The Good Soldier Švejk


Having drunk away a gift of 10 crowns instead of buying a railway ticket Private Josef Švejk, unscrupulous dog dealer, idiot savant, and thorn in the side of his superiors, sets out by foot from Tábor to České Budějovice to rejoin his battalion. Unfortunately Švejk, “[a]nd God knows how it happened, … instead of going south to Budějovice went on marching straight to the west.”[1] Švejk’s ‘anabasis’ takes him on a 200 kilometre detour during which he is mistaken by all and sundry as a deserter and either helped or hindered by those he meets on the road. On the one hand he is given potato soup and directions by an old woman, on the other he is arrested as a Russian spy by the officious Sergeant Flanderka of the gendarmerie, before he is reunited with the 91st Regiment and the long suffering Lieutenant Lukáš.

Jaroslav Hašek’s comic creation, the idiot who is nobody’s fool, is one of the great characters of twentieth century literature. At every turn Švejk gets the better of all he meets, reducing officers to speechlessness and impotent fury, while managing to extricate himself from a litany of mistakes; missing his train, losing his way, accidentally joining the enemy, conspiring to steal Colonel Kraus’s dog and then giving it to Lieutenant Lukáš; at all times accepting his lot with a happy equanimity.

Anti-war, anti-establishment, anti-authoritarian, and anti-Catholic, Osudy dobrého vojáka Švejka za světové války, to give it its full title, is the little man’s poke in the eye for pointless bureaucracy, authority without meaning, and officialdom without humanity, and a reminder to us all that compliance can be equally as subversive as opposition.

[1] Hašek, Jaroslav, The Good Soldier Švejk and His Fortunes in the World War, trans. Cecil Parrott (London: Everyman’s Library, 1993), 257.

2 comments on “The Good Soldier Švejk

  1. brightonsauce
    January 18, 2014

    A wonderful book – joyful in the reading of…very, most brilliant 🙂

    I think it is like a national treasure in the Czech Republic – but kind of obscure hereabouts

    all the best


  2. Josef Švejk
    March 18, 2018

    I dutifully report that it baffles me why everybody seems to recycle the less than desirable translation of Mr. Hašek’s record of my adventures done by a British Sir Cecil Parrott since a superior translation by an American has been in existence since 1997 (digital version of Book One), 2000 (Book One paperback) and 2009 (remaining two volumes in paperback).

    As the author of the new translation documented in 2010: “I don’t know what his standing is in the eyes of modern theoreticians of translation, but the German writer Rudolf Pannwitz believed, as he wrote in his Die Krisis der europaischen Kultur (The Crisis of the European Culture) that “The basic error of the translator is that he preserves the state in which his own language happens to be instead of allowing his language to be powerfully affected by the foreign tongue. Particularly when translating from a language very remote from his own … ”

    Ms. Woods, [a reviewer of a later translation] conceded that “Cecil Parrott… deliberately anglicized the novel” which is the direction opposite to the course suggested by Rudolf Pannwitz. Indeed, Sir Cecil wrote in his Note On The Translation: “If the reader finds a certain monotony [as this reader did] in the words chosen by the translator I hope he will realize that the bandsman has to operate within the limits of his instrument.” The question is whether the common instrument of the English language is as limited as Sir Cecil’s personal instrument of his Czech or even his English.

    Not being aware of Sir Cecil’s admission of “certain monotony” I expressed my own impression this way: “What is stunning is the poverty and one-dimensional lexical register of the translator’s mother tongue. The translation shows traces of two authors, an Englishman and a Czech. A Czech who, for example, chooses the wrong English equivalents, and an Englishman who does not know it. [The word “kůlna” is rendered as “barn” instead of “shed”, “háj” as “wood” instead of “grove”, “loupež” as “larceny” instead of “robbery”, “oslové” as “mules” instead of “asses”, etc.]

    In addition, the translation is made from an erroneous point of view.” On the point of his English, Jasper Parrott, Sir Cecil’s son recently wrote of his father’s labors: “He spent therefore many hours savouring and trying out all sorts of different vulgarities and even obscenities a curious occupation for someone who was otherwise highly disapproving of the lazy argot of the times.” Nevertheless, one indication that Sir Cecil ultimately failed in rendering the “lazy argot” is that the quintessential English term of abuse, “bastard” and the adjective “bloody” are used and misused in his version incredibly too often.

    In Part II, for example, he used the word “bastard” to render into English such varied words (my, sometimes multiple renditions in parentheses) as “chlap” (sonofagun, guy, man), “kluk” (boy), “podlci” (moral degenerates), “lotry” (crooks), “sběř” (pack of rabble) and “pahejl” (stumpfoot). Once he even substituted “bastard” for “he”, once added “bastards” after “Hungarian” and “bloody ass” in front of “such as Lieutenant Dub” just for good measure.” Many others view the new translation as much better: “”… which translation you read will give you a different experience with the titular character, and the story in general. In short, the Sadlon translation gives the reader a novel with extraordinarily more depth and layers than the Parrot translation. … Parrot’s vernacular obscures the subtleties and nuances that make a huge difference in what Hašek was communicating to the reader. I can’t state this enough, the Sadlon edition is a much different book that unmasks a significantly more intricate picture …” – Corto’s review on Goodreads


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