Gabriela Preissova

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Plays by Gabriela Preissova

Jenufa, Her Step-daughter

Aurora Metro Books
Type: Text

Produced for the first time on November 9, 1890, at the National Theatre in Prague, the play fuelled a fierce controversy between the advocates of realism and their opponents. It was slated by the critics, who wrote: 'Everything in it is covered by the frost of baseness, vulgarity, foolishness and contemptibility. . . ' but it was defended by the director of the theatre, who wrote to the newspaper: ' . . . it would be a fatal error, if the National Theatre were to close its doors to new movements . . . ' which ensured the debate went on and paved the way for the style of realism in Czech drama to become established. Unfortunately, the controversy led Gabriela Preissova, the 28-year-old author to give up playwriting altogether.

Based on two real but separate crimes, Preissova set out to portray 'a barren woman haunted by the longing for a child'. The Kostelnicka character provides a fascinating female role, a woman full of pride in her achievements as a widowed working parent, who has devotedly brought up her step-daughter. She is also a highly respected member of the church, who is entrusted to lead processions, cure the sick and oversee burials. Jenufa, her step-daughter who has an illegitimate child and is abandoned by the father, Steva, tests the Kostelnicka's strict moral principles in the play. The Kostelnicka's efforts to avoid the ensuing scandal lead her into deceit, humiliation and ultimately, murder. Janacek saw the play as a tragic love story and was attracted to the Slovak setting and folkloric elements. His adaptation of the play into an opera libretto, involved editing out details of characterisation and plot. Preissova's play offers us a more psychologically complex Kostelnicka as the central character in a community whose moral attitudes are implicitly questioned.

Sometimes using pen name Matylda Dumontova, Gabriela Preissova (March 23, 1862 in Kutna Hora - March 27, 1946 in Prague), was a Czech writer and playwright. Her play Jeji pastorkyna was the basis for the opera Jenufa by Miroslav Cikan. His earlier opera The Beginning of a Romance was also based on one of her stories. Preissova mostly wrote of optimism and the joy of life idealising village life. Her stories first appeared in the early 1890s. The more significant appeared in a three-volume collection. Her books, written in the 1920s, were about the tragic rural life of the Kaerntner (Austria) Slavs, usually with a strong woman as a heroine. These dramas didn't achieve the artistic spontaneity of her early work. Themes of her stories were mostly the affairs of young lovers and the obstacles to their consummation. Some tales were set to music, such as Eva by Josef Bohuslav Foerster and Jenufa, an opera by Janacek.