Hašek's Good Soldier Švejk as a Picaresque Novel


258   Germano-Slavica

And yet the addition of a new device to the picaresque repertory does not change the genre in any direct way; it merely enriches it.

Up to this point we have examined a number of aspects of the novel to see whether or not they conform to various "norms" of the picaresque. Before we try to synthesize all these aspects into what we have called the picaresque vision of The Good Soldier Svejk, it may be useful to con­sider the views of a critic whose analysis of Svejk is almost directly opposed to the one presented here. I refer to the Hungarian Marxist critic Laszlo Dobossy, who looks on Svejk as a kind of proletarian hero in the struggle to the death between the two social classes represented.

Before examining his arguments individually, some background will be necessary.23

Hasek, like Svejk, was drafted into a Czech division of the Austro-Hungarian army, but within a year he had deliberately allowed himself to be taken prisoner by the Russians. In 1916 he joined one of the Czech legions fighting under the Czar against Austria-Hungary, but in 1918 he deserted from them in turn to join with the recently victorious Red Army, whom he had originally opposed. Hasek then spent most of his time until 1920 working in the propaganda division of the Red Army, under whose aegis he edited periodicals in a number of different languages. In 1920, after the newly-formed Czech Republic had declared a general amnesty, and after his Russian superiors suggested that his services would be more useful on the home front, he returned to Prague, where he returned to his pre-war bohemian life-style, did little or nothing for the Party, and wrote the final version of Svejk. Up to this point there is general agreement. However, most Western writers, considering Hasek's entire political history, which included a period of anarchism, some work on a right-wing journal, and the founding and leadership of the "Party of Moderate Progress within the Bounds of Law," a parody of the wishy-washy Czech parliamentarians, would agree with Jaroslav Dresler's evaluation: "Im Politischen zeigte er sich in allen seinen russischen Abenteuern als völlig verwirrt, als ein absoluter Anarchist und ein Dadaist vor dem Dadaismus... Seine vorübergehende kommunistische Gesinnung wurde von seinem alten absoluten Anarchismus abgelöst."24 Dobossy, however, sees things differently. He claims that during the course of his work with the Red Army, particularly in his collaboration with the Hungarian Communist writer Mate Zaika, his thinking changed definitively from anarchism to Communism, a fact Dobossy sees reflected in the final version of Svejk, where the common Czech figure of the earlier versions becomes (according to Dobossy) a transcendent figure of universal dimensions who is above all petty nationalistic prejudices.25

Since Hasek's political views concern us only insofar as they are incorporated   into  the  vision  of  The Good  Soldier  Svejk,  we  must examine Dobossy's analysis of the novel, presented in another