Jaroslav Hasek

Biografie şi Bibliografie

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Jaroslav Hašek (Czech: [ˈjaroslaf ˈɦaʃɛk]; April 30, 1883 – January 3, 1923) was a Czech humorist, satirist, writer and anarchist best known for his novel The Good Soldier Švejk, an unfinished collection of farcical incidents about a soldier in World War I and a satire on the ineptitude of authority figures, which has been translated into sixty languages. He also wrote some 1,500 short stories. He was a journalist, bohemian, and practical joker.

Life and work

Youth

Hašek was born in Prague, Bohemia (then within Austria-Hungary, now part of the Czech Republic), the son of high-school math teacher Josef Hašek and his wife Kateřina. Poverty forced the family, with three children — another son Bohuslav, three years Hašek's younger, and an orphan cousin Maria — to move often, more than fifteen times during his infancy. He never knew a real home, and this rootlessness clearly influenced his life of wanderlust. When he was thirteen, Hašek's father died from excessive alcohol intake, and his mother was unable to raise him firmly. The teenage boy dropped out of high school at the age of 15 to become a druggist, but eventually graduated from business school. He worked briefly as a bank clerk in 1903, before embarking an a career as a freelance writer and journalist. At the end of 1910/early 1911 he was also a dog salesman (a profession he was to attribute to his hero Švejk and from which some of the improbable anecdotes told by Švejk are drawn).

Political activism

In 1906 he joined the anarchist movement, having taken part in the 1897 anti-German riots in Prague as a schoolboy. He gave regular lectures to groups of proletarian workers and, in 1907, became the editor of the anarchist journal Komuna. As an anarchist in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, his movements were closely monitored by the police and he was arrested and imprisoned on a regular basis; his offenses include numerous cases of vandalism and at least one case of assaulting a police officer, for which he spent a month in prison. He satirised the lengths to which the Austro-Hungarian police would go to entrap suspected political subversives in the opening chapters of The Good Soldier Švejk.

Marriage

Hašek met Jarmila Mayerová in 1907, and fell in love with her. However, due to his bohemian lifestyle, her parents found him an unsuitable match for their daughter. In response to this, Hašek attempted to back away from his radical politics and get a settled job as a writer. When he was arrested for desecrating a flag in Prague, Mayerová's parents took her into the country, in hope that this would end their relationship. This move was unsuccessful in that it failed to end the affair, but it did result in Hašek renewing his focus on writing. In 1909 he had sixty-four short stories published, over twice as many as in any previous year, and he was also named as the editor of the journal The Animal World. This job did not last long, however, as he was soon dismissed for publishing articles about imaginary animals which he had dreamed up (though this furnished further material for Švejk).

On May 23 1910, he married Jarmila Mayerová. The marriage proved an unhappy one and lasted little more than a year. Mayerová went back to live with her parents in 1911 after he was caught trying to fake his own death. At the outbreak of World War I, Hašek lived periodically with cartoonist Josef Lada, who later illustrated the Good Soldier Švejk. Eventually he was drafted and joined the army; some of the characters in Švejk are based on people he met during the war. He did not spend long fighting in the front line, being captured by the Russians on September 24 1915. At the camp in Totskoye he contracted typhus but later on had a more comfortable existence. In June 1916 he was recruited as a volunteer to join the Czechoslovak Brigade, a unit of mainly Czech volunteers that were fighting the Austro-Hungarian empire. This unit was later to become known as the Czechoslovak Legions. There he acted respectively as a clerk, journalist, soldier and recruitment agent until February 1918.

Later years

In March 1918 the Czechoslovak Legions embarked on a journey to join the Western Front via Vladivostok. Hašek disagreed with this move and opted to leave the legion in favour of Czech and Russian revolutionaries. From October 1918 he joined the Red Army, mainly working as a recruiter and propaganda writer. In 1920 he remarried (although still married to Jarmila). He eventually returned to Prague in December 1920. However, in some circles he was not a popular figure, being branded a traitor and a bigamist, and struggled to find a publisher for his works.

Before the war, in 1912, he had published the book The Good Soldier Švejk and other strange stories (Dobrý voják Švejk a jiné podivné historky) where the figure of Švejk appeared for the first time; but it was only after the war in his famous novel that Švejk became a sancta simplicitas, a cheerful idiot who joked about the war as if it were a tavern brawl. By this time, Hašek had become gravely ill and dangerously overweight. He no longer wrote, but dictated the chapters of Švejk from his bedroom in the village of Lipnice, where he died in on January 3 1923 of heart failure.

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