opens his mouth and out comes: “Do-Re-Mi-Fa-So-La-Ti-Do, Do-Ti-La…”

He’s interrupted by the guard rushing into the court to find out what’s going on. The judge tells the man in the rusty-coloured sweater that the courtroom is a place for speaking, not singing. So…

“How do you plead?”

“Not guilty, Your Honour.”

“So what about Miss Kristýna?”

“Oh, she made it all up. She was voluntarily supporting me in my studies. I was going to pay it all back when I become a successful opera singer. I’d applied to the Royal Theatre but, before I even got a reply, I was arrested. So I wasn’t able to pay it back.”

“Did you promise to marry her?”

“Well, erm… Well, erm… I… I… She kept going on about marriage, so I didn’t want to disappoint her. I was looking for a flat for the purposes of marital cohabitation but, as Your Honour will understand, the problem with getting a flat nowadays… I spent a lot of money in the process.”

“How could you offer to marry her, when you’re already married and have two teenage sons?!”

“I was aware of that, Your Honour. A man can’t have two wives at the same time – that would be a crime. But she kept going on about marriage and I was too reluctant to hurt her feelings. I didn’t want to break her heart. I thought it would be better to break it to her slowly, she’d have a cry about her dreams coming to nothing, and I’d repay everything when I become a success.”

“Alright, but what about Miss Jindřiška?”

The man in the rusty-coloured sweater frowns: “She can speak! She offered me sixteen thousand and only gave me six. She was really demanding. I had to keep shelling out for her. And she kept going on about marriage as well. Whereas Kristýna… she was something else! She gave me twenty thousand straight up, she didn’t whinge, she was satisfied with a coffee and a bread roll. She was another story altogether! If I was single and ten years younger, I’d have married her in the blink of an eye. But she was unlucky, that’s all I can say. It’s no use going on about it, it’s fate.”

When the hearing concludes, the accused, Václav Sedmera, is found guilty of fraud and sentenced to eight months in jail. When the judge asks whether he wants to say anything, he thinks for a few moments before replying:

“Eight months is a bit much, but I’ll accept it, just to show willing. However, I’d like to ask for a slight delay, Your Honour.”


“The singing. I’m working on a difficult aria at the moment.”

He’s told he can sing in jail, and the guard leads him away.


"House by the Railroad," Edward Hopper, 1925

From Czech: DICK’S DINNER JACKET by Karel Poláček

(My translation of Karel Poláček’s short story Osudy jednoho smokingu, which was published in Lidové noviny on 5 March 1939 and, in book form, in Soudničky [Little Stories from the Courts] in 1999)

Prague Regional Court

4 March 1939


Dick Sakulajda is a good-looking young fellow who has recently graduated from business school. At present he’s selling typewriters, playing second fiddle in a group, and supporting his mother financially. He’s a good lad and deserves better luck than he’s had so far.

Bessie – full name: Alžběta Vyťápla – is a personable young lady. Slim, blue-eyed, and with a turned-up nose, she sews gloves, loves modern dance and had started learning English but gave that up in favour of trying to become a film star. Her father, however, threatened to give her what for if she dared do such a thing, and her mother said they hadn’t brought her up to be a floozy. So, as film stardom was a no-go, she would have liked to date an airman but, as no airmen were available at that moment, she made do with Dick, who took her to the cinema and tea dances.

And so their courtship continued. Dick, who was straightforward but rather sentimental, loved her to bits. Bessie intimated to her friends that she could have had any number of suitors, but she wasn’t bothered about them, even though Dick wasn’t all that much fun and certainly wasn’t a man of the world. So she kept going to see him. He’d make a pot of tea and play some of the latest records on his gramophone.



Time went by, until the day when Dick’s flat was burgled. Amongst other things, the thief had stolen his opera glasses, his How to Do Magic book, his watch, and several items of clothing, including his dinner jacket. Whoever had done it evidently knew where to find what.

Dick was furious, but eventually managed to calm himself down a bit: no use crying over spilt milk etc. But it was difficult, in particular, to get over the loss of his dinner jacket. Just to think of everything he’d been through with that coat! … sweating in it when he did his final exams, going to his friend’s wedding, being photographed with his fellow musicians. It was imbued with so many memories – too many to tell. It was as if he’d lost a close family member. He just couldn’t get it out of his head.


Once more, time went by until the day when something remarkable happened. Dick had taken Bessie to a 5 o’clock tea dance. In between stepping out for foxtrot, swing and other such delights, they sat at a little table, where she drank vermouth and he sipped a grenadine cocktail. And while he was sipping his grenadine cocktail, and watching the couples dancing, he noticed a little fellow with a slight limp, who was doing his best to guide his large, stunningly beautiful partner round the dancefloor. The little fellow seemed familiar, or rather, not exactly the little fellow himself, but something about him – something that seemed very familiar. Dick couldn’t work out what it was, so he just kept staring and racking his brain.

Then he thought he heard a plaintive voice:“Dick, my old friend! Don’t you remember me?!”

Dick turned around to try and locate where the voice was coming from, until he realised it was coming from the little fellow’s dinner jacket. The jacket continued:

“Dick, Dick! I don’t deserve this. You soaked me with sweat when you couldn’t work out that actuarial maths question in your exam, and now you don’t even want to know me. Well, that’s nice, isn’t it?!”

Now, Dick’s not one to be ashamed of his old dinner jacket, so he got up, stopped the little fellow in his twirling and whirling, and asked him how he came to be wearing that jacket. At first, the little fellow was indignant: what sort of manners was that? he’d come here to enjoy a dance, to forget everyday cares, and here he was, all of a sudden, being interrogated as if he was in a police station! But it wasn’t long before the little fellow said he had nothing to hide and that he bought the dinner jacket at Jakub Parťas’s junk shop. He then gave Dick the address of the shop and wished him well, before leading his partner into a tango.

When Dick returned to Bessie, he found her out of sorts. She said she wasn’t enjoying it any more and that she had to meet a lady friend; and off she went. Whereupon Dick went straight to the police.


It should be pointed out that Mr Parťas was notorious for buying and selling stolen goods; and, indeed, almost all of Dick’s things were found in his shop. But Dick was in for an unpleasant surprise, not to say disillusionment: it turned out it was Bessie who’d stolen his things and sold them to Mr Parťas.

Today, both Bessie and Mr Parťas were before Judge Petřík. Bessie was sentenced, unconditionally, to two months’ hard labour, and Mr Parťas, for buying and selling suspect goods, to a month in prison – also unconditionally.


"House by the Railroad," Edward Hopper, 1925


(My translation of Karel Poláček’s short story Dva párky a detektiv, which was published in Lidové noviny on 12 September 1937 and, in book form, in Soudničky [Little Stories from the Courts] in 1999)

Prague Regional Court

11 September 1937


hey say it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. Without friends in the right places you won’t get anywhere. And, in these grim days, you can’t even get two frankfurters with mustard without friends in the right places, as is shown in the following incident.

Continue reading From Czech: TWO FRANKFURTERS AND A DETECTIVE by Karel Poláček