Bohemian author, journalist and satirist 1883-1923.
Hasek is, most famously, the author of the unfinished satirical masterpiece
Osudy Dobrého Vojáka Svejka za Svetové Války (The Good Soldier Svejk and his
fortunes in the World War), which deals with a ludicrous succession of
non-events set in the Austro-Hungarian empire during the First World War. The
anti-hero of the book, at all times a complete liar, negligent of his duty
and stupid to the extent of driving his superiors to distraction, became so
popular with the Czech people that to this day it is not unusual in Prague to
come across Svejk memorabilia celebrating the fictional character. So great
was the impact of the piece that it continues to be considered essential
reading amongst the student population of eastern European nations.
It is, however, the subject of the author that I address here. Jaroslav Hasek
led a life that should be the envy of any young antisocial. Such was his
complete disregard for authority that he remains a legend in Czech culture.
His behavior did not, it would seem, bring him happiness: history records at
least one attempt to take his own life, he was also committed to a lunatic
asylum at one point. Hasek's father died when he was thirteen, his first job
(at the Slava Bank) was terminated in his dismissal for continuing arrests for
drunken behaviour and he himself was to die in middle age. As a tribute to
this inspirational figure, and perhaps to inspire others, I collect a few of
his more humorous exploits below:
- At an early age, Hasek gained the appointment of editor to a Czech magazine
called Animal World. The mischievous nature of young Hasek led him to fill
its pages with practical jokes in the form of articles concerning creatures
and breeds that were entirely fictitious. This procedure continued for some
time before his dishonourable dismissal.
- Hasek later made a living as a dog breeder. The business model he conducted
involved trawling the streets of Prague for stray mongrels. Having captured
them, he would forge documentation attesting to their pedigree and sell them
on to the upper classes. As if to perfect this deception, he records a degree
of success in training the animals in question to return to him to be resold.
This chapter of his life is heavily drawn upon in his great work.
- He founded a political party called The Party of Peaceful Progress Within the
Limits of Law (alternatively referred to as The Party of Moderate Progress
with Friends), and appointed himself both leader and candidate. His improvised
speeches were generally vehicles by which to expose and criticise the
political establishment. It was the policy of the party that any cash
collected from this activity be spent in his local pub.
- During the Great War, Hasek served periodically on both sides, frequently
being captured and also becoming genuinely lost for long periods. His
contempt for his superiors in the Austrian army is recorded by the fact that
he refers to them by their actual names in The Good Soldier Svejk.