Jaroslav Hašek

Jaroslav Hašek (Czech: [ˈjaroslaf ˈɦaʃɛk]; 30 April 1883 – 3 January 1923) was a Czech writer, humorist, satirist, journalist, bohemian and anarchist. He is best known for his novel The Fate of the Good Soldier Švejk during the World War, an unfinished collection of farcical incidents about a soldier in World War I and a satire on the ineptitude of authority figures. The novel has been translated into about 60 languages, making it the most translated novel in Czech literature.

Czech humorist, satirist, writer and anarchist

Jaroslav Hašek
Born (1883-04-30)30 April 1883
Prague, Austria-Hungary
Died 3 January 1923(1923-01-03) (aged 39)
Lipnice nad Sázavou, Czechoslovakia
Occupation Novelist, humorist
Genre HistoricalSatire
Notable works The Good Soldier Švejk

. . . Jaroslav Hašek . . .

Jaroslav Hašek in 1920.

Jaroslav Hašek’s paternal ancestors were farmers rooted in Mydlovary in South Bohemia. Hašek’s grandfather from his father’s side, František Hašek, was a member of the Czech Landtag and later also the so-called Kromeriz convention. He was also involved in barricade fights in Prague in 1848. According to some rumors, he worked with Mikhail Bakunin during his stay in Bohemia in 1849.[1] 

Monument to Jaroslav Hašek in Lipnice nad Sázavou
Statue of Jaroslav Hašek in Žižkov, near the pubs where he wrote some of his works

The family of his mother, Katherine, née Jarešová, was also from South Bohemia. His grandfather Antonín Jareš and his great-grandfather Matěj Jareš were pond-keepers of the Schwarzenberg princes in Krč village No. 32.[2][3][4][5][6]

His father, Josef Hašek,[7] a mathematics teacher and religious fanatic,[8] died early of alcohol intoxication.[9] He put an end to himself due to pain caused by cancer. Poverty then forced his mother Kateřina with three children to move more than fifteen times.

At the age of four, the doctor diagnosed a heart defect and “stunted thyroid gland” in little Jaroslav. Because of this, he spent a lot of time in the country, with his grandfather from his mother’s side, in the so-called Ražice dam-house, especially with his younger brother Bohuslav. In his childhood, Jaroslav was jealous of Bohuslav and even tried several times to hurt him as a baby.[10] Later they had an extremely strong relationship and traveled together a lot on foot. Bohuslav drank himself to death one year after Jaroslav’s death.

Hašek’s childhood was ordinary, boyish, imbued with adventures with peers and reading Karl May and Jules Verne. However, this changed when Hašek was eleven: the retired sailor Němeček moved to Lipová Street, where the Hašeks lived at that time. Němeček wrapped the teenage Hašek around his little finger, pilfered the money that Hašek had stolen at home, and began to lead him into bars, including the infamous Jedová chýše (Poison Hut) on Apolinářská Street, where he taught him to drink alcohol. In addition, he intentionally had sex with his girlfriend in front of the boy. It was a trauma for Hašek. He later remembered these experiences with disgust and remorse. It probably influenced Hašek’s relationship with women. In his discussions with his comrades in the Russian legions, it is said that he said: “Can there be anything worse in the world than such a human pig? I knew the devil, I didn’t know anything about these things, and yet I felt such disgust and revulsion that it was enough to poison my whole life. I have also been afraid of the devil of the cross since then.” [10] Some theories about Hašek’s homosexuality, spread mainly by the literary historian Jindřich Chalupecký (the essay “Podivný Hašek” in the book Expresionisté), have also originated here, as well as in the testimony of Hašek’s friend Rudolf Šimanovský.[11]

Shortly after Hašek began his studies at the grammar school in Ječná Street, his father died. In 1897 he was present at anti-German riots in Prague as a student. He was arrested and the gymnasium teachers forced him to “voluntarily” leave the institution. He then trained as a druggist in Kokoška’s drugstore on the corner of Perštýn and Martinská Street, but eventually graduated from the Czech-Slavonic Business Academy in Resslova Street. [12] At the academy he made friends with Ladislav Hájek, and together they wrote and released a parody of the lyrical love poetry of May Shouts, in which Hašek first laughed at pathos and entered the field of humorous literature.

After graduation, he became an employee of Slavia Bank but soon began to earn his living exclusively in journalism and literature. At that time he also met Czech anarchists. He began to lead a bohemian and vagrant life. Together with his brother Bohuslav, he walked through, among other places, Slovakia and western Galicia (now in Poland). Stories from these trips were published by Jaroslav Hašek in Národní listy.

In 1907 he became editor of the anarchist magazine Komuna and was briefly imprisoned for his work.

In the same year, he fell in love with Jarmila Mayerová, but because of his bohemian life, her parents did not consider him a suitable partner for their daughter. When he was arrested for desecrating the Austro-Hungarian flag in Prague, Mayer’s parents took her to the countryside in the hope that it would help end their relationship. In response, Hašek tried to back out of his radical politics and get permanent work as a writer. In 1908 he edited the Women’s Horizon. In 1909 he had sixty-four published short stories, and the same year he was appointed editor of Animal World magazine. Although this work did not last long (he was soon released for publishing articles on imaginary animals he had invented) yet he married Jarmila Mayerová on 23 May 1910.[13] However, after a year of marriage, Jarmila returned to her parents after Hašek was detained after trying to feign his own death. According to other sources, however, this was a serious attempt at suicide, motivated by the understanding that he was unable to live a marital life.[14] After this attempt, he was briefly hospitalized in a psychiatric hospital.

From 1911 he contributed to the Czech Word, then to the Torch, Humorist Letters, Nettle, Cartoons, and for some time led the Institute of Cynology,[9] which inspired his later book My Dog Shop.

In 1911 he founded The Party of Moderate Progress Within the Bounds of the Law. He founded it with his friends in the Vinohrady pub called U zlatého litru (The Golden Liter) to parody the political life of that time. He also wrote the satirical work Political and Social History of the Party of Mild Progress within the limits of the law, but it was not published in book form until 1963.

Jaroslav Hašek in 1921

During this period, together with František Langer, Emil Artur Longen and Egon Erwin Kisch he co-authored a number of cabaret performances, where he was also the main performer.

In the summer of 1912 Hašek spent several weeks in a pub in Chotěboř, where he could not be gotten rid of and the proprietors waited in vain for payment. He described his stay in Chotěboř in the stories “Traitor of the Nation in Chotěboř”, the “District Court in Malibor”, and “How about the birthplace of Ignát Herrmann or the Consecration in Krivice”.

At the outbreak of the First World War, Hašek lived with the cartoonist Josef Lada, who later illustrated the Good Soldier Švejk.[15]

In February 1915 Hašek was called up to the replacement battalion of 91st Regiment of the Austro-Hungarian army in České Budějovice. With the 12th march battalion of the regiment, he was in early July transported to the Eastern front in Galicia (now Ukraine). He served on the front until 24 September 1915 when he was captured by the Russians and sent to the Totskoye camp in Orenburg Governorate. Here he joined the Czechoslovak Legion in 1916. Then he was drafted into the 1st Regiment, where he worked as a scribe, emissary of the recruitment committee and gunner. Then he was transferred to the connecting section, machine-gun section (in which he participated in the Battle of Zborov against the Austrians) and the office of the 1st Regiment. From July 1916 to February 1918 he published in the journal Čechoslovan and Cs. soldier, and was the author of a number of anti-Bolshevik articles.

At the end of February 1918, he joined the Czechoslovak Social Democratic Workers’ Party (forerunner of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, 1921–1992). What led Hašek to abandon anarchism and to accept socialist ideals has nowhere been clarified. In March, the Czechoslovak legions embarked on their well-known retreat, with the aim of joining the Western Front via Vladivostok. Hašek disagreed with this and went to Moscow, where he began to cooperate with the Bolsheviks. In April he transferred from the legions to the Red Army. He was sent to Samara and the following year he was director of the army printer in Ufa, chief of the department for work with foreigners, etc.[16] At the end of 1918 he served as commander of the Chuvash troops in the Red Army and as deputy military commander of the Bugulma district. He then worked in Siberia, where he published several magazines. One of them was also the first magazine in the Buryat language, Jur (Dawn).[17]

In 1920 he was wounded in an assassination attempt[18] in Irkutsk, where he served as a member of the city soviet.[19] In the same year he fell ill with typhoid fever, and in May he married a printing worker named Alexandra Grigorievna Lvov, called Shura, who took care of him after his illness. After his return to Czechoslovakia, he was not tried for polygamy because of the lack of order and recognition of various international treaties in Russia.

In December 1920 Hašek returned to independent Czechoslovakia. He was initially placed in quarantine in Pardubice, and on 19 December he arrived in Prague with Shura. The Soviets had sent him to Czechoslovakia to organize the communist movement. However, he was prevented from doing so by two circumstances: on the one hand, in support of the Kladno riots, he received from the Russian authorities an amount of 1,500 marks, which, however, was completely devalued by German inflation. In addition, even before Hašek’s arrival in Prague, Jaroslav Handlíř, leader of a clutch of Russian agents whom Hašek was to contact, was arrested in Czechoslovakia. In this way Hašek’s interest in communist politics ended and he returned to his bohemian way of life. He visited pubs in Prague and its surroundings, where he wrote his stories. Many stories describing this period were written by Hašek’s friend Zdeněk Matěj Kuděj.

On 25 August 1921 Hašek left with his wife Shura and painter Jaroslav Panuška for Lipnice nad Sázavou. By this time he was seriously ill and dangerously obese. In Lipnice he began writing his masterpiece, The Fate of the Good Soldier Švejk during the World War. Eventually, he was unable to write, yet he continued to dictate Švejk’s chapters in his bedroom. On 3 January 1923 he died of heart paralysis. The last known photograph was taken in December 1922.

Hašek in October 1922

. . . Jaroslav Hašek . . .

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. . . Jaroslav Hašek . . .