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Gellner, František

(1881–1914?), Czech poet, caricaturist, and journalist. Gellner was born in the town of Mladá Boleslav, southwest of Prague, into the family of a small textile factory owner whose business had just collapsed. As a secondary school student, Gellner began writing poetry, drawing, and translating Goethe and Heine for school magazines. His subsequent studies were erratic: over the next decade he abandoned studies at a technical university in Vienna, a mining academy in Příbram, and art schools in Munich and Dresden. While living in Příbram, Gellner often visited the circle of anarchists in nearby Prague, led by the poet Stanislav Kostka Neumann, and contributed poems and drawings to his magazine Nový kult. After 1905, Gellner lived mainly in Paris; in 1911, he settled down in the Moravian city of Brno, where he joined the newspaper Lidové noviny and edited its Sunday supplement Večery. He became known for his satiric poetry and caricatures.

Gellner was drafted into the Austrian army at the start of World War I. On 13 September 1914, only one month into the war, he was officially listed as missing, having disappeared on the Galician front.

Gellner was the first major Czech Jewish lyric poet, even though he published only two slim collections in his lifetime: Po nás at’ přijde potopa (After Us Let the Flood Come; 1901) and Radosti života (The Pleasures of Life; 1903). Rejecting the pathos, elaborate metaphors, and exalted self-stylizations of the Symbolists and Decadents, Gellner wrote deceptively simple, singsong lyrics immersed in the banalities of his dissolute lifestyle. For the young Gellner, the “pleasures of life” were sex and alcohol; he wrote freely of drunken binges, prostitutes, and syphilis, rejecting the pious clichés and philistinism of the middle class but also using irony to depict his own bohemian anarchism. His poems disgusted some readers—one critic called his first collection “a shameless little book”—but for Czech poets he was instrumental in opening lyric poetry to popular language and genres such as the cabaret song. In Brno, Gellner settled down into the more disciplined writing life of a journalist, devoting himself to feuilletons and brief, witty political poems, illustrated with his own caricatures. These satires were occasionally antisemitic; Gellner, himself from an assimilated Czech Jewish family, criticized Jews for their supposed greed, exclusiveness, and allegiance to German (instead of Czech) culture. A third and final poetry collection, Nové verše (New Verses), appeared posthumously in 1919. Written between 1911 and 1913, these lyrics evinced a more balanced and mellow skepticism than Gellner’s first works.

Suggested Reading

Miroslav Červenka, Vladimír Macura, Jaroslav Med, and Zdeněk Pešat, eds., Slovník básnických knih: Díla ceské poezie od obrození do roku 1945 (Prague, 1990); František Gellner, Spisy, ed. Miloslav Hýsek, 3 vols. (Prague, 1926–1928), volume 3 includes a biographical essay by Hýsek.