Milada Blekastad’s Biography

Milada Blekastad (in Czech: Milada Blekastadová), née Topičová (1 July 1917, Prague – 25 October 2003, Oslo) was a translator, Comeniologist and literary historian of Czech origin. She was the daughter of Jaroslav Topič and Milada Topičová and the granddaughter of the well-known Prague publisher František Topič, whose extensive work in publishing northern European literature fuelled her interest in the cultures of Scandinavian nations. Through Inge Krokann, whose novel she would later be the first to translate, she met the painter Hallvard Blekastad (1883–1966) during her first visit to Norway in 1933 when she was only sixteen. She married him the following year in Prague, and during their long married life in the Norwegian countryside, they had seven children. Thanks to her exceptional gift for languages (when she left Czechoslovakia, she was already proficient in German, French and Russian and she later learnt Latin), she was soon fluent in the two variations of literary Norwegian. She initially worked as a translator of Norwegian literature, but from 1939, devoted herself to translations from her mother tongue. She began her work in Comenius studies by translating The Labyrinth of the World and the Paradise of the Heart (1955). Although her early marriage meant that she never finished her secondary schooling in Prague where she studied from 1928 to 1933, after many years (and the completion of her matriculation examinations), she earned a doctorate from Oslo University in Norway. Her dissertation, published in German and still highly regarded, was titled Comenius. Versuch eines Umrisses von Leben, Werk und Schicksal des Jan Amos Komenský (Universitetsforlaget – Academia, Oslo – Prague 1969). She produced many more studies on Comenius, including the seminal edition of his letters Unbekannte Briefe des Comenius und seiner Freunde: 1641–1661 (Henn, Ratingen – Kastellaun, 1976). However, her activities were not confined to one field: she lectured in both early and modern Czech literature at the Institute of Slavic and Baltic Studies of Oslo Universityfrom 1957 to 1987. At the same time, she translated a wealth of literature by modern Czech authors (including Karel Čapek, Václav Havel, Milan Kundera, Ludvík Vaculík, Ivan Klíma, Pavel Kohout and Daniela Hodrová) as well as philosophical works (for example, Patočka’s Heretical Essays in the Philosophy of History) into Norwegian. After 1968, she also played a key role in delivering financial and other aid to Czech dissidents. In 1997, Václav Havel awarded her the Medal of Merit.

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