OBITUARY : Jan Culik

Jan Culik was born in time still to benefit from the all-round, "classical" education in the tradition of the inter-war, democratic Czechoslovak Republic. This education however failed to prepare the members of his generation for the political cataclysms which were to befall Czechoslovakia from 1939 onwards and left them often rather isolated in the totalitarian decades which were to follow.

After eventually completing his secondary education (in the early 1940s, the whole class was expelled "from all the secondary schools in the Protectorate of Bohmen und Mahren" because a graffito saying "Hitler is an idiot" had been discovered in the school toilet), from 1945 Culik studied English and Latin at Charles University in Prague, where he was taught by the Scottish poet Edwin Muir. Culik's doctoral thesis, on "Paradox in Modern English Literature", was not accepted in 1949, a year after the Communist takeover of Czechoslovakia, because it "did not include any quotes from Lenin and Stalin". It was eventually awarded in 1969.

From 1949, Culik worked, for two decades, as a clerk in a state foreign- trade company, and later as a technical translator. His Catholic background and his refusal to compromise with Communist ideology prevented him from being able to find more suitable employment. In the 1950s, two of his close relatives were imprisoned by the Communist authorities. His uncle, Antonin Culik, a Catholic priest, who had brought him up, secretary to the then Archbishop of Prague, spent nine years in prison; his brother- in-law, the Catholic intellectual and editor Dr Rudolf Vorisek, was killed in prison in 1953.

From the late 1950s, after the Stalinist grip on Czechoslovakia loosened a little, Jan Culik translated modern English literature into Czech: works by Evelyn Waugh, G.K. Chesterton, William Golding, Graham Greene and other authors. He translated more than 30 English and American titles in all, often accompanying his translations with his own essays.

On commission from a Czech migr publisher in London, Culik translated, still before the fall of Communism, Paul Johnson's 900-page A History of the Modern World (1983), as an antidote to the Communist view of history. The computer discs were smuggled from Prague to Britain. The book was published in Prague shortly after the 1989 democratic revolution and produced a lively debate. For many years Culik also taught English in Prague. He saw in the English language an instrument of freedom, a means to avoid isolation and manipulation.

Jan Culik felt a particular affinity for Graham Greene, in whose personal philosophical and religious development, from relatively orthodox Catholicism to a loose, individual Christian belief, he saw a close parallel to the development of his own views. He translated four works by Greene, over the years exchanged letters with him and in 1969 met him in Prague.

In 1994, Culik published in the Czech Republic an extensive study of Greene's writings, Graham Greene: basnik trapnosti ("The Poet of the Painful"), a "literary and philosophical analysis" which differs from the studies by Norman Sherry and Michael Shelden primarily by relating Greene's work to various Christian (mostly neoplatonic) thinkers and placing it in a broader philosophical context.

Culik argued that there is a close intuitive parallel between the views of Graham Greene and the views of the German existentialist thinker Karl Jaspers, even though Greene may have never read Jaspers, whose translations into English are often very opaque. Greene, like Jaspers, saw this world as problematic and imperfect. Greene demonstrated this by testing his heroes by placing them in extreme situations; the pressure of extreme situations produced ambiguity. In Culik's view, the questionable nature of our world pointed both Greene and Jaspers towards another world.

Greene was, said Culik, a poet of failure, who realised that failure provided our world with a metaphysical dimension. He interpreted Greene's systematic, lifelong disloyalty and extreme independence as a protest against power and the dehumanising influence of success.

Jan Culik jnr

Jan Culik, writer, teacher, translator: born Prague 6 July 1925; married 1952 Hana Sediva (two sons, one daughter); died Prague 30 April 1995.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Ashdown Group: Human Resources Manager

£28000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: A successful organisation...

Recruitment Genius: Internal Recruiter - Manufacturing

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Internal Recruiter (manufact...

Ashdown Group: HR Manager (CIPD) - Barking / East Ham - £50-55K

£50000 - £55000 per annum + 25 days holidays & benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Man...

Recruitment Genius: Operations / Project Manager

£40000 - £48000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This software company specialis...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones