Jaroslav Hašek

Jaroslav Hašek
Jaroslav Hašek in his late years
Born (1883-04-30)30 April 1883
Prague, Austria-Hungary
Died 3 January 1923(1923-01-03) (aged 39)
Lipnice nad Sázavou, Czechoslovakia
Occupation Novelist, humorist
Genre historical satire
Notable works The Good Soldier Švejk


Jaroslav Hašek (Czech: [ˈjaroslav ˈɦaʃɛk]; 30 April 1883 – 3 January 1923) was a Czech writer, humorist, satirist, journalist, bohemian and anarchist. He is 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. The novel has been translated into about 60 languages, making it the most translated novel in Czech literature.

Life and work


Hašek was born in Prague, Bohemia (then within Austria-Hungary, now capital of the Czech Republic), the son of high-school math teacher Josef Hašek and his wife Kateřina. Poverty forced the family, with three children—Jaroslav, another son Bohuslav (three years Hašek's junior) and an orphan cousin Maria—to move often: more than 15 times during his infancy. He never knew a real home, and this rootlessness clearly influenced his life of wanderlust. When he was 13 his 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 on a career as a freelance writer and journalist. At the end of 1910/early 1911 he was also a dog salesman (an occupation 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 lectures to groups of socialist 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 frequently arrested and imprisoned; his offences 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 Austrian police would go to entrap suspected political subversives in the opening chapters of The Good Soldier Švejk. In 1911 he founded the satirical political party The Party of Moderate Progress Within the Bounds of the Law.


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 vandalising a flag in Prague, Mayerová's parents took her into the country, in the hope that this would end their relationship. This move was unsuccessful in that it failed to end the affair, but did result in Hašek renewing his focus on writing. In 1909 he had 64 short stories published, over twice as many as in any previous year, and he was also appointed editor of the journal Svět zvířat (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 23 May 1910 he married Jarmila. Despite the long courtship, the marriage proved an unhappy one and lasted little more than a year. Mayerová went back to live with her parents in 1911 after her husband 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.

In the Austro-Hungarian army

In December 1914 Hašek was drafted and joined the Austro-Hungarian army on 17 February 1915. His unit was the replacement battalion of the 91st Infantry Regiment, located in České Budějovice (from June 1 in Királyhida). Hašek immediately enlisted at the school for reserve officers but already on 6 March he was hospitalised. His medical reports reveal that he suffered from heart problems and rheumatism. As a result, he was dismissed from regular army service, but continued in the army, being assigned lighter duties. He took part in the battle of Sokal at the end of July, and was awarded a silver medal for bravery after the battle. He did not spend long fighting in the front line: he was captured by the Russians on 24 September 1915.

Countless details and fragments from Hašek's own experiences in the 91st Regiment found their way into the novel. Several of the characters in Švejk are based on people he met there: Lukáš, Vaněk, Biegler, Ságner, Schröder, Wenzl, Adamička, Ibl. Long stretches of the route described in the novel correspond to the 12th March Battalion's own journey. Their train transport started from Királyhida on 30 June and ended at Sambir on 4 July. The journey continued on foot, and on reaching the front on 11 July Hašek was assigned to the 11th Field Co., commanded by Senior Lt. Rudolf Lukas. His battalion commander was Senior Lt. Vinzenz Sagner. He also served as a company messenger (orderly), another parallel to Švejk.

In Russia

At the camp in Totskoye he contracted typhus, but later 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 Czecho-Slovak Legions. There he acted in turn as a clerk, journalist, soldier and recruitment agent until February 1918. In March 1918 the Czech Legion embarked on a journey to join the Western Front via Vladivostok, at times controlling most of the Trans-Siberian railway and several major cities in Siberia. Hašek disagreed with this move and opted to leave the legion in favor of Czech and Russian Bolsheviks. 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).

Later years

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 (published in four volumes between 1921 and 1923) 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 on 3 January 1923 of heart failure. In his lifetime Hašek published about 1,500 short stories.


Since his death, all of Hašek's short stories have been collected and published in the Czech language.

For decades, until 2000, a Festival of humor and satire "Haškova Lipnice" had been held in Lipnice. It was started again in 2012.

Hašek’s 130th birthday was the subject of a Google Doodle on April 30th, 2013.[1]


  • Asteroid 2734 Hašek was named after Jaroslav Hašek.
  • Asteroid 7896 Švejk was named after the main character of his most famous novel.
  • A EuroCity class train on the route Prague – Bratislava – Budapest operated by České dráhy bears the name Jaroslav Hašek.

See also


Further reading

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