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The Bad Bohemian: A Life of Jaroslav Hasek, Creator of the Good Soldier Svejk Paperback – 10 Nov 2011
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About the Author
Sir Cecil Parrott (1909-1984), diplomat, translator, writer and scholar, is best known for his definitive translation of Jaroslav Hasek's The Good Soldier Svejk. He also wrote two autobiographical volumes, The Tightrope and The Serpent and the Nightingale as well as his biography of Jaroslav Hasek, The Bad Bohemian (reissued in Faber Finds as is his translation of some of Hasek's short stories, The Red Commissar)). His diplomatic career culminated with his posting to Prague where he was the British Ambassador from 1960 to 1966. On retiring from the Foreign Office, he became first Professor of Russian and Soviet Studies and later Professor of Central and South-Eastern European Studies and Director of the Comenius Centre at the University of Lancaster.
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‘The Bad Bohemian: A Life Of Jaroslav Hašek Creator Of The Good Soldier Švejk’ was written in the late 1970s, and, as Cecil Parrott explains in the introduction, there is a lack of reliable source information, which perhaps explains why the biography feels so dry.
The bare facts of this book, as summarised on the back cover, make better reading than this book which I felt was unnecessarily long and detailed. That said, there is a lot of information on what happened in Eastern Europe in the lead up to WW1, following the October revolution and into the 1920s, which made me realise how I should find out more about this aspect of European history.
After spending much of his dissolute youth as a tramp, Jaroslav Hašek joined an anarchist group and destroyed even their crumbled faith in humanity by bartering the office bicycle for drink.
He created chaos as editor of the respected magazine Animal World by inventing new animals and advertising for sale, a pair of thoroughbred werewolves.
Jaroslav Hašek’s greatest hoax, was probably his imaginary political Party of Moderate Progress within the Bounds of the Law which, in 1911, nominated Hašek for the seat in the Austro-Hungarian parliament from the Vinohrady district of Prague. On election day, only minutes after the polls opened, Hašek’s supporters stuck up posters proclaiming an overwhelming victory for Hašek. Voters were invited to the pub headquarters of the party to celebrate, and hundreds did. A policeman arrived asking Hašek to remove the posters. Hašek grabbed the humble policeman and announced he was now making him Chief of Police at three times his salary and sent him on his way.
Hašek’s life continued on its chaotic trajectory after he’d been conscripted into the Austro-Hungarian army whereupon he was captured by the Russians. After the October revolution he briefly joined the Czech Legion and then the Red Army where he quickly rose to the rank of Political Commissar before wandering back to Prague in 1920. For the following three years he led a vagabond existence writing stories on scraps of paper, which he would then lose, and asking anyone if they could remember the story he had told the night before. He drank prodigiously and at the time of his death in 1923 he weighed 22 stone – the wall of his house had to be knocked down in order to remove his body.
Unless you’re involved in some sort of academic study I would only reservedly recommend this biography of a troubled, dysfunctional life. There is far more to enjoy in ‘The Good Soldier Švejk’ or just in a more concise summary of Jaroslav Hašek’s life.