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Literature / Saturnin

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Saturnin put in an appearance and made a report to grandfather. He said everything was in order, the news-stand had been transported back to its original place and the car brought to a repair service. He said that the mechanic, however, insisted on receiving a photo so he could see what the car had looked like before. He had also asked whether one door had not remained behind in the garage. Saturnin had looked through the garage, but had not found the door. He would make inquiries as to whether it had not stayed behind in the news-stand.
The Narrator, describing the aftermath of one of the many exciting events incited by Saturnin

A humorist book by Czech writer Zdeněk Jirotka, published in 1942. Its titular character is a resourceful manservant with a hidden sense of adventure and a penchant for creating and subsequently solving tricky situations. Said to be inspired by Jeeves and Wooster, the book is nonetheless its own thing and its characters have become archetypes in their own right in Czech popular culture. It is known for its subtle humour and hilariously absurd yet believable situations. In 2009, it was elected the most beloved book in the Czech Republic in a public poll run by the Czech TV note .

Also turned into a TV mini-series, which had been cut down to create a film.

The main characters are:

  • The Narrator, never named in the book. He works in an office in Prague and would lead a boring life were it not for his inexplicable impulse to hire a valet, the titular
  • Saturnin. A valet with perfect manners, who under this veneer manages to make everyone's life exciting and solve life's problems in unconventional ways.
  • Aunt Kateřina, the narrator's widowed aunt-by-marriage, who is notorious for her gratuitous use of proverbs and sayings. Also for having a lust for material possessions and an ingratiating personality, for being a bit of mutton dressed as lamb, and for being a Doting Parent to her son
  • Milouš, an aspiring rake of eighteen years of age and somewhat limited wits.
  • The Grandfather, the narrator's and Milouš's grandfather, an elderly retired industrialist with a deep love for all things electric, who is in possession of the money Aunt Kateřina would like to have and lives in a large country house where everything functions on electricity.
  • Miss Barbora (Barbora Terebová), an attractive, modern and sportive young woman, the narrator's Love Interest and a Spirited Young Lady.
  • Doctor Vlach, a family friend typified by biting but often long-winded commentaries on people's behaviour and a somewhat ruthless sense of humour.

Saturnin provides examples of:

  • Ambiguous Time Period: The book was written in 1942, so it would be logical to assume that it takes place in the middle of WW2. However, it was originally written as an escapist fantasy for the author, to protect himself from the horrors of war. Therefore, it would probably not make much sense for it to take place at the same time, and it does seem to take place in a little First Republic-style time bubble with none of the hardships of wartime life. Except that a little mention of blackout did creep in at one point...
  • Battle Butler: Saturnin would no doubt very much like to be one, and often actually is.
  • Big Blackout: On a smaller scale, much of the book's exciting adventures happen when the electricity in the Grandfather's house is cut off during a storm.
  • Brick Joke: Usually only in the scope of one chapter, but there are several.
  • Character Title: The book is named after Saturnin. It is quite a good choice, since the name is very unusual.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Doctor Vlach. Other characters also have their moments, and seeing this is a humorist book, especially the narrator himself in his narration.
    When I once asked him what should a sane person think of the event described in the newspaper cutting, he said it was hard to judge because these days no one was sane anymore. (...) Doctor Vlach spoke for five more quarters of an hour, and I no longer remember exactly what about. He ended by expressing admiration for Pythagoras. I did not argue this belief with him, but regarding his claim that no one is sane anymore, I think Doctor Vlach should only speak for himself.
  • Enclosed Space: the storm also tears down the bridge that connects Grandfather's house with the town. Since it is in the mountains, the only way to gain access to the rest of the world is to go around the river's head-spring.
  • Epic Flail: Saturnin's rise to newspaper fame happened when he caught a thief in one of his previous employers' houses and challenged the thief to a duel with Hussite flails.
  • Everybody Smokes: Common sense, as the book takes place somewhen between 1920 and the 1940s.
  • Evil Uncle: Aunt Kateřina, as a female variant. Her annoying, inconsiderate, money-grubbing personality is the closest thing this story has for a villain.
  • Great White Hunter: The narrator has a reputation of being a courageous hunter and tamer of animals but only because of the fanciful stories Saturnin circulates about him. One time he is in all earnestness asked to go help and catch a lion that had escaped from the ZOO.
  • Hurricane of Aphorisms: Aunt Kateřina would no doubt be the Trope Namer if a Czech version of TV Tropes existed. Saturnin also employs this way of speaking - when he wants to alert the narrator to Aunt Kateřina's presence.
  • Hidden Depths: Milouš, when he starts crying because he lost his chance with Miss Barbora. Up until this point, his interest in her seemed much more shallow.
  • Identity Amnesia: A brief mention - the thief Saturnin challenged to a duel ended up with a head wound and forgot his name.
  • Illness Blanket: Parodied. Wrapping someone up in a blanket is Aunt Katerina's solution for everything; from minor injuries to actual sicknesses, to annoyances such as being rained on.
  • Leg Focus: Miss Barbora has the most attractive legs of any woman at the tennis court. The narrator describes them in fetishistic detail, while claiming that, being the gentleman that he is, he didn't look at them when he had the chance to.
  • Love Triangle: The Narrator and Milouš for Miss Barbora. But, considering Milouš's behaviour towards her, the competition was not that equal.
  • Maybe Ever After: Near the end of the novel, Miss Barbora agrees to go on a date with the narrator and suggests they use the familiar singular "you" with each other, indicating that she is interested in pursuing a relationship.
  • Obfuscating Insanity: Grandfather's eventual way of dealing with Aunt Kateřina's ingratiations
  • Purple Prose: Used mainly satirically and in contrast to more colloquial styles, such as when Aunt Kateřina tells the story from her abandoned romance novel, only for Doctor Vlach to poke fun at the genre mercilessly.
  • The Jeeves: Saturnin is a very competent manservant who can solve any precarious situation, with a twist in that it's him causing most of the trouble.
  • Spirited Young Lady: Miss Barbora. Not necessarily a rebelling one, since the book is set in a time when young ladies had more freedom already, but the narrator does take note of her not-quite-ladylike comments on his ability to play tennis.
  • Stargazing Scene: The narrator and his love interest Miss Barbora spend the summer at his grandfather's beautiful villa. They watch stars together on the terrace, try to see a shooting star and are mostly silent. The narrator muses whether it was right when he decided not to try to kiss her. However, he has a very specific idea about their first kiss. He wants them to simply "kiss", not to "kiss her" or steal the kiss from her.
  • Surreal Humour: Saturnin is very apt at creating situations that would qualify as this. Often amplified when filmed.
  • Waxing Lyrical: Used to a timelessly humorous effect with a poem rather than a song, when a remark concerning Milouš's whereabouts triggers Saturnin quoting a famous Czech poem probably every Czech schoolchild is forced to read at some point.
  • Wedding Bells... for Someone Else: The book ends with the nameless narrator nervously asking his crush Miss Barbora out. She doesn't make it easy for him, but she accepts and he's beyond happy. All previous chapters have a summary of the chapter, in the 'In Which a Trope Is Described' style. The very last chapter is very brief (One-Paragraph Chapter brief) and resembles just the summary. The narrator says he knows that every good story needs a satisfying ending and that there is no happy ending like a wedding. Everyone expects it's him and the lovely Barbora. He's glad he will not disappoint his readers because his widowed aunt Katerina got married to a rich gentleman.
  • Wish Upon a Shooting Star: Zigzagged. The Narrator and Miss Barbora spend about an hour watching the sky and trying to see a star fall. The narration does not say whether they did, so presumably they actually did not, but it is safe to assume they engaged in the activity in order to follow the trope.