The Good Soldier Švejk

by Jaroslav Hašek

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

The Good Soldier Švejk (a.k.a Schweik, Shveyk or Schwejk) is a satirical, dark comedy novel written by Czech writer, journalist, and humorist Jaroslav Hašek published in Czech in 1921 to 1923, and in English in 1930. The title is actually a shortened version of the original title, which is translated as The Fateful Adventures of the Good Soldier Švejk During the World War.

The novel was supposed to have a total of six volumes, but Hašek managed to complete only three full volumes and wrote the beginning of the fourth one, as he passed away from heart failure, in 1923. The first volume was published in 1921, and it is titled Behind the Lines (V zázemí); the second one, At the Front (Na frontě), and the third one, The Glorious Licking (Slavný výprask) were published in 1922; and the fourth, unfinished volume, The Glorious Licking Continues (Pokračování slavného výprasku), was published in 1923.

The story follows a kind, goodhearted soldier named Josef Švejk, who is called back to the army to serve and fight in the First World War; however, he fails to reach the front line, as he gets involved in various absurd escapades. Because of his overly enthusiastic character, his eagerness to serve the Austrian Empire, and his somewhat naive nature, he is often considered an idiot. However, one can’t help but wonder if he’s truly an idiot, or is he incredibly clever? Essentially, Švejk is a person who is trying to survive in a complicated economy and navigate through a war. Some critics even argue that Hašek used Švejk’s character to metaphorically describe the socioeconomic and political state of Austro-Hungarian Czechia.

Even though the general focus is on Švejk, Hašek also manages to accurately describe the militaristic mentality, behavior and discipline, especially of the soldiers that participated in the First World War, and criticize the idea of war and national conflict in general. This is why many consider The Good Soldier Švejk an anti-war novel as well.

The novel was translated into more than fifty languages and has had numerous adaptations for film, television, radio, and theater. Švejk has also been used as a subject in various works of literature, art, music, and pop culture. The book received mainly positive reviews, but its cultural influence is mostly due to the its commercial success, rather than its critical evaluation.

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