A BITTERSWEET LOVE STORY - Jaroslav Hašek
Motto: M. Machovec: "My whole life, I have been searching
for a way how to tell you
that human life does not have any sense,
if wieved objectively.
Well, it does so only in connection
with personal relationship,
also with one´s of own self."
Eighty years have elapsed since January 3, 2003, when the sick heart of a great writer stopped pulsing in a small house located under the castle Lipnice, and it was on April 4, 2003, when he was born one-hundred-twenty years ago. On the day of his birth he iniciated his life and before long he was able to see this worlds daily life for the first time. It happened in a house in Prague in Skolska Street, located in the Pragues district called "New Town". Indeed, that house is still to be found there, and when you go there, you can see on it a memorial tablet of his. Regrettably, it is falling into disrepair without restraint. It looks as if the fate of this house will soon be getting closer to those, which are, after all, demolished. These then have to yield their place to new far more lucrative constructions. Alas ! They become victims of a deliberate negligence by the owners or municipal authorities.
Haseks parents hailed from southern Bohemia (Čechy) region, which has its own special brooding and wistful characteristic. Their son Jaroslav was a very healthy boy, who was born on such a day, when, in our country the custom of "burning witche prevails. This time-honored habit has been maintained up to nowadays. In fact, on the day of Haseks birthday, it seemed that its pertaining night would appear as a foreboding for the agitated fate of a gifted writer in a short-lived wandering throughout his whole life. That is to say, he combined in one person a variety of personalities, i.e. a Bohemian, an anarchist, a person who takes pleasure in rendering tribute to frolics, a soldier of the Austrian army, a member of the Czech principal legion unit in Russia during the WWI (defending there the Siberian railroad track when passing in a train from Moscow to Vladivostok), a Bolshevist commisary, an editor, a tender lover, a father and a bigamist. Notwithstanding, his personage presents itself to me in the form of a compassionate, bashful and sad boy and man, whose feelings are easily hurt. By his escapades, he covered and protected himself from the outside world, but in reality, in the profundity of his soul, he was in fact characterized by an amiable confidence of a trustworthy lad.
As a matter of fact, Haseks literary opus is rather extensive. He provoked people to admire him, while on the other end, he aroused them to numerous attacks, overwhelming them to quite a range of different hate actions. It may very well be that he was factually different. But that is not always forgiven by other people. Perhaps, he did not even want or he was not able to fall into the common ways of humankind. His constant aim was to stand out from other people. However, such features are always scrutinized very strictly by others. When-ever you get to read his published correspondence, contemporary news or police warrants, you will certainly find out that he was surrounded by an utterly low number of real friends. Actually, he was fully sided only by his mother, Catherine, and his wife, Jarmila. That is why I love to read his books with pleasure. In fact, all of them appear to me to be very close to me by their irony, wit and humour, which doubtlessly helped him overcome all agonizing anguishes of his fate which has in reality been very tough.
That is why I now want to escort you throughout Hasek lifes ups and downs regarding the really unique relationship towards a girl whom he wooed during a course of six years. Luckily, within a short time this courting ended up in a matrimony, during which was born their beloved son, Richard. Presently, after their rather early separation, thus not by a divorcing action, WWI broke out. Thereafter, Haseks tragic and short life afforded him only five additional years. Well then, dear readers, join me in my endeavor to reveal at present partly the fate of one of his important loves. Most probably, you are also acquainted with his most famous novel, the title of which is: A Good Soldier Svejk, because the latter has become Haseks most familiar book throughtout the Czech population. Furthermore, that is also the reason this novel is counted to be one of the most translated Czech books.
It happened that when he was returning from his wanderings, he met a daughter of the secondary school teacher, whose name was Slavka Hajni-sova on the foothills of the castle Heftstyn. In those days, she attended the school, called "Production Association of Women". Knowing young Hasek already well, she introduced him to some of the other school girls who were also members of that association. Their judgement was favorable, as Hasek was a very agreeble companion indeed. Out of all those girls, Jarmila Mayerova especially captivated his attention. Apparently, such mutual absorbing attraction happened around the years 1905-6. It turned out that they became more closely engrossed in their interrelation, particularly due to their frequent meetings. She was a frail and slender eighteen-years old girl. Also, she had an amiable, minute face with a straight nose and a pretty mouth. Though she was wearing glasses, behind them were her lively and shrewd eyes which observed the world around her with much delight. Usually, she was wearing a cap in a coquettish manner. However, she was not dazzlingly beautiful. But Haseks attention was attracted by her inquisitiveness as well as readiness to listen, and also by her replies given right on the spot. Moreover, she was game to enjoy any humour, while she was very kind as well. Before long, they became still closer in their relationship as a result of their common views regarding their interests in literature. What is more, they both found themselves to be philosophically attuned in regard to commmon views of the contemporary and ardent enthusiasm, created by the reactionary movement of the 19th century, aiming at the possible union of all Slavs in the czars realm. Into the bargain, Hasek was very much gifted with respects to his knowledge of foreign languages, as he could communicate in German, French, Hungarian, Russian and partially also in Polish. It was a great pleasure for him to read those novels which are nowadays called a literature of facts.Hereunder, allow me to quote one of the Jarmilas remembrances which she probably had from the first meeting with Hasek : " The snow is falling. Cold wind blows, and it is whippig my face in a sharp prickly manner. Beside me walks an amiable, handsome lad. But I am too chilly. Before I know it, I am in his winter great coat. Well, here you are with my first picture about him. He himself is now dressed in just a light jacket, with a hat in his hand. He is walking quite straightly in spite of the winds strength. He is slender and has brown wavy hair, which is constantly fluttering around his forehead. I observe his white skin, his staight nose as well as a beautifully modeled mouth. It seems as if it were a live statue of a person who is not reluctant to set his life in defiance. Actually, it is a statue of opposition. It is a statue of a human being, who is sure that he will always do only such things, which correspond to his own decisions and which he wants to do. In reality, he continually had that courage to do so throughout all his life. I am sorry to say that he still had a rather bitter expression around his mouth, which was reflected in the traits of his face. The color of his grizzly hair has changed over into an appearance, which is frequently called salt and pepper. "
As a matter of fact, I could stop right here. His whole lifes; lot is appparant from the manifold written quotations of Haseks wife, his whole lifes lot is comprised. Now, in the spring season of the year 1906, these two young people were often strolling about throughout blossoming Prague. Also, they liked to visit Pragues old Jewish cemetary, where they laid down a small stone on the tomb of the great Rabbi Loëvi, expressing thereby their desire of a perpetual love. Furthermore, they went together for a walk to several of Pragues outskirts, visiting there at the same time some kind of amusement establishments. Hasek knew these places very well. They were those businesses where a young lady was normally not expected to go without an escort. Her parents were living in Vinohrady, which is one of Pragues districts. Her father was a Master of Stucco, and he was therefore a specialist in his province of activity. He also owned a house rental in Prague. Her parents did not like her acquaintace with Hasek at all, because it was in fact based on the reality that he was an impecunious man of letters, who eschewed responsibility of making a living. That is why they decided to send their daughter to a small region at so called "Czech Paradise", where she had to spend her vacation period. They were cherishing a hope that by separating them, all their daughters enchantment would be forgotten.. This, however, is very often an erroneous attitude, as a frequently quoted Czech saying goes.... "A forbidden fruit tastes the best of all". This being so, both young people exchanged long letters full of love. They mutually wrote tender declarations of love, using time and again amorous verses, like." My dear love, I am writing you about many of my thoughts, while I am sitting in a dubious tavern. This is the place where an old fellow is playing us some dismal, mournful verses on his cithara.
"In the fall of the year 1906, her parents pressed upon their daughter to completely interrupt any connection with Hasek. Into the bargain of such a bad news for him, Hasek is taken into custody at the occasion of one of the anarchical demonstrations and sentenced to stay in prison for a month. He serves his time in Pragues jail, from which he writes to Jamila: "What a huge amount of plans crosses my mind. Alas! They are all being burried under the New Towns tower." Again, all the parents hopes that Haseks trespassing against the law will at the present time deter their daughter from her so young and refreshing love are not complied with. Jarmila is worried about Hasek, and falls ill, because it is impossible for her to forget him. So, after all, the parents conceded their relationship on condition that Hasek would definitely relinquish the anarchists movement and will decisively find himself a permanent job. Hopes with anxieties alternate in the correspondence of these young lovers. Let us read just a very short portion from his letter:"I hope that I will once have a chance to tell you about my multifarious thoughts when I questioned myself why am I not rich? On the other hand, I was at times crying, while seeing myself somewhere else as a hero, who is smiling for makebelieve."
Although Hasek was available, and unquestionably a well enough known author, it was rather very difficult for him to find a job, particularly because of the general knowledge about him that he had been rebellious, and besides, he was also a former anarchist. Being in such a hopeless situation, he every so often returned in his dispair to his old way of a Bohemian, i.e. one of a class of artists, intellectuals, etc., who adopt a mode of life in protest against or indifference to the common conventions of society, especially in social relations. Nevertheless, he was still assiduously working as regards his literary activity. At that time, another writer, J. Mahen, wrote about Hasek thus: "Hasek creates his literature with a much greater intensity than we are doing. In fact, it has actually been Hasek who produced a real literature, whereas the rest of us were only literati." Whenever you have finished reading the rich range of love letters which the two lovers mutually exchanged in the course of the long four years, you get the feeling of a deep reciprocal love, combined with a real closeness relating to their various interests. Considering that Jarmila was a woman being by her nature more practical than Hasek, she endeavored to keep her lover on a low tide. On the other hand, Hasek was more concerned about Jarmilas brittle health. In his raptures, he wrote her quite a lot of love poems.
On this occasion, allow me to insert a personal contingency which just flashed now through my mind. My grandparents were only one year younger than Jaroslav and Jarmila. In those days, my grandfather was also courting my grandmother during a period of four years. Her parents were as well not willing to approve that they consummate their marriage. They took him amiss that he liked rambling. Besides, when he was 14 years old he added two years to his real age and presented himself as such way. Moreover, he went away as a band member to Russia. Also, he could get easily fiery a violent. For instance, whe he went to a tavern, he kicked out in case of my grandmothers presence all the visitors from the room, so that he could dance a solo with her quite alone. Well, they were also exchanging many love letters, which I have luckily preserved until now. In his letters, he used to address her Highminded Miss Anicka, and orally, he addressed her Gracefully-minded Miss. Is it not a beautiful way? And it was on January 3, 1912, when my mother was born, and she got her name Marenka (Marie).
Let us now return to the fate of Jarmila and Jaroslav. So, after a period of four years, within which there were taking place many gettings together and separations, they were finally allowed to marry. Their marriage was a really famous happening, as it was expected. At that time, both bride and groom told to each other their "yes" at the church of St. Ludmila, located in Pragues district Vinohrady while this church was shiningby its new reconstruction. If it were in a small village, nobody would dare to marry in May, because there was always kept in mind the old saying: "A marriage in May means to end up within one year in a mortuary". It may very well be that both Jaroslav and Jarmila wanted to prove that they were not superstitious. After all, Jaroslav even became a member of the Catholic Church. His membership was corroborated by a priest,who was currently serving at St. Ignatius church, located at Charles Square in Prague. The happy newly weds went thereafter for their wedding trip to Motol which is another Pragues district. From there, they sent a card with a rather humorous greetings, which contained an ironic postscript: "For the time being, we do not think about divorcing as yet !!!" Alas !!! This wonderful matrimonial happiness has not been of a long duration. Less than a month after their wedding, which took place on February 19, 1911, the 30 years old Hasek attempted suicide by jumping from the Pragues bridge over the river Vltava. Just by mere accident, a theater hairdresser was present there and he prevented Hasek to do so. The (immediately) competent doctor came justs in the nick of time and diagnosed Haseks strong neurosis. Consequently, he was transported at once to a mental assylum. Later on, his wife wrote about it hereafter thus: "The basic features of his character were... a softness, sudden changes over from one mood to another, an instant acclimation, an ardent desire to catch the attention, turn somebody to ridicule, or lampoon somebody. Throughout his life, all the hurtful jabs were returned to him in full and direct hit. Hasek was constantly yearning after a stormy clapping which should have drowned what caused him in his soul to cry or to groan."
Jarmila returned to her parents, but before long, they started to meet secretly again and within a short time, Jarmila became pregnant. Accordingly, they moved to a private flat at Pragues district, called Vrsovice. On April 20, 1912, their son Richard was born there. Nevertheless, Hasek left shortly after his sons birth, and abandoned thereby his family for good. Subsequently, he returned to his old habits. Jarmila blamed above all her parents for such family disintegration.... Somebody wrote these words: "The border between a brilliance and a madness happens to be finer and sharper than a battles edge". V. Mengr characterized Haseks personality this way: "He was always pretending to be much worse, more malecious and k was constantly yearning after a stormy clapping which should have drowned what caused him in his soul to cry or to groan."
Jarmila returned to her parents, but before long, they started to meet secretly again and within a short time, Jarmila became pregnant. Accordingly, they moved to a private flat at Pragues district, called Vrsovice. On April 20, 1912, their son Richard was born there. Nevertheless, Hasek left shortly after his sons birth, and abandoned thereby his family for good. Subsequently, he returned to his old habits. Jarmila blamed above all her parents for such family disintegration.... Somebody wrote these words: "The border between a brilliance and a madness happens to be finer and sharper than a battles edge". V. Mengr characterized Haseks personality this way: "He was always pretending to be much worse, more malecious and unfeeling than he actually was. On numerous occasions, he suffered from a condition, for which Russians have a very first-rate expression "chandra". After all, all the great Russian literature has often been describing such peoples conditions in an utterly precise manner, especially when analysing various persons hurt and brittle feelings.
Since the ruin of the Haseks marriage, for which they both were so much longing previously, fewer than three years elapsed, and Hasek was called in the military service because of the WWI. Before Jaroslav left for his war front assignment, he stopped in an inn at Ceske Budejovice, located in the southern area of Bohemia, where he wrote into the owners daughters dairy two months before his departure the following note: "Believe me, I am usually not accostomed to write about hopes or love, let alone to be sentimental about such matters. Soon, we have to march away towards some distant mountains, fields and woods. Is it indeed so that we have to fill in somewhere the white place of a tomb in Carpathian Mountains? Would it be really there, where your bleeding heart will bedew some soft moss? And is it possible that somewhere in your own home country, where your heart could have ardently loved, its heart-felt pulse becomes gradually silent until it stop its beat completely? Well, how come that everything you liked so much is destroyed! Reallly, all this is incredible! Therefore, it is now preferable to leave such sentences unfinished."
Thereafter, he left for the fighting war zone. During his stay on the battlefield, he was very courageous. That is why he was decorated for his bravery in the battle around the town Zborov by the high command of the Czechoslovak Voluntary Foreign Military Unit. He was moreover contributing in his journalistic activity by excellent articles, printed either in the newspapers or some magazines. Furthermore, he demonstrated an unusual talent in organization. So finally he was really very successful and praised. He stopped his drinking habits, although in his mind there remained many painful stains, marked in his soul by the impressions of the WWI. All the horrible events of war activity, all the hundreds of dying comrades in their fights against the enemy, and all the other circumstances, they all remained deeply burried in his soul. He returned after five years home, where he had been several times declared as dead. Just the same, he simultaneously enriched himself by an uncommmunicable experience, somewhat rather changed but with an unchangeable talent. Neither glory nor admiration awaited him at home. In reality, only the kind and understanding heart of his wife was waiting for him.
On February 19, 1921, he wrote her thus: " I am remembering you so much, especially so as I know that you are still loving me. In fact, I love you now much more than before our wedding. It really is such a beautiful fairy tale. It is like May days, whose breath is reviving my old-age legs, in which case it is anyhow a tragedy. I love you dearly, my sweet Jarmila, and of couse, the same way our son Risa (which is a nickname of Richard)."
There is not anything to add to these lines. Within less than two years this writer and Bohemian was no more able to carry on the lifes weight, and he died. He is lying in a small country cemetary in Lipnice, were he was before his death dreaming to finish his next novel about the total absurdity of any war. Thus, no festive tomb at Pragues famous Slavin cemetary, no military guns volleys to his honor or state funeral on a gun-carriage. Indeed, it was just that kind of gun, which he had heard so very often to thunder, while he was in his active service at the war front zone. In reality, there were only a few people at the cemetary, where his simple tomb is located in a corner of the wall.
So, in conclusion, let us quote the words of the woman who has always had such a deep love and understanding for him, i.e. his wife Jarmila: "He was reading to me while we were on our journey to a printing office. I was smiling, as I saw in his face that his humour ripened throughout all those difficult sufferings. As for his book about soldier Svejk, he paid for it by eight years of his life. To my great sorrow, he absorbed thereby a considerable portion of his life, which was drawing gradually to its end. He has remained for me a companion. I did not see his dead body. He is perpetually living in my memories handsome and young, just as he was in those days of our youth. He was filled with zest of his young life, which was not shy to fight for his own destiny. Indeed, there are not many in this world, who can do that as well. "Jarmila, Haseks wife survived Jaroslavs passing away only by eight years.Translated by Charles Opatrny
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