Hašek's Good Soldier Švejk as a Picaresque Novel


Hasek's Good Soldier Svejk as a Picaresque Novel 253

here. In a chapterentitled 'Rhtythm" in the first part of his book, Miller describes a characteristic pattern of picaresque novels from Guzman de Alfarache onward: "... digressive, descriptive rambling about what­ever comes to mind, usually directed at exposing a corrupt world in all its facets, is punctuated by a rush of events."9No picaresque hero is such a master of "digressive, descriptive rambling" as Svejk; for every event or statement which confronts him, he is sure to have several detailed anecdotes of questionable relevance. It would probably be an over­statement to say that Svejk's tales aim at "exposing a corrupt world," but on the other hand they are not as purely humorous as is commonly supposed. In the opening chapter, Svejk's meditations on the shooting of Archduke Ferdinand lead to the following digression:

Well, he's in a better land now. God rest his soul. He didn't live to be Emperor. When I was in the army, there was a general who fell off his horse and got killed as quiet as could be. They wanted to help him back onto his horse and when they went to lift him up they saw he was stone dead. And he was just going to be promoted to be field marshall.10

This is a device which occurs throughout the novel: an event of world significance is compared with a trivial episode in Svejk's past experi­ence, and suddenly the event seems equally trivial. Correctly forecast­ing the outbreak of war as a result of the assassination, Svejk predicts the Emperor's reaction in these terms: "Do you think the Emperor's going to put up with that sort of thing? Little do you know him. You mark my words, there's got to be war with the Turks [he has the combatants somewhat confused]. Kill my uncle, would you? Then take this smack in the jaw for a start... ."11 The actions and motives of great powers are described in terms of a barroom brawl. If this is not' 'exposing a corrupt world," it is at least exposing the pretense which makes war seem more dignified and rational than a barroom brawl.

But Svejk's anecdotes, which one would expect to find in a leisurely setting (Frynta calls them "pub stories"), are introduced in the middle of the most chaotic situations, even where he is on trial for treason or faced with a threatening superior officer. Thus we see very much the kind of counterpoint described by Miller, with leisurely digression alternating with a chaotic rush of events. One rhythmic pattern which Miller de­scribes, though, is absent in Svejk: a gradual acceleration leading to a sudden rush of events at the end. One reason for this is obvious; Hasek died at the age of forty with his manuscript still incomplete and no end in sight to Svejk's adventures. But even so, there is no consistent increase in tempo in the novel as we know it; in fact the earlier sections of the book probably contain a greater frequency of discrete episodes than later sections.