Places: The Good Soldier Švejk

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: Osudy dobreho vojáka Švejka ve sėtove války, 1921-1923 (English translation, 1930; unabridged translation, 1973)

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Satire

Time of work: World War I

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Austro-Hungarian Empire

*Austro-Hungarian Good Soldier Švejk, TheEmpire. Central European empire ruled by the Habsburg Dynasty from 1867 to 1918 whose territory included the region that became Czechoslovakia, where much of the novel takes place. Although the novel is based on Hašek’s experiences as a Czech conscripted to serve in the Austrian army, Austria-Hungary represents any corrupt and oppressive regime, a fact readily apparent to Germany’s Nazi regime, which banned this book in the 1930’s.

Anabasis

Anabasis. Term for a military advance. Not surprisingly, in the chapter titled “Švejk’s Budéjovice Anabasis” the Good Soldier retreats from Ceské Bodévice, a town in southern Bohemia from which troops are deployed to the Russian front. Unlike Hašek himself, who traveled without incident to Ceské Bodévice, then on to Kirilyhida in Hungary and finally to the front, Švejk misses his train and sets off on foot to rejoin his regiment, traveling in the opposite direction. In Cecil Parrott’s English translation of this novel Švejk’s “anabasis” is conveniently plotted on a map. However, what is important is not the towns and villages themselves, but the circular path of the journey, which replicates in physical terms the themes of circularity that form much of the novel’s structure. Just as Švejk attempts to circumvent authority by launching into monologues that digress wildly before returning to the original point, so the anabasis allows him to delay being sent into combat. He inhabits a world in which oppressive authority is inescapable and in which history is doomed to repeat itself.

*Prague

*Prague. Capital city of Bohemia and later capital of Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic, where the first volume of the novel is set. A life-long resident of Prague, Hašek displays his knowledge of the city on nearly every page, naming streets and landmarks and businesses, such as the Chalice.

After being arrested at the Chalice, Švejk spends time in Pankrák, which is the Prague prison, a psychiatric clinic, a hospital, and a garrison jail. Hašek alternates periods of confinement with periods of freedom during which the Good Soldier faces few restrictions–and in the case of his “anabasis” roams the countryside. This pattern not only reinforces the themes of circularity and repetition, but also contributes to characterization. No matter what the situation, Švejk responds in a cheerful, cooperative manner. Although he appears to be both a shrewd manipulator bent on avoiding combat and a person who cherishes his freedom, space–whether open or closed–seems to have little effect on him. A key to his survival in a world of inescapable authority is his ability to remain unfazed by the world around him; consequently, he often seems oblivious to his surroundings.

*Chalice

*Chalice. Prague pub that was a favorite of Hašek and is now a popular tourist attraction. In the novel it serves as the starting point for Švejk’s adventures when he is arrested by an undercover member of the Austrian police who eavesdrops on Švejk’s conversation with the barkeeper. This is the first of a series of arrests and incarcerations throughout the novel.

*Konopisté

*Konopisté (KON-o-pish-tyeh). Fourteenth century castle outside Prague converted to a hunting lodge for Austrian archduke Francis Ferdinand, whose assassination in 1914 triggered World War I. Hašek’s references to Konopisté exemplify the indifference to description that many critics consider a failing of the novel. The archduke was an insatiable hunter who killed thousands of animals and filled his castle with hunting trophies. Although his obsession with killing animals was well known at the time of his death, nothing in Hašek’s novel suggests any connection between the horrors of war, the deployment of Czechs as cannon fodder, and the archduke’s corpse-lined residence. Konopisté is simply the place where the archduke stayed when he was in Bohemia.

BibliographyDoležel, Lubomír. “The Road of History and the Detours of the Good Soldier.” In Language and Literary Theory: In Honor of Ladislav Matejko, edited by Benjamin A. Stoltz. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1984. An accessible example of postmodernist scholarship, which discusses the character Švejk as inhabiting “ludic” space between obligation and punishment. Although the article employs a few complex literary terms, it is a highly readable and astute analysis of the character.Goetz-Stankiewicz, Marketa. “Kafka and Hašek–Reflections on a Meeting in the House of Fiction.” In Language and Literary Theory: In Honor of Ladislav Matejko, edited by Benjamin A. Stoltz. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1984. A comparison of the two authors, focusing on the differences in their literary themes. The essay also provides a valuable discussion of Hašek’s influences on later writers.Parrott, Cecil. The Bad Bohemian: A Life of Jaroslav Hašek. London: Bodley Head, 1978. A biography by the English translator of the 1973 edition that examines parallels between Hašek’s life and The Good Soldier Švejk.Parrott, Cecil. Jaroslav Hašek. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1982. A comprehensive survey of the historical background of the work, Hašek’s political activities and literary career, and the continuing critical controversy about the novel. Includes a character analysis and discussion of structure and themes.Součková, Milada. A Literary Satellite: Czechoslovak-Russian Literary Relations. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970. Examines Russian and Czechoslovakian responses to the novel as literary propaganda and the debate over whether Švejk is a suitable character to represent the Czech military.
Categories: Places