“Švejk is incredibly topical today”: Manuscript of classic shown in Prague

The original manuscript of Jaroslav Hašek’s The Good Soldier Švejk

Jaroslav Hašek’s The Good Soldier Švejk is one of the most popular Czech books ever published. So it was a special occasion when the original manuscript of the classic novel was exhibited to the public for one day only on Tuesday by Prague’s Museum of Czech Literature.

The Fateful Adventures of the Good Soldier Švejk During the World War, to give it its full title, is said to be the most translated work in Czech literature and has fans around the world.

Petr Kotyk | Photo: Ian Willoughby,  Radio Prague International

On Tuesday, 172 pages of Jaroslav Hašek’s original manuscript of the first part of the great unfinished comic novel went on display – for one day only – at Prague’s Museum of Czech Literature.

Museum archivist Petr Kotyk is the curator of the small but captivating show.

“The manuscript shows that Hašek was well aware of the kind of work he was writing. In the first ‘notebook’ edition he said, ‘Throw away your Tarzan and put Švejk on your bookshelves – this is a revolution in Czech and world literature.’

"They sold the notebooks around the pubs but also written on them was: ‘This is now coming out in the US, France and Germany and it’s a work of world importance.’

"And that was just the first few dozen pages.”

The original manuscript of Jaroslav Hašek’s The Good Soldier Švejk | Photo: Ian Willoughby,  Radio Prague International

Some words are crossed out and replaced in the handwritten manuscript on show, but not many. Evidently the author had a very clear vision of the book.

“He had Švejk mapped out in his head – just like the way Bohumil Hrabal sat at a typewriter and wrote out those long texts.

"Hašek sat like a sphinx in the pub and prepared it all in his mind; that’s how he composed it.”

Mr. Kotyk says the author, a true bohemian and fascinating character in his own right, didn’t always use regular paper.

Prague’s Museum of Czech Literature | Photo: Ian Willoughby,  Radio Prague International

“When there was nothing at hand, Hašek took some paper, for example from a company selling furniture or a butcher’s, cut it in half and wrote on it.

"The printer who received it placed the text in front of himself and then typeset it. When a page was ready, he produced a rough version, which went back to Hašek for a final look through.”

The Good Soldier Švejk was gradually published between 1921 and 1923 and since then has earned a reputation as one of the great anti-war novels.

Petr Kotyk says it retains its power a century later.

“Švejk is incredibly topical today. In 1916 Hašek was in Russia where today the most intense battles are taking place – the Ukrainians’ defensive actions against the Russian aggressor.

Photo: Ian Willoughby,  Radio Prague International

"That war isn’t just, and World War I wasn’t either.

"Because it’s a world, anti-war novel which is deep and symbolic, it’s still being translated to this day."

New German and Italian translations of Švejk have recently appeared, while a fresh English version is in the works.

Tuesday’s one-day exhibition will not be the last. The Museum of Czech Literature plans a series of such displays as a means of highlighting the riches it its collection.

Author: Ian Willoughby
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