Authors: Jaroslav Hašek

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Czech novelist


Sometimes a gifted writer is remembered for only one book, regardless of the number of works published. Jaroslav Hašek (HAH-shehk) wrote sixteen volumes of short stories that are mostly forgotten, but his satirical novel The Good Soldier Švejk became a lasting success and was translated into many languages. From the novel, Bertolt Brecht adapted a German stage play that proved equally successful.{$I[AN]9810000162}{$I[A]Ha{scaron}ek, Jaroslav[Hasek, Jaroslav]}{$I[geo]CZECH REPUBLIC;Ha{scaron}ek, Jaroslav[Hasek, Jaroslav]}{$I[tim]1883;Ha{scaron}ek, Jaroslav[Hasek, Jaroslav]}

Hašek, the son of a mathematics teacher, at first earned his living as a bank clerk but soon devoted his time exclusively to writing. During the years before World War I, Prague was a well-known center of talented writers–among them Franz Werfel, Rainer Maria Rilke, Max Brod, and Franz Kafka–who created a fertile haven of German culture there. Hašek met many of these artists, but, known for his practical jokes, unkempt appearance, and drinking, he never became a fully accepted member of this circle.

At the beginning of World War I, despite his anarchist views, he became a soldier in the Austrian army and served until he was taken prisoner by the Russians–or, as some have charged, until he deserted. The independence movement of the Czechs had gained momentum by this time, and Hašek at first sided with the nationalists. However, he soon joined the Red Army and wrote Communist propaganda while serving as a commissioner.

After the war he returned to Prague and resumed his bohemian life. Hašek drew on his wartime experiences to write The Good Soldier Švejk, in which he describes the limited enthusiasm of the Czechs to fight a war for Austria and the follies of war with unsettling candor. The plot of the novel contains many absurdities, but thanks to his skill in developing the main character, the author manages to make even grotesque situations grimly realistic. The war-weary literary world of the 1920’s and 1930’s delighted in this most unusual hero.

Hašek was not able to enjoy his fame long, however, for he died in 1923. He entrusted his friend Karel Vanêk, the Czech humorist, with the completion of the planned six volumes of Švejk’s saga. The book was banned in German-occupied Czechoslovakia, but Švejk only went underground and reemerged after World War II, more popular than ever. He may find little space in literary histories, but the good soldier Švejk, who dumbfounded officers of the Austrian army and outlasted the Habsburgs, the Nazis, and the Communists, will long be remembered.

BibliographyBryant-Bertail, Sarah. “The Good Soldier Schweik as Dialectical Theater.” In The Performance of Power: Theatrical Discourse and Politics, edited by Sue-Ellen Case and Janelle Reinelt. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1991. Examines the role Hašek’s soldier plays as a character in political theater.Parrott, Cecil. The Bad Bohemian: A Life of Jaroslav Hašek. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1978. The standard English-language biography.Parrott, Cecil. Jaroslav Hašek: A Study of Švejk and the Short Stories. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1982. Provides a brief biography and extensive background for all Hašek’s works. In particular, Parrott discusses the major controversy of Hašek’s life, his service with the Red Army, and discusses its impact on the author’s work and reputation.Pynsent, R. B. “Jaroslav Hašek.” In The Twentieth Century. Vol. 9 of European Writers, edited by George Stade. New York: Scribner, 1989. Hašek’s place in the history of the novel is explained.Pytlík, Radko. “World Significance of Jaroslav Hašek’s Work.” Panorama 5 (1983). Details the continuing popularity of Hašek’s most famous character.Snyder, John. “The Politics and Hermeneutics of Anarchist Satire.” Literature Interpretation Theory 2, no. 4 (1991). Ties Hašek’s writing to his lifelong political dissent.
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