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The Good Soldier ?vejk is the abbreviated title; the original Czech title of the work is Osudy dobrého vojáka ?vejka za sv?tové války, literally The Fateful Adventures of the Good Soldier ?vejk During the World War. The book is the most translated novel of Czech literature, having been translated into over 50 languages.
Ha?ek originally intended ?vejk to cover a total of six volumes, but had completed only three (and started on the fourth) upon his death from heart failure on January 3, 1923.
The novel as a whole was originally illustrated (after Ha?ek's death) by Josef Lada and more recently by Czech illustrator Petr Urban.
The volumes are:
Behind the Lines (V zázemí, 1921)
At the Front (Na front?, 1922)
The Glorious Licking (Slavný výprask, 1922)
The Glorious Licking Continues (Pokra?ování slavného výprasku, 1923; unfinished)
Following Ha?ek's death, journalist Karel Van?k was asked by the publisher Adolf Synek to complete the unfinished novel. Van?k finished the fourth book in 1923 and in the same year also released the fifth and the sixth volumes, titled ?vejk in Captivity (?vejk v zajetí) and ?vejk in Revolution (?vejk v revoluci). Novels were published until 1949. In 1991 volumes 5 and 6 were again released as ?vejk in Russian Captivity and Revolution (?vejk v Ruském zajetí a v revoluci), in two volumes or combined.
The novel is set during World War I in Austria-Hungary, a multi-ethnic empire full of long-standing ethnic tensions. Fifteen million people died in the war, one million of them Austro-Hungarian soldiers, including around 140,000 who were Czechs. Jaroslav Ha?ek participated in this conflict and examined it in The Good Soldier ?vejk.
Many of the situations and characters seem to have been inspired, at least in part, by Ha?ek's service in the 91st Infantry Regiment of the Austro-Hungarian Army. The novel also deals with broader anti-war themes: essentially a series of absurdly comic episodes, it explores the pointlessness and futility of conflict in general and of military discipline, Austrian military discipline in particular. Many of its characters, especially the Czechs, are participating in a conflict they do not understand on behalf of an empire to which they have no loyalty.
The character of Josef ?vejk is a development of this theme. Through (possibly feigned) idiocy or incompetence, he repeatedly manages to frustrate military authority and expose its stupidity in a form of passive resistance: the reader is left unclear, however, as to whether ?vejk is genuinely incompetent, or acting quite deliberately with dumb insolence. These absurd events reach a climax when ?vejk, wearing a Russian uniform, is mistakenly taken prisoner by his own side.
In addition to satirising Habsburg authority, Ha?ek repeatedly sets out corruption and hypocrisy attributed to priests of the Catholic Church.
?vejk displays such enthusiasm about faithfully serving the Austrian Emperor in battle that no one can decide whether he is merely an imbecile or is craftily undermining the war effort. He is arrested by a member of the state police, Bretschneider, after making some politically insensitive remarks, and is sent to prison. After being certified insane he is transferred to a madhouse, before being ejected.
?vejk gets his charwoman to wheel him (he claims to be suffering from rheumatism) to the recruitment offices in Prague, where his apparent zeal causes a minor sensation. He is transferred to a hospital for malingerers because of his rheumatism. He finally joins the army as batman to army chaplain Otto Katz; Katz loses him at cards to Senior Lieutenant Luká?, whose batman he then becomes.
Luká? is posted with his march battalion to barracks in ?eské Bud?jovice, in Southern Bohemia, preparatory to being sent to the front. After missing all the trains to Bud?jovice, ?vejk embarks on a long anabasis on foot around Southern Bohemia in a vain attempt to find Bud?jovice, before being arrested as a possible spy and deserter (a charge he strenuously denies) and escorted to his regiment.
The regiment is soon transferred to Bruck an der Leitha, a town on the border between Austria and Hungary. Here, where relations between the two nationalities are somewhat sensitive, ?vejk is again arrested, this time for causing an affray involving a respectable Hungarian citizen and engaging in a street fight. He is also promoted to company orderly.
The unit embarks on a long train journey towards Galicia and the Eastern Front. Close to the front line, ?vejk is taken prisoner by his own side as a suspected Russian deserter, after arriving at a lake and trying on an abandoned Russian uniform. Narrowly avoiding execution, he manages to rejoin his unit. The unfinished novel breaks off abruptly before ?vejk has a chance to be involved in any combat or enter the trenches, though it appears Ha?ek may have conceived that the characters would have continued the war in a POW camp, much as he himself had done.
The book includes numerous anecdotes told by ?vejk (often either to deflect the attentions of an authority figure or to insult them in a concealed manner) which are not directly related to the plot.
The characters of The Good Soldier ?vejk are generally either used as the butt of Ha?ek's absurdist humour or represent fairly broad social and ethnic stereotypes found in the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the time. People are often distinguished by the dialect and register of Czech or German they speak, a quality that does not translate easily. Many German- and Polish-speaking characters, for example, are shown as speaking comedically broken or heavily accented Czech, while many Czechs speak broken German; much use is also made of slang expressions.
Some characters are to varying degrees based on real people who served with the Imperial and Royal 91st Infantry Regiment, in which Ha?ek served as a one-year volunteer. (Much research has been conducted into this issue and the results are part of the catalog of all 585 people, both real and fictitious, that appear in the novel.)
The novel's hero: in civilian life a dealer in stolen dogs. Based partly on Franti?ek Stra?lipka, the young batman to Oberleutnant Rudolf Lukas, Ha?ek's company commander.
The foul-mouthed landlord of ?vejk's local pub - the "U Kalicha" ("By the Chalice") on Na Boji?ti street, Prague. Despite refusal to discuss any politics ("it smells of Pankrác") Palivec is eventually arrested by Bretschneider (see below) after commenting that flies shit on the portrait of Franz Joseph in the pub.
Police Agent Bretschneider
A secret policeman who repeatedly tries to catch ?vejk and others out on their anti-monarchist views. He is eventually eaten by his own dogs, after buying a succession of animals from ?vejk in an attempt to incriminate him.
?vejk's long-suffering company commander. A Czech from South Bohemia, Luká? is something of a womanizer but is depicted in a broadly sympathetic manner by Ha?ek (the records of the real-life 91st Regiment show an Oberleutnant Rudolf Lukas - the same rank as the character - at the time of Ha?ek's service; Ha?ek admired Lukas and even wrote him a number of poems. Lukas was Ha?ek's company commander.) Though ?vejk's actions eventually lead to Luká?' being labelled as a notorious philanderer in the Hungarian national press, he starts to miss ?vejk after the latter is promoted to company orderly.
Colonel Friedrich Kraus von Zillergut
An idiotic Austrian officer with a penchant for giving his colleagues long-winded, moronic explanations of everyday objects (such as thermometers and postage stamps) and situations; run over by a cart while attempting to demonstrate what a pavement is. Kraus's dog is stolen by ?vejk as a gift for Luká?; the enraged colonel subsequently arranges Luká?'s transfer to the front.
One of the regiment's professional officers and commander of ?vejk's march battalion; an ambitious careerist, he is later revealed to have been a closet Czech patriot in his youth. A Captain Vinzenz Sagner served in the 91st Regiment, where he was Ha?ek's battalion commander.
The bad-tempered colonel of ?vejk's regiment, and a caricature of typical German-speaking senior officers of the Austrian army.
The battalion's spiritualist cook; before military service he had edited an "occultist" journal. Spends time attempting to avoid frontline service through letters he is writing to his wife, in which he details meals he is intending to cook for senior officers.
2nd Lieutenant Dub
Dub is a Czech schoolmaster, reserve officer, and commander of the battalion's 3rd company: he has strongly monarchist views. As a conservative, pro-Habsburg Czech, Dub is the subject of some of Ha?ek's most vicious satire. Repeatedly placed in humiliating situations, such as being found drunk in a brothel or falling off a horse (in all Slavonic languages the word 'dub' ('oak') itself is a common synonym for a dull, idiotic person(dubious)). He is said to have been based on a lieutenant of the reserve, Mechálek, who served in Ha?ek's regiment The novel is ended by words of lieutenant Dub:with the district governor, we always said: Patriotism, loyalty to duty, self-overcoming, these are the real weapons in war! I remember this especially today, when our troops will cross the border in the foreseeable future. "
Quartermaster Sergeant-Major Van?k
Another recurring character, Van?k (a chemist from Kralupy nad Vltavou in civilian life) is an example of an easy-going but self-serving senior NCO, whose main concern is to make his own existence as comfortable as possible. A Jan Van?k served in Ha?ek's regiment, and has some traits in common with the figure from the novel (domicile and occupation).
The character of one-year volunteer Marek is to some degree a self-portrait by the author, who was himself a one-year volunteer in the 91st. For example, Marek - like Ha?ek - was fired from the editorship of a natural history magazine after writing articles about imaginary animals. Marek is appointed the battalion historian by Ságner and occupies himself with devising memorable and heroic deaths in advance for his colleagues.
Biegler is a young junior officer with pretensions to nobility, despite being the middle-class son of a furrier. Biegler takes his military duties so seriously that he is ridiculed even by his senior officers, and is mistakenly hospitalised as a "carrier of cholera germs" after medical staff misdiagnose (for army PR reasons) a cognac-induced hangover. Cadet Biegler also had a real-life model in the 91st regiment (Cadet Johann Biegler, later lieutenant).
The brigade adjutant and a particularly disgusting example of a headquarters officer, whose interests appear to lie mainly in crude jokes and sampling of local prostitutes.
An aristocratic, vicious and near-insane senior Austrian officer and commander of the garrison fort of Przemy?l, Fink treats his men with extreme brutality. He almost succeeds in having ?vejk executed after the latter is taken prisoner by his own side. His name and look in 1958 film is based on Prussian general Karl Fink von Finkenstein.
A chaplain plagued by drink-induced spiritual doubts, whose attempt to provide spiritual consolation to ?vejk ends in disaster.
A man in possession of a silver Military Merit Medal, purchased from a Bosnian, and claiming to be a Sergeant Teveles, who had previously disappeared along with the entire 6 March Company during fighting in Belgrade.
A miller from ?eský Krumlov in civilian life, and ?vejk's successor as Luká?'s batman, Baloun is a glutton and is regularly punished for stealing Luká?'s food. He eats raw dough, sausage skins, etc., when nothing else is available.
Sue Arnold, writing in The Guardian, stated "Every harassed negotiator, every beleaguered political wife and anyone given to ever-increasing moments of melancholy at the way things are should keep a copy of Hasek's classic 'don't let the bastards get you down' novel to hand. It's anti-war, anti-establishment, anti-religion and - praise indeed - even funnier than Catch-22."
Broader cultural influence
The seeming idiocy and suspected subversion of ?vejk has entered the Czech language in the form of words such as ?vejkovina ("?vejking"), ?vejkovat ("to ?vejk"), ?vejkárna (situational and systemic absurdity), etc. The name has also entered the English dictionary, in the form of Schweik, "A person likened to the character of Schweik, pictured as an unlucky and simple-minded but resourceful little man oppressed by higher authorities," and the derivative forms to Schweik, Schweikism, and Schweikist.
In the British television documentary Hollywood (1979), a history of American silent films, director Frank Capra claimed the screen character of comedian Harry Langdon, which Capra helped to formulate, was partially inspired by The Good Soldier ?vejk.
At Prague's NATO summit in 2002, a man dressed as the Good Soldier and using Svejk's typical crutches to support himself, appeared at an anti-alliance protest, shouting at the top of his voice: "To Baghdad, Mrs Muller, to Baghdad...", showing just how deep the character is etched on the Czech psyche.
1935: Arthur Koestler mentions in his autobiography that in 1935 he was commissioned by Willy Münzenberg, the Comintern propagandist, to write a novel called The Good Soldier Schweik Goes to War Again. He adds that the project was cancelled by the Communist Party when half the book had been written due to what they termed the book's "pacifist errors". Writing in 1954, Koestler stated that "about a hundred pages of the manuscript survive, and are in parts quite funny, in a coarsely farcical manner". However, Koestler - by then a staunch anti-Communist - never tried to get it published.
1962: Velká cesta ('The Long Journey') is a Czech-Russian black-and-white co-production film, made at Mosfilm studios in Moscow, recounting parts of Ha?ek's life that inspired much of The Good Soldier ?vejk. It stars Josef Abraham as Jaroslav Ha?ek and is directed by Jurij Ozerov.
1967-68: In Finland the book was adapted for television as a ten-part black-and-white series called Kunnon sotamies ?vejkin seikkailuja (The Adventures of the Good Soldier ?vejk), starring Matti Varjo in the eponymous role.
1972: A 13-part Austrian TV series in color, Die Abenteuer des braven Soldaten Schwejk (The Adventures of the Good Soldier Schwejk), directed by Wolfgang Liebeneiner, is made and broadcast by the Austrian state TV (ORF). The title role is played by Fritz Muliar.
1986: Czechoslovak puppetoon version Osudy dobrého vojáka ?vejka (The Fateful Adventures of the Good Soldier Schweik) appears.
2009: The Good Soldier Shweik, animated film, United Kingdom/Ukraine, written by Robert Crombie and directed by Rinat Gazizov and Manyk Depoyan.
2017-2018: "The Good Soldier Schwejk", a feature-length film, United Kingdom, written and direct by Christine Edzard, produced by Sands Films
It is the most translated novel of Czech literature (58 languages in 2013). Excerpts of Der Brave Soldat Schwejk Chapter 1, translated into German by Max Brod, were published two days after Ha?ek's death in the Prague German language paper, Prager Tagblatt, January 5, 1923. Following Max Brod's first steps toward a German translation, he introduced the book to Grete Reiner, Executive Editor of the anti-fascist magazine Deutsche Volkszeitung. Her translation of ?vejk into German in 1926 was largely responsible for the speedy dissemination of ?vejk's fame across Europe. It was one of the books burned by the National Socialists in 1933. Her translation was said to be one of Bertolt Brecht's favourite books. Grete Reiner-Straschnow was murdered in Auschwitz on 9 March 1944. After the war, many other translations followed and ?vejk became the most famous Czech book abroad.
Three English-language translations of ?vejk have been published:
The first translation by Paul Selver was heavily abridged, reducing the novel to about two thirds of its original length. Selver's translation also bowdlerized the original text, omitting paragraphs and occasionally pages that may have seemed offensive: despite this he has been praised for preserving some of the tension in the work between Literary and Common Czech. Cecil Parrott, former British ambassador to Czechoslovakia, produced the first unabridged translation of the work. The translation by Sadlo? (and Book One collaborator Joyce) is the latest, American translation by a native Czech speaker.