František Gellner (1881–1914): A Bohemian Voice of Satire and Anarchy

František Gellner (1881–1914): A Bohemian Voice of Satire and Anarchy

František Gellner, born on June 19, 1881, in Prague, Kingdom of Bohemia, was not just a poet, short story writer, and artist; he was a provocateur, an anarchist, and an outstanding satirist of his time. This article delves into the life and works of this remarkable Czech figure, exploring his artistic journey, ideological inclinations, and the legacy he left behind.

František Gellner

Born: June 19, 1881, Prague, Kingdom of Bohemia, Austria-Hungary
Disappeared: September 1914 (aged 33), Zamość, Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria, Austria-Hungary
Nationality: Czech
Occupation(s): Poet, Writer, Artist, Cartoonist


  • Spisy, 3 (1928), postscript by M. Hýsek
  • Katechismus dějin české literatury (1925)
  • Radosti života (1974)
  • Literatura s hvězdou Davidovou, vol. 1 (1998)
  • Lexikon české literatury 1 (1985)

Early Life and Artistic Beginnings

Gellner’s roots were humble, born into a poor Jewish family in Mladá Boleslav, Bohemia. His father, a keen socialist, ran a shop, and it was in the room above this shop that Gellner’s artistic inclinations found an early outlet. Covering the walls with provocative poems and caricatures, it was evident that his Bohemian lifestyle was already taking shape.

His educational journey started at the gymnasium in Mladá Boleslav, where he actively contributed to various student journals with poems, translations, and drawings. However, formal education in Vienna at the Polytechnic Institute did not resonate with Gellner’s aspirations. He left after two years, having completed only one exam in drawing. The Bohemian spirit in him led him to the anarchist movement, a path that would significantly influence his artistic expression.

Anarchy and Art: Gellner’s Ideological Path

Gellner’s commitment to anarchism became evident in his association with the movement and his contributions to the Nový Kult journal. His flat became a target for police searches, reflecting the radical nature of his beliefs. Despite these challenges, Gellner continued to express his views through art and the written word.

In 1901, Gellner enrolled at the Mining Academy in Příbram while remaining engaged in anarchist activities in Prague. His friendships with notable figures like S.K. Neumann, Karel Toman, Fráňa Šrámek, and Marie Majerová reflected his involvement in Bohemian intellectual circles.

His artistic pursuits took him to Munich in 1905, where he studied painting, and later to Paris in 1906. In the vibrant artistic atmosphere of Paris, Gellner published his early cartoons in prominent French periodicals like Rire, Cri de Paris, and Le Temps Nouveau. This period marked a transition from visual art to verse as Gellner realized that poetry offered a more potent medium to express his anarchist creed.

František Gellner (1881–1914): A Bohemian Voice of Satire and Anarchy

Poetry as Satire: Gellner’s Magnum Opus

Gellner’s three books of poetry stand as a testament to his mastery of satirical verse. Modeled on the style of François Villon, these works are characterized by their wit, irony, and societal critique. “Po nás at přijde photo pa” (After us the Deluge, 1901), “Radosti života” (Pleasures of Life, 1903), and “Nové verše” (New Poems, 1919) showcase his ability to use poetry as a tool for social commentary.

His early poems exude the irony reminiscent of Heinrich Heine’s style. Notably, “Patnáct lahví koňaku” (Fifteen bottles of cognac), written at the age of 15, was published in Švanda dudák journal. Gellner’s poetry evolved to incorporate sexual motifs without embellishments, as seen in his first collection, “Po nás ať přijde potopa!” (After Us Let the Floods Come!). The subsequent collection, “Radosti života” (Joys of Life), shifted the focus from subject to object, intensifying societal critique.

His posthumously published collection, “Nové verše,” revealed a calm perspective, less theatrical but no less impactful. Gellner’s use of vaudeville verses or channel rhythms added a unique flavor to his poetic expressions.

Gellner’s Prose and the Path to Disappearance

In 1911, Gellner became a cartoonist and feature editor at Lidové Noviny, a leading Czech newspaper. His foray into prose included his only novel, “Potulný národ” (Nation Errant, 1912), and collections like “Cesta do hor a jiné povídky” (Trip to the Mountains and Other Stories, 1914) and “Povídky a satire” (Stories and Satires, posthumously published in 1920).

However, Gellner’s life took a tragic turn with the onset of World War I. In 1914, he was recruited into the Austro-Hungarian army and sent to Galicia. The last known report about him was that he was relaxing on a path between Zamość and Tomaszów. On September 13, 1914, he was reported missing and was never found.

Legacy and Criticisms

František Gellner’s works faced criticism, particularly for his satirical treatment of Jewish weaknesses. Some labeled him as an anti-Jewish writer due to the unapologetic nature of his satire. However, it’s essential to view his writings in the context of his time, understanding the complexity of societal dynamics and intellectual movements.

In the years following his disappearance, new editions of Gellner’s works were published in 1952, 1964, and the 1990s. His legacy endures through his literary and artistic contributions and the debates sparked by his uncompromising satire.


František Gellner’s life was a tapestry of art, anarchism, and unyielding satire. From the Bohemian streets to the vibrant artistic milieu of Paris, Gellner found his voice through poetry, cartoons, and prose. Though sometimes controversial, his works reflect a commitment to challenging societal norms and expressing dissent.

As we delve into Gellner’s writings and artworks, we encounter a Bohemian spirit unbridled by convention—a spirit that resonates through time, reminding us of the power of art to question, critique, and provoke. Gellner’s disappearance in World War I’s chaos adds an air of mystery to his legacy, leaving us to ponder what more he might have contributed to the world had he not vanished on that fateful path in 1914.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) about František Gellner

Who was František Gellner?

Answer: František Gellner was a Czech poet, short story writer, artist, and anarchist known as an outstanding satirist in his time.

What is Gellner’s background and early life?

Answer: Gellner was born to a poor Jewish family in Mladá Boleslav, Bohemia. His father was a socialist, and Gellner, inspired by anarchism, began his artistic endeavors early in life.

What were Gellner’s contributions to literature?

Answer: Gellner initially gained recognition for his cartoons published in French periodicals. Later, he shifted to poetry, producing notable works like “After Us the Deluge,” “Pleasures of Life,” and “New Poems.”

What is the significance of Gellner’s works in Czech literature?

Answer: Gellner’s poetry, modeled on François Villon, is considered some of the best satirical verse in Czech literature. His writing style evolved, shifting from sexual motifs to societal critiques.

What publications did Gellner contribute to during his lifetime?

Answer: Gellner contributed to French periodicals like Rire, Cri de Paris, and Le Temps Nouveau. In 1911, he joined the Czech newspaper Lidové Noviny as a cartoonist and feature editor.

Was Gellner involved in the anarchist movement?

Answer: Yes, Gellner embraced the anarchist movement, and his Bohemian lifestyle and provocative writings led to police searches of his residence.

Tell us about Gellner’s artistic pursuits.

Answer: Gellner studied painting in Munich and Paris, and his caricatures and cartoons were featured in various journals. He also illustrated Karel Havlíček Borovský’s work.

What happened to Gellner during World War I?

Answer: Gellner was recruited into the Austro-Hungarian army at the start of World War I and disappeared while serving on the Russian front. His last report was near Zamość.

Are there any posthumous publications of Gellner’s work?

Answer: Yes, his works were reissued in 1952, 1964, and the 1990s, showcasing the lasting impact of his contributions to Czech literature.

What is Gellner’s literary legacy?

Answer: František Gellner’s legacy lies in his satirical poetry and contributions to Czech literature. His unique style and anarchist perspective continue to be studied and appreciated.

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