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.
Hašek was born in Prague, Bohemia (now the Czech Republic) on April 30, 1883. Despite his obvious lack of interest in business, he attended the Prague Commercial Academy. While studying at the Academy, Hašek attended the literary club Syrinx, which included many future leading Czech writers and dramatists. He came to reject his literary peers' romantic conception of the artist as a being detached from society, however, and was most comfortable in working-class pubs. Hašek lived a life marked by dissipation and minor arrests and became well known in Prague bohemian circles for his practical jokes, anarchism, and the founding of his satiric Party of Moderate Progress within the Limits of the Law. When World War I broke out, Hašek shared the contempt most Czechs felt for their obligatory participation under Austrian authority. He served in the Austrian Army, was captured by the Russians, and endured a subsequent period of imprisonment. He eventually joined the Czech legions in Russia and became a communist. He died on January 3, 1923.
Major Works of Short Fiction
Hašek wrote more than twelve hundred short stories and comic sketches under more than eighty pseudonyms; the great majority of these stories are less than a thousand words long. Most were written before World War I and published in Prague newspapers. Few of these stories have been translated or discussed. Several of these stories feature the character of Švejk, the Czech soldier whose naiveté, whether real or assumed, carries him unscathed through the disintegration of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. While some critics view the stories and novels based on Švejk as a slander against the Czech national character, others feel that they epitomize the Czech attitude of resistance toward Austria during World War I. Other stories focus on similar characters to Švejk, types identified as schlemazels, inept men afflicted with bad luck and saddled with confusing bureaucratic institutions. Several of his stories are based on incidents from his life: “A Psychiatric Puzzle” is derived from Hašek's own suicide attempt after the breakup of his marriage; “The Cynological Institute” centers around a pet shop, which Hašek ran one at one time. Later stories, such as the cycle set in the area around the Siberian town of Bugulma—where Hašek was stationed after he joined the Red Army—are also autobiographical in nature and reflect his frustration with the Soviet bureaucracy and political system.
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.