He experienced the horrors of two wars and during this time he also covered an immense geographical area. The trip described in this blog is an attempt to retrace his steps from Prague across the Eurasian continent to beyond Lake Baikal in Siberia. The first part of the trip will follow the precisely described route of Josef Švejk, Hašek's inspired literary creation. I left home on April 30 2010 and was back on October 29.

Monday, 24 May 2010


There exist numerous sciences and pseudo-sciences on earth. There is cosmetology, ontology, astrology, tautology, philology, gynaecology, sinology and of course haškology. The latter science is by its very nature represented by "haškologists", a relatively minor sub-species of the human race. Haškology does not only deal with the the literary work of Jaroslav Hašek, but also his extraordinary and turbulent life, which in many ways is even more remarkable than his tour-de-force novel The Good Soldier Švejk.
Haškologové at Lipnice in 2008.

From the author’s death in 1923 until the fifties, written material on  Hašek consisted largely of reminiscences written by his friends; amongst them Franta Sauer, Josef Lada, Václav Menger, Emil Artur Longen and Zdeněk Matěj Kuděj. There was no systematic research on his life and work at that time, perhaps apart from Menger. Hašek as an alleged traitor was not a popular figure amongst the elites of pre-war Czechoslovakia and Švejk was largely neglected by the literary establishment.

In the early 1950's the situation changed. The communist regime decided that they could live with “certain contradictions” in his career, and concluded after some hesitation that Hašek could serve their purpose (Cecil Parrott). Thus the irony was complete; the most anti-authoritarian writer imaginable was canonized by a regime that was far more authoritarian than the one the writer  himself had mocked in his famous novel. However, his elevation also had a positive effect. Resources were made available for research and books on Hašek started to appear. The first was Zdena Ančík's "O životě Jaroslava Haška" that was published in 1953. Then Jaroslav Křížek followed up in 1957 with Jaroslav Hašek in revolutionary Russia. This was the first serious study on the authors stay in Russia and contained valuable new material. This book is also a prime example of how facts got filtered to fit a political purpose. Křížek only mentioned Trotsky once, and he ignored Hašek's association with the left-wing opposition to the Bolsheviks (according to Pavel Gan). Other researchers followed;  Milan Jankovič and Radko Pytlík and more. In 1970 the latter published "Toulavé house", a complete biography on the author. Haškology hit it's peak in 1983, marking the 100th anniversary of the authors birth. A number of books were published this year, particularly by Pytlík. The anniversary was also sponsored by UNESCO. Some of Pytlík’s books were by now translated to German, English and Russian. Pytlík produced a book on the theme as late as in 2003, and "Toulavé house" has been revised a number of times, the latest update appeared in 2013.

Some of Radko Pytlík's publications
Haškology was by  no means limited to Czechoslovakia though. Literature appeared in Russia, and in the German-speaking world exiles Gustav Janouch (1903-1968)  and Jan Berwid-Buquoy (1946-)  published biographies. Janouch's book is well written but seems rather  speculative and reviewers have pointed to his uncritical use of sources. Nor does he provide any discussion on the official Czechoslovak truth as presented by scholars on the other side of the Iron Curtain.

Berwid-Buquoy in his Die Abenteuer des gar nicht so braven Humoristen Jaroslav Hašek explicitly seeks to dispel what he sees as myths created by Pytlík, Ančík et. al. He accuses the Marxist writers of ignoring western sources and exaggerating Hašek's humble background to fit their agenda. Berwid-Buquoy evidence that Hašek's family background was not that humble after all is convincing, but many other parts of his book are not. His explicit agenda is to dispel "legends" and provide "truth", hardly a convincing starting point and the lack of sources makes it difficult for others to follow up. He even alleges that Hašek was assassinated (by the communists).

The view that Hašek's background was not that humble is shared by English biographer Cecil Parrott (1909-1984). The diplomat and former ambassador to Czechoslovakia was also a Hašek-expert and he is the only person with a non-Czech background who has written a biography on the author. The title is "The Bad Bohemian" and it was published in 1978. It is a thorough and well-researched study, albeit written in a dry and academic style. For most readers this book will still be the best introduction to Hašek, unless he/she reads German, Czech or Russian. In my view the book is marred by Parrott's obvious distaste for Hašek's lifestyle and the sleeve even states that "Hašek's life was a disgrace". If these were the words of Parrott I don't know, it could also be the publishers trying to sell by shouting loud. Still the tone is set, and one of the conclusions is that Hašek was a "creative psychopath" who routinely broke promises, exploited his friends and was exactly the opposite of a model husband. These statements are partially true of course, but such kind of behaviour is very common amongst heavy drinkers who put the next glass of beer before other obligations. It  could be that simple; characterizing someone as a psychopath to explain a common trait amongst alcoholics is quite inventive. Parrott's book has an extensive reference list, something that the biographies by Pytlík and Berwid-Buquoy lack. Parrott also acknowledges Pytlík's work and admits that he has lent heavily on his Toulavé House in certain parts. It actually goes further than Parrott admits: some paragraphs, even whole chapters, are translated word by word, given away by Pytlík's errors. Another and in my view better publication by Parrott is “A study of Švejk and the short stories”. This book is a must for any admirer of Švejk.

Pavel Gan
In 1983 Bamberg hosted a conference on Hašek, exclusively attended by scholars based in the west, many  of them Czech exiles. One of them was Pavel Gan (1933-) who with his extensive paper Hašek als Rotarmist an der Volga in 1918 shed new light on the authors activities during the first phase of the Russian civil war. Gan since went on to produce papers on Hašek in the Ukraine, Hašek on the way to Baikal and Hašek beyond the Baikal. All these papers are in German, some of them translated to Czech. Part of  the information in these papers are collected in his book which I wrote about in the entry "More important than Lonely Planet". Unfortunately facts are obfuscated by presenting it in the form of a novel. In my view Gan would have served admirers of Hašek better  if he had written a fact-based biography.

Literary historian Radko Pytlík (1928-) is generally regarded as the number one  living expert on Hašek, and has been so for some time. Already in 1978,  Cecil Parrott recognised him as such. He has published a number of books on Hašek, including the biography Toulavé House (The wandering gosling), and a complete bibliography. He also specialises on Bohumil Hrabal and Fyodor Dostoyevsky. He has written several books on Prague and particularly it's hospody. It can be assumed that no-one alive knows more about this particular theme than Pytlík. As said before, Pytlík has his critics. According to those he more or less willingly towed the line of the Communist authorities, benefiting from the public canonization of Jaroslav Hašek, contributing to making Hašek more of a Bolshevik than he really was. On the other hand it's clear that backing from the authorities aided research on Hašek. Pytlík spent six weeks in the Soviet Union doing his research, something which would have been inconceivable without official support. He also visited Austria in 1983 in the capacity as a haškologist. It must have been a precarious balancing act still; he says that when he had conversation with Cecil Parrott they didn't dare to speak openly, they knew that the StB  (State Security) were tapping the conversation. Toulavé House is still pretty free from between-the-lines ideology (my version is a revised edition from 1998). This is a literary historian writing, not an apparatchik. Pytlík is currently working on a complete fact-file on Jaroslav Hašek. It is organised year by year and including dates, sources, literary references and with a side-view to concurrent events. From what I have seen (a draft and a complete issue of the year 1911), it looks very promising and dwarfs anything that has been published so far. Pytlík said in a recent radio interview that he has been working on Hašek for 60 years now, and is still discovering new things.

After 1989 haškology lost the official backing and researchers again had to rely on voluntary efforts. These are headed by Pytlík himself and Richard Hašek and twice they have arranged conferences at Lipnice (2003 and 2008). They also arrange other events and regularly appear in Czech media, from regional newspaper to television. Richard Hašek has also been interviewed by German, Polish, Hungarian and Austrian broadcasters. But judging by the attendance at the latest conference at Lipnice, the movement is in dire need of new blood. The amount of grey hair and  bald heads was as striking as the lack of female representatives and below-fifty men.

All is not gloom though. As mentioned above, Pytlík is working on a new fact-file and hopefully he will keep healthy and be able to publish  it. The demand for material on Hašek is still there, demonstrated by the fact that Hodik and Landa were able to publish a thorough investigation of the facts behind Švejk. I have already mentioned the efforts of Jaroslav Šerák and Hans-Peter Laqueur. Another enthusiast also deserves a mention. He is the Czech-born American Zenny K. Sadlon who maintains one of the most extensive web-sites around: Svejk Central. It was the first of it's kind in the world and contains a lot of documents. It also has links to virtually all that exists on English-language material on Hašek (and a lot more). Sadlon is also the man behind a new translation on Švejk, which was completed in 2009 and ultimately successful after a wobbly start.

Computer technology and Internet presents new opportunities for organizing and presenting the material. And most importantly: it speeds up he research effort many-fold, with archives and other printed material increasingly appearing in digital form. My hope is that some of the enormous knowledge possessed by those elderly haškologs can be collected and digitalised before it's too late.

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