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Jaroslav Hašek

Jaroslav Hašek Essay - Hašek, Jaroslav

Hašek, Jaroslav

Introduction

Jaroslav Hašek 1883–-1923

(Full name Jaroslav Matej Frantisek Hašek; also wrote under the pseudonyms of M. Ruffian, Benjamin Franklin, and Vojtěch Kapristián z Hellenhofferů, among others) Czechoslovakian novelist, short story and novella writer, satirist, author of children's books, essayist, diarist, and poet.

The following entry provides criticism on Hašek's short fiction from 1978 to 1992.

Although Hašek is known primarily for his four-volume series Osudy dobrého vojáka Švejk za světové války (1920-23; The Good Soldier Švejk), he wrote more than twelve hundred short stories and sketches focused on Czechoslovakian life around the time of World War I. Several of the stories feature the same character as in Hašek's infamous novel—the simple-minded Czech soldier named Švejk, who is forced to serve in the Austrian army. Critics view the stories as biting satires of military life, Austrian jingoism, and the Soviet bureaucracy.

Biographical Information

Hašek was born in Prague, Bohemia (now the Czech Republic) on April 30, 1883. Despite his obvious lack of interest in business, he attended the Prague Commercial Academy. While studying at the Academy, Hašek attended the literary club Syrinx, which included many future leading Czech writers and dramatists. He came to reject his literary peers' romantic conception of the artist as a being detached from society, however, and was most comfortable in working-class pubs. Hašek lived a life marked by dissipation and minor arrests and became well known in Prague bohemian circles for his practical jokes, anarchism, and the founding of his satiric Party of Moderate Progress within the Limits of the Law. When World War I broke out, Hašek shared the contempt most Czechs felt for their obligatory participation under Austrian authority. He served in the Austrian Army, was captured by the Russians, and endured a subsequent period of imprisonment. He eventually joined the Czech legions in Russia and became a communist. He died on January 3, 1923.

Major Works of Short Fiction

Hašek wrote more than twelve hundred short stories and comic sketches under more than eighty pseudonyms; the great majority of these stories are less than a thousand words long. Most were written before World War I and published in Prague newspapers. Few of these stories have been translated or discussed. Several of these stories feature the character of Švejk, the Czech soldier whose naiveté, whether real or assumed, carries him unscathed through the disintegration of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. While some critics view the stories and novels based on Švejk as a slander against the Czech national character, others feel that they epitomize the Czech attitude of resistance toward Austria during World War I. Other stories focus on similar characters to Švejk, types identified as schlemazels, inept men afflicted with bad luck and saddled with confusing bureaucratic institutions. Several of his stories are based on incidents from his life: “A Psychiatric Puzzle” is derived from Hašek's own suicide attempt after the breakup of his marriage; “The Cynological Institute” centers around a pet shop, which Hašek ran one at one time. Later stories, such as the cycle set in the area around the Siberian town of Bugulma—where Hašek was stationed after he joined the Red Army—are also autobiographical in nature and reflect his frustration with the Soviet bureaucracy and political system.

Critical Reception

Very little critical attention has been given to Hašek's short stories. One of the reasons is that few of his stories have been translated. Another is that his short fiction has been overshadowed by the popularity of his novel series The Good Soldier Švejk. What little critical discussion there is notes the absurdity, vulgarity, and satire imbued in the stories. When compared to his novels, critics note the more subtle indictment of bourgeois values, bureaucracy, and national identity in his stories. Many commentators consider his shorter fiction as a preparation, in style and theme, for The Good Soldier Švejk. Others deride his absurd plots, crude structure, and abrupt endings, and assert that the stories read more like anecdotes or sketches than fully-realized stories. Hašek has often been compared to Franz Kafka for his frequent depiction of the dehumanizing and surreal world of military and government bureaucracy. He is considered an influential writer, and his humor and satire is said to have affected such authors as Bertolt Brecht and Joseph Heller.

Principal Works

Historky z razicke basty [Stories from a Water-Bailiff's Watchtower] 1908

Ze stare drogerie [From the Old Pharmacy] 1909

Dobrý voják Švejk a jiné podivné historky [The Good Soldier Švejk and Other Strange Stories] 1912

Trampoty pana Tenkráta [The Tribulations of Mr That-Time] 1912

Pruvodčí cizincu a jiné satiry z cest i z domova [The Tourists' Guide and Other Satires] 1913; also published as The Tourist Guide: Twenty-Six Stories, 1961

Muj obchod se psy a jiné humoresky [My Dog Business and Other Humorous Sketches] (short stories and sketches) 1915

Dobrý voják Švejk v zajetí (novella) 1917

Tri muzi se zralokem a jiné poucné historky [Three Men and a Shark and Other Instructive Stories] 1921

Velitelem města Bugul'my [The City Commander of Bugul'ma] 1921

Spisy Jaroslava Haška. 16 vols. (short stories, sketches, essays, and poems) 1955-73

The Red Commissar, Including Further Adventures of the Good Soldier Svejk and Other Stories 1981

Little Stories by a Great Master 1984

Povídky. 2 vols. 1988

The Bachura Scandal and Other Stories and Sketches (short stories and sketches) 1991

Kalamajka (juvenilia) 1913

Osudy dobrého vojáka Švejk za světové války [The Good Soldier Švejk]. 4 vols. (four-novel series; volume four completed by Karel Vanek) 1920-23; also published as The Good Soldier Švejk and His Fortunes in the World War, 1973

Dekameron humoru a satiry (satire) 1968

Lidsky profil Jaroslava Haška (letters) 1979

Thus Spake the Good Soldier Švejk (satire) 1997

Criticism

P. Z. Schubert (review date winter 1978)

SOURCE: Schubert, P. Z. “Other Slavic Languages: ‘Velitelem mesta Bugul'my.” World Literature Today 52, no. 1 (winter 1978): 139.

[In the following review, Schubert commends Hašek's utilization of detail and humor in the Bugul'ma stories and connects them to the author's well-known novel The Good Soldier Švejk.]

[Velitelem města Bugul'my (The City Commander of Bugul'ma)] is a cycle of short stories based on [Hašek's] personal experience of the events of the civil war in Bugul'ma (Soviet Union) between 15 October 1918 and December of the same year. Hašek creates an image of an epoch from small details. These trivialities, however, are of primary importance to the people, who are more concerned with what surrounds them individually than with the idea of a great epoch. Hašek is interested in the little man and he sees History through the latter's eyes, the perspective being minor events, localities and details. The writer uses the precise optics of a tragicomic humoresque. He presents a sequence of irresistible stories about the occupation of the city abandoned by the Whites, into which the Reds dare not enter for fear of a trap, and about the revolutionary activity of the commander Jerochymov and his quarrels with the city commander, which, although very comical, involve life and death. Hašek in the Bugul'ma stories breaks down history into comic details. The book also contains one story which does not belong to the Bugul'ma cycle. It is a story in which the main protagonist of the cycle is back in Prague, and thus it brings his “Russian adventure” to a definitive end.

A key to The Good Soldier Schweik is said to be found in these stories. The first pages of the famous novel date from about the same time as this book. It is an open question whether Schweik would have eventually become the city commander of Bugul'ma just as Hašek has, but it seems to be a natural continuation of his story.

The importance and quality of Velitelem města Bugul'my cannot be questioned.

Publishers Weekly (review date 25 September 1981)

SOURCE: Review of The Red Commissar, by Jaroslav Hašek. Publishers Weekly 220, no. 13 (25 September 1981): 76.

[In the following review, the anonymous critic provides a positive assessment of The Red Commissar.]

It was in 1911 that Hašek first got the idea of the anti-hero who later became the central character in that classic multivolume satirical novel The Good Soldier Svejk. In this collection of stories appearing in English for the first time [The Red Commissar], there are five early Svejk tales in which the sad-sack Czech soldier makes the Austrian military bureaucracy act like fools. In 1918, Hašek found himself in Russia as a Bolshevik...

(The entire section is 179 words.)

Marie Bednar (review date 15 January 1982)

SOURCE: Bednar, Marie. Review of The Red Commissar, by Jaroslav Hašek. Library Journal 107, no. 2 (15 January 1982): 194.

[In the following review of The Red Commissar, Bednar maintains that the collection “confirms Hašek's talent as a keen observer of human follies.”]

The author of the famous and very funny World War I novel The Good Soldier Švejk also wrote many stories and sketches, a sample of which is now appearing in English for the first time in excellent translations by Cecil Parrott [The Red Commissar]. Included are the early vignettes from which Hašek's hilarious satire of the Austrian army developed. The very amusing...

(The entire section is 177 words.)

Cecil Parrott (essay date 1982)

SOURCE: Parrott, Cecil. “Hašek as a Journalist and Short Story Writer.” In Jaroslav Hašek: A Study of Švejk and the Short Stories, pp. 57-93. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982.

[In the following essay, Parrott provides an overview of Hašek's short story career.]

I was originally editor of Animal World … From Animal World I slipped down easily into Czech Word. My friends said that I didn't change my political views at all. I simply exchanged bulldogs for the National Social Party. The only difference was that, whereas I used to feed bulldogs, now it was the Party which fed me.

...

(The entire section is 15058 words.)

Alan Menhennet (essay date 1991)

SOURCE: Menhennet, Alan. Introduction to The Bachura Scandal, and Other Stories and Sketches, by Jaroslav Hašek, pp. 7-12. London: Angel Books, 1991.

[In the following essay, Menhennet profiles Hašek's life and career and elucidates the defining characteristics of his short fiction.]

Jaroslav Hašek was born in Prague on 30 April 1883. The inexorable but absurd logic that governs the lives of so many of his characters presided over his birth as well, for he was born both a Czech and an Austrian and lived for the greater part of his life under the authority of the strange two-headed beast that was the Habsburg Empire. Prague was the Czech capital, but it was a...

(The entire section is 2684 words.)

Igor Hájek (review date 15 May 1992)

SOURCE: Hájek, Igor. “Defence by Ridicule.” Times Literary Supplement (15 May 1992): 9.

[In the following review, Hájek offers a thematic and stylistic analysis of The Bachura Scandal and Other Stories and Sketches.]

The reference to Jaroslav Hašek's chef-d'oeuvre on the cover of this collection of short stories [The Bachura Scandal and Other Stories and Sketches] is a disappointment. One would have hoped that Cecil Parrott's translation of the good soldier's Adventures had pushed the Germanized “Schweik” once and for all into oblivion (together with the 1930 abridged edition, from which any hints of irreverence to royalty in particular,...

(The entire section is 1103 words.)