The life and the legend of Jaroslav Haek are difficult to disentangle. Haek was a bohemian, a hoaxer, a joker, and a very irresponsible man. His exaggerations, embellishments, and mystifications make the few testimonials by his friends suspect. Even the little that is verifiable about him does not make him look very good: He was by turns an anarchist, a monarchist, and a Communist; he was a bigamist, and, like his father, died as the result of alcoholism.
Haek was only thirteen when his father died, and, because of the family’s poverty, he had to leave school to work in a pharmacist’s shop. He later returned to school and was admitted to a commercial academy, where he appears to have acquitted himself very well. On account of his good record, he obtained a position in a bank, but he was unable to keep his job and started to write short feuilletons. His journalistic activity fell short of supplying him with steady or sufficient income and only encouraged his bohemian proclivities.
In 1906, Haek joined the anarchist movement and met Jarmila Mayerová, with whom he fell deeply in love. Jarmila thought that she could influence him to abandon his vagabond life; she had a great willingness to understand him, although her middle-class parents were hoping she would marry a more respectable man. Haek’s involvement with anarchism and his reluctance to lead a different life postponed the wedding until 1910, a good year for his literary production as well: He wrote and published seventy-five stories.
The following year, he published the first stories about the good soldier vejk. Although the prototype of vejk in these stories bears some resemblance to the end product, it is but a rough sketch: The humor seems forced, despite the occasional dash of genuine comedy.
After Jarmila bore him a son in 1912, Haek resumed his bohemian existence, becoming so alienated from society that he refused to register his residence, as was required by law, preferring instead to spend a few days at a time with some of his friends, often...
(The entire section is 845 words.)