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Book details:
Gothic Soul

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also by the author:
Solitude, Vanity, Night

  a gothic soul

by Jiří Karásek ze Lvovic

translated from the Czech by Kirsten Lodge
artwork by Sascha Schneider

A Gothic Soul is the most acclaimed work of Czech Decadent prose. Expressing concerns that are unique to the Czech movement while alluding creatively and ironically to Joris-Karl Huysman's Against Nature, the novella is set in Prague, which is portrayed as a dead city, a city peopled by shades, who, like the protagonist — a nihilist and the "last scion of a noble line" — are only a dim reflection of the city’s medieval splendor. The man lives in a dreamworld, the labyrinth of his soul giving rise to visions. In his quest for meaning, he walks the city, often hallucinating, while pondering questions of religious fervor and loss of faith, the vanity of life, his own sense of social alienation, human identity and its relationship to a “nation,” the miserable situation of the Czechs under Habsburg rule, and Prague’s loss of its soul on the cusp of modernity as old sections, such as much of the squalid Jewish Quarter, are demolished to make way for gaudy new buildings and streets. With a history of madness running in the family and afraid the same fate awaits him, he ultimately retreats into seclusion, preferring the monastic way of life as the epitome of unity and wholeness and a tonic to present-day fragmentation. Yet Karásek eschews the mawkish, opting instead for darker tones that play with the tropes and motifs of Decadence while conflating the same-sex desires of his protagonist, the fatalism and futility of such an existence within the social construct of the day, with concerns for the dual fates of his nation and city.

Given his importance for Czech literature and for European Decadence, very little of Karásek's work has been translated into English. Kirsten Lodge included translations of his poetry in Solitude, Vanity, Night: An Anthology of Czech Decadent Poetry, and we have made available her translations of some of his shorter prose here and here. This is the first time A Gothic Soul, or any full-length work of Karásek's prose, has been translated into English.


A Gothic Soul's exploration of asceticism is particularly powerful; the urge to turn away from the world, it argues, is a reaction against the way that modernity insists upon the fragmentation of individual identity. Monasticism is not a technique to become one with God, it is deployed as a means to become one in one's self.

Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque

While Karȧsek's credentials as a member of the Decadent movement are impeccable, in many respects A Gothic Soul is very different to a stereotypically Decadent work: while darkly vivid, it is not at all languid. It throbs with energy – even if it is that of the driven and compulsive youth, endlessly seeking ...

— John Howard, Wormwood

Like many modernists before him, [Karásek] is both fascinated and repelled by his time and the city in which he lives. [...] To all of this, he brings to bear his Decadent perspective. He immerses himself and his reader in the paradis artificiels that Jean Pierrot saw as a defining attribute of the Decadent imagination. With A Gothic Soul, Karásek leaves his own stamp, both distinctly Czech and generically Decadent, on the confederacy of degenerates, dandies, and dreamers that populated the fin de siècle.

— Jonathan Stone, Slavic & East European Journal

The translator, Kirsten Lodge, has retained the seductive, absorbing effect of Karásek’s prose and not allowed the more florid passages to become too comically overwrought; it is fascinating to think that she may have been working at the same time on her new translation of Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground, the paradigmatic text for this type of writing. Lodge also contributes well-judged, informative afterwords. Indeed, this handsome hardback edition, complete with evocative prints by Sascha Schneider, deserves to be one of the most successful ventures of Twisted Spoon Press.

— Rajendra Chitnis, TLS

A Gothic Soul is an essential volume of anxiety-riddled philosophy—one to shelve prominently alongside comparable masterworks like Dostoevsky’s Notes From Underground and Camus’s The Stranger.

— Jeff Alford, Rain Taxi

Flouting the puritanism of his day [Karásek] explored human sexuality in its many guises while paradoxically often gravitating towards a Catholic aesthetic, as his characters frequently find themselves in a twilight zone between religious ecstasy and erotic arousal, mysticism and masochism.

— Melvyn Clarke, Czech Lit

The translator, Kirsten Lodge, should be congratulated not only for her successful effort to bring the dense prose of a fairly obscure writer into highly readable English, but also for her notes on the novel and her brief biographical afterword. These put the book into a larger literary and social context and shed light on just what an odd version of Decadence Karásek an his Czech peers have created.

— Terrence O'Keefe, The Sarmatian Review

A work which moves amongst the shadows, with brief enlightenments. A book where you could open any page and quote something deep and meaningful. A book to mull over the revelations, one to savour as you follow a single man’s descent into madness.

Messengers Booker

I was drawn in by the sheer beauty of this book. It is a joy to read and an important literary work that still resonates 115 years after it was first published. Trust me, an electronic copy would not be the same. You will want the hardcover version.


Much of the writing is splendid – if very much of the feverish-decadent school – and though its arguably just another variation of a familiar take, it's still a fine exemplar. Beyond that, the book can be recommended for the Author's Preface alone, a wonderful summary of Karásek's endeavor and personal philosophies.

Complete Review

The narrator is a man who is clearly not able to fit into this world or, it would seem, the supernatural world. His world is the world of his inner sense, away from human contact, struggling with his relationship with God, if, indeed, there is a god, something he wonders on more than one occasion.

The Modern Novel

I love it when Twisted Spoon bring a new book out as they seem to choose books that firstly would never see light of day in the uk, secondly are important in the context of where they are from. Here again they have published a book from the Czech decadence movement. A counterpart of the French books at the time this book has a much darker feel than the French decadence movement books I have read.

— Stu Allen, Winstonsdad's

A Gothic Soul is a mysterious and alluring piece of fin de siècle decadence in the vein of JK Huysmans and Gustav Meyrinck. ... [T]he novel touches on themes of modernity, aesthetics and alienation, as well as contemporary psychiatric debates.

Workshy Fop

For [Karásek], as for Wilde and the European Decadents, aesthetics and homosexuality went hand in hand, guarantors of individual freedom against the tyranny of nationalism and bourgeois morality.

— Alfred Thomas, Bohemian Body


ISBN 9788086264462
141 pp.
13.5 x 19 cm
stamped hardcover
ribbon bookmark
patterned endpapers
6 wood engravings
fiction : novella
RRP: $21.50 • £13.50

cover by Dan Mayer

release dates
UK: March 2015
US: May 2016

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