Jaroslav Hasek

From New World Encyclopedia

Jaroslav Hašek ([ˈjarɔslaf ˈɦaʃɛk]) (April 30, 1883 – January 3, 1923) was a Czech humorist and satirist who became well-known mainly for his world-famous novel The Good Soldier Švejk, an unfinished collection of farcical incidents about a soldier in World War I, which has been translated into sixty languages. He also wrote some 1,500 short stories. He was a journalist, bohemian, and practical joker. His short life had many odd parallels with another virtual contemporary from Prague, the Jewish writer Franz Kafka (1883–1924). His book Švejk became one of the important landmarks in the anti-war movement that began to develop in the twentieth century. Of course, there were always some critics of war, but an anti-war movement gained great steam after First World War. Humankind must evolve ultimately to the point at which war becomes unthinkable and enmity is dissolved by higher means than military aggression.

Life and work

Hašek was born in Prague, Bohemia (then within Austria-Hungary, now the Czech Republic), the son of middle-school math teacher Josef Hašek and his wife, Kateřina. Poverty forced the family, including three children—Jaroslav, son Bohuslav, three years Hašek's younger, and an orphan cousin Maria—to move often, more than ten times during his infancy. He never knew a real home, and this rootlessness clearly influenced his wanderlust lifestyle. When he was 13, Hašek's father died, and his mother was unable to raise him firmly. The teenage boy dropped out of high school at the age of 15 to become a druggist, but eventually graduated from business school. He worked briefly as a bank officer and also as a dog salesman, but preferred the liberated profession of a writer and journalist.

In 1906 he joined the anarchist movement, having taken part in the 1897 anti-German riots in Prague as a schoolboy. He gave regular lectures to groups of proletarian workers and, in 1907, became the editor of the anarchist journal Komuna. As a prominent anarchist, his movements were closely monitored by the police and he was arrested, and imprisoned, on a regular basis; his offenses include numerous cases of vandalism and at least one case of assaulting a police officer, for which he spent a month in prison.

Hašek met Jarmila Mayerová in 1907, falling madly in love with her. However, due to his lifestyle her parents found him an unsuitable match for their daughter. In response Hašek attempted to back away from anarchism and get a settled job as a writer. When he was arrested for desecrating a flag in Prague, Mayerová's parents took her into the countryside, hoping that this would end their relationship. This move proved unsuccessful at ending the affair, but it did result in Hašek's final withdrawal from anarchism and a renewed focus in writing. In 1909 he had 64 short stories published, over twice as many as in any previous year, and was also named as the editor of the journal The Animal World. This job did not last long as he was dismissed for publishing articles about imaginary animals which he had dreamed up.

In 1910 he married Jarmila Mayerová. However the marriage was to prove an unhappy one, and lasted little more than three years. Mayerová went back to live with her parents in 1913 after he was caught trying to fake his own death. At the outbreak of World War I he joined the army. Many of the characters in his great anti-war novel, The Good Soldier Švejk, are based on people he met during the war. He did not spend much time fighting on the front line before he was captured by the Russians in 1915. He had a relatively easy time in the Russian concentration camps, in which the Czechs were often more harshly treated than any other prisoners; he was assigned to the camp's commander as a secretary. He was allowed to leave the camp in 1916 to join the newly formed Czech Legion as a propaganda writer.

After the Russian Revolution he remained in Russia as a member of the Bolshevik party, also getting remarried (although he was still technically married to Jarmila). He eventually returned again to Prague in 1919 in the hope of finishing The Good Soldier Švejk. He was not a popular figure upon his return. He was branded a traitor and a bigamist, and struggled to find a publisher for his works.

Before the war, in 1912, he published the novel The Good soldier Švejk and other strange stories (Dobrý voják Švejk a jiné podivné historky) in which the figure of Švejk appeared for the first time but it was only after the war in his famous novel that Švejk became a sancta simplicitas, a cheerful idiot who joked about the war as if it were a tavern brawl. By this time Hašek had become gravely ill and dangerously overweight. He no longer wrote, but dictated the chapters of Švejk from his bedroom in the village of Lipnice, where in 1923, not yet 40 years old, he unexpectedly died of tuberculosis contracted during the war.

Hašek made fun of everyone and everything, including himself. He cared nothing for style or schools of literature—he considered his work a job, not art—and wrote spontaneously. He made jokes not only on paper, but also in real life, angering many who considered him lazy, irresponsible, a vagabond, and a drunkard.

The Good Soldier Švejk

The Good Soldier Švejk is an unfinished satirical novel by Jaroslav Hašek.

Plot introduction

The Good Soldier Švejk (spelled Schweik or Schwejk in many translations, and pronounced [ˈʃvɛjk]) is the shortened title of Hašek's humorous novel, written in 1921-1922. It was fully illustrated by Josef Lada after Hašek's death. The original Czech title of the work is Osudy dobrého vojáka Švejka za světové války, literally The Fateful Adventures of the Good Soldier Švejk During the World War.

Hašek originally intended Švejk to cover a total of six volumes, but had only completed four (which are now usually merged into one book) upon his death.

Plot summary

The novel tells a story of the Czech veteran Josef Švejk who, after having been drafted back into the army as cannon fodder to die for an Emperor he despises, proceeds to undermine the Austro-Hungarian Army's war effort by a method that has come to be known as "švejking." "Švejking" is the method for surviving "švejkárna," which is a situation or institution of systemic absurdity requiring the employment of "švejking" for one to survive and remain untouched by it. Švejk's method of subverting the Austrian Empire is to carry out his orders to an absurd conclusion. "Švejkovat," "to švejk"' has since become a common Czech verb.

The action of the novel begins in the very first days of the First World War and describes events taking place during its first year, as Svejk joins the army and has various adventures, first in rear areas, and then during the long journey to the front lines. The unfinished novel breaks off abruptly before Svejk has a chance to be involved in any combat or even enter the trenches.

Literary significance & criticism

"Like Diogenes, Švejk lingers at the margins of an unfriendly society against which he is defending his independent existence." - Peter Steiner, 'Tropos Kynikos: Jaroslav Hašek's The Good Soldier Švejk', Poetics Today 19:4 (1998): 469-498.

Jaroslav Hašek and his novel have been subjects of innumerable articles, essays, studies, and books. Written by a great variety of individuals, ranging from friends and acquaintances, to admirers, detractors, and literary scholars, they started appearing almost immediately after the publication of the unfinished novel and the author's premature death in 1923.

Jaroslav Hašek was one of the earliest Eastern European writers in the movement that has come to be known as modernist literature. He experimented with verbal collage, Dadaism and the surreal. Hašek was writing modern fiction before exalted post-World-War-I writers like Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and William Faulkner.

The Good Soldier Švejk is one of the first anti-war novels, predating nearly every other anti-war novel of note. Only the first two-thirds of The Red Badge of Courage precedes it. It predated that quintessential First World War novel, All Quiet on the Western Front by nearly a decade.

Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, set in World War II, was profoundly influenced by the novel. Joseph Heller said that if he hadn't read The Good Soldier Švejk he would never had written Catch-22 [1].

"And yet in some ways this novel is obviously about a good deal more than war. After all, while there are a great many caustic comments and satirical moments when the inhumanity of modern military life is exposed for the idiotic folly it is, there are no combat scenes in the novel, and we are never given a detailed and sustained glimpse of soldiers killing and being killed. There is very little attention paid to weapons or training or conduct which is unique to military experience. In addition, a great deal of the satire of what goes on in the army has little to do with its existence of the army per se and is much more focused on the military as an organization with a complex chain of command, complicated procedures, and a system of authority, whose major function, it seems, is to order people around in ways they never fully understand (perhaps because they are beyond anyone’s comprehension)." - Ian Johnston in On Hašek’s The Good Soldier Švejk

Historical Background

The novel is set during World War I in Austria-Hungary, a country which was a figment of bureaucratic imagination, with borders constructed by political compromise and military conquest and which held in subjection for 300 years numerous nationalities, with different languages and cultures. The multi-ethnic, and in this respect modern Empire, was full of long-standing grievances and tensions. World War I, amplified by modern weapons and techniques, quickly escalated to become a massive human meat grinder. Fifteen million people died, one million of them Austrian soldiers. Jaroslav Hašek participated in this conflict, which formed one of the bases for The Good Soldier Švejk.

Another import basis was the development of the Austro-Hungarian bureaucracy. The German-speaking Hapsburgs and their imperial administrators had ruled the Czech Lands from 1526. By the arrival of the twentieth century, Prague, the seat of the Czech Kingdom, had become a boomtown. Large numbers of people had come to the city from the countryside to participate in the industrial revolution. The rise of a large working class spawned a cultural revolution. The Austro-Hungarian Empire ignored these changes and became more and more decrepit and anachronistic. As the system decayed, it became absurd and irrelevant to ordinary people. When forced to respond to dissent, the imperial powers did so, more often than not, with hollow propaganda and repression.

Film, TV or theatrical adaptations

  • Legendary Czech animator Jiří Trnka adapted the novel as an animated film in 1955, with Jan Werich starring as a narrator.
  • Czech film director Karel Steklý filmed the adventures in two films in 1956 and 1957, starring Rudolf Hrušínský as Švejk.
  • In Western Germany the book was newly adapted in the 1960s, starring Heinz Rühmann.
  • A 13-part TV series in German, Die Abenteuer des braven Soldaten Schwejk, directed by Wolfgang Liebeneiner, was made and broadcast by the Austrian state TV (ORF) in 1972. The title role was played by Fritz Muliar.

The Good Soldier Švejk inspired Bertolt Brecht to write a play continuing his adventures in the World War II. It was aptly titled Schweyk in the Second World War. It became the subject of comic books, films, an opera, a musical, statues, and the theme of many restaurants in a number of European countries.


  • The extreme popularity of the novel in Poland led to creation of a common noun szwej denoting a kind of street-wise soldier, as opposed to newly-drafted recruits.
  • The translations are generally perceived as evolving from good to better. The latest translation is still a work in progress: Book One is in print, Book Two is available as an e-book, i.e. a PDF file, and the last volume, containing Books Three & Four is being edited and proofread in 2006.
  • Paul Kurka wrote a composition for wind ensemble which is also called "The Good Soldier Schweik."


  • Since his death, all of Hašek's short stories have been collected and published in the Czech language
  • For decades (until 2000) a Festival of humor and satire "Haškova Lipnice" had been held in Lipnice.
  • An EuroCity class train of railway operator České dráhy bears the name Jaroslav Hašek.

Major Works

  • The Good Soldier Švejk and His Fortunes in the World War, translated by Cecil Parrott, with original illustrations by Josef Lada. Penguin Classics, 1990.

ISBN 0140182748

  • The Fateful Adventures of the Good Soldier Svejk During the World War, Book One, translated by Zenny K. Sadlon. FirstBooks, 2000. ISBN 1585004286
  • The Red Commissar: Including further adventures of the good soldier Svejk and other stories. by Jaroslav Hasek (Author), Josef Lada (Illustrator), Cecil Parrott (Translator) New York: Dial Press (Bantam Dell), 1981. ISBN 0385272375
  • Bachura Scandal and Other Stories and Sketches, translated by Alan Menhenett. Angel Books, New Ed, 2004. (in English) ISBN 0946162417

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Parrott, Cecil. The Bad Bohemian: The Life of Jaroslav Hasek, Creator of The Good Soldier Svejk. London: The Bodley Head Ltd, 1978. ISBN 0349126984.
  • Brecht, Bertolt, (Author), and William Rowlinson (Translator). Schweyk in the Second World War (A Play) New York: Samuel French, 1999. (in English) ASIN B000NFB7CW

External links

All links retrieved March 24, 2018.


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