B. Nemcova's Babicka: Novel and National Idyll

David L. Cooper, Columbia University

M. M. Baxtin defines the novel, in "Epic and Novel," in terms of space, time and language, and opposes it in all of these to the epic. Bozena Nemcova's village novel, Babicka (1855), is often considered the first major modern Czech novel, but it has also been called a Czech epic. Baxtin's definition elicits critical generic features of Babicka, features which illuminate the boundaries of Baxtin's definition by apparently crossing them.

Time is rather peculiar in Babicka. Some of the novel's events appear to be out of place, or rather out of time. They are illogical in a chronology of progression. However, these temporal oddities are not due to authorial lapse, but reflect the novel's particular chronotope, the idyllic chronotope, which emphasizes cyclical temporal phenomena and thus involves a different logic of time. Of course, the idyll also invokes mythical time, the time of origin, a temporal realm it shares with the epic.

Language, too, poses potential problems. In a number of ways, Babicka works to obliterate language difference, from sociolects to national languages. But for Baxtin, the novel is supposed to be the dialogical embodiment of exactly this type of language difference, a genre which reflects the growing consciousness of language difference in the modern era. The forgetting of language difference is supposed to belong to poetic genres.

What kind of novel is Babicka if it shares the linguistic and spatio-temporal orientations of poetry and the epic? Still very much a novel in Baxtin's terms, for while overt language difference is reduced, Babicka is rich in incorporated folk genres, a basic type of heteroglossia for Baxtin. Moreover, the idyllic chronotope is altered by the novel, which no longer permits the mythic past to remain unattainably separate from the present. The idyllic past in Babicka, which should not be mistaken for the historical past, is both a critique of the present and a program for the future. Babicka reduces linguistic difference in order to establish a Czech literary language based in folk forms. It evokes an idealized Czech village past and thereby articulates a Czech national identity opposed to the German-dominated urban centers that threatened the Czech nation. The differences in spatio-temporal and linguistic orientation between Babicka and Baxtin's ideal picture of the novel may lie in the differences between the Czech National Revival and the Renaissance (French, English, and German) that Baxtin considers formative of the modern novel.