Jaroslav Hašek

(1883—1923) Czech novelist and short-story writer

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Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk (1850—1937) Czechoslovak statesman, President 1918–35


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Czech novelist and short-story writer.

The son of a journalist and a teacher, Hašek was born and grew up in Prague, where he became locally famous as an anarchistic and satirical personality in bohemian circles. In World War I he served in the Austrian army but soon deserted, joining Czech patriots in Russia. He joined the Russian Communist Party in 1918 and was a political commissar with the Red Army in Siberia for two years before returning to Prague, where he devoted the rest of his life – shortened by alcoholism – to the long rambling uncompleted work for which he is best known.

Osudy dobrého vojáka Švejka za světové války appeared in four volumes published between 1921 and 1923. Purged of its many vulgarities and coarseness, an English version, The Good Soldier Schweik, was published in 1930; a full unbowdlerized translation, The Good Soldier Švejk, was not published until 1974. The original was unimpressively completed by the Czech writer Karel Vaněk. The Czech government of Masaryk, embarrassed by the book's vulgar humour, found it difficult to admit that Hašek had produced a comic masterpiece, but the character Schweik clearly had universal appeal and gained an international following. The hero appears to be an amiable fool, though he overcomes everything authoritarian and pompous in the military life in which he has to survive. Given an order, he carries it out with a lunatic thoroughness that amounts to sabotage. Much of the interest of the episodes lies in a carefully maintained ambiguity: one does not know whether Schweik is supremely stupid or devilishly cunning in pretending to be so. As the archetypal story of the little man against the system, The Good Soldier Schweik has had a wide literary influence; its spirit can be seen in Joseph Heller's Catch-22 (1961), to name just one example.

Subjects: Contemporary History (Post 1945).

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