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.

Saturday 31 July 2010

The unknown Švejk

This blog entry is focused on a few particular literary items, and of little interest to anyone looking for a travel letter. I have drawn extensively on Cecil Parrott's "A study of Švejk and the short stories" and Radko Pytlík's: "Kniha o Švejkovi".


Many admirers of Švejk may not be aware of the fact that their hero actually appeared in three different versions. Our man first saw light of day in 1911;  in five short stories published by the magazines "Karikatury" and "Dobrá kopa". These were published in books form in 1911 (banned, reissued in 1912) as "Dobrý voják Švejk a jiné podivné historky" (The good soldier Švejk and other strange stories). The first of those stories appeared in Josef Lada's magazine " Karikatury" on 22 May 1911, thus marking Švejk's official birthday.

The second version was written when Hašek was a recruiter, agitator and editor, working for the Czechoslovak Brigade in Russia in 1916/17. It is called "Dobrý voják Švejk v zajetí" (The good soldier Švejk in captivity) and is a short, satirical novel. Here the outbursts against Austria-Hungary  and her henchmen are far more direct than in the more humorous novel.

An early predecessor

King Oscar II of Sweden was well served
Even before Švejk entered this world Hašek had written stories with an army backdrop. The first of those appeared as early as 28 February 1902 in Národní listy, signed Jan Hašek. At the time the budding author was only 19 and still a student at the Czechoslavonic commercial academy in Prague. A few more stories revolving around the same theme appeared over the next five years.

Then on 30 January 1907 the anarchist paper "Nová Omladina" published a story which would have struck a cord with future readers of Švejk: Povídka o hodném švědském vojákovi (The story of a kind Swedish soldier). In this grotesque tale a Swedish soldier who is on guard duty in 25 degrees below zero. He mutilates himself to avoid falling asleep and freezing to death. Still death holds no fear for him as he will after all perish honourably for the sake of king Oscar and his dear fatherland. He also cherishes army property more than his own miserable life and is loyally dedicated to his officer. Although this unknown soldier has no name and does not utter a single word before he with a joyful heart dies for king Oscar, he is clearly a familiar figure to readers of Švejk. One important distinction though: this soldier died abjectly whereas Švejk survived by his wits ...

Five short-stories

Švejk captures and Italian donkey and a machine gun.
This 1911 incarnation of Švejk appears to be a rather dumb and good-natured figure (Forrest Gump springs to mind) and just as eager to serve his sovereign as his Swedish colleague was four years earlier. Although he has certain traits in common with the famous character from the novel, he lacks the sting and subtlety of the latter (any intended sting would presumably have been snuffed out by Austrian censorship). The stories are also quite different; there are no anecdotes for instance. The scene is Trento (Trient) in South Tirol where the Dual Monarchy built a huge border fortress to forestall any Italian attack up the Adige Valley. Švejk, just as in the novel, creates havoc by carrying out orders to the letter. It must be assumed that Hašek already at that stage lets his soldier harbour subversive intentions, although those are far less obvious than in the novel.

In the first story (Karikatury, 22.5 1911) Švejk forays across the border into Italy where he captures a donkey and a machine-gun. Before that he is locked up several times. His standard phrase Poslušně hlásím (I dutifully report) is already in place, so is the use of spoken Czech in dialogues.

The second story (Karikatury, 19.6 1911) starts with the author's musing on the institution of military clerics. Then, similarly to in the novel, Švejk is "headhunted" by a field chaplain, in this case Augustinus Kleinschrodt. Švejk receives his marching order from his feldkurát;  he sets out from the camp in Castel-Nuovo *), to buy wine from "Vöslava" (pres. Bad Vöslau) in Lower Austria. Švejk carries out the order to the letter, and travels by the train up the Agide Valley and through many a tunnel to fulfil his duty. What now follows is an anabasis by train all the way to Lower Austria and back via Graz, Zagreb, Trieste and Trento. On the way he is arrested and brought to the garrison in Korneuburg.

*) Parrott (p.100) identifies Castel-Nuovo  as Hercegnovi (now in Montenegro). Hans-Peter Laqueur however points out that this can not be the place Hašek had in mind as the story in the same breath makes references to places near Trento (Adige Valley, Merano), and that there is a Castelnuovo in Valsugana, east of Trento. There was also a railway line in this valley, which underpins the assumption that this was the place in question. It could also of course be an entirely different place near Trento, assuming that the author got the name wrong.

Švejk in Tripoli
In the third story (Karikatury, 17.7 1911) Švejk diligently resists attempts to superarbitrate him, a theme carried over into the first passages of the novel.

In story number four (Dobrá kopa, 21.7 1911) Švejk blows up a powder magazine by smoking his familiar pipe. He is the only survivor.

Finally, in the fifth story (Dobrá kopa, 28.7 1911), Švejk joins the budding k.u.k air force and flies off to Libya by accident, with his officer on board. Before getting this far he crashed his plane into the Danube. According to the story, the entire Austrian air force consists of 18 airships (that are impossible to operate) and five aeroplanes.

Hašek and Trento

Trento is a place that is mentioned in all three versions of Švejk so it is obvious that the author had some knowledge of it. Still it is unclear what circumstances inspired Hašek to locate the stories to this city. Václav Menger (1935) claims that Hašek was called up and served a few weeks here in 1906 with the 28th regiment before being "superarbitrated". Menger also wrote that he (Hašek) met Mussolini in Trento and that Hašek inspired the latter to write a book about the Hussite movement. Mussolini actually did write such a book, but there is a snag: the dictator-in-waiting was never in Trento at the time Hašek is supposed to have been there. In 1946 Menger published a revised version of his book from 1935 and now the references to Mussolini had been removed. It should be observed that Menger already in 1935 noted that the stories of meeting Mussolini a.o. were stories that Hašek himself told. Menger presumably came to the conclusion that it was nonsense and removed it.

Significantly there is no mention of any pre-war military service in his "Grundbuchsblatt" and other documents state that he was passed fit for military services as late as 1914. His wife Jarmila has no recollection of him having been called up, although Josef Lada claims he was (but adds that Hašek was declared unfit for service and sent home from Trento).

Radko Pytlík in Kniha o Švejkovi suggests a more plausible explanation: that Hašek drew inspiration from his friend Josef Mach who server in Trento, and probably from other army veterans as well.

Švejk in captivity

The five short stories have been translated to several foreign languages (the English translation can be found in Cecil Parrott's "The red commissar") and are relatively well known. This can not be said of "Dobrý voják Švejk v zajeti", a novel of slightly more than 100 pages that was published in Kiev in 1917 and also appeared as a serial in "Čechoslovan". Judging by a reference to Austrian emperor Karl I (Franz Jospeph  died on November 21 1916), the bulk of the novel must have been written from December 1916 onwards.

This novel does move Švejk closer towards the ultimate version,  but there are still major differences. The style is similar to the propaganda pieces he wrote for "Čechoslovan" at the time and there are few dialogues in comparison to the novel. Cecil Parrott even wondered if the story was written by Hašek at all, so far removed is it in style from his peacetime writing.

Thalerhof, one of three prisoner camps for "Zivilisten"
in Austria-Hungary.
Švejk himself has a comparatively low-key role, he tells no anecdotes, and is still decidedly not as subtle and clever as his counterpart in the novel. His biographical details are somewhat different. He owns a cobblers shop in Vinohrady, and his assistant Bohuslav wheels him off to the draft commission, thus taking the place of Mrs Müllerová. From then on he is subjected to much the same ordeal as we know from the novel: arrested, led to police HQ and a lunatic asylum. However, here he is first sent to the concentration camp at Thalerhof by Graz (like many Czechs actually were), then to an unnamed institution for the mentally ill in Vienna (probably Steinhof), and later to a well known asylum in Hall in Tirol. Only after this does he join the army in České Budějovice (the stay here plays an insignificant role), and is from then on largely on track with the novel, moving to Bruck an der Leitha/Királyhida before being dispatched to the front in Galicia.

Elements from Hašek's own time in the k.u.k army are now introduced and are quite similar to the description in the novel. The observant reader would still notice that the persons are changed about. Lukáš and Ságner play a minor role; instead Dauerling takes on part of the role that Lukáš has in the novel. A few other junior Austrian officers also feature more prominently -  Sondernummer and Althof being amongst them. Marek, Jurajda, Baloun, Vaněk and Dub don't figure at all. The affair with Kakonyi is already in place, but without Vodička, and otherwise slightly altered. Kakonyi now lives in Poszoni utca 13 (not Soproni utca 16) and owns a stationary shop, not an ironmongers as he does in the novel. The dog theft was originally in Bruck, not in Prague (and the beneficiary is Dauerling, not Lukáš). Colonel Schröder's place is taken by Schlager, but the latter is far less prominent.

The details from Királyhida seem more authentic and verifiable than in the novel, which is only natural as Bruck/Királyhida would have been fresher in the author's mind. The trip to the front is only briefly described, but interestingly it diverges completely somewhere in the Carpathians. Sanok is not mentioned at all, and the march battalion travel by train even beyond Sambor and gets involved in fighting near a place called Kamenec (not yet identified). As far as we know, Hašek's unit was only involved in minor skirmishes before Sokal on 25 July 1915, so where the inspiration for this story comes from is unclear. We are told there is a river, perhaps the Bug? Perhaps Kamenec is Kamionka Strumiłowa? At the front Dauerling asks to be shot in the arm but Švejk misfires (or did he?) and dispatches him to the eternal trenches. Finally the good soldier lets himself get captured by the Russians.

Hauptwache, Brucker Lager.
The geographical details apart, the attacks on Austrian officials are more personal and direct. An example: Prague police commissioners Klima and Slavíček are both given thinly disguised death threats. These attacks were understandingly toned down in the novel; instead of being strung up, the above-mentioned officials continued to serve state security also in Czechoslovakia. Hašek was at the time (1921) under investigation for bigamy and was also deeply resented in wide circles because he abandoned the Czechoslovak army corps in 1918, effectively being branded a traitor. In this situation the last thing he needed was a libel suit (or worse).

The good soldier Švejk in captivity may not be be the greatest piece of literature; propaganda is a more fitting description. Still it was popular amongst his readers, but it is always easier to address a congregation that is already converted to some cause, in this case the fight for Czech and Slovak nationhood. But this is no denigration of Hašek's work. At the time he was ardently committed to his cause and put his effort into that rather than in entertaining the masses.

As far as know the novel has only been translated once; to Russian in 1959 (Гашек, Ярослав. Бравый солдат Швейк в плену. Page 9–102)

For švejkologs only

Despite their limited value to the general reading public, the first and second version of our anti-hero are of great value to "švejkologs". They give insight into the way Hašek worked, how he used snippets of facts from an incredible array of sources (and he remembered the facts quite accurately), and masterfully put it all together.

In this respect "Captivity" is even more impressive than the novel, the short stories less so. Particularly meticulous is his description of psychiatric institutions and personalities, but all the factual descriptions are generally solid, more so than in the novel. The number of places and real persons mentioned is as high (per page) as in the novel, but the fictive figures are somewhat fewer due to the lack of monologues.

The five short stories I find mildly amusing, but bland. Švejk in captivity is not even amusing, but compensates by being far more educational. Unfortunately it soon becomes tedious in its tirade against the Central Powers. Here I ought to add that I knew the novel Švejk very well before I read any of the predecessors, so I was somehow destined to be disappointed.

Another  interesting subject for "švejkologs" are the themes that are common  to both "Captivity" and the novel. There are many of these, and some of them appear in slightly different versions. Here is just a few examples: Gyula Kakonyi's address changed between the versions and so did the route to the front. This shows that we should take apparent "facts" in the novel with a pinch of salt.  In some instances "Captivity" provides additional information that the novel lacks; thanks to the former it is for instance possible to locate the hotel in Kutná Hora where captain Wenzl (later major Wenzl) got into trouble and called Kadettstellvertreter Zítko "Czech rabble". There are also examples of nearly word for word reproductions, the "CV" of Konrad Dauerling is an example.

Despite it's shortcomings (I hardly smiled once when I read it), the little novel "The good soldier Švejk in captivity" is a vital stepping stone on the road to the novel that was to become famous throughout the world. For researchers it is a must, as it highlights aspects of Hašek's creative methods; the huge and varied number of details, and his reuse of items used in his previous publishing. The character Švejk evolves, an evolution that continues also into the novel. Hašek also introduces fragments from his own experiences, a method that he was to develop to great effect in his upcoming magnum opus. 

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