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||Jaroslav Hašek (1883-1923)|
Czech novelist, humorist, prankster, natural storyteller, and journalist, creator of the satiric masterpiece The Good Soldier Schweik. Hašek was with Franz Kafka one of the key figures of literary Prague, but more colorful and blasphemous. Essentially Hašek's humor owed much to the tradition of Rabelaisian satire, which took aim at social institutions. Once Hašek was prevented from throwing himself off the Cechuv most bridge, he founded a political party called The Party of Slight Progress Within the Limits of Law, and spent the cash collected from this activity in his local pub.
--And so on that memorable day there appeared on the Prague streets a moving example of loyalty. An old woman pushing before her a bathchair, in which there sat a man in an army cap with a finely polished Imperial badge and waving his crutches. And in his buttonhole there shone the gay flowers of a recruit.
Jaroslav Hašek was born in Prague, the son of a high-school teacher. His father, Josef, died from drink when Hašek was thirteen. When his widowed mother Katerina could do nothing with her son, a pharmacist, Mr. Kokoska, eventually took an interest in him. Hašek was educated at the Prague Commercial Academy, from which he graduated at the age of nineteen. He got a job at the Slava Bank, but was fired – he drank heavily.
Early in his career Hašek published widely in Czech political journals and in 1907 he became an editor of the anarchist magazine Komuna. After deciding it's time to change his way of life, Hašek married Jarmila Mayerová, an author, but it was a fruitless effort. Soon he was engaged in dogstealing, and forged pedigrees for mongrel dogs – like Schweik later on. As editor of the magazine Svet zvírat (the world of animals) he created brand-new animals and occasionally plagiarized articles directly from German papers. On the other hand, Hašek was a fast writer. His feuilletons and short stories are said to have amounted to over 1200. The satirical Bugulma tales, about his experiences as an "organizer" in a little town beyond Volga, which Hašek published on his return from Russia after the War, have the energy of his best fiction.
After the suicidal incident at Cech's Bridge, Hašek spent a short time in a mental hospital, which again gave him material for Schweik's adventures. With Jarmila Hašek had a son, Richard, but she left him soon after and went back to live with her parents. His home broken, Hašek rented a room at a brothel named U Valsu.
In 1915 Hašek had gained a reputation as a cabaret performer, and was called up into the Austrian Army. During World War I Hašek served at various times in the Czech, Russian and Austrian armies. While attached to the Austrian 91st Regiment, he saw action in the Galician front in 1915; some of his superiors from those days with their real names were depicted in The Good Soldier Schweik. However, he had already invented the eponumous hero in 1911, when he wrote five stories about him. Schweik is an undisciplined liar, drunkard, and apparently stupid man but one who actually outwits his superiors and the army.
Hašek served in southern Bohemia before moving east to Hungary
and then to the front in Galicia. In September 1915 his unit was cut
off as the result of a sudden Russian breakthrough, and Hašek
surrendered himself to the Russians. He was imprisoned in disease-ridden camps in the
Ukraine and later in the Urals. Hašek joined the Czech Legion, becoming
active as a propagandist for the Legion and other Czech organizations.
In 1918 he went over to the Bolsheviks, who made him a political
commissar in their Fifth Army, although he had little political experience – he was less inclined to talk about serious polemical issues than parodying them.
"Altogether it was an entirely different Hašek from the one I had known," recalled the playwright František Langer, who heard one of his speeches. "He, who had always been against militarism and patriotism, in fact always agains something, was now for the first time speaking for something." When Moscow started to tighten its grip on the Czechoslovak Red Army, Hašek became suspicious about the whole business. Two years later he returned to Prague and nationalist politics. From Russia Hašek brought back a wife, Alexandra Gavrilovna Lvova, without having divorced his first wife Jarmila.
All of this was carnivalistic material for Hašek's four-volume magnum opus, The Good Soldier Schweik, acclaimed as one of the greatest satires in world literature. However, the literary establishent first rejected the work – Schweik was considered a lowbrow figure – but the public greeted with joy its jeering attitude towards the late Habsburg empire. The novel was banned in the newly independent Czechoslovakia, it was forbidden in Nazi Germany, and its first English translation was published in bowdlerized form.
Hašek continued his heavy drinking while speedily writing Osudy dobrého vojáka Švejka za světové války. Unlike Kafka's stories, which were written in German, the black comedy spoke to readers in common Czech. Originally Hašek planned to continue his novel to six volumes. Just before his death, he chastised his doctor who refused him a drink of brandy he had been awaiting for: "But you're cheating me!" were his final words allegedly. Hašek died of tuberculosis on January 3, 1923, in Lipnice nad Sázavou. He never completed his satirical masterwork. Only three volumes appeared, and then a posthumous fourth one, completed rather ineptly by his friend Karel Vanek. Hašek's early writings, from the period he edited the magazine Animal World, were collected in The Bachura Scandal: And Other Stories and Sketches (1991).
The Good Soldier Svejk opens with a casual remark of a charwoman: "And so they've killed our Ferdinand". The title character is classified as 'feeble-minded', but he is drafted into the service of Austria with the advent of WW I. Schweik (spelled also Svejk and Švejk) is honest, naive, incompetent, and perhaps more shrewd than he reveals – the reader remains unsure whether he is a good-natured simpleton or counterfeiting. Many readers vote that he is a wise fool. When the war on two fronts starts, which every sensible leader in Europe wished to avoid, Schweik says: "...now that we have one enemy more, now that we have a new front again, we'll have to be economical with our munition."
From the beginning of his wanderings across the Central European landscape, Schweik's adventures have many connections to the life of Hašek. Like the author, he surrenders to the Russians. In the fourth chapter Schweik is thrown out of a nuthouse, where the doctors suspect that he is pretending to be mad. Schweik doesn't complain about his rough treatment and later says that real freedom, of which Socialists have never dreamed, is in the nuthouse – there you can be what ever you want, God, the Pope, the King of England, or St. Václav, although the latter was constantly in a straitjacket.
As illustrated in Josef Lada's series of cartoons, Schweik is a plump, badly shaved, middle-aged, ordinary-looking man. He is arrested for making indiscreet remarks about the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand, interrogated by civil and military authorities, enforced to enlist, posted as an orderly to various officers, finally to Lieutenant Lucas. His strategy to undermine the pompous military bureaucracy is simple: he fulfils the orders to the point of absurdity. This causes a lot of trouble, especially to Lucas. The relationship between Schweik and Lucas could be compared to that of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, but Schweik being the Quixotic adventurer.
For further reading: Jaroslav Hašek: data, fakta, dokumenty by Radko Pytlík (2013); 'Hašek, Švejk and the Czechoslovak Legion' by Kees Boterbloem in Essays on World War I, edited by Peter Pastor and Graydon A. Tunstall (2012); An Introduction to Twentieth-century Czech Fiction: Comedies of Defiance by Robert Porter (2001); 'Švejk, the homo ludens' by Hana Arie-Haifman, in Language and Literary Theory, ed. by Benjamin A. Stolz, I.R. Titunik, Lubomír Dolezel (1984); 'The Tragic Comedy of Jaroslav Hašek' by Jindrich Chalupecky, in Cross Currents: A Yearbook of Central European Culture, 23 (1983); 'Hašek and Kafka' by Karel Kosík, in Cross Currents: A Yearbook of Central European Culture, 23 (1983); Jaroslav Hašek: A Study of Švejk and the Short Stories by Cecil Parrott (1982); The Bad Bohemian by C.Parrott (1978); The First World War in Fiction, ed. Holger Klein (1976); Hašek, the Creator of Sweik by B. Frinta (1965); Ejhle, clovek by J. Durych (1928)
First World War in literature: Henri Barbusse: Le Feu (1916); Ernst Jünger: The Storm of Steel (1920); John Dos Passos: Three Soldiers (1921); E.E. Cummings: The Enormous Room (1922); R.H. Mottram: The Spanish Farm Trilogy (1924-1926); Isaak Babel: Red Cavalry (1926); Ford Madox Ford: Paradise's End (1924-1928); Arnold Zweig: The Case of Sergeant Grisha (1927); Richard Aldington: Death of a Hero (1929); Robert Graves: Good-bye to All That (1929); Ernest Hemingway: A Farewell to Arms (1929); Frederick Manning: The Middle Parts of Fortune (1929); Erich Maria Remarque: All Quiet on the Western Front (1929); Siegfried Sassoon: Memoirs of an Infantry Officer (1930); Henry Williamson: The Patriot's Progress (1930); William March: Company K (1933). Note: Carel Lamac adapted Schweik into screen as a part of English wartime propaganda in 1943, but Schweik's New Adventures kids the Nazis gently. Michael John Nimchuc, a Canadian dramatist, based the play The Good Soldier Schweik on Hašek's novel – this work was probably inspired by the short-lived Prague Spring of 1968. Several theatrical and cinematic adaptations of the story have been produced since its appearance. Bertolt Brecht's Schweyk im Zweiten Weltkrieg (1943), music by Hanns Eisler, was first performed in Polish in 1957. Note: Schweyk's restaurant, U Kalicha, is a famous visiting place in Prague. Suomeksi kirjailijalta on ilmestynyt myös kertomusvalikoima Huumorin koulu (1959)