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Jaroslav Hašek

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Jaroslav Hašek

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

Monument to Jaroslav Hašek in Lipnice nad Sázavou

Jaroslav Hašek (Czech: ; April 30, 1883 – January 3, 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 sixty languages, making it the most translated novel in Czech literature.

Life and work


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 on 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.


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. 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.

At the front

Hašek was drafted and joined the Austro-Hungarian 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. In March 1918 the Czechoslovak Legions 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 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).

Monument to Jaroslav Hašek in Žižkov, near the pubs where he wrote some of his works

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 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. Hašek published in his life 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 (renewed on July 21, 2012)


  • 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

  • The Good Soldier Švejk and His Fortunes in the World War, translated by Cecil Parrott, with original illustrations by Josef Lada
  • The Fateful Adventures of the Good Soldier Švejk During the World War, translated by Zenny K. Sadlon
  • The Red Commissar: Including further adventures of the good soldier Švejk and other stories
  • Bachura Scandal and Other Stories and Sketches, translated by Alan Menhenett
  • Biography by Cecil Parrott, The Bad Bohemian (ISBN 0-349-12698-4).

External links

  • Virtuální muzeum Jaroslava Haška a Josefa Švejka (Czech)
  • A comprehensive site, mostly in Czech, but also partly in English
  • Jaroslav Hasek – essays, biographies, memoirs, gallery of images (Russian)
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