"corpus delicti"

Latin phrase that means “body of crime.” In law, it refers to the actual crime that has been committed, and must be shown to have been committed, before someone may be accused of it.

The phrase is employed ironically here, because it does not refer to an actual crime but to an act of love. Tomas does not want his other mistresses to know about his budding relationship with Tereza, so he rents a separate room for her: spending the night together would be “the corpus delicti of love” that would drive his other women to “insurrection.”

The phrase will be used again in an ironic fashion in section 7 of Part Four (page 141 in this edition) when a man’s son is sentenced to five years imprisonment by the Communist government simply because he had been identified in a news photo grabbing another man by the throat, and therefore was regarded as guilty of having beaten people suspected of collaborating with the invading Russians. “This photograph was the only corpus delicti,” the father says.