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.

Sunday 18 July 2010

Meta-text about a meta-text

Every major literary creation produces secondary literature which in sheer volume often surpasses the original text many times over. These meta-texts (text about the text) can roughly be separated in two categories: interpretation and fact-finding. The first discipline is generally carried out by literary experts whereas the second is more the domain of historians, both professional and amateurs. I consider myself belonging to the latter group and I have spent endless hours digging out historical and geographical facts and pseudo-facts on which backdrop Jaroslav Hašek created his epic satire. The result is a web-project which is far from finished. The database will in the end contain over 800 geographical entries and nearly 600 biographies on real as well as fictive persons. Švejk also contains other items that could be categorised: literary references, food and drink, ethnic groups, military terms, obsolete terms, historical events, just to name some of the possibilities.

Literary historian Antonín Měšt'an
One of the most important sources for my web-based “factography” on the Švejk novel was written by Antonín Měšt’an of Universität Freiburg in 1983 in connection with the 100th anniversary the of author's birth. It is an impressive study titled: Realien und Pseudo-realien in Hašek's Švejk. It filled out many of the holes in my own data, and also gave valuable insight into the novel's misspellings, and how it could be fruitful to start working from the facts given about a certain item, rather than using the written name as the starting point.

Hans-Peter Laqueur had then already made me aware of another of Měštan’s studies, Ještě jednou o Švejkovi. in: Proměny (Washington) 19 (1982) Nr. 1, 25-28. With this paper Antonín Měšt’an provides a detailed study on the chronology of The Good Soldier Švejk. Although the paper also covers other themes, I will spend the rest of this blog entry commenting  on Měšt'an's analysis of time-related aspects of the novel. I hope this can serve as a complement to Měšt'an's study.
Accuracy of quotes
As much as I had appreciated Realien und Pseudo-realien, the bigger was my disappointment with Ještě jednou o Švejkovi. It starts off worryingly as early as the summary of the plot: at times it seems that Měšt'an hasn’t read the book properly. There are a surprising number of mis-quotes, for instance that Bretschneider led Švejk directly to the Salmova ulice police station, and that the regiment walked all the way from Palota to the front. A further problem is that many historical facts of significance have been overlooked, leading to the erroneous conclusion that the plot in Švejk is chronologically consistent with historical events.
From Sarejevo to Mödling via Střelecký Ostrov
Měšt'an's analysis works its way from the few dates quoted in the novel: 20 December 1914 and 23 May 1915 and also draws on cited and verifiable historical events that run parallel to the plot. Amongst these are 28 June 1914 (Sarajevo assasination) and 29 July 1914 (declararation of war on Serbia). Up to December 1914 the study is convincing. Still it could have been noted that Dr Bautze had already served 10 weeks when Švejk appeared at Střelecký ostrov, and we could from that assume that he was called up in October 1914. Another odd timing discrepancy occurs (unrelated to the plot): Obrlajtnant Witinger ran 40 km Vienna-Mödling in 1 hours 48 minutes, a pseudo-marathon record that has yet to be broken.
Wendler and Lukáš
Hašek moved the events at Klosterhoek back at least
four months.
The next quoted date is 20 December 1914 when Lukáš and hop-trader Wendler have their conversation which involves an impressive array of references to places, breweries, battles and real historical events. Lukáš informs Wendler that Liman von Sanders has been appointed commander of the Dardanneles army. This only happened later, in March 1915. Wendler then reels off the names of places related to battles where  breweries have been destroyed: Klosterhoek, Coimbres, Woevre, Niederaspach, Lamarche, Mulhouse, Vosges. Official war bulletins from early April 1915 all mention these places. My assumption is that Hašek simply copied these names from newspapers or other material he had at hand, mixed them into the plot and freely moved the events back a few months. It seems unlikely that he remembered such details 6 years after: details from Wendler's desperate tirade are almost word for word identical to weekly war summaries printed in Národní Politika on April 4 and April 11 1915. There is another anomaly in this part of the novel. Wendler exclaims: "What about San Giuliano? Is he asleep or what?" Count San Giuliano died on 16 October 1914 so he was clearly “asleep”. Was this a deliberate pun by Hašek or simply careless use of facts?
Mishaps on the train
On the train from Prague to Tábor there is a further chance of hooking the plot up to real life, which escaped Měštan. Lukáš reads in "Bohemia" about the German submarine 'E' which has great success in the Mediterranean. Here he would have discovered that there where no German U-boats in the Mediterranean in 1914, and if there had been any they would have been called something starting with 'U' and followed by a number (Hans-Peter Laqueur).
Švejk was in Putim twice on his anabasis.
The famous "Švejkova budějovicka anabase" has no reference to concurrent historical events so there is no problem whereas to when it started and ended. The problem is more its duration. Měštan concludes that our hero walked 200 km (Jaroslav Šerák estimates 160). I did a retrace of the route in 2010 and there is no way that it could have been done in 72 hours as Měštan concludes. It is possible to walk 67 km in 24 hours of course, but Švejk also slept in the Schwarzenberg shep-house and spent a long time at Putim gendarmerie station. Back in 2010 my aching feet made me painfully aware of Hašek's disregard for time and space.

Měštan's three day estimate is logical based on the description in the novel, but he and Hašek have ignored the physical limitation of Švejk's undertaking. Nor does he note that the route described in the novel does not correspond to what Švejk later described during interrogation. The departure from České Budějovice seems to be related to a specific event: there is talk about the execution of Josef Kudrna, which happened on 7 May 1915. This indicates that the author already has aligned Švejk’s journey with his own. According to local newspapers the replacement battalion of the 91st infantry regiment left for Királyhida on 1 June (the dates given by Pytlík, Vlček and Kejla vary but are all in May). As we shall see this chronological “alignment” was briefly cancelled in Budapest. Radko Pytlík also mentions this anomaly in his book Kniha o Švejkovi. 
The War Grave Commission
The next discrepancy between the timing of the plot and historical events takes place in Budapest. The date here is exactly given: 23 May 1915 and Italy has just declared war on Austria-Hungary. The company was given post-cards with war grave motives from Sedlisko (Siedliska) instead of the promised 15  deka of Emmental cheese. The war cemeteries are made by the "shirker one-year volunteer Scholz" (Heinrich Scholz). The problem is that the cemeteries at Siedliska didn't exists at the time. Siedliska had just been liberated, and the war grave commission was only instigated in November 1915. The post-cards may have been printed even later, probably in 1916. This is another example of Hašek not bothering with aligning his "realia" with reality. Again Měštan overlooks this in his timing analysis.
The long trip to Sanok and Marschieren Marsch
In Sanok it is reported that they are 150 km behind the lines which stretch from Brody to Bug and onwards to Sokal. This was the situation at the front in early to mid-July, not the end of May. So somewhere between Budapest and Sanok five weeks have disappeared without a trace.
Between Sanok and Tyrawa Wołoska,
not the Galician flatlands.
Onwards from Sanok the timing impossibility from the anabase repeats itself. To start at Sanok 17:30 and arrive in Liskowiec (Liskowate) the same night is physically impossible for anyone but a marathon runner. The march battalion had horse-pulled carts, the roads were bad, they could not possibly have done it like the novel describes. (Also, they had been sitting on a train for about a week and had to get used to marching again). A further note of interest from Liskowiec is that the cherries are ripe, very unlikely at the end of May.

This chapter also contains anomalies with respect to geography. There is talk of the "Galician flat-lands with mountains to the south" just after Sanok, but the area is actually very hilly. The soldiers are said to have followed a stream down to Liskowiec, but the village is right on the watershed. The catholic vicarage didn't exists, at least not around 1890. There is also a reference to a zamek (chateau) in Krościenko, but none seem to have existed.

This paves way for the hypothesis that the chapter may have been moved not only in time but also is space. Jaroslav Křížek and Radko Pytlík both claim that Hašek's company actually took this route, but provide no evidence. Did the author actually take inspiration from his experiences further east in Galicia where the landscape is flat with the Carpathians to the south and get the geographical detail for the chapter from a map? To further support this hypotheses it should be noted that in "The good soldier Švejk in captivity", the 12. march battalion go all the way to Sambor by train. This version is actually more credible as the author presumably had less material  available when he wrote it and thus relied more on his own experiences (and memory).

On 26 November 2012 accounts by Jan Morávek finally became available to the author of this blog (based on conversation with Rudolf Lukas and Jan Vaněk's diary) and Bohumil Vlček. These confirm that the 12th march battalion of IR91, as one would expect, travelled to Sambor by train. It is not even clear if they ever visited  Sanok, probably not. Their accounts are supported by documents from Vienna's "Kriegsarchiv".

In 2014 Jan Vaněk's priceless diaries very discovered in Kralupy and confirms the route, and adds: departure from Királyhida 30 June 8:15 PM, stop in Humenné 2 July, approaching Sambor 4 July.
Švejk captured
Švejk can not possibly have been in Przemyśl on 3 June like Měštan concludes. The city was in Russian hands until that very date. He has also ignores the report from Przemyśl that Švejk was captured on “the 16th this month”, presumably meaning 16 June. The latter date could have been possible, the area around Felsztyn (Skelivka) was reconquered already in mid May. The assertion that Švejk arrived in Żółtańce in mid-June likewise does not take historical facts into account:. Lemberg (Lviv) was reconquered by the Austrians on 22 June, and Żółtańce the day after.
Did Hašek intend to let Švejk catch him up?
When preparing the wretched cow in Liskowiec it is clear that the plot is going to catch up with the real world at Sokal, i.e from 22 July. Hašek himself arrived at Żółtańce on 16 July. We must assume that Švejk and his author were by now "synchronised". One of the chapter headers also read "From Bruck an der Leitha to Sokal", a further indication of the intended direction of the plot.
Antonín Měšt'an attempts at analysing the information of the time sequences in the novel is appreciated but far from convincing. He concludes that the plot is logical and coherent from a chronological point of view, which is clearly not the case. This conclusion further cements Hašek's reputation as an author who paid extreme attention to accuracy and historical facts.  His reputation in this respect is probably  exaggerated, something that Cecil Parrott pointed out in his his book "The Good Soldier Švejk and the short stories": "Hašek wrote carelessly and hardly bothered to proof-read his own manuscripts". 

The main impression is that Hašek didn’t care much about chronology at all, and that Měšt'an fails to notice this. The plot is hooked up to specific dates only three times, whereas there are around eight hundred geographical references throughout the novel. This speaks volumes about the author's priorities with regards to references. 

Hašek would surely also have ridiculed Jomar Hønsi and other meta-text authors who tend to interpret his satirical tour de force as more of a historical document than it really is. Analysing people and places in Švejk is difficult enough, attempting the time-line can only partly make sense. There are just too many contradictions. Still Antonín Měšt'an's paper is an interesting contribution to the studies of the "realia" behind Švejk.

No comments:

Post a Comment