Jaroslav Hašek

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P. Z. Schubert (review date winter 1978)

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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.


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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...

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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.

Publishers Weekly (review date 25 September 1981)

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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 commissar in the village of Bugulma; and during the two years he served there he observed Soviet bureaucracy in action. However, in the nine Bugulma stories in this collection, the satire is less savage than in the Svejk tales. Hašek was prolific, and his collected stories published in Prague number more than 1000. The 40-odd selections in this volume—mostly very short sketches rather than fully developed stories—give a good sample of the author's talents.

Principal Works

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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

Marie Bednar (review date 15 January 1982)

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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 Bugulma tales are based on Hašek's own experiences in Eastern Russia. Here the satire is gentler than in the Švejk sketches and the picture of the Russian Civil War is much idealized. Although the humor of some of the 50 pieces included in the collection will be lost to readers unfamiliar with the political background and some pieces are now dated, this collection confirms Hašek's talent as a keen observer of human follies.

Further Reading

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Handman, Fran. Review of The Bachura Scandal, by Jaroslav Hašek. New York Times Book Review (16 August 1992): 13.

Positive review of The Bachura Scandal and Other Stories and Sketches.

Parrott, Cecil. The Bad Bohemian: The Life of Jaroslav Hašek, Creator of the Good Soldier Švejk. London: The Bodley Head, 1978, 296 p.

Investigates the origin of the Good Soldier stories.

Additional coverage of Hašek's life and career is contained in the following sources published by the Gale Group: Concise Dictionary of World Literary Biography, Vol. 4; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 104, 129; Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 215; Encyclopedia of World Literature in the 20th Century, Ed. 3; European Writers, Vol. 9; Literature Resource Center; Major 20th-Century Writers, Eds. 1, 2; Reference Guide to Short Fiction, Ed. 2; Reference Guide to World Literature, Eds. 2, 3; and Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism, Vol. 4.

Cecil Parrott (essay date 1982)

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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.

(“How I Left the National Social Party”)

In addition to The Good Soldier Švejk Hašek wrote some verses, a few short dramatic sketches or revues, a number of political articles and some 1200 short stories and feuilletons.

Few of his verses have come down to us. They are of little literary merit and are only interesting for the light they throw on the author himself and his reaction to the days he spent in the Austrian army. Apart from some youthful efforts published before the war when he was only 20 (Cries of May), they were obviously composed to kill time and please his company commander, Lieutenant Lukas, the only person in his entourage likely to appreciate them. Lukas carefully kept them all after the war, but after his death some of them disappeared.

Hašek's dramatic sketches are mere fragments. We cannot always be certain whether he wrote them himself or merely shared their authorship with other members of “The Party of Moderate Progress within the Bounds of the Law”.

His political articles are mostly war propaganda—composed in Russia either for the Czech Legion or the Bolsheviks—and as such ephemeral productions. Those for the Legion are well argued, although Hašek had had little political experience in this kind of writing. Before he started working as a war correspondent for the Czech Legion in Kiev, he had never tried his hand at serious polemical articles. His talent had lain rather in parodying them. But he certainly wrote them with conviction. His effectiveness as a propagandist for the Legion is well described by the playwright František Langer, who heard one of the speeches he made in the course of a recruiting drive.

It was the first public speech I had heard on the struggle against Austria-Hungary for Czechoslovak national independence which was not broken up by the police. And I couldn't help marvelling at the irony of fate in putting it into the mouth of Hašek of all people, from whom I had been accustomed to hear political orations only in “The Party of Moderate Progress”. He delivered this speech with unaffected solemnity. It contained all the stock historical references from the Battle of the White Mountain onwards, and like all such recruiting addresses was designed to appeal to patriotic feelings […] But in contrast to most such speeches, his did not sound like a tirade or a schoolmaster's lecture. He observed the required moderation and controlled himself so as not to be guilty of what he once used to parody in others. Moreover, he seemed to have unlearned all the tricks by which he had tried to beguile his listeners in the old days; there were no little jokes, no clowning, no covert grins […]

Altogether it was an entirely different Hašek from the one I had known. He, who had always been against militarism and patriotism, in fact always against something, was now for the first time speaking for something. And this something was nothing less than honest and consistent patriotism, the volunteer army and its fight for national independence. I listened to him and had the feeling that, although he had probably repeated them God knows how many times, these were not just empty phrases, but came direct from his heart.1

Hašek's feuilletons are mostly light-weight pieces. He himself amusingly describes a feuilleton as “Something which can be read in the morning at breakfast when a man is still yawning and in the afternoon when after lunch he lies agreeably stretched out on a soft sofa. A kind of writing in which one can skip half a column without missing it.” (“How My Wife Writes Feuilletons”)

His numerous stories cover a wide range of subjects. They are almost all of them very short—averaging three or four pages (some little more than a thousand words)—because they had to fit the dimensions of a daily feuilleton. Their length affects their style: they had to catch the reader's attention in the opening paragraph and the plot is revealed in simple and unadorned sentences, bare of description or other literary adornment. If the beginning is promising, the ending is often predictable and sometimes disappointing. The author found himself too cramped to introduce a surprise factor. Either it was beyond his ingenuity or he did not bother. A frequent solution to the dénouement is the lunatic asylum or suicide.

Hašek had a natural gift for writing and wrote easily and lucidly. He began at an early age, publishing his first story in the much-read National Paper when he was only eighteen. For a number of years he experimented with various literary forms and at one time seemed likely to develop into a descriptive or character writer. But he soon settled down to a fixed pattern of style and produced a stream of stories and articles of varying merit. Their tone tended to be cynical and abrasive. He was always “bashing” someone or something. He seems to have been wary of trying his hand at longer narrative, and The Good Soldier Švejk in Captivity which he published in Kiev during the War, though short too, was the first novel or novelette he attempted, except perhaps for a fifty-page short story, “The Tribulations of Mr That-Time”. As he always had trouble in finding suitable endings to his short stories, it is not surprising that when he finally decided to embark on a full-scale novel he planned to make it run into six volumes and died before the final three were completed.

For his earliest stories Hašek drew on the material provided by the walking tours he made with his friends. These excursions proved to be voyages of revelation for him—especially his visit to Slovakia, then under Hungary. His discovery of a country whose inhabitants spoke a kindred tongue but whose rulers were quite foreign made a deep impression on him. These youthful stories reveal, in an author whose writings were to become so cynical, an infectious enthusiasm for the customs and characteristics of probably the first foreigners he had met outside Bohemia. They are surprisingly mature for one so young and unschooled, and convey something of the colour and fascination of the world of gypsies on the road, Slovaks in the mountains, Hungarians in the puszta and Poles beyond the Carpathians. The titles of some of these stories are eloquent of their contents—“Oh, Dunajec, You White Water …” (the Dunajec was a river in Galicia), “The Death of the Horal” (an inhabitant of the Polish slopes of the Carpathians), “The Gypsy's Funeral”, “The Serbian Priest Bogumirov and the Goat of the Mufti Isrim”, “In the Mountains on the Romanian Side”, “Three Sketches from the Hungarian Plain”, “Above Lake Balaton”, “Galician Landscape with Wolves” and many others. Referring to these early stories the critic Max Brod wrote, “Hašek's short stories … set in the Carpathians among Hucul [Sub-Carpathian] thieves, Romanian bandits, young and old gypsies and cunning bears aroused no attention [when they first appeared]. When we read them today we look upon them differently and could wish that their bold, yes, cruel adventures, told so laconically and wittily had found a translator.”

These promising first steps were unfortunately cut short by Hašek's two lapses into Anarchism, first in 1904 and then between 1906 and 1907. During these periods he contributed to the Anarchist press and the quality of much of his writing deteriorated: he wrote a series of cheap stories and articles which, even if they had not been provocative and libellous, would almost certainly have been rejected by more respectable papers on account of their poor literary quality. In any case they appealed to only a small minority of readers.

It was in 1904 that he first made contact with the Anarchists and started contributing to their paper Progressive Youth, which was published in Lom in Northern Bohemia, their stronghold in the mining community there; but his relations with them were brought to a temporary halt by his quarrel with the editor and his subsequent disappearance into Bavaria. His adventures there inspired him to compose some amusing stories, ironical but not unkind, about the inhabitants of that part of Germany.

Hašek's return to the Anarchist fold in 1906 and his association with their Prague paper New Progressive Youth, had a further injurious effect on his writing, because instead of developing his črty (sketches), he wasted more time turning out cheap political squibs, many of which were anyhow truncated or even suppressed by the censors. And so we can be grateful to his future father-in-law for insisting that he must finally leave the movement, which resulted in his making his last contribution to the Anarchist press in May 1907, though not alas in his prostituting his literary talents for the last time.

In 1908 he published in Merry Prague a series of stories called Stories from a Water-Bailiff's Watchtower,2 which were not merry, as the title of the magazine might lead one to expect, but were based on the experiences of Hašek's maternal grandfather, who had been a water-bailiff on one of the fishponds on the Schwarzenberg estate in Southern Bohemia. The stories are of no great merit, but they give an indication of the sort of writer Hašek might have become if fate had not confined him mainly to Prague and driven him to write political articles. They are in the vein of Turgenev's A Sportsman's Sketches, and show that at this time Hašek certainly knew how to convey to his readers the charm of the Czech countryside and to draw convincing character studies of the people who inhabited it. The fishponds of Southern Bohemia, where there are a multitude of interconnected “ponds” (really “lakes”, the largest of which extends to 1,800 acres and has a dam over 10,000 feet long) are a fascinating terrain, and the life of the water-bailiff with his struggles either with crafty poachers or tyrannical superiors is a subject which Hašek—at that time still only twenty-five and relatively inexperienced in the craft—treats well. The story, “Director Behalt”, in which he depicts a land-agent who is the embodiment of corruption and gluttony, is the most effective of the series.

The following year Hašek attempted a more ambitious group of stories called From the Old Pharmacy,3 which were also accepted by Merry Prague. They are based on his own experiences when he was apprenticed at the age of thirteen to chemist's shops. In the stories the author describes well the comings and goings in an old pharmacy, which combines the functions of a chemist's and an ironmongery—the hen-pecked proprietor, his martinet of a wife, her father who tyrannises over him too, the clerk and the messenger as well as many of the customers. Hašek's realism is much in evidence. He depicts in elaborate detail every activity of the pharmacy including the appearance and contents of the cellar, the loft and the shop. He goes on to recount the petty vices of those who work in or patronise the pharmacy. Everyone is trying to get his rake-off and succeeds. It is like life in the army as portrayed in The Good Soldier Švejk. The proprietor tells the young apprentice that he must lie to the customer but never lie to him. The vibrant wife of the proprietor and her sudden sally into the shop lay dramatically bare the pitiful homelife of the down-trodden proprietor. Not all the stories are of the same quality. The chapter on the customers, for instance, falls short of expectation, but the study of the messenger and his adored trolley, which he trusts so implicitly but which lets him down in the end, is most affecting.

In 1909 the National Social Party started to publish a popular “comic” called Caricatures. The illustrator Lada, who was then only twenty-one years old, was put in charge of it under the responsible editorship of Stříbrný, a leading politician of the party, and invited his friend Hašek to contribute to it. The following year it was supplemented by a large coloured edition with higher literary and artistic pretensions. Lada concentrated most of his attention on this, leaving the small popular edition to Hašek's almost unsupervised care.

The freedom to write what he liked without submitting to editorial control was of course a bonanza for Hašek and he made full use of it. Why the authorities did not prosecute him but confined themselves to blacking various articles or banning some whole numbers is hard to explain. It was symptomatic of the very indulgent attitude they took to him during the whole of his bohemian existence. No doubt they did not take too seriously a little four-page rag which was quickly read, thrown away and forgotten.

So Hašek had his journalistic fling, even if it did not do his future any good. He pilloried the leaders of all the parties, including Klofáč of the National Social Party which owned Caricatures, accusing him of travelling to Russia and Serbia, ostensibly to raise funds for the party, but in fact to transfer some of those funds to a bank in London, “where he intends to run to, when he has received the due reward for his services”. Such “services”, according to Hašek, included selling to the Russians all his knowledge of the Austrian army, and working out a warplan for the Russian army, which was responsible for their defeat by the Japanese (“Where Deputy Klofáč Gets His Money”).

Hašek was equally hard on Dr Kramář, the leader of the Young Czechs, but he reserved most of his venom for the Social Democrat leaders, probably because, as he wrote to Jarmila in 1908, he thought that one of them, Dr Soukup, had promised him a job on the party daily The People's Right, and nothing had come of it. Consequently he writes of Dr Soukup that his name means in German Unterhändler, which, “when translated back into Czech means “jobber” and will be found in the encyclopaedia under the heading of “Bourse” or “Agent””. After this highly unflattering beginning, Hašek suggests that in his violent speeches and political articles Soukup uses the language of the countryside, where he was born—or rather of the farmyard. Dr Soukup's particular worry however was, according to Hašek, that having campaigned very energetically for universal suffrage and having been elected a member of the Reichsrat he was now unable to draw his allowance, because of the obstruction in parliament which had led to sessions being suspended (the suggestion being that those who oppose obstruction only do so because it means financial loss for them) (“Dr Fr. Soukup”).

Hašek's description of a Social Democrat Party meeting in “The Sad Fate of Peter Hříbal” is scarcely more flattering. It resembles Švejk's lunatic asylum. “They wrung their hands, sang whole sentences—according to the latest fashion—spat into the spittoon specially provided for them, bawled, waved their arms, clasped their hands, beat their heads as though in a trance, and spoke of cripples, widows, orphans, suicides, cattle and animals, ending to deafening applause with the call: ‘We have not lived in vain and so let all come under the red flags of Social Democracy.’” A favourite theme is the drunkenness of deputies. “On February 8th Deputy Folber proclaimed in parliament that but for the Social Democrat deputies alcoholism would spread all over Austria. If they drank spirits, it was only to reduce state supplies.” (“About the Activities of the Social Democrat Deputies Folber, Klička, Binovec, Remeš and Jaroš in the Reichsrat, in the Couloirs and Outside.”).

In another of his articles, “The Commercial Academy”, he libels its Rector, to whom he had taken a hearty dislike. His article, if remotely true, throws a revealing light on the snobbish way the Rector ran that institution, of which Hašek was a former pupil. This is how Hašek describes him:

His watchword is: “No one is to be let off school fees. They are 120 guilders a year, and anyone who is unable to pay that sum is a pauper and can be of no benefit whatsoever to the Czech nation as a businessman …” It often happened that if anyone was let off school fees, he was told by the Rector on various occasions: “Now, then remember. You have been let off school fees, and therefore you must tell us the name of the culprit.” [In other words, you are expected to become an informer.] But there is nothing dishonourable in using various means of compulsion in the course of an interrogation. The [Rector who is a] government counsellor spent a long time in Russia—and that's the long and short of it.

Hašek laughed at the way the Rector apparently insisted that the students of the Academy should greet him from a distance. Woe betide anyone who failed to notice him! The culprit was given a dressing down before the whole class and his crime was recorded in the class register. His marks for good behaviour were slashed and he was led off to the Rector's office, where he got a second dressing-down and his parents were informed of his unheard-of behaviour. Hašek must have been thinking of him when he described Colonel Kraus von Zillergut in The Good Soldier Švejk (pp. 201-6). Nor did Hašek ever forget the way they taught him to write business letters at the Academy, or so he claimed: “With your esteemed letter to hand I beg to inform you that your esteemed sack of coffee reached us in good order.”

The issue of Caricatures carrying Hašek's defamatory article was a great success, especially with the pupils and ex-pupils of the Commercial Academy, and quickly sold out. But Stříbrný, as responsible editor, was soon sued for libel and summoned to appear in court together with Hašek. When the judge asked Hašek what he had against the Academy, he replied defiantly that he was against all schools of any kind. After hearing this, Stříbrný decided to abandon his defence and publish an apology. The task of drafting it devolved on Hašek, who formulated it so ambiguously and ironically that the Rector can have had little satisfaction from winning his case.

In May 1912 the great idea came to Hašek of inventing the character of the Good Soldier Švejk and writing five stories about him in Caricatures. Soon after this he had great success with his performances as candidate for the mock “Party of Moderate Progress within the Bounds of the Law” and, to preserve something of this charade for posterity he resolved to write its history (The History of the Party of Moderate Progress within the Bounds of the Law). It was not a very practical idea, because the discreditable anecdotes he invented and retailed, not only about public figures, who might have sued him for libel, but also about his relatives and friends, some of whom would have had nothing more to do with him if they had seen the book in print, made it risky if not impossible to publish it. In the event the editors of the last edition of Hašek's works were only able to publish a text in 1964, after experiencing great difficulty in locating all the missing parts. Indeed even now it is not absolutely complete.

In this highly original and ingenious book Hašek ridiculed political life in Prague in the same brash way in which he would later lampoon the Austro-Hungarian army. But of course his novel was written after the fall of the Monarchy, whereas The History was recorded while it was still powerful and vindictive.

It is divided into four sections: (1) From the Annals of the Party, (2) The Apostolic Activity of Three of Its Members, (3) The Party's Espionage Scandals and (4) The Party Goes to the Polls.

But it is of course one glorious leg-pull from start to finish. Space does not permit an analysis of it in detail.4 The “Party” consists in fact of Hašek's bohemian companions, who met together at various taverns in Prague about 1904—at “The Golden Litre” (The Party Headquarters), “Blaha's”, “The Slav Café” and “Svíček's” (branch offices). Just as Dickens presents the members of the Pickwick Club as people of stature whose acts are notable and deserve recording so Hašek introduces his characters—the members of the Party—as heroic types, although their stupid ideas and unscrupulous actions naturally belie it at every turn.

Unlike The Pickwick Papers there is no connected story. Most of the book consists of humorous portraits of various contemporary personalities whom Hašek knew or came into contact with—writers, poets, painters, actors, translators, pianists, critics, editors, architects and members of literary groups. They include three of Jarmila's brothers, several of her girlhood friends, as well as most of Hašek's own boon companions.

The “Apostolic Activities of the Party” is a euphemistic description of the attempts of its members to carry their campaign into the country, or to spy out what the other political parties are doing (mainly directed against the National Social Party). The trials of its members, who continually meet with failure, are likened by the author to those of the early Christians. The joke lies in the great earnestness with which the members of the Party embark on their “worthy” activities when contrasted with the ridiculous and undignified scrapes they get into. Their visit to Vienna has the avowed object of sponging on Czechs living there and “touching” them for money, but it is presented as a favour they are doing to Czechs abroad, who will be delighted to give hospitality to their countrymen and have news of Prague.

The book ends with some chapters on the Party's electoral activities (held at “The Cowshed” tavern), the Party's programme, Hašek's electoral speeches and an account of polling day.

From 1912 to 1915, when he was called up, Hašek published between 200 and 300 stories. Some were published in book form: The Good Soldier Švejk and Other Strange Stories (1912), The Tribulations of Mr That-Time (1912), Kalamajka, a book for children partly written and illustrated by Lada (1913) and The Tourists' Guide and Other Satires (1913). In 1915 there appeared another book of his short stories: My Dog Business and Other Humorous Sketches.

During his short period of service with the Austrian army we know that he wrote a number of poems. Whether he also made notes for future use in his novel we do not know. In any case, if he had done so, it is unlikely that he would have been able to take the material with him when he crossed to the other side.

During his two years with the Czech Legion in Russia he published some fifty or more contributions but not more than ten of them were short stories. He also wrote the second version of the Švejk mythos—The Good Soldier Švejk in Captivity. All his writings of this period were designed to serve propaganda aims—to stir up enthusiasm for the Czechoslovak national struggle and pillory those Czechs who were unwilling to take an active part in it. In tales like “The Fortunes of Mr Hurt” or “The Story of a Guarantee” he ridicules those of his fellow-countrymen who wanted a comfortable life and who, once having laid down their arms, were not prepared to take them up again for the national cause without some material benefit or promise of compensation. Two tales foreshadow The Good Soldier Švejk. One, “The Tale of the Portrait of the Emperor Francis Joseph I” makes a whole story out of what was later to appear as an episode in the novel (pp. 7-8). Another, “The Sum Total of the War Campaign of Captain Alserbach” describes the revenge taken by the Czech rank and file on a bullying Austrian German officer after they have all of them been taken prisoner by the Russians. The political articles fulminate against the shameful situation at home, Austrian maltreatment of the Czechs, the rottenness of the Monarchy, its approaching collapse and the idiocy of the reigning house.

One cannot claim that Hašek's literary output during the first two and a half years of his stay in Russia was in any way distinguished, nor could one expect it to be. After a year in the Austrian army, when he could write little, he had spent another year in prisoner-of-war camps. Once free, he needed time to fall into his literary stride again, and his new role as recruiting officer and war correspondent did not encourage the production of humorous stories in his own inimitable vein. None the less there are a few which recapture it.

In one, which satirises the oppression in Bohemia in wartime, the district Head of Police issues an order for the editor of the local newspaper to be brought before him at 10 a.m. the following day (“The Hořice District Police Chief”). In consequence gendarmes drag the unfortunate man out of bed in the early hours and take him to the police station. “His trousers were falling down because they had taken away his braces to prevent him hanging himself. He was without a collar because in the night they had not allowed him to put one on.”

The police chief accuses him of deliberately recommending in his column “Hints for Householders” fruit from the countries of the Entente rather than of the Central Powers. Why did he not recommend Tyrolean apples? Perhaps because the Tyroleans were so loyal to the dynasty? And why not Cassel rennet apples? Perhaps because Cassel was a town in Germany? And why did he ignore Gravensteins? Perhaps because the motto of the Gravenstein Hussars was “For God, Emperor and Fatherland?”

Or there is a ridiculous story about the Emperor Charles (“Charles Was in Prague”) who, while still an Archduke and when living at the Prague Castle had tried to learn a few disjointed sentences in Czech. In order to practise them during an early morning walk, he fires them suddenly at one of the policemen on duty, who is taken completely off his guard. The last one is, “The sparrow jumped on the tree and the cat ate it up.” When confronted with this statement, the policeman begins to sweat, because he thinks he is being blamed for something he did wrong and replies, “Yes, Your Royal Highness, it did, but I wasn't here at the time, so it must have happened early in the morning.” The Archduke cannot understand what he says and continues with his sentences. When the policeman hears them he is thrown into such a state of panic that he has to be taken off to an asylum. Or there is the Czech prisoner-of-war in “The Fortunes of Mr Hurt” who does not want to have to take up arms again because he has just bought a suite of furniture. If Austria wins the war, he will have to get it sent out to Russia and it will get ruined. If the Austrians learn that he is fighting against them, they will confiscate his furniture and sell it by auction. And if Austria loses in the end, he won't have anything to rest his head or hang his clothes on. Hašek is at his best when describing the tribulations of the little man who finds himself in this sort of fix.

During the same period Hašek devised several quite skilful propaganda articles on Czech history. … But he also wrote some political articles which were critical of the Legion, its leaders and their policies. …

After he had deserted to the Bolsheviks in the Spring of 1918 he started writing propaganda articles and stories in the Czech and Russian Bolshevik press including “Why Are We Being Sent to France?”. Later he was to contribute articles in Russian to the Soviet press. These articles and stories are the least successful of his productions. Because of the limited space which he was allowed, they had to be trimmed to fit less than half the dimensions he was used to, less than 500 words. They show no originality and could have been written by any hack journalist working for the Bolsheviks. The themes of the stories are the stupidity of the Whites and corruption under the Tsarist régime, especially in the Orthodox Church. The feuilletons could have been copied from Soviet propaganda hand-outs and probably were. From the literary point of view they are of a low grade.

When Hašek finally left Russia he carried with him back to Prague either in manuscript or in his head some stories, which he knew he could not place in the Soviet press—the Bugulma tales, a series of nine of his best stories (“The Commandant of the Town of Bugulma” and others).5 Barely a month after his arrival they began appearing in the Prague Tribune. The first of them was published on 23 January 1921, and the last on 13 March in the same year.

The unusual note of mellowness which pervades these delightful tales speaks eloquently of his nostalgia for his Siberian days. We seem to be hearing the voice of a much more tolerant Hašek. While he makes fun of Comrade Yerokhymov and the other Soviet officials, it is a gentle satire—far different from the sharp lash with which flayed the Austrian bureaucrats and some of his own countrymen. Even the Orthodox Church comes off a good deal better than the Catholic Church in Austria. The explanation is not far to seek: Hašek was a Slavophil at heart and he loved and understood these Russian characters, and could be forgiving to them. It is for this reason that in his Russian stories he shows his best and most amiable sides as a writer. And another reason perhaps is that, while writing them, he was still under the tranquillising influence of the milk of human kindness and had not yet become again addicted to strong spirits and excited and stimulated by them.

It is true that in his sketch “Before the Revolutionary Tribunal of the Eastern Front” Hašek comes close to applying the sharp edge of his satire to Soviet conceptions of justice and Soviet legal procedure as he did to the machinery of the Austrian military court. It was because of this that on their first publication in Russian, some of the former members of the Fifth Army protested, accusing him of having disparaged the spirit of idealism in the struggle for the liberation of Siberia. Babel's realism evoked a much more violent reaction from the Cavalry General Budyonny. But all that is now changed. Bugulma is not the only Soviet town to have a street named after “Gashek”: it boasts a “Gashek” museum as well. None the less it was lucky that the “hero” left Russia when he did. Had he stayed there longer he might not have been so well remembered, because it was characteristic of him that he could never work under any authority for long. And he certainly would not have been able to control his pen, given so much good material for his satirical shafts.

Direct reports of Hašek's activity in Bugulma are practically non-existent. His name is mentioned in the archives, but only when he was in contact with the political organs of the 26th Division of the 5th Army, which was operating in these regions. And so we do not know how far his stories are founded on fact.

Yerokhymov never existed, but he is a very vivid and faithfully drawn Russian character—especially a Russian at that time of anarchy. There was a certain Yerokhim, who was sentenced to death for filching property when conducting house searches. His case came before the Revolutionary Tribunal, of which Hašek was a member, and perhaps the name and the case suggested the stories.

The other short stories Hašek wrote in Prague before his death were far below the standard of the Bugulma tales. Hašek was now a much talked of personality, if not a famous writer, and he could no longer let his articles appear in the cheap press, insofar as it still existed. Most of them were published in the leading dailies, Tribune, Czech Word, Evening Czech Word and Red Justice. They were naturally not acceptable to the press of the right, and as Hašek had quarrelled with the right wing Social Democrats, he did not contribute any longer to People's Right. Two of his stories were even accepted by The People's Newspaper, the most highly regarded Czechoslovak paper, the cultural editor of which was Karel Čapek. In the course of his seven years' activity on the paper Čapek raised the Czech feuilleton to an art form, to which Hašek would never have been able to aspire.

On his return to Prague, Hašek was at first obsessed by his hostile reception. Even while he was still in Russia he had been infuriated by imaginary accounts of his death which had appeared in several Prague papers, coupled with obituary notices which were far from flattering. In one of his first articles published in Tribune he drew an imaginary picture of his ghost meeting the author of one of these obituaries and punishing him for what he had written. (“How I Met the Author of My Obituary”).6 The scene is laid partly in a wine cellar and partly in a cemetery. The various “atrocities” of which Hašek was popularly supposed to be guilty as one of the “Red Commissars”, inspired him to write various mock confessions (“My Confession” and “The Little Soul of Jaroslav Hašek Tells Its Story”), where he attributes to himself all the sins which can be found in Harry Graham's Ruthless Rhymes. From satirising public talk about himself, he went on to ridiculing the stories which were being told about the Soviet Union. In “For Olga Fastrová”, he portrays this well-known feminist writer and correspondent of National Policy as saying to him, “Is it true, Jaroušek, that the Bolsheviks in Russia feed on the meat of an army of expendable Chinese rejects?” In “Idyll from a Wine Cellar” he describes conversations which take place nightly between three Czechs gloating over atrocities in Russia. Why even the grandson of the most famous Czech writer, Božena Němcová, has now been beaten up! At this moment they are interrupted by an old man who says, “But Gentlemen, excuse me, I am her grandson and I have just returned from Russia. We're all alive and they didn't do anything to us.”

“It's not important who you are”, is the cutting reply. “If you want to defend the Bolsheviks, you should have stayed in Russia and gone on committing those bestialities with them. You won't find any place for yourself in the Czech nation.” One feels that here Hašek is repeating what must have been said often enough to him. But his defence of Russia seemed to evaporate as time passed.

In some of his stories one can still catch a glimpse of Hašek at his best, as when he recounts in “An Honest Finder” how a servant woman from the suburbs of Prague brings to the police station a wallet she has found. “I congratulate you”, says the policeman, when he has examined it. “It contains 789,600 crowns and as the finder you are entitled to 10٪ of that sum.” But when the servant is told that a report is to be made of the affair and she will have to sign it, she begs to be allowed to go home, being convinced that she will be convicted of something. In the end, to the exasperation of the police officer, she renounces the reward (not understanding that it is a reward). But when her husband reads about it in the paper next day, he beats her half dead, so that she has to be taken to the hospital and from there to the lunatic asylum. The distinguishing feature of this tale is the graphic way the reactions of the servant are conveyed in Czech—in a language which is completely true to life. Another story, “Money Sent by Telegram”, tells of a tiny post office in a remote district, at which the author attempts to obtain 3,000 crowns telegraphed to him. He receives only 100 crowns because the postmaster has no “cash flow” and can only pay out what is paid in over the counter. So Hašek has to wait as the postman brings him driblets of money as it comes in—seventy crowns for an insurance premium, 600 crowns for alimony and 240 crowns paid in by the Vicar for wine for the mass. What the intended recipients of these payments have to say about this arrangement is not revealed!

In his foreword to the collection of stories Three Men and a Shark and Other Instructive Stories (published in 1921) Hašek wrote:

That the book is not dedicated to anyone is the fault of those individuals who offered me a too insignificant sum for dedicating it to them. I could not accept such shameless proposals and so I take the liberty of informing the honoured reader that henceforth I will furnish the book with my own signature and dedication for a certain consideration according to the following tariff:

“I dedicate this book to my dear friend” costs 50 crowns with autograph.

“I dedicate this book to my beloved friend” costs 100 crowns with autograph.

“In token of faithful friendship” costs 200 crowns with autograph.

“My most beloved friend in token of the most faithful friendship” with autograph executed in indian ink which will not rub out for years—costs only 500 crowns.

(“Preface by the Author”)

How was it possible that, after the decline in the literary quality of his work, which set in from the time he came to Russia, Hašek managed suddenly to write his one great work, The Good Soldier Švejk? The Czech Communist critic Fučík observed that “the difference in value between the last Legionary feuilletons and the reminiscences of his repatriation home is too obvious to conceal that it is a difference caused by at least three years of intensive development and ripening maturity”. When Fučík wrote that, he had not read what Hašek had written in Soviet Russia. Moreover he seriously overestimated Hašek's reminiscences of his journey back (“And He Shook Off the Dust from His Shoes”), which are a disappointingly dull account of his return to Prague via the Baltic States. Fučík went on to say that the Russian milieu had had an important influence on Hašek's style and humour as well as on the character of Švejk. He meant of course Hašek's Soviet milieu, not the milieu at Kiev. But in fact Hašek's novel seems to have been hardly affected by his Soviet Russian experiences. It represents rather a return to the best of his pre-war humour, enriched by his experiences in the Austrian army.

Pytlík is right when he writes that Švejk's strength lies in his “epic phlegm”.7 Perhaps the discipline which Hašek had to accommodate himself to, while serving the Soviet authorities, instilled in him that phlegm, and he transferred it to Švejk. It was certainly not a quality in him which had been in evidence before, either when he was in Prague before the war, or serving in the Austrian army or the Czech Legion. But Švejk's other quality, which Pytlík rightly stresses too, his power of “mystification”, was one of Hašek's salient characteristics from his earliest years and emerges in the very first stories about the Good Soldier, which Hašek published in 1912.

Satire is a part of Czech literary tradition. Its earliest examples in Czech literature reach back at least to the fourteenth century, when the poem “Satires on Artisans and Town Councillors” exposed the dishonesty of the various professions and accused their members of gambling, taking bribes or robbing customers. It was the first open expression of the grievances of the “man in the street”.

Political satire came into its own at the time of the movement for National Revival in the nineteenth century. The greatest Czech political satirist was Karel Havlíček, who wrote numerous epigrams and three major satirical poems—Tyrolean Elegies, King Lavra and The Baptism of St Vladimír. In the first he described his own shameful arrest and deportation to Brixen in the Austrian Tyrol. In the second he attacked the stupidity of crowned heads, drawing the moral that a system which puts unlimited power into the hands of any mortal is a very dangerous one. Although the King who had asses' ears and tried to hide them was reminiscent of the Phrygian ruler Midas, Havlíček's story was based on an alleged old Irish legend, according to which the monarch had all the barbers in his Kingdom put to death so that none of them should reveal his secret. Ireland was a favourite symbol for Austria, used by Czechs and Hungarians when they wanted to write in riddles. The Czech radical movement for reform in 1848, of which Havlíček was a member, was called “Repeal” after Daniel O'Connell's movement for the repeal of the union. The third satire, taken from Nestor's Russian chronicle, was a bitter attack on the Monarchy and the Church—in fact on the whole Austrian establishment. Havlíček wrote all three while he was interned in Brixen but they could not be published in their entirety until years after his death in 1856.

Nor was Hašek without rivals among his contemporaries. As satire is bred of disillusionment and frustration, the apparent hopelessness of the situation in the nineties led to a recrudescence of pessimism and cynicism among the Czechs in the last years of the century. One of the leading satirists of this period was the poet J. S. Machar, who worked in Vienna and could view affairs in Bohemia with greater detachment than those who lived in it. He also had fewer scruples about attacking established Czech political parties or favoured national beliefs.

The Czech poet, Frána Šrámek, a one-time anarchist like Hašek, also wrote satires on military life, but in verse. In his collection Blue and Red, published in 1906, he wrote: “The lordly gentleman who's our captain is always telling us that we are swine, while we're always saying of him that he has a heart of gold.”

Another of Hašek's contemporaries, František Gellner, started as a political cartoonist and went over to writing satires on the same themes as Hašek. In one of them, “William, the Mbrct” (Albanian for “Prince”) he ridicules the Prince of Wied's acceptance of the Albanian throne, which Hašek made the subject of two of his stories (“The First Day after the Coronation” and “The Albanian Throne”). Both authors made fun of Prince Thun, the Governor of Bohemia, and František Soukup, the Social Democrat leader.

Most Czech satirists, particularly Havlíček and Machar, were inspired by their reading of Heine and Gogol. Hašek was no doubt similarly influenced, but less directly, because he was no great reader of literature. He would certainly have been familiar with Havlíček's works, and from his occasional jocular references to Machar one may conclude that he knew his satires too. But Hašek's contemporaries had the advantage that they composed their satire in the form of rhymed epigrams, which made them more pointed and memorable.

A prose satirist such as Hašek had to face competition not only from the epigrammatist but from the cartoonist as well. In 1896 the German satirical paper Simplicissimus first appeared in Munich and exposed the vices of society in the Wilhelmine era—militarism, chauvinism, élitism, hypocrisy, false puritanism and so on. On its pages appeared many types familiar to the readers of Hašek in the brilliant, trenchant drawings of T. T. Heine, Olaf Gulbransson and Ferdinand von Reznicek: all ranks of the army from sergeant-major to general, the reactionary agrarian politician, the public prosecutor, judge, prison warder and hangman, the schoolmaster, the bureaucrat, the courtier and priests of either confession. Simplicissimus was available in Prague and Hašek was certainly an avid reader of it. He wanted to be a contributor but his articles were rejected. There is a probability that he took his idea about The Good Soldier Švejk from a story published in it in 1905 or a version of it reprinted in Czech translation in The People's Right.8

A caricature in a weekly had something of the effect of T.V. in the home today. It brought the satire more directly to the attention of the public than when it was wrapped up in a story or a novel. Simplicissimus was remarkably fearless in its onslaughts. Its incessant attacks on the inefficiency of the accident-prone German State Railways led to a total ban on its sale on platforms and trains. A special “Palestine” number, brought out to ridicule the Kaiser's wild speech at Damascus, where he promised German protection to the whole Moslem race, led to a sentence of six months' imprisonment on the publisher, the cartoonist Heine and the playwright Franz Wedekind, whose poem on the subject was declared treasonable. Up to that time even the Kaiser himself had read Simplicissimus with pleasure (which the Emperor Francis Joseph would never have done in a similar situation), and those Prussian lieutenants with their monocles and inane sneering faces are said to have got up specially early on the day the satirical weekly was published, just to spot the jokes about themselves and be the first to tell them to their fellow officers. They seem to have been proud to look like their cartoons, which could hardly be said of the army officers in Austria.9

But it was not necessary to turn to Germany to find examples of bold satirical caricature. During one of the blackest times of oppression in Bohemia—the 1850s—the publisher J. R. Vilímek started in Prague his Humorous Papers, in which his cartoonists trenchantly exposed various scandals in the Monarchy—the oppression of the Slovaks by the Hungarians, the attempted domination of Prague University by the Germans and the Vienna government's alleged plan to “swallow” Bohemia. Perhaps the most audacious cartoon came at the time of the Austro-Prussian War. It showed an Austrian general trying vainly to find the pass along which the Prussian troops had penetrated into Bohemia—on a map of North and South America. The proprietor of Humorous Papers paid for his boldness with eight months' incarceration with irons on his wrists and legs. A later writer commented that the cartoon could easily have cost him his neck.10

Thus the political satirist in Austria, particularly if he belonged to one of the nationalities, was faced with great difficulties and dangers. Effective satires would certainly be truncated by the censors, perhaps even confiscated by them before they achieved wider circulation. In more serious cases the writer could be imprisoned. For this reason such works were circulated clandestinely in the fashion of the samizdat of today. (The parallel between conditions in Bohemia in the mid-nineteenth century and contemporary Czechoslovakia is the more striking when we recall that in the 1960s a revue appeared on the Czech stage called “King Vavra”, an adaptation of Havlíček's satire, which proved to be a scarcely-veiled attack on President Novotný.)

Another risk which the political satirist ran was breaking the ranks of national unity in the face of the enemy and oppressor. If he attacked the Austrians, none of his fellow countrymen would complain. But if he hit out at politicians and parties of his own nation, he could be accused of doing harm to the national cause. Later in the life of the Monarchy, as internal politics became more intense and ruthless, this consideration tended to be disregarded. Hašek certainly never bothered his head about the joy he undoubtedly gave the Austrians with his scurrilous attacks on the leaders of almost all Czech parties. It was unlikely that anyone would be put in prison for attacking Czechs, which partly explains why Hašek never spent more than a month in prison and was never convicted for anything he wrote, whereas Havlíček, who was unsparing in his attacks on Vienna, was outlawed to the Tyrol for over four years and had his life and that of his family destroyed as a result.

In Austria the rigour of the punitive arm of the law was tempered according to the gravity of the threat the evildoer posed. In the case of Hašek, the Austrian authorities refused to take him seriously and were right not to do so. Havlíček's influence on the mood of the Czech people was much more dangerous.

In his short stories the targets of Hašek's satire were not only Czech politics and Czech politicians. They extended to the Church, the nobility, the Bohemian Germans, the Austrians in Vienna, schoolmasters, parents, children and bureaucrats of all nationalities.

The prime butt of his invective was the Catholic Church, in whatever form it manifested itself—vicars in country parishes, abbots in monasteries and catechists in schools. The Catholic political parties (Christian Social and Christian National) were singled out for fierce onslaught, and their press (above all the newspaper Čech) for the bitterest invective of all. Hašek was quick to seize on any controversial incidents which discredited the Catholic Church, such as the Wahrmund Affair, in which Masaryk intervened to defend an Austrian professor who was being threatened with dismissal as a result of pressure from the Papal Nuncio, and other issues like the Church's campaign against cremation. For Hašek the word “Catholic” was like a red rag to a bull and his malevolence extended even to the Catholic youth—the “Young Eagles” (the gymnastic organisation set up to rival the free-thinking Sokol) or the pious neophytes of the Catholic Club. In his story, “The Consecration of the Flag of the Catholic Club”, Hašek writes: “The privilege of embroidering the flag led to disputes between the maidens of the club. Only an innocent maiden is allowed to do the embroidery, but because at the age when girls are still innocent they have not yet learned how to embroider, there was great argument. Finally it was decided that the work should be done by the sisters Frýbert, and they embroidered the flag honourably, although evil tongues alleged that the younger sister had to hurry a great deal to have the flag ready in time.”

He ridiculed the saints with what can appropriately be described as fiendish joy, but also with an intimate knowledge of them which presupposes that he was fascinated by them. He relished the thought of Catholic prelates screaming in purgatory, of saints being martyred, of Catholic missionaries being devoured by cannibals or of Satan triumphing all along the line.

Church prelates, monks or friars are portrayed as living in luxury, eating until they burst or drinking themselves into a torpor. They frequent brothels or cast lustful eyes on females around them. In “Mr Gloatz, Fighter for the Rights of the People”, a vicar in a parish in the Tyrol, who is at the same time a deputy of the Reichsrat in Vienna, squanders his subsistence allowance on his animal appetites and has no thought of his responsibilities to his constituents. He makes a disgusting exhibition of himself in the Reichsrat and is incapable of taking any part in the proceedings. It seems surprising that under the much maligned censorship Hašek was allowed to present the priesthood as self-seeking, self-indulgent and generally corrupt, and the monks as godless men who would not scruple to rob their own monasteries; but presumably the view taken was that the vices of churchmen had been targets of satire since time immemorial and there was nothing new or particularly dangerous in Hašek following this tradition. They were also perhaps aware that he spoiled his campaign by overplaying his hand. The papers which were ready to accept such stories were of little importance, and Hašek's own character as a vagabond, alcoholic, anarchist and atheist would certainly not win him credibility or sympathy when he appeared in the guise of a censor of morals. The reader was expected to believe that the clergy in Bohemia were as Hašek depicted them, but were they in fact like that? Such tales could be told with some truth about them in the sixteenth century, when the Prior of the Monastery of St Agnes in Prague incurred countless debts, stole the chalice from the church, sold off monastery land, was accused of incest and, wishing to escape punishment, fled, sending ahead his cook, a woman of doubtful character, with a whole cartload of monastery property. Or indeed in the seventeenth century, when the great Wallenstein presumed that the Augustinian friars spent 2,000 gulden “on whoring and loose company”. But who could seriously believe that of Bohemia in the twentieth century? Hašek who as an atheist had little knowledge of church life, most certainly based his stories on what he had read about the bad old times, just as Soviet propaganda used to encourage the Russian people to think that things in England had not changed since Dickens' time.

Much of his satire was directed against the political arm of the Catholic Church, a subject on which he could usually be sure of avoiding trouble with the authorities, because in Bohemia the press of the different parties was permanently engaged in a running dog-fight with opponents, and for everything the Socialists wrote against the Catholics they were amply paid back by the Catholics in their journals. Otherwise one would have supposed that stories about the Christian Social Party suggesting that they bribed their voters (“The Intrepid Catholic Grandfather Šafter on Election Day”) and welcomed brothel-keepers in their ranks in the hope of gaining the votes of their clientèle (“How in the Parish of Cikánov Brothel Keepers Joined the Organisation of the Christian Social Party”) would have involved Hašek in legal proceedings. But no, the Catholic press was able to stand up for itself and Hašek maintained that no one could beat it for the range and pungency of its abuse.

There was however one occasion when one of Hašek's stories against Catholics was censored. It was called “At the Divinity Lesson” and described a catechist's beating of the schoolchildren in his class. It was confiscated by the censors on the grounds that it was “an incitement to hatred of Catholic clergy”. The case formed the subject of an interpellation by the Social Democrat deputy in the Reichsrat and the story was finally allowed to be published in the Social Democrat “comic” Stinging Nettles in 1914. I quote some of it not for its merits but as an example of the virulence of Hašek's attacks on the Church. It begins: “The only thing that the children of Koroupov knew about religion was that dear God in his unending goodness created the birch. And after the birch the catechist Horáček. Both these things were complementary […] The children soon discovered that religious ideas were to be found not in the catechism but in that part of their breeches which they sat on.” The catechist was the priest who prepared boys and girls for communion and gave them lessons in religion. Hašek seems to have conceived a special hatred for his own catechist at school, who was said to have punished him by tying him by the leg to a chair. In the end one of the boys finds an answer to these endless beatings. He steals from the church a metal tablet and puts it inside his breeches. On it are written the words, “Make Your Contribution for the Embellishment of the Temple of the Lord”.

If one is to believe Hašek, these catechists specialised in two things—flogging and swearing. Father Kalista in “Punishment—Its Aim and Motive” tells his pupils with an affable smile, “Paternal punishment must be an act not of vengeance but of mercy. The aim of punishment, boys, is the betterment of those chastised and the reason why I flog you is my love for you. I flog you, because you insult God […]”

Katz's sermon in The Good Soldier Švejk with its mixture of quotations from the bible and words of abuse is anticipated in the address given by the catechist Heřman to his class at school in “Spiritual Exercise with Obstacles”. “He called us rogues and knaves in the middle of the most beautiful sentences which started poetically. By their aid and by drawing comparisons, he tried to awake in us the noblest feelings […] ‘Glorious and magnificent is the view of the sparkling evening sky, you scoundrels […]’.”

One of Hašek's “clerical” stories is perhaps more of a satire on the parishioners than on the clergy, although it implies that it is ridiculous for the church to try to convert the hardened sinner. It was included in the collection of short stories published in 1913 under the title The Tourists' Guide and Other Satires from Travels Abroad and at Home and was probably written about the same time, as it betrays a rather more experienced hand. It is called “The Struggle for the Soul” and describes the problems a vicar with a parish in the valley has with the woodcutters from the mountains. It starts in Hašek's usual ironic vein: “Vicar Michalejc was a saintly man with an income of 3,000 crowns a year, apart from other benefits derived from eight additional parishes attached to his own parish.” The woodcutters only come down to the church once a quarter. “But to make up for this they prayed in advance for the next quarter, made their confessions, received the Body of Our Lord with an inexpressibly blessed awe and made their penitences with a solemn demeanour. Then they went to the inn behind the vicarage, where their tongues gradually began to loosen. Freed from their sins and exalted by the mystery of transubstantiation they grew wilder than the inhabitants of the parish [Svobodné dvory] could tolerate.”

Then they started fighting. It happened every time and the vicar mechanically dealt out punishments of forty paternosters to each. One was given fifty and “was not allowed to leave out the amen”. Another got away with only fifteen Ave Marias.

The sins which they usually confess are that they have stolen wood from the forests on the Lord's estate, sometimes even from the vicar's own, or that they have set traps there to catch game. When one of them noticeably omits from his confession any reference to wood or traps, the vicar has great hopes that he has perhaps renounced sin, but, on enquiring further, he is told: “Someone stole my trap wire and I had no time to go into the town to buy a new one.”

In despair the vicar asks for a chaplain to assist him. They send him a particularly energetic one. “He was as thin as those ascetics who for the glory of God managed to stand for a whole week on a column without food.” He had been a missionary at Port Said for two years and had succeeded during that time in converting a mullah. But he finds the woodcutters too hard a nut to crack.

The woodcutters have their own views about his techniques. One tells the vicar, “You know, Reverend, it's difficult. We're not going to let anyone rob us of our sins. Honesty—that's something for the rich. None of us were born respectable.” Another says: “Reverend, I think that it's a hopeless case with us. After all we're only vermin.”

They complain that the new chaplain talks to them about “damnation”. “You know, Reverend, you used to explain to us so splendidly that the devil would make mincemeat of us and you never said anything about ‘damnation’. That's for the wealthy. But for wretches like us those cauldrons with brimstone are good enough.”

In the end the new chaplain throws his hand in and is replaced by another one—“a young, cheerful man—a real treasure for the Vicar, because he can play cards [tarock]”. Soon he has the reputation among the woodcutters of being an angel. One of them says to the Vicar: “Praise be to the Lord Jesus Christ, you've just hit the mark, Reverend, with the new young gentleman. He doesn't ask us about our past sins or talk about our future ones. He knows it's useless. He's an angel. He swears at us so lovely at confession so that we sob like old women.”

After saying this he drags a sack which he had deposited outside the door into the room and says to the vicar in a friendly tone, “Please be good enough, Reverend Sir, to give this to that young gentleman. It's a deer I caught last night in my trap. It's a fine catch, and tell him that I'm doing this out of gratitude to him, because he swore at us so splendidly and called us bandits.” Here Hašek rehearses a favourite theme which he comes back to in The Good Soldier Švejk—that men like being sworn at by their officers. (Not by German N.C.O.'s.) This is something they can understand. They only feel suspicious when they are being handled with velvet gloves.

Another good story about the clergy is “An Idyll from the Almshouse at Žižkov”,11 which tells of a young chaplain, who on administering Extreme Unction for the first time in an almshouse, is moved by compassion to give a dying woman a gold piece. After that, of course, all the women have a sudden premonition that death is near them and ask for the chaplain to come. At length the town council puts an end to this nuisance by decreeing that “the old women are prohibited from dying on their own initiative”.

It must be conceded that Hašek directed his satire not only against religious believers but their opponents as well. Repeatedly the leader of the Free Thinkers movement and its press are made the butt of his sarcasm.

Hašek hated all “do-gooders”. Charity organisations, especially those run by the nobility or patronised by the upper classes come under regular attack. Probably the Total Abstinents take pride of place, not unnaturally, as Hašek was an alcoholic (“The Abstinents' New Year's Eve”). In “The Adventures of Václav Pejs”, the president of the Abstinents' Club is found drunk on New Year's morning. But he was only helping a stray drunk to get home. In “Charity” a charitable club has only 120 crowns left and spends most of it on the consumption of drinks instead of aiding the poor. The heads of an organisation to clothe needy schoolchildren are accused of spending the charity's money on themselves (“The Clothing of Needy Schoolchildren”). The wife of a town councillor sets up a soup-kitchen for the poor, but only does it for show, watering the soup and profiting from the takings. (“The Soup Institute”). If the nobility is involved, Hašek feels all the more Schadenfreude. In “The Sad Fate of the Station Mission” the innocent Countess Julia tries to rescue girls who arrive in Prague by train at night but ends by being seduced herself.

Of course crowned heads and members of royal families are a prime target for Hašek's satire, and he always depicts them as cretins. He was naturally not able to ridicule the members of the Austrian ruling house and could only do that when he had deserted to Russia (“The Reign of Francis Joseph”, “The Tale of the Portrait of the Emperor Francis Joseph I”, “The Ruler Who Will Sit Down on Czech Bayonets”). Before that he had been forced to confine himself to unimportant foreign rulers (“The King of the Romanians Goes After Bears”, “The Albanian Throne”, “The First Day after the Coronation—The Royal Albanian Tragedy”) imaginary royal figures (“The Young Emperor and the Cat”), or fictitious Eastern potentates, about whom there are countless stories. However childish the humour in these stories may appear today, there is one feature of royal experience which Hašek successfully takes off and that is the banalities royal visitors are often constrained to talk to local authorities, when making their visits.

If Hašek knew little about churchmen, he knew still less about royalty and the nobility. He always portrays aristocrats as idiotic, mad or bad. They have no idea how to run their estates, they are without feeling towards their employees, and their rare attempts to be charitable are only made for show and are spoiled by their meanness. In fact many of the Bohemian aristocracy were anything but bad landlords, certainly not in the sense of knowing how to run their estates, as instanced by the richest of them, the Schwarzenbergs, of whom even today's Communists admit that they made a great contribution to the development of farming. Many such landowners went to England to learn modern scientific methods. Altogether the Bohemian aristocrats were far from incapable and the Czechs owed much to families like the Thuns and Sternbergs who favoured their cause and helped the movement for national revival in its opening stages. Count Kolovrat, who was Metternich's rival in the Emperor's cabinet, was known as “The Czech of Czechs”. Count Karel Chotek, the grandfather of Princess Hohenberg, the morganatic wife of the Archduke Francis Ferdinand, was Burggrave of Prague (Governor of Bohemia) in 1826 and did much to help the development of trade and industry, to preserve the city's monuments and build its roads and bridges. When the Bohemian Estates lost their dominating political position, their descendants tried to make their lands commercially profitable and when the agricultural crisis hit them too hard, they went into industry and created the original base for much of Czech industrial wealth. Emil Škoda, who gave his name to Škoda cars and became a baron, started as an employee in Count Waldstein's engineering works at Pilsen (Plzen). The Bohemian nobility were of course conservative, loyal to the Monarchy and the Church and opposed radicalism, but they had a local patriotism which made them often critical of the Vienna government and sympathetic to some Czech grievances.

Those who have laughed at the figure of Bretschneider in The Good Soldier Švejk will not be surprised at the number of stories Hašek wrote ridiculing the stupidity of the police in tracking criminals and crime, as for instance “Wanted, a Murderer!” or “Mr Kalous in the Rôle of Detective”. In another story on a similar theme, “The School for the State Police”, we are told about a policeman who has to learn provocative remarks by heart in order to catch traitors. He memorises his part aloud at home, to the consternation of his wife, who says, “But, husband, what are you saying? You'll lose your job”, while he tells her to shut up. “You're a stupid goose and don't understand anything. Don't interfere in politics!” But his son, who is a bright boy, repeats at school what his father is memorising. When told to give three cheers for the Emperor, he remains stolidly silent. To the teacher, who remonstrates with him, he replies, “We do not regard the Emperor as our ruler, because we Czechs have never had any good from living under the sceptre of the Habsburgs. My father says that and repeats it every night, and he must know, because he's in the police force.” But by this time the policeman himself has gone mad. He denounces his son and his wife, who are sent to prison, and is awarded brilliant marks for his success at the School for State Police. (Hašek wrote this in 1917 when he was safe in Russia.)

In “Mr Kalous in the Rôle of Detective”, the police turn away a man who confess to murder, partly because he is drunk and then want to get rid of him, and partly because he is clean-shaven and according to press reports the murderer was unshaven. This story is centred on a private detective, one of a class whom Hašek was later to ridicule in The Good Soldier Švejk (Messrs Stendler, Stern and Grot, p. 459). He was just as contemptuous of amateur detectives of the type of Sergeant Flanderka (p. 255).

The prize idiot, the personification of the blb, is “Senior Police Commissioner Wagner” who, after making several stupid gaffes, orders himself to come to his own office to be cross-questioned in front of a mirror.

He first asked himself what his nationality was and whether he had been previously convicted.

“It's good that it's your first offence, otherwise I should have to punish you with the full rigour of the law. This time I shan't fine you because, first, you have confessed your guilt and secondly, as I said, it's your first offence and there is a hope that you won't repeat it. You can now go home, Senior Commissioner Wagner.”

He took his sabre and went on his way home. On the steps he met the Chief of Police, who told him not to forget that he must now go to a political meeting.

Old Mr Wagner looked at him and said, “Excuse me, but they have just now told me in the office that I can go home.” And he walked on with an odd smile on his face. They finally pensioned him for having become suddenly imbecile.

Some stories underline the risks the public run by going to the police for help. They are so stupid that it is bound to work out badly for the victim. In “A Strange Happening” a man comes rushing to the police in great distress and in his underpants and implores their immediate help, because there is a thief in his house; but he is detained by an over-suspicious police sergeant. In “Justice Will Prevail” the owner of a shop is arrested on leaving his premises at night and accused of robbing his own safe.

There is a good story (“Old Man Jančar”) in which a cripple wants to get himself gaoled, because it is less trouble than sitting outside and begging. To ensure himself a long enough sentence—six months at least—he must say something particularly insulting about the Emperor and he is taught exactly what to say. He dismisses the idea of committing a theft, because that would be “immoral”. This story appeared, astonishingly enough, in 1908, and at the time Hašek wrote to Jarmila expressing his surprise that the censorship had permitted it.

Some of these stories derive from Hašek's personal experiences. “The Story of a Rogue” is about the perfectly respectable Mr Dolejška, who is innocently waiting for his girl friend, when he is caught up in a demonstration and arrested by the police. He ends up by getting a life sentence. Hašek himself was arrested in a similar incident and sent to prison for a month (his longest sentence) when attending an Anarchist demonstration in Prague on 1 May 1907. He said he was only there as an observer, but it is by no means certain that he was as innocent as Mr Dolejška was in the story.

It was not altogether true to suggest, as Hašek often did, that the police were necessarily clumsy in their methods of trying to recruit and train informers. They succeeded in suborning some quite influential Czechs, including Karel Sabina, the librettist of “The Bartered Bride”, a political radical who was in touch with all of the leading anti-Austrian elements, as well as Karel Šviha, president of the Club of the Deputies of the National Social Party. And there were no doubt countless others whose names have not come to light.

Hašek's dislike of the “arm of the law” naturally inclined him to sympathise with criminals and underdogs, and he wrote many stories in which convicts outsmart the police or are portrayed as better men than those who have convicted them. He also likes to show officials in the Justice Department or in the law courts as particularly idiotic. One of his best stories is “The Criminals' Strike”, where he depicts with masterly irony the terrible consequences for all who make a living out of the law of a decision by criminals to “down tools” and commit no further crimes. In the end even the highest members of the judiciary, now unemployed, are driven to parading the streets with banners, “give us work!”12

Somewhat perversely Hašek was sometimes prepared to make fun of those would-be do-gooders who try to reform the institutions in a liberal and humanitarian direction. In “The Judicial Reform of State Counsellor Zákon” an enthusiastic civil servant proposes to his ministry in Vienna a reform by which criminals would be released, trained and eventually appointed judges, on the supposition that criminals do not lie to fellow criminals and would not perjure themselves, if they appeared in court before judges who were ex-criminals. But when this idiotic proposal is put into practice, the inevitable result is that crime increases. “When he [Mr Zákon] took up his evening paper, he read that an excellently organised band of young thieves and burglars had been caught by the police. A remarkable phenomenon was that allegedly the whole of this group consisted of lawyers under articles or those who had just qualified […] When the Judge asked the accused why they stole and committed burglary he heard one of them reply, ‘So that we could become Counsellors one day.’”13

Another story, written in a Gilbertian vein, “The Bold Attempt at Escape of Two Warders from Pankrác Prison” satirises attempts to liberalise the prison system. It tells of a prison where the inmates have been granted every privilege, while the warders are treated like convicts. In the end two of the warders try to escape but are caught by the convicts who are suitably rewarded.

In his vein of black humour Hašek tells in “Saved” how criminals sentenced to death are given a feast before they are hanged, but one of them overeats himself and falls ill. The prison doctor does his best to save his life—so that he can be duly hanged.

It would be wearisome to try to explore the whole varied range of Hašek's satire. He laughed at schoolteachers, joked about animals and their owners, made fun of modern poets, ridiculed the complications of getting married and married life, the irritating habits of children, the idiocy of the censors and the stupidity of professors and experts in general. He laughed not only at German nationalists but at Czech patriots as well. But were all these stories—over a thousand of them—really funny? Certainly not all of them; but some were very amusing, especially those where he described entertaining situations which come as a surprise. In “The Expedition of Šejba the Burglar” a burglar tries to get into the attic of a house but is attacked in the dark by two women, one on each landing. Each thinks it is her husband coming home drunk—in the one case the President of the Senate and the other an examining magistrate.

Hašek had a keen eye for the absurdities of administrative practice and its red tape, and was masterly in parodying its officialese. A man is caught committing a nuisance in the street just in front of Police Headquarters. The correspondence between the City of Prague and the offender which ensues is a delightful take-off of Bohemian municipal officialdom (“Justice and the Lesser Bodily Needs”).14 In the old days there used to be toll-booths on some of the Prague bridges. “The Official Zeal of Mr. Štěpán Brych, Toll Collector on the Prague Bridge” relates how a conscientious toll-collector refuses to let a Town Councillor go past the toll-gate without paying, although he knows him well because he is his chief. Eventually, in a fit of anger, the Town Councillor forces his way past him, but the toll-collector pursues him all over Prague and threatens to shoot him until at last the Councillor jumps into the river followed by his pursuer. The last that is heard of them is the frantic cry of Mr Brych from the water, “Give me the Kreuzer.” Both their bodies are washed up three days later. Mr Brych's hand is still clutching the Kreuzer which he has succeeded in wrenching from the Councillor's pocket.

The theme of “Theirs but to do and die”—the thoughtless execution of orders without consideration of the fatal consequences dominated Hašek's mind. It is the key-note to much of the theme of The Good Soldier Švejk in its various stages. And “The Story of the Good Swedish Soldier”, which Hašek wrote in 1907, is probably its first appearance in his work. It relates how a Swedish sentry freezes to death in a temperature of 25° below zero because he refuses to desert his post. Just before he dies he realises that when he falls down dead, as he inevitably must, his rifle will fall too and may get damaged. God forbid that he should cause Sweden further expense! And so he carefully lays it down, although he knows his soldierly honour will suffer because it is against regulations to part with a rifle when on duty. With his last dying movement he writes in the snow the words “For God, Country and King”.

There are plenty of stories showing Hašek's black humour. In “Trade in Coffins” he tells of a businessman who has always been unlucky throughout his life. Finally as a last resort he decides that the best thing is to sell coffins, which he imagines to be a thriving business. Unfortunately the town he is unlucky enough to choose is renowned for its good health and no one dies. In the end he hangs himself, comforting himself with the observation, “At least one coffin will be sold.” Or “Peace to His Ashes”, which describes how an interview between a young and personable undertaker and a tearful widow ends in her removing the urn in which she has kept her husband's ashes and promising to marry him.

Finally there is the proposal to restore the finances of the Monarchy by conferring on the government the monopoly of death. There will be a new tax on death and burials. The proposed law is set out in Hašek's best officialese and includes the following clause, “whoever fails to report his own death or his own burial will be fined double the highest tax—96 crowns—or, if need be, sentenced to 14 days imprisonment with four days on bread and water”. (“To His Excellency Herr von Bilinský, Minister of Finance, Vienna”.)15

In his numerous stories about children Hašek specialises in the mischievous and sly child who is against his parents or against grown-ups in general (“The Second and Third Main Prize”). Reminiscent of the characters in Wilhelm Busch's Max and Moritz, his children are not sweet and innocent angels, but cunning young devils. According to modern Czech critics, Hašek was attacking “hypocrisy vis-á-vis children which was of course an essential ingredient of the bourgeois social system”. The moral of the story, “A Children's Game” is—“Don't tell children what they must not do, otherwise they will straight away go and do it.” Thus on their summer holiday children are to be allowed to do whatever they like. And so they get into bad company and steal sticks of dynamite with results to be foreseen! In “A Conversation with Little Míla”,16 the writer gets so tired of the questions his little nephew keeps on asking on a walk that he takes him by train to the middle of the Hungarian puszta and dumps him there.

Hašek deals quite often with relations between master and pupil at school. The teachers are often shown to be sanctimonious hypocrites. They are full of Schadenfreude and take pleasure in asking questions which will stump the class, and fail them in their tests. They even dream up ways of taking vengeance on their pupils (“Alarm Signal”) and the only escape for the intended victim is repeatedly to ask to “leave the room” (“Classical Education”). In “The Adventures of Government Counsellor and School Inspector Kalous” the staff try to scare the children into being good by depicting terrifying pictures of hell.

The size of the classes and the unruliness of the boys intimidate a new young teacher, who is horrified when he has to take them out for a day in the country. “It was one of the most frightful schools in Bohemia. The teachers, the headmaster and the catechist were people who believed that schoolboys were a necessary evil, outcasts, young ne'er-do-wells, who must be kept firmly on the rein so as not to become criminals.” He cannot keep order, so he decides to tell them all the awful things they might get up to and what he will do to them if they do. “If any one of you does anything of these things”, he says, “you don't have to come to school next day and can regard yourselves as excluded from all middle schools in Austria.” The story ends as follows: “The next day after the school excursion only five of the forty-five pupils appeared. The rest considered themselves excluded from middle schools all over Austria …” (“The School Excursion”).

Hašek's characteristic style in story-writing can perhaps best be gauged from an examination of one of his tales, “The Cynological Institute”—the name he had coined for the kennels he set up. The first point to note here is that the background to the story is based on fact.

In the story the author advertises his “Cynological Institute” in the paper and when he receives an order for dogs he sends his servant around Prague to steal dogs or catch stray ones; he then cleans, trims and dyes them so that they are unrecongnisable to their former owners and can be offered for sale as the very article the customer wants.

Here at once we come on two characteristics of Hašek's story-telling. First, many of his stories are based on true incidents in his life. Next, some of the themes he uses in them recur in The Good Soldier Švejk (see p. 173 for Švejk's account of his “doctoring” of dogs).

Typical of Hašek too is his solemn justification for the name he has chosen for his kennels. A favourite theme of his is that in Bohemia names of animals are used as terms of abuse, which is unfair to animals. The word for dog in Czech is pes and for kennels psinec. Hašek says he did not want to use the word psinec because “a distant relative of mine is in a ministry and he might have protested”. To Hašek the bureaucracy was always a “dog-house” or “a dog's breakfast”. The allusion has more point in Czech where the term has a more insulting meaning than in English. But he admits that his real reason for choosing the name was that it meant that at last he was “the proud owner of an institute”, which was probably the true one.

Hašek is in his element when he parodies advertisements. “A dog is the most suitable gift for birthdays, first communion, engaged couples, married couples, wedding or jubilee presents. For children it's a toy which cannot be easily broken or torn. The dog is a faithful guide, who will not attack you in a wood. All varieties in stock. Direct connections with abroad. In the Institute there is a reformatory for unmannerly dogs. In a fortnight the savagest dog is taught to stop barking and biting. Where do you put your dog during your holidays? In the Cynological Institute. Where will a dog be taught to perform tricks in three days? In the Cynological Institute.” Puff or blurb of this kind—totally dishonest, because the “Institute” had no dogs at all—was something Hašek parodied especially well.

As we continue reading the story we become conscious of some of Hašek's shortcomings—his tendency sometimes to miss a good opportunity for creating humorous situations. When the writer advertises for a servant, one of the applicants confuses “cynological” with “gynaecological” and says he was a servant in a maternity home and at women's clinics. This would have offered a splendid opportunity for a short amusing scene, if the applicant had been allowed to come to the Institute and had gradually revealed his misunderstanding in a dialogue full of such doubles-entendres as the censorship and the editor would have permitted. Instead Hašek rehearses in some detail all the applicants and their various qualifications, which is circumstantial detail but not particularly funny.

In the end Hašek chooses the applicant who says nothing about himself but asks boldly, “When can I start?” It saves him the trouble of making a choice. Čížek, the successful candidate, is Švejk-like in his first greeting: “The weather probably won't clear up until tomorrow. Did you hear that at 7 a.m. two trains collided again on the Pilsen highway?” When asked to go and get hold of a dog, he comes back drunk dragging behind him a lead and a collar, but nothing else. Then he collapses in a chair and starts to snore. Afterwards he explains that he had the dog but on his way back called in at a tavern.

A customer comes in and asks for a really savage dog as a house guard. He asks the price and Hašek says 100 crowns. Čížek is at once sent off to find a suitable animal but thinks only of the profit. So he decides to buy cheaply from a butcher a very old dog, which can no longer draw a cart and is growing savage. He thinks it will be a splendid guard dog but in any case a thief will probably poison it sooner or later and its master will then come and purchase another. Čížek paints it in an effort to make it look terrifying but it goes off quite happily with the purchaser. That very night his house is burgled.

In the end Čížek brings in so many puppies that Hašek decides to hire a stall in a busy Prague street just at Christmastime and to offer them for sale there. He leaves it to Čížek to arrange the matter.

In the afternoon he goes to see what his servant has done. From a distance he can see crowds of people and he rushes on, convinced that the stall is a great attraction. But when he comes near he hears voices raised in protest. “Unspeakable brutality! … Where are the police … ?” The cause of all this is that Čížek has decked out a Christmas tree and hung the puppies on it as if they were candles or sweets. “Those poor wretches were suspended there with their tongues hanging out, like medieval robbers hanged on a tree. And underneath was the notice, “You will make the happiest Christmas for your children, if you buy them a lovely healthy puppy.””

The ending is not untypical. The madhouse, suicide, or some other form of death are often Hašek's final resort. But the exact form of the final dénouement does come as a surprise even to those who are quite inured to Hašek's quirks. And the way it is described is particularly tasteless, reminding one uncomfortably of the episode of the German soldier who in The Good Soldier Švejk was transfixed on the railway points-lever (p. 485). The story appeared in Horizon in April and May 1914. In a few months time many Austrians, including Czechs, would themselves be hanging on real trees.

The analysis of this particular story, where Hašek was not subjected to the usual limitations of space, since it was published in two parts and is twice the average length of his other stories, shows up his strengths and weaknesses as a story-teller more clearly than pages of discussion. To embroider a real-life incident, especially if it is autobiographical, is fraught with difficulty. There is always a temptation to stick too closely to what actually happened rather than let the imagination run loose. In this story Hašek was unable to avoid the expected, except at the very end. When Čížek is sent out to buy dogs, one knows what will happen, and the unhappy consequences of a visit to a tavern are a device which he draws on all too often. After its promising beginning one reads on with a certain disappointment. When Hašek ran out of inspiration or was too lazy to draw on it, he took refuge all too easily in banality, vulgarity (not so much in this story) or tastelessness.


  1. František Langer, Byli a bylo, Prague 1963.

  2. Some of these are published in English in The Red Commissar, Lester and Orpen Dennys, Toronto, Heinemann, London and Dial, New York.

  3. Ibid.

  4. For further details see The Bad Bohemian, Chapter 8, and The Red Commissar.

  5. Translated in The Red Commissar.

  6. Ibid.

  7. Radko Pytlík, Toulavé house, Prague 1971.

  8. Ibid.

  9. Golo Mann and Christian Schütze, Das Beste aus dem Simplicissimus. (No date or place of publication.)

  10. “Zvilímkových politických satir”, Světozor 35.1911.

  11. See The Red Commissar.

  12. Ibid.

  13. Ibid.

  14. Ibid.

  15. Ibid.

  16. Ibid.

Alan Menhennet (essay date 1991)

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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 “provincial Austrian city”1 and its administration was that of the strictly “Austrian” (that is, spiritually if not necessarily linguistically “German”) part of the Austro-Hungarian state. During the course of the nineteenth century, the Czechs had managed to revive and rebuild their national consciousness.2 Yet it is the Austrian customs through which the Czech traveller in the story of that name, who is returning from a Saxony which directly borders Bohemia, has to pass, and whose regulations will permit him to set foot in his vlast, his homeland, only if he agrees to the removal of one of his kidneys. The bumbling petty bourgeois benefactor Mr Kauble, when confronted by a visiting dignitary who embodies the state, speaks, “like a good Czech”, in German.

A good Czech, from the Habsburg point of view, was an Austrian Czech. Whether the local Sheriff or the customs official spoke Czech or German, he thought German and felt the allegiance to the German dynasty, and its black-and-gold colours, that informed the principal arms of the state, its civil service and its officer-corps. Hašek reserves his most hilarious and often savage satire for the “loyal” Czech, such as the egregious Lieutenant Dub in The Fortunes of the Good Soldier Švejk (1921-3) or the toll-collector Štěpán Brych, who sacrifices his own life, as well as that of a mere “civilian”, in order that the statutory kreuzer should be rendered unto the Emperor.

Hašek's home circumstances were middle-class, but rather precariously so. His father, an alcoholic, worked in relatively low-paid teaching and banking jobs and died in 1896. His mother seems to have been unable to provide the parental discipline that he clearly needed. He had started well at grammar-school, but both his performance and his behaviour deteriorated and after several brushes with the police, he was expelled. On one occasion, the police had found his pockets stuffed full of stones (which he claimed were part of the school's geological collection), a fragment of his biography which reappears (as do many others) in one of his stories (“The Coffin-Dealer”). Hašek cannot, to be sure, be absolved from all blame for the false starts and failures of his own life, yet here too, we do seem at times to detect the amoral principle of cussedness and inconsequentiality that rules in his comic writing: as if he were sometimes naïvely acting out the comedy of life by following momentary impulses. One wonders, for example, whether he had a clear intention in his mind when in 1911, after the break with Jarmila, he climbed the parapet of the Charles Bridge (the incident reflected in “A Psychiatric Puzzle”), to claim afterwards that he wanted to be sick into the river rather than on the pavement in front of Saint John Nepomuk.3

A job with a chemist did not last long and a second chemist suggested to his mother that his place was at the Czechoslavonic Commercial Academy, where, not without distinction, he completed his education from 1899 to 1902. By this time, his career as a writer had already begun. A number of stories, based mainly on his travels on foot around some of the farther-flung outposts of the Empire, had appeared in a variety of journals. Hašek mixed briefly in avant-garde literary circles but while drinking and talking in pubs and cafés was much to his taste—and remained so—he was out of sympathy with the aesthetic mode of thought. He was a born writer, but an anti-“poetic” one by nature.

Ideally suited to the bohemian life, Hašek was, to use Cecil Parrott's phrase, a “Bad Bohemian”4 as far as his social existence was concerned. After overlooking one period of absence without leave, the Slavie Bank sacked him on the second occasion, in 1903. Between 1904 and 1906, the nearest he seems to have come to a settled occupation was his involvement with the anarchist movement. His general sympathies were with the radical left and he would no doubt have felt a certain temperamental affinity with anarchism, but it is doubtful whether he had firm anarchist convictions and he eventually detached himself from this rather dubious company and spent some time travelling, most notably in Bavaria, where he no doubt met the prototype of his “Tourist Guide” [Pruvodčí cizincu a jiné satiry z cest i z domova].

In 1906, he fell in love with Jarmila Mayerová and she with him. Her parents had their doubts as to his suitability as a son-in-law and it was not until 1910 that he was able to overcome their resistance. In the interim, he flirted intermittently with anarchism, got himself arrested and indulged his penchant for turning life as well as art into caricature as campaign-manager for the National Social Party during a Prague by-election in 1908. He was particularly hard on the traditional nationalist party, the Young Czechs, which clearly took itself and the conventional political game too seriously for his taste. One of its leading activists, Milada Sisová, was guyed as the “Czech Maid of Orleans”. She reappears in this role in the story “Election Day in the Malá Strana.”5

Thanks to the good offices of his friend Ladislav Hájek, he obtained a post on the staff of the magazine Animal World and inherited the editorship from Hájek in due course. On the strength of this, he was married to Jarmila, but regular employment and settled married bliss were of short duration. An inveterate hoaxer and prankster, Hašek found the purveying of true facts about real animals too boring and treated his readers to more exotic fare. Elephants, they were no doubt intrigued to learn, like to hear music played on the gramophone; tigers, on the other hand, do not. The fossil of an “antediluvian flea” was solemnly “discovered”. The last straw was the special offer of a pair of thoroughbred werewolves. Once again, Hašek found himself without a job and a “Cynological Institute” (Hašek's pseudo-scientific designation of his activities as a dog-dealer) founded soon afterwards also failed in short order. Both episodes were most fruitful as material for stories and for episodes in Švejk. The marriage broke down, though not terminally, and Jarmila went back to live with her parents.

It was in this year (1911) that the “suicide-attempt” on the Charles Bridge took place, and that Hašek perpetrated his greatest hoax, as the mock-candidate of a spoof-party, the “Party for Moderate Progress Within the Limits of the Law”, in the Prague district of Vinohrady. The meetings, at which he made witty and scurrilous impromptu speeches, were held in a pub and the manifesto contained such proposals as the nationalisation of concierges and the “rehabilitation of animals”. The use of animal-names in abusive language was to be prohibited: an ox, at 700 kilos, was of more importance than a parliamentary candidate at about 80. Hašek then wrote a mock-serious History of the party which was so full of slanderous remarks and portraits that although it was ready in 1912, it was not published in full until many years after the author's death.

When he was called up in 1915, Hašek joined the 91st Infantry Regiment and eventually arrived at the Galician front, where he was taken prisoner by the Russians, then released and allowed to join the Czech Legion. He worked for a time for Čechoslovan, the organ of a conservative group of Pan-Slav orientation which was based in Kiev, and it was there, in 1916, that the last of the stories in this selection appeared.

The rest of Hašek's career may be summarised briefly. He deserted from the Legion after 1917 and joined the Bolsheviks, whose strict discipline enabled him to stop drinking for a time and with whom he seems to have felt genuinely at home. He rose to positions of some prominence in the Russian Communist Party, and in 1920 was sent back to the newly established Czech Republic, with a Russian wife whom he had bigamously acquired along the way, presumably to work for the Communist cause. But there was little chance of progress in that direction and in any case, old habits returned with his return home. But as a double deserter, he was generally suspect. And he was no longer capable of a sustained bohemian existence. He became depressed and generally out of sorts. And then came the inspiration of turning Švejk, who had first made his appearance in a series of (not very inspired) pre-war short stories, into the “hero” of a full-length novel. He spent the last two years of his life in Lipnice, in the Bohemian-Moravian highlands, writing Švejk and growing progressively more unhealthy. He died with his masterpiece still unfinished.

Hašek as a satirist is, as Robert Pynsent has shown,6 but one among many in a rich Czech tradition. The targets of his satire are the predictable ones and are attacked effectively enough.7 But Hašek the humorist is a different matter. It is in this capacity that he speaks to us, not about life as it is or ought to be, which (for all their recognition of the grotesque side) seems to be the view of him taken by the Communist critics,8 but about Life. By this, I mean the force which lies latent in our carefully constructed and ordered reality and is always capable, often hilariously, but often also savagely, even frighteningly, of disrupting that order. And it is necessary as well as natural that it should do so, for deliberately or not, this order of ours often suppresses freedom. It is this force that informs Hašek's humour at its most characteristic. And it is its presence that helps to explain why his crassness, his frequent bad taste and his disregard of the aesthetic niceties do not rule him out of consideration as a writer of importance.

That “The Bachura Scandal” [The Bachura Scandal and Other Stories and Sketches] should centre on a urinal and a public convenience is, primarily at least, not some kind of symbolism, neither is it the result of a simple taste for the cloacal. The effect is that of the defeat of the spirit of convention and organised procedure. In “Robbery and Murder in Court,” the story of a man who is patently a victim of society in the classic satirical sense is concluded not with a cry of rage, not with a sentimental whimper, but with a fart as the order of the courtroom, which has been teetering on the brink throughout, finally subsides like a punctured balloon.

There is a direct relationship between the form of Hašek's stories and their substance. They were, of course, feuilletons, written for money and written at speed. But such journalistic considerations do not necessarily rule out a sense of form and in particular, as many a practised piece in the “quality” newspapers can demonstrate, the gentle art of the rounded conclusion. Hašek's stories, however, do not so much end as stop. His modus operandi as a contributor to the journal Tribuna is revealing.9 He would turn up at the offices with nothing written, whereupon the routine was to lock him into a room with paper, pencil and one glass of beer. Eventually, he would emerge, hand over some sheets covered in neat, “rather childish” writing and ask “Je toho dost?” (Is that enough?), pocket the advance for his next piece and go on his way. He was turning on a tap, letting it run for what seemed an appropriate period and then shutting it off.

Viewed aesthetically, Hašek's conclusions are sometimes clumsy and peremptory. He simply kills off a character, packs him off to an asylum or has him faint, as in “The Demon Barber of Prague.” But the true ending is the open ending which is often clearly visible through such ostensible “conclusions”. The unity of these stories derives from the fact that they all belong to a gigantic tapestry and running through this, visible only in its effects, is the comic law.

Just as honesty is “for rich folk”, as the lumberman says in “The Struggle for Soul,” so heroism is for the world of seriousness, respectability and tragedy. Chocholka, the dunce who flees from the Latin test into the toilet and whose desperate defence of this last redoubt is linked with Thermopylae, is no hero. He acts by instinct (as Švejk often does) and becomes the involuntary vehicle of the spirit of humour. A consistent, programmatic anarchism, life spent entirely in the madhouse, would not have been what Hašek wanted. Maybe the attraction that Communism in revolutionary Russia held for him had to do with a feeling that here, order could at last be blended with freedom. He would not have been the only one to make such a mistake. The “Bugulma” stories written during his period as a “Commissar” in Russia show him in his own persona (as “Gashek”, for the Russians have no h), trying to create an idyll, to make order grow out of disorder.

At his most characteristic and effective though, Hašek deals in a reality that blends into phantasmagoria, albeit in a way very different from that of that other great Prague storyteller, Kafka. Chaos is needed in Hašek as a corrective to a world of order which is something of a prison-house and in which the price of freedom is eternal comic vigilance. It is a world in which one has to struggle in order to avoid being sucked down, as Štěpán Brych already has been before the story begins, into a whirlpool in which life is no more than the fulfilment of some “official” role. Not that freedom automatically confers safety: in Hašek, neither mouse nor man can be entirely safe. But it does confer the gift of laughter, and through all the deaths and disasters of these stories, that is the sound most frequently heard: the essentially positive response of a comic writer to a comic world.


  1. Cf. Robert Pynsent, “Jaroslav Hašek” in European Writers. The Twentieth Century (ed. George Stade), New York, 1989, p. 1092.

  2. Led in the initial stages by the cultural and political “Awakeners”, many of whom, notably Karel Havlíček (1821-56), are mentioned in A Sporting Sketch, and then by the “Old Czech” and “Young Czech” parties, the movement had succeeded within Bohemia in reestablishing a strong Czech cultural, commercial and political life. It failed, however, to make substantive progress at the national “Austrian” level.

  3. See E. A. Longen (E. A. Pitterman), Můj Přítel Jaroslav Hašek, Prague, 1983, p. 30.

  4. See Cecil Parrott, The Bad Bohemian. The Life of Jaroslav Hašek, Creator of the Good Soldier Švejk, London, 1978.

  5. And again in the History of the Party for Moderate Progress Within the Limits of the Law, where, on account of her gruff voice, she is mistaken for a man.

  6. Op. cit., p. 1096.

  7. They are discussed at length by Cecil Parrott, Jaroslav Hašek. A Study of Švejk and the Short Stories, Cambridge, 1982, pp. 75ff.

  8. See, for example, Jiři Hájek, Jaroslav Hašek, Prague, 1983, pp. 109ff. and Radko Pytlík, Jaroslav Hašek and the Good Soldier Švejk. (translated by David Short), Prague, 1982, especially pp. 20, 43-4 and 77, where the reactions of Hašek and Kafka to the “absurdity” of the modern world are distinguished on the basis of the former's discovery of “the solid reality and variety of life”.

  9. I owe this anecdote to Professor J. P. Stern.

Igor Hájek (review date 15 May 1992)

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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, albeit Austrian and defunct, were prudishly expurgated). Yet here the absurdly contorted name of the Czech popular hero stares at us again, while the genuine “Šejk” is only allowed to lurk inside in footnotes.

These accompany the translator's introduction. Discussing the background to the stories, Alan Menhennet quotes an anecdote to illustrate Hašek's flippant attitude to writing. There are dozens of other similar tales in circulation, and they are probably all equally apocryphal. How, for instance, he would have the waiter in a Prague café bring him a volume of an encyclopaedia, open it at random, and write a story inspired by whatever entry his eye fell upon. And how the same waiter would then be sent to take the manuscript to the editor and collect from him an advance from which Hašek would pay his bill. Was this really how those hundreds of stories came into existence? Anything can be believed about a man who was so keen to surround himself with a protective myth behind which he could hide his true self—or whatever there was to hide.

It might have been his secret ambition to be taken seriously. He would call himself “Jaroslav Hašek, the famous Czech writer”, and his drinking companions (there were hardly any others) would fall about laughing. What a joke! In the end, he would burst out laughing himself. Had he not, after all, in his short story entitled “Among the Bibliophiles” (not included in this selection) ridiculed the habitués of a literary salon and made it clear what he thought about this phoney intellectual pastime called literature? But there is a mystery here as well: how could somebody so anxious to show off his fragmentary education at every opportunity, confuse lovers of beautiful words with lovers of beautifully bound volumes? Was he just careless, or did he want to show, contemptuously, that he did not care?

Both the darker side of Hašek and his defensive method of turning a painful and embarrassing personal experience into vengeful ridicule of others are exemplified in “A Psychiatric Puzzle”. Mr Hurych leans over the balustrade of a bridge in Prague, is mistakenly taken for a would-be suicide, and driven to lunacy by the questioning of police and doctors. A somewhat less than hilarious story becomes more intriguing once we realize that Hašek was one night found by the police in a similar situation: he did not behave as if he had climbed on to the balustrade only to look at the dark waters of the Vltava. It was probably on this occasion that he was first faced with the description of himself as an “alcoholic”, which appeared in connection with his name in the police doctor's report. An early instance of self-administered therapy by writing?

Most of the stories in this volume are more straightforward, so elementary in fact that it is hard to imagine how they could be subjected to interrogation for intention or aesthetic significance. There is little to distinguish them from the sketches, not least because, as Professor Menhennet points out, some stop rather than end. This is another indication of Hašek's unsentimental attitude to his craft: he supplied only as many words as would fill the designated space and did not really bother about closing the story in an appropriate fashion. Writing was a means of earning money for his drink, wasn't it (for he did not need it for much else)? Or was it all pretence, another privately self-deprecating and self-destructive way to thwart lingering aspirations? The serious, non-drinking period he spent among the Bolsheviks after the Soviet Revolution has never been entirely explained.

That, however, was still to come. None of the pieces in the present selection is dated later than 1916. The travel sketches are accomplished and amusing: they show a remarkable gift for concise characterization and, surprisingly, make fairly gentle fun of the foibles of foreigners. Hašek rarely showed such kindness to his compatriots: in his stories he mocks the Austro-Czech bureaucrats and the established Church mercilessly, and his satire grows nastier with the years. Never one to pass the chance to kick a cadaver, he must have sensed that the end of the monarchy was nigh.

Hašek's style, too, bears the marks of negligence and haste. Like the writing of Bohumil Hrabal, it often cries out for the delicate hand of an editor. However, there all similarity between the two writers ends. Hašek never corrected or rewrote anything; Hrabal rewrites several times and still prefers his style to retain a rough, unpolished texture. Most of such idiosyncratic features of style are inevitably lost in translation, where jagged edges have to be smoothed in the interests of comprehension.

Even the present one flatters Hašek, but at the same time inflicts on him small injustices by taking liberties that in fact look suspiciously like mistakes. “God knows what is going to happen to me” may not sound much different from “God knows what he is going to do to me”, but it is only the latter (correct) translation which makes real sense of the two subsequent sentences. The logic of the story “Father Ondřej's Sin” is disturbed by the repeated mistranslation of zachovalý as “purified” instead of “of good character”, while elsewhere zavinulé maso, far from being “ready-wrapped meat” is meat that is beginning to smell. In “The Betyár's Tale”, the two swineherds do not finish with their cursing of the mayor's relatives, “so that everyone should be remembered in proper form”, but because, “however hard they tried to remember”, they could not think of any that were still alive. It is also strange for someone translating from Czech not to recognize that Terezína is the genitive case and to leave the name of the town of Terezín (the infamous Nazi camp of Theresienstadt) in this form in an English text. It seems that, like Hašek, the translator, too, would have benefited from the corrective hand of an editor.


Analysis: The Good Soldier vejk