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Distributed for Karolinum Press, Charles University


Translated by Mark Adrian Corner

On its initial publication in Czech in 1942, Saturnin was a best seller, its gentle satire offering an unexpected—if temporary—reprieve from the grim reality of the German occupation. In the years since, the novel has been hailed as a classic of Czech literature, and this translation makes it available to English-language readers for the first time—which is entirely appropriate, for author Zdeněk Jirotka clearly modeled his light comedy on the English masters Jerome K. Jerome and P. G. Wodehouse. The novel’s main character, Saturnin, a “gentleman’s gentleman” who obviously owes a debt to Wodehouse’s beloved Jeeves, wages a constant battle to protect his master from romantic disaster and intrusive relatives, such as Aunt Catherine, the “Prancing Dictionary of Slavic Proverbs.” Saturnin will warm the heart of any fan of literary comedy.

263 pages | 6 x 9 1/5

Modern Czech Classics



Saturnin . . . has a delicious dry humor and an imaginative flair that makes it much more than just the ‘Czech Jeeves.’ . . . The writing is rich in homespun wisdom and casual asides that take on a life of their own, leading the reader up charming byways of irrelevance. . . . There are a surprising number of belly-laughs for a novel that is more than half a century old. . . . This first English translation is long overdue.”

Times Literary Supplement

“Written at a time of when Czechoslovakia was deep in the grip of the Nazi occupation: One form of resistance was to put the world created by invasion out of your mind and create another. Was it, perhaps, a Woodhousian influence—a reluctance to acknowledge the evil of the outside world?”

Quarterly Journal of the P. G. Woodhouse Society

Table of Contents

Doctor Witherspoon offers a theory
I engage a manservant
An incident with a burglar
Doctor Witherspoon expounds on common sense, warning signs and

A peaceful old house
I do not use proverbs on principle
The peculiar ways of Saturnin
We live on a boat
I agree to recapture Marcus Aurelius
No man can abide doubts about his courage

Miss Barbara
I play three losing sets of tennis
Saturnin builds a training wall
An unusual agreement with the owner of the boat
Doctor Witherspoon delivers a speech on the decline of craftsmanship

Aunt Catherine and Bertie
Concerns about the future of Bertie
Recollecting Uncle Francis
Chemical discoveries which the junior classes of secondary schools make
from their teaching materials
Family feuds over Grandpa
An unexpected visit, a ban on smoking and other episodes

I am made homeless
Further recollections concerning Uncle Francis
Saturnin’s war plan
The Devil and St. Nicholas
My aunt leaves and Saturnin brews up black coffee
Smoking is permitted

We go on holiday
Grandpa invites Miss Barbara
A Week in the Life of...
Saturnin fails to greet Aunt Catherine
A secret outing by car
Saturnin teaches Grandpa ju-jitsu

They transport me to hospital
Rain, downpour, cloudburst, deluge
Doctor Leveret
The hospital is a trap
The administrator has his regulations
Barbara sorts us out
By pure accident we fail to drown
Doctor Witherspoon

All hell breaks loose outside
Reflections on the young ladies of today
Bertie in the role of lady-killer
A scandalous bet
Saturnin goes on the warpath against Bertie
Maria the maid and the cook disappear
My aunt wraps Grandpa in a blanket
The bridge is swept away by the flood

An extract from the Koran concerning the cow
Bertie is sent to fetch worms
Miss Barbara cooks our first lunch
The duty to deliver a story at bedtime
My aunt offers Grandpa various delicacies
The return of Bertie

I tell my story
A romantic overnight stay
A night visitor
Footprints in the snow
There’s someone else living in every house
Mr. Lock leaves and comes back again
Mr. Lock leaves and this time it’s for good
An unpleasant dream
Tomorrow it will be Grandpa’s turn to tell a story

It is beautiful outside and there is no pain in my ankle
Miss Barbara cannot find a roe deer
Aunt Catherine accuses me of schoolboy pranks
Miss Barbara comes to my defence
This time it’s Saturnin’s turn to disappear
Bertie is behind bars
No short straws for me
We go mushrooming
It was wonderful

Grandpa is insulted by Aunt Catherine
Dr. Witherspoon delivers a speech ridiculing proverbs
How to conduct oneself at a funeral
A failure to appreciate proverbs
I look at the stars with Miss Barbara
Silence, please
Saturnin again
What really happened

Someone rings the bell
Alarm on the first floor
I am caught without my umbrella
The sound of gunfire like a parade on Corpus ChristiDay
I am attacked
Saturnin lies
Look who’s speaking Spanish

A sweet awakening
We are waiting for a new bridge
My aunt seeks to be reconciled with Grandpa
Concerning the Good Old Days
Recollections of an old trooper
Grandpa and a nobleman in period costume
The grey general
Grandpa forgets to tell his story about the countess

Becoming even closer to Miss Barbara
The enchanted deckchair
Bertie’s mishaps
Aunt Catherine hankers after a career as a writer
She proposes a novel about ’Martha, the delicate flower’
Even Bertie could have a literary career
Only one thing matters

An indiscreet question from Dr. Witherspoon
On novels for women
Courting by numbers
Do not marry a lunatic
Dr. Witherspoon clambers onto an armchair and swears an oath
Supplies are running low
Planning our rescue
Drastic action from Grandpa

A million people in a line
Bertie doesn ’t want to tell a story
A bizarre tale from Saturnin
A cognac-drinking ghost
The unseemly behaviour of an oak wardrobe
The chief fire officer and fourteenth century armour
Balthasar Crisp longs for peace
Saturnin in the service of a private detective
We opt to die with dignity

Some of the last supplies go missing
Aunt Catherine is being over-sensitive
Saturnin refuses to give an answer
We fail to live up to our responsibilities
Bertie surprises us
Dr. Witherspoon makes a rather confused speech about mental health

The expedition sets off
Saturnin is our chronicler
Dr. Witherspoon’s log cabin
Miss Barbara reads a letter
Prehistoric man and his tree-climbing habits
An unusual hiding-place for a key
Bathing in a tarn is good for your health
What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander

An evening in the mountains
Cool air and cold water
What would happen if I looked into a well through binoculars
Caesar didn ’t wear a flannel shirt
Grandpa makes a speech with disastrous consequences

A night in the forest
I am on sentry duty till eleven o’clock
What happened next that night
Bertie surprises me 
I ought to have a shave
It rains
We look like vagabonds
A brief reflection on our adventure
Journey’s end

We bask in the fruits of civilisation
My aunt nurses Grandpa
Grandpa goes out of his mind
My aunt would like to see the audacious man who ...
Give the Goddess of Quarrels and Strife some cognac

Our holiday comes to an end
Miss Barbara thinks for herself
Recalling a man who didn’t know how to tell a story
Tomorrow at the National Theatre

Grandpa’s letter
How Aunt Catherine nursed Grandpa
A Holy War on novelists is declared
Grandpa asks a favour, the first in twenty-eight years

Saturnin’s letter
"With God at our side, we shall not die of thirst"
A passage from a popular romance
What really happened
Mr. Dale, a game of poker and what it led to
Heaven help writers

I am aware of the fact that a wedding is the only appropriate ending for every tale, and it gives me pleasure that I needn’t disappoint my readers in this important regard
A little later in Prague’s grandiose Church of St. Ludmila Aunt Catherine remarried into money

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