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The Good Soldier Svejk

From Academic Kids

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Muliar_Schwejk.jpg
Fritz Muliar as Schwejk (1972)

The Good Soldier Švejk (spelled Schweik or Schwejk in many translations, and pronounced /ʃvɛjk/) is the shortened title of the world-famous unfinished novel written by Czech humorist Jaroslav Hašek in 1921-22. It was fully illustrated by Josef Lada after Hašek's death. The original Czech title of the work is Osudy dobrého vojáka Švejka za světové války, literally The Fateful Adventures of the Good Soldier Švejk During the World War.

The novel was never finished, because Hašek died in 1923 right in the middle of his work.

Contents

Plot

The novel tells a story of the Czech veteran Josef Švejk who, after having been drafted back into the army as cannon fodder to die for an Emperor he despises, proceeds to undermine the Austro-Hungarian Army's war effort by "švejking". "Švejking" is the method for surviving "švejkrna", which is a situation or institution of systemic absurdity requiring the employment of "švejking" for one to survive and remain untouched by it. "Švejkovat", "to švejk"' has since become a common Czech word.

The novel is set in the times of World War I in Austria-Hungary, a country which was a figment of bureaucratic imagination, with borders constructed by political compromise and military conquest and which held in subjection numerous nationalities, with different languages and cultures, for 300 years. The multiethnic, and in this respect modern Empire was full of long-standing grievances and tensions. World War I, amplified by modern weapons and techniques, quickly escalated to become a massive human meatgrinder. Fifteen million people died, one million of them Austrian soldiers. Jaroslav Hašek participated in this conflict and examined it in The Good Soldier Švejk.

The German-speaking Habsburgs and their imperial administrators had ruled the Czech Lands from 1526. By the arrival of the 20th century, Prague, the seat of the Czech Kingdom, had become a boomtown. Large numbers of people had come to the city from the countryside to participate in the industrial revolution. The rise of a large working class spawned a cultural revolution. The Austro-Hungarian Empire ignored these changes and became more and more decrepit and anachronistic. As the system decayed, it became absurd and irrelevant to ordinary people. When forced to respond to dissent, the imperial powers did so, more often than not, with hollow propaganda and repression.

Critical reception

"Like Diogenes, Švejk lingers at the margins of an unfriendly society against which he is defending his independent existence." - Peter Steiner, 'Tropos Kynikos: Jaroslav Hašek's The Good Soldier Švejk', Poetics Today 19:4 (1998), pp.469-98.

Jaroslav Hašek and in particular this novel have been subjects of innumerable articles, essays, studies, and books. Written by a great variety of individuals, ranging from friends and acquaintances, to admirers, detractors, and literary scholars, they started appearing almost immediately after the publication of the unfinished novel and the author's premature death in 1923.

Jaroslav Hašek was one of the earliest writers of what we have come to know as modern literature. He experimented with verbal collage, Dadaism and the surreal. Hašek was writing modern fiction before exalted post-World-War-I writers like Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Faulkner.

A number of literary critics consider The Good Soldier Švejk to be the grandaddy of anti-war novels, having predated nearly every other anti-war novel of note, at a time when such writings were not "in". According to one critic, only the first two-thirds of The Red Badge of Courage precedes it. The Good Soldier Švejk even predated that quintessential First World War novel, All Quiet on the Western Front.

More familiar to today’s readers, perhaps, is Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, set in World War II. Although predating it by almost 50 years, Hašek’s biting satire and humor is its direct ancestor also, as well as that of many others. Joseph Heller said that if it weren’t for his having read The Good Soldier Švejk he would never had written his American novel Catch-22 [1] (http://www.zenny.com/Heller.html).

"And yet in some ways this novel is obviously about a good deal more than war. After all, while there are a great many caustic comments and satirical moments when the inhumanity of modern military life is exposed for the idiotic folly it is, there are no combat scenes in the novel, and we are never given a detailed and sustained glimpse of soldiers killing and being killed. There is very little attention paid to weapons or training or conduct which is unique to military experience. In addition, a great deal of the satire of what goes on in the army has little to do with its existence of the army per se and is much more focused on the military as an organization with a complex chain of command, complicated procedures, and a system of authority, whose major function, it seems, is to order people around in ways they never fully understand (perhaps because they are beyond anyone’s comprehension)." - Ian Johnston in On Hašek’s The Good Soldier Švejk (http://www.mala.bc.ca/~johnstoi/praguepage/hasek.htm)

The Good Soldier Švejk inspired Bertolt Brecht to write a play continuing his adventures in the World War II. It was aptly titled Schweyk in the Second World War. It became the subject of comic books, films, an opera, a musical, statues, and the theme of many restaurants in a number of European countries (http://www.SvejkCentral.com/index.html).

English translations

At least three English-language translations of Švejk have been published:

The translations are generally perceived as evolving from good to better. The latest translation is still a work in progress: (http://www.svejkcentral.com/The%20Report.html) Book One is in print, Books Two, Three & Four are being edited and proofread in 2004.

A hefty 784 page paperback of the Parrott translation edition was reprinted in New York by Viking Press in 1990 with ISBN 0140182748

Filmed versions

  • In Western Germany the book was newly adapted in the 1960s, starring Heinz Rhmann.

See also

External links

fr:Le brave soldat Chvk he:החייל האמיץ שווייק

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