(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Jaroslav Haek intended The Good Soldier vejk to be a six-volume novel based on his experiences in World War I; however Haek died before completing the fourth volume, which ends before vejk experiences active combat. The first volume begins in 1914 in Prague. Archduke Franz Ferdinand, nephew of the Austrian emperor, has just been assassinated in Sarajevo, an event which will result in the outbreak of the war.

Josef vejk, a Czech, is introduced as a veteran who has been certified an imbecile by the Austrian army. He now makes a modest living selling mongrels with forged pedigrees. News of the assassination does not interrupt his daily routine of pub visits, but he soon draws the attention of an undercover police officer and is arrested for speaking disrespectfully of the late archduke. When he confesses willingly to charges of treason, vejk is sent to a lunatic asylum, where he enjoys his treatment so much he is eventually released.

However, he does not have long to celebrate his freedom, for he is soon called to rejoin the Austrian army. When he appears for his physical in a wheelchair because of a rheumatism attack, he is accused of malingering and sent to the garrison jail, where prisoners are subjected to daily enemas until they admit to faking infirmity. vejk, however, undergoes his treatments cheerfully.

He is finally released to the custody of Chaplain Katz, a priest with a fondness for liquor. As the chaplain’s assigned servant, called a “batman” in the military, vejk takes on the responsibility of finding ways to finance the chaplain’s debauchery and of delivering him safely home afterward. This arrangement ends abruptly when the chaplain loses vejk in a card game to another officer, Lieutenant Luka.

The lieutenant is a kind man who seems genuinely fond of vejk. Still, vejk’s blundering repeatedly complicates the lieutenant’s life. In an effort to please Luka by acquiring a dog for him, vejk procures a stolen animal. Catastrophe ensues when the true owner turns out to be a colonel who has Luka and vejk transferred to the Ninety-first Infantry Regiment in Budjovice, where march battalions are forming to be sent to the Galician front. The first volume ends with vejk expressing...

(The entire section is 920 words.)