Jaroslav Hašek

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Jaroslav Hašek (Czech pronunciation: [ˈjaroslaf ˈɦaʃɛk]; April 30, 1883–January 3, 1923) was a Czech humorist, satirist, writer and socialist anarchist [1] 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

Hašek was born in Prague, Bohemia (then within Austria-Hungary; since 1993 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 ten 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 officer and also as a dog salesman (a profession he was to attribute to his hero Švejk and from which many of the improbable anecdotes told by Švejk are drawn). He preferred, however, the liberated profession of a writer and journalist, though he had entered into the circles of gipsies and vagabonds, taking up many bad habits and becoming unruly and hard to track down.

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. By 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).

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