“How often had he heard the teacher of Moral Theology preaching in his nasal voice on the subject of Sin, comparing it to the serpent, and exhorting the seminarians, with unctuous words and large gestures, and with the slow, mellifluous pomp of his sentences, to follow the Virgin’s example and trample the ‘vile serpent’ under foot! And then there was the teacher of Mystical Theology who, after taking a pinch of snuff, would speak to them of their duty to ‘conquer Nature’! And quoting from St John Chrysostom and St Chrysologus, St Cyprian and St Jerome, he would explain the saints’ curses against Woman, whom he called, in the language of the Church, Serpent, Sting, Daughter of Lies, Gateway to Hell, Fount of Crime, Scorpion…

‘And as our father Saint Jerome called her,’ and at this point he would always loudly blow his nose, ‘the Path to Iniquity, iniquitas via!’

Even his textbooks were obsessed with Woman! What kind of creature was this, then, who, in theology, was either placed on the altar as the Queen of Grace or had barbarous curses heaped upon her? What power did she have, that this legion of saints should one minute rush to meet her, passionate and ecstatic, unanimously handing over to her the Kingdom of Heaven, and at the next, uttering terrified sobs and cries of loathing, flee from her as if she were the Universal Enemy, hiding themselves in wildernesses and in cloisters so as not to see her and to die there from the disease of having loved her?”

Eça de Queirós, The Crime of Father Amaro


“[…] all he had to do was to observe what the others did or did not do in order to do it or not do it himself, their omissions were his activities, his activities were their omissions, a simple trick in which he had been able to achieve great facility from earliest childhood, by constantly observing everything around him, by a persistently testing and receiving and rejecting of everything other than himself, his character, his mind […]”

Thomas Bernhard, Correction

The Devil’s Death

“The body of Dr. Skomelny was never found. He was so good at hiding his car, that by the time they found it not even the most alert and razor-sharp Leninist superhound could find the trail. Likewise it did not occur to anyone to look for him in a graveyard, in a tomb. A legend spread that the devil took him. May he take the lot of them – and soon!”

Jan Křesadlo, Mrchopěvci

Kindred Spirits

“The mechanic leaned down over the engine again and said, ‘Right in the middle of Prague, Wenceslaus Square, there’s this guy throwing up. And this other guy comes along, takes a look at him, shakes his head, and says ‘I know just what you mean.'”

Milan Kundera, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting


“All my questions must go unanswered. But when I heard – on the very day I had taken the box with the photograph of Maria Emilia from my father’s silent house and looked that young woman in the eyes for the first time – when I heard, on that day of all days, during the drive home, the andantino from Rosamunde playing on the car radio, it gave me such a peculiar shock that I almost drove off the road. My heart started pounding so hard that the blood thumped in my temples, and when I parked by the roadside and opened the tin box again with trembling hands and held the photograph between my fingers, something rose up inside me, as if following the lead of my dead grandfather, who seemed to possess my body like a tender demon and draw me completely into his emotions, into the world that had always been closed to me, and I’ll be damned if I didn’t sit there with a lump in my throat, biting my lower lip, as the voice on the radio repeated the title of the barely seven-minute andantino and moved on to Paganini, a composer whose virtuoso antics I have always abhorred.”

Stefan Hertmans, War and Turpentine

The Queen’s Litter

“But what good did Neighbor Cosimo get from the sun and the fine day? If his heart was blacker than a thundercloud, and he didn’t dare raise his eyes from the cobblestones on which the mules put down their feet as if they were walking on eggs, nor could he look around to see how the corn was coming on, nor enjoy seeing the clusters of olives hanging along the hedges, nor think of what a lot of good all the last week’s rain had done, while his heart was beating like a hammer at the mere thought that the torrent might be swollen, and they had to cross the ford! He didn’t dare to seat himself straddle-legs on the shafts, as he always did when he wasn’t carrying his queen, and snatch forty winks under that fine sun and on that level road that the mules could have followed with their eyes shut; whilst the mules, who had no understanding, and didn’t know who they were carrying, were enjoying the dry level road, the mild sun, and the green country, wagging their hindquarters and shaking the collar bells cheerfully[…]

The queen, for her part, kept up a chatter with another lady, whom they’d placed in the litter to while away the time with her, in a language of which nobody understood a single damn; she looked around the country with her eyes blue as flax flowers, and she rested a little hand on the window frame, so little that it seemed made on purpose to have nothing to do […] But she could have people’s heads cut off with a single word, small though she might be, and the mules, who had no sense in them,  what with that light load, and with all that barley in their bellies, felt strongly tempted to start dancing and jumping along the road, and so get Neighbor Cosimo’s head taken off for him.”

Giovanni Verga, Little Novels of Sicily, “So Much for the King.”