From Self-Portrait, 1964

This is one of the earliest summaries we have of Václav Havel’s early life. It was written, with evident reluctance, by Havel himself, in his 28th year, when only one of his full-length plays, The Garden Party, had been performed in public.


When the editors of Divadlo magazine asked me to write a brief self-portrait, my first reaction was that it was their idea of a joke. I looked into the matter, however, and since they appear to be quite serious, I’ve decided to give them a serious reply. . . .
So here goes: I was born in Prague in 1936; I attended primary school, then junior high, and in 1951, when I tried to continue my rather average education in a grammar school, I was sent instead to apprentice as a lab technician. I worked as a lab assistant for four years, while studying for my high-school diploma at night. Then I applied for undergraduate studies in chemistry, both because chemistry interested me to some extent, and because, as a lab assistant, I had no other options. I was not accepted, however, and a year later I had lost interest in chemistry and sat an entrance exam to study art history. I was not accepted, and so I tried to enroll for a degree in philosophy, and when I was not accepted yet again, I went to study the economics of automotive transportation, the only department that was willing to accept me. Foolishly, I hoped the subject would spark my interest. After sticking it out for two years, I realized I’d made a mistake and tried to transfer to the film faculty in the Academy of Fine Arts. I was not accepted. So I enlisted in the army where, oddly enough, they accepted me on the spot.
That was in 1957. Two years later, having risen to the rank of private, I was demobilized and applied to the Theatre faculty in the Academy of Fine Arts. I was not accepted, and so I became a stage hand at the ABC Theatre. A year later, I moved to the Theatre on the Balustrade as a stage hand and I am still there, having worked, successively, as a lighting technician, an administrator, a reader and a dramaturge. In 1961 I applied again to the theatre faculty at the Faculty of Fine Arts. Again, I was not accepted. I was accepted – for the external study of dramaturgy – in 1962, when I became dramaturge at the Theatre on the Balustrade.
Clearly, I got my basic education by studying for entrance exams to schools that did not accept me. It’s a method I recommend, with the caveat that there’s always a danger you might get accepted.

The Vaclav Havel Center