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Zenny Sadlon

A response to Michelle Woods’ review
of «The Good Soldier Švejk (Book One)»
in Jacket 18

The Response


Now that the complete text of the new translation of Jaroslav Hašek’s modern classic has been published under the new English title The Fateful Adventures of the Good Soldier Švejk During the World War, as its author I feel compelled and have enough time at last to address Michelle Wood’s text that appeared in Jacket 18 ― August 2002. She reviewed “the new online translation” of Book One, i.e. the text we made available to the reading public for purchase on the Internet in 1997 and sent to her to review a couple of years before she published the result. She was a postgraduate student at Charles University in Prague at the time.

The Handicap


The reader of the review finds out only in the next-to-the-last paragraph that there are “limitations of a reviewer comparing any translation or adaptation”. Apparently Ms. Woods believes with Brecht’s ideological mouthpiece Schweyk addressing Hitler that “they” — who are in her case unspecified — “have left it to me to say whether or not / I should heap you with shit or riddle you with shot”. She’s done a “jolly good job” of it without having to employ a firearm.

The Conclusion


Ms. Woods contends:


Our new translation of the first part of Hašek’s tome “is simply a contemporary and deliberately Americanized view of the translation”, a fact we failed to acknowledge.

It fails to “convey the spirit of the novel”, contrary to our central claim.

We have, “most especially through [our] lexical changes, altered Švejk’s character into a more logical and erudite character”.

“Perhaps the major problem with [our] translation is that it consolidates and expands on the limitations of Parrott’s version.”

“The English-speaking world is still waiting to hear Švejk speaking the way he knows how.”

Not So Fast, Please


However, the reviewer’s exposition of the lexical variances from the original Czech text, as translated by her, does not warrant her damning characterization of our translation as “often simply transplanting Parrott’s formulations with American-influenced slang”, having “a limited shelf-life because [we] choose modish slang terms”, “simply a contemporary and deliberately Americanized view of the translation”, and worst of all, that “it consolidates and expands on the limitations of Parrott’s version.” (See my Appendix below for an analysis of the review.)

Dissenting Voices


There are other voices Ms. Woods dismisses. Bob Hicks’ in Portland Oregonian: “Parrott’s translation is discursive, circuitous … Joyce and Sadlon[’s] lean, taut language is much more conversational, much quicker and much funnier line for line.” Caryn James in The New York Times: “A more recent translation of the first volume, by Zenny K. Sadlon and Mike Joyce, is far more fluent.” Gwen Willems at the Czech and Slovak Cultural Center of Minnesota: “We are trying to get the best translations of the books we choose and were very happy with what a nice job you did on Svejk, getting across the intelligence and subtlety and avoiding making it farce.” David Schwenk: “As someone who has lived in the Czech Republic for a number of years and who speaks Czech at an intermediate level, I can safely say that this translation is far superior … I have read the Parrot [sic] translation three times, so when I picked up Zenny’s translation and started to read, I was electrified. … This book brings the reader much, much closer to the spirit and character of the wonderful Švejk. So for all those Czechs out there who thought that this book was not translatable, read this one. You will sure be surprised.” Zdenek Smrčka, M.D., Information specialist/Librarian in Prague, Czech Republic: “I must say that I am ecstatic about your new translation of Švejk. I was entertained in the same degree (and in the same spots) as by the Czech original. In addition, this new translation also preserves the rhythm of the sentences, their overall sense and spirit.”


Let us examine how Ms. Woods arrived at her conclusions and with what evidence.

The Setup


Michelle Woods sets the review up by reminding the readers how important the book is. To borrow from her text, she appears to “exaggerate slightly”. She writes of The Good Soldier Švejk that “Bertholt [sic] Brecht … declared it the greatest book of the twentieth century”. In the opening pages of the volume she’s reviewing we quoted Brecht as saying “If anyone asks me to pick three literary works of this century which in my opinion will become part of world literature, then I would have to say one of them is Hašek’s The Good Soldier Švejk.” Our version of Brecht’s pronouncement is supported by John Willett who wrote in his book The theatre of Bertolt Brecht (1959) the statement we quoted was “an unpublished note”. The slight exaggeration of the book’s importance as expressed by Brecht is perhaps inconsequential as measured by the magnitude of its deviation from fact. However, being the first content element in the structure of the reviewer’s text that serves as the container, incubator, and vehicle of her judgment, it is startling because it is at odds with the translators’ own quote immediately preceding the translated material being reviewed.


Ms. Woods’ using the phrase “the Nazi protectorate in Czechoslovakia” in the same paragraph seems rather careless given her academic profession and formalistic bent. Czechoslovakia ceased to exist at the moment the Protektorat Böhmen und Mähren was established. And the Protectorate stretched only to the western border of Slovakia — the eastern part of the original Czechoslovak Republic ripped apart by the protective arrangement — which became a separate country.


Noting that “Brecht … adapted [his version of Švejk] with his own agenda,” the reviewer segways into stating that “Most translations eventually disclose some kind of agenda, and the English translations of the novel are no exception.” She acknowledges our “stated attempt to introduce a greater sense of the original spirit of the novel”. Her express agenda consists of defining the problem after first delineating the parameters within which the solution can be found and determining how well the new translation solves the problem. To setup the review, Ms. Woods starts with defining Švejk whose spirit is the spirit of the book, the main bone of contention.

Delineating the Parameters (by defining Švejk)


The reviewer introduces Švejk as one who “declares himself an idiot because, as he reminds the army psychiatrists, he has a certificate to prove it”. Švejk was first declared an idiot by others “when a military medical commission”, an authority not to be trifled with, “had pronounced him to be officially an imbecile”. Now he’s facing a group of Criminal Court doctors. Are we really expected to believe that Švejk’s reminding the Criminal Court psychiatrists during wartime that the military machinery has already made its judgment about him constitutes evidence of his being an idiot and a self-declared one at that? And if not, why introduce the character with such a misleading self-declaration taken out of context while closing the paragraph with a reference to “Švejk’s ambiguous idiocy”? This sounds like a real ambiguity. The reviewer’s own ambiguity.


The second time Švejk says he is an idiot, he’s responding in the affirmative to a dilemma uttered by an angry corporal who approached the hero “swinging his fist under my nose and screaming … ‘Are you an idiot?! Or, are you not an idiot?!’” Švejk reports “I replied calmly: ‘… I am an idiot.’” The Colonel ordered “… ‘Lock him up for idiocy!’” Do we know what the outcome would had been had Švejk said “No, I’m not an idiot”? He is not in some fun-filled situation, playing the fool merely in order to amuse himself or his audience, although he might be amused or amusing, as Ms. Woods, informed by Milan Kundera, tells us. We have to remember that the preceding exchange was a culmination of the case of reported “malingerers”. One actually had typhus and the other smallpox. They were hogtied by the orderlies and kicked in the stomach by the regiment’s doctor. “When both those soldiers died, it got into the newspapers and was mentioned in the parliament. They immediately forbade us to read the newspapers and conducted a search through our footlockers, trying to find hidden ones. … Out of the whole regiment, they didn’t find anyone with newspapers, except me.”


That was a situation requiring survival skills, not skills of a classroom clown. The text does not support the image of a buffoon invoked by Josef Lada’s great pictures created after Hašek had passed away. The distortion, resulting in a shift from the satirical to the comical, has served the Communist suppressors of individual liberty in the East and academic interpreters of Švejk in the West, who must “publish or perish”, well. The reviewer insists in the end that “The beauty of the novel should be that we can never work out whether indeed he is so cunning, or whether he is not.” Are we to believe that Jaroslav Hašek, coming off the three-year stint as a propagandist for the bolshevik Red Army would want and did manage to have Švejk and his persona, rather than his milieu, as the main focus of his satirical work for the readers forever try to figure out? Yet, that’s exactly what many students of Švejk in the academia seem to be strugling with first and foremost.


Ms. Woods herself states “The problems with any interpretation and translation of Švejk” is “[f]irst of all, is he indeed an idiot or instead a faux naïf who knows how to work the system?” She then presents the widespread view that “a real ambiguity is maintained through Hašek’s use of language as to how self-aware Švejk is” so that “the reader [is] thrust into the same position as the authorities, unsure of whether they are dealing with an idiot or a provocateur”. According to this view Švejk can be categorized only either as an “idiot or a provocateur” [1], a false choice Ms. Woods tries to box us in. (We’ll pick up the preceding issue of self-awareness later.)


Some in authority are quite sure that Švejk is an idiot, as noted above: “… the three physicians agreed that … Švejk was a blatant imbecile, and an idiot.” Yet it is clear that they judged their subject by oxymoronic “natural laws invented by psychiatric scientists”. Their testimony is invalid. The readers can — and perhaps most of them do — know it. [2] Michelle Woods herself tells us “Švejk’s idiocy serves to reflect the idiocy of the regime … and its army”. She fails to see or state that his idiocy is only apparent. It is indeed the idiocy of others that is reflected in his behavior and pronouncements. “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” Jaroslav Hašek himself makes clear in his introduction to the book that his hero is no idiot by contrasting him with one who is: “He did not torch the temple of the goddess in Ephesus, as did that idiot Herostrates, just to get himself into the newspapers and classroom readers.” What is more, the author couldn’t be any clearer on the question of Švejk’s intellectual powers than this statement made in the Afterword To The First Volume: In The Rear: “I do not know whether I will manage, through this book, to achieve what I wanted. Just the fact that I heard one man cussing at another by saying: ‘You’re as stupid as Švejk,’ does not very much attest to my success.”


As for Švejk being a “provocateur”, such a highly conceptual charge is never made by anybody in the novel. It is a category introduced by an external observer, by definition a reader, who is interested in how Švejk’s responses to particular situations impact the edifice of the “system”. Most characters in the book are not intellectuals, thinking systemically. They respond to particular circumstances at hand. Švejk’s actions indeed provoke reactions. He is a provocateur in that sense, as are all of us. He is no agent provocateur, “one employed to associate with suspected persons and by pretending sympathy with their aims to incite them to some incriminating action”. (Merriam-Webster on-line.)


As Švejk said, “… people make errors, they make mistakes. Whether someone is learned, or is a stupid, uneducated idiot. Even government ministers make mistakes.” He said he likes to talk to educated people. But make no mistake. The divide he’s just reported between the “learned” and the “stupid, uneducated idiot” is as “genuine” of a Švejk belief as is his self-declaration of imbecilism. It’s been imposed on him by the world around him. Invariably it is the educated who hold the uneducated in contempt, abuse them, and believe them to be stupid. “‘You don’t know me yet,’ Lieutenant Dub was screaming once again’ at Švejk. ‘I am telling you for the last time that you don’t know me, you ass, Mister. Do you have any brothers?’ ‘I dutifully report, Lieutenant, Sir, that I have only one.’ Lieutenant Dub got jolted with anger at the sight of Švejk’s calm, carefree face, and not being in control of himself anymore, he cried out: ‘Then he too, that brother of yours, must be as dumb a beast as you are. What was he?’ ‘A professor, Lieutenant, Sir. He too was in the military and passed the officer exam.’” Note that Lieutenant Dub was not angry because of Švejk’s stupidity but his keeping calm. Is it Švejk or rather people like Dub who according to Milan Kundera “turns the world into one enormous joke”? And what is the nature of the joke? If Švejk’s world is turned into one enormous joke, it might not be funny or amusing to all its inhabitants to the same degree, or be so at all.


Interestingly, Kundera’s first novel happens to be The Joke. It is a story of a student, a member of the Communist party, ruining his life by including a parody of bombastic ideological Communist party slogans on a postcard to his more serious Communist girlfriend. Both students were members of the revolutionary avant-garde destroying the old and building the new world. (Kundera himself was one of “iconic, young Stalinists” [3] and “wrote poetry glorifying Stalin” [4].) The difference between Švejk and Kundera’s Ludvík Jahn in The Joke is that the latter is an insider of the ruling elite who touched the live-wire because he was not sufficiently aware of his environment. In contrast, the quite ordinary Švejk, whose “role as everyman resonates for [sic] any person helplessly caught into an autocratic, byzantine regime” manages to survive walking through figurative minefields all the time precisely because he knows his environs. Unlike Ludvík Jahn, he is a veteran of his own milieu.


Švejk exposes stupidity all around him. It might be amusing to him or even funny at times, but not as care-free kind of funny as it is for those who don’t share the pain of his kind of people. “Švejk is no dainty classic meant to fade quietly into obscurity on the dusty shelves of academia, but a bellowing barroom brawl of a book that will forever have everyday people doubled-up with the painful laughter of recognition”, wrote Don DeGrazia, teaching fiction writing at Columbia College. Bob Hicks, another, earlier reviewer of our translation of Švejk states unequivocally: “Unlike K., fellow Czech Franz Kafka’s stunted stand-in for modern intellectual man, the rascal Švejk belongs to the men and women of the workaday world — the bartenders, cleaning women, gamekeepers, petty larcenists, lathe operators, janitors, drunkards, office workers, shopkeepers, undertakers, adulterers, nightclub bouncers, butchers, farmers, cab drivers and others who populate Hasek’s imagination as they stumble through the lunacies of the first World War.” Educated, intellectual people might find reassureance and certain comfort in the view that the hero of the lower classes is either stupid or unknowable and, as many claim, even immoral.


Similarly simplistic and misleading introduction is made of the novel’s author, Jaroslav Hašek, labeling him an anarchist and saying he “fought … for the Red Army”. As for his political views and organizational associations, anarchism was just one of them. He was a keen observer of human affairs using his material as a newspaperman, entertainer, war correspondent, political outreach and propaganda writer (for ultimately irreconcilable parties to the WWI and Russian Civil War), among other things, and not an anarchist first and foremost. As for his military associations and exploits, during WWI Hašek was first a combatant of the Austro-Hungarian army. After crossing over to the other side on the Russian front, he spent seven months in the POW camp in Totskoye where he contracted typhus. Sent back to Kiev, he was a reporter for the Čechoslovan magazine as a member of the Czecho-Slovak Legions there and participated in the famous battle at Zborov. After the collapse of the Russian Provisional Government’s summer offensive in Ukraine, disagreeing with the Legions leadership’s decision to transport the troops to France by going to Vladivostok in the east, he joined the retreating Russian Corps of Colonel Mikhail Artemyevich Muravyov who wanted to continue the war and push west with the help of the Czecho-Slovak Legions after coming to support them at Zborov. Muravyov ultimately sided with the Social Revolutionaries and Anarchists who also opposed Lenin’s Brest-Litovsk peace treaty. When he was named the commander of the eastern front, his Corps were expected to fight the Czecho-Slovak Legions in the Volga region. In early July of 1918, while Hašek was his courier communicating with the Czecho-Slovak Legions in Bugulma, Muravyov left the front open to join the Left SRs and Anarchists in the ill-fated attempt to tople the Bolsheviks in Moscow. When Muravyov returned to Simbirsk in the Free Volga Soviet Republic — that was controled by the SRs and Anarchists — as the Supreme Commander of its Army, he was shot resisting arrest in a setup by the Bolsheviks. The Civil War began in earnest. Two weeks later the Czecho-Slovak Legions issued an arrest warrant for Jaroslav Hašek. The following events would make for a grand Hollywood “eastern” movie. On August 6, 1918 the Legions captured the Tzar’s treasure in the battle for Kazan, while Trotsky’s armored train rushed to the region from Moscow. The Legions took the treasure on ships to Samara. In mid-August Hašek was ordered by Trotsky’s reconnaissance troops leader, Larisa Reisner, to keep an eye on the treasure and report via the Bolshevik underground. With the SRs and Anarchist defeated at the hands of the Bolsheviks, eradicating the vanquished with whom he’s been working on one hand, and the Legions seeking his arrest and aiming for Vladivostok instead of going west on the other hand, Hašek didn’t have much choice. He was given another chance by the Bolsheviks and made the best of it. Due to his literacy and knowledge of languages, he was quickly put to work cranking out propaganda for the Fifth Army of the Red Army among the Bashkir, Mordvin, Chinese, Volga Germans and other ethnic groups. He even became a Deputy Military Commander of the town of Bugulma and the Chief of the 5th Army’s International Section of its Political Department. His multilingual propaganda work for the Communists during the Russian Civil War lasted almost three years. In December 1920 he returned to Prague to be shunned by his former friends and associates. He started working on his masterpiece, which is a result of unusually rich, varied and uncommon life experiences. [5]

Defining the Problem


I agree that Hašek’s language, and Švejk’s language in particular is central to the problem of who, or rather what Švejk actually is. As for the mechanics of it, so far I like the best Peter Steiner’s analysis Tropos Kynikos: Jaroslav Hašek’s The Good Soldier Švejk.


The reviewer presents a two-fold problem associated “with any interpretation and translation of Švejk” as questions (later referred to as “issues”):


(1) “Is he [Švejk] indeed an idiot or a faux naïf who knows how to work the system?”


The first question appears to be rhetorical since the reviewer defined Švejk as eluding our detection of his nature when she introduced him prior to presenting her analysis. The real question is not what the answer to (1) is, but whether our translation deviates from Ms. Woods’ definition of Švejk. Question (1) is a signpost of her finding that in her view we have contradicted her premise of “Švejk’s ambiguous idiocy”.


(2) “How do you begin to translate the poetry of his ruminations, the verbal castle of his self that the world lays siege to?”


Question number two is a placeholder for Ms. Woods’ premise that “long, involved sentences and paragraphs are … as much constitutive of the meaning in the novel as the choice of words or ideas” and are “integral to the meaning and tone of the novel,” a maxim we also violated. Apparently, meaning and tone are in turn components of the spirit of the novel.


Ms. Woods then sets for herself a two-fold task of determining


(a) “How far does the new online translation address these issues [(1) and (2)]

(b) and to what extent are the translators successful in conveying the tone [(2a)]?”


There are two main issues and two tasks. The answer to (1) depends on which definition of Švejk one subscribes to. I’ve already addressed our differences in response to Ms. Woods’ introduction of the character. Task (b) is a proof that question (2) is indeed the placeholder for her issue of sentence and paragraph structure. Preservation of the tone of the novel mentioned here for the first time is indeed a major issue. How is tone defined? It is mentioned later only one more time, i.e. as being impacted by “changing the sentence and paragraph structure” that is later cited also as evidence of failing to “convey the spirit of the novel”. What else, aside from the paragraph and sentence length, constitutes or impacts tone? Two things come readily to mind: semantics and syntax of the language.


The reviewer is an accomplished student of “the issue of translation”. No doubt she is aware of its complexity. 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 at the outset 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.

Squeezing Švejk Into A Box


Having brought forth the issues of translation to be resolved, Ms. Woods further limits the range of the possible answers by the several assertions she made:


“In the Czech version, a real ambiguity is maintained through Hašek’s use of language as to how self-aware Švejk is … ”

“The reader [is] thrust into the same position as the authorities, unsure of whether they are dealing with an idiot or a provocateur.”

“The divide in the Czech language between its literary and vernacular forms … is possibly the most difficult element of the novel to translate.”


I have already addressed the false dilemma of “idiot or provocateur” from (2) as well as “Švejk’s ambiguous idiocy” posited in the introduction to the character. In addition, whether the reader is unsure or not what to make of Švejk is related to the question of awareness in (1).


As regards (1), it is not a question of “how self-aware Švejk is”, but how aware the reader is about his own world around him. The novel is not about Josef Švejk but about the situations he gets into. He is merely a device through which the reader experiences these situations. It is the reader who lends his own experiences to provide the famously missing “inner life” to the character. The reader will or will not be able to judge the character based on his own experiences and awareness. That is why Don DeGrazia wrote that the novel “will forever have everyday people doubled-up with the painful laughter of recognition”. The novel is a virtual reality and the character of Josef Švejk is the port through which the reader gets there. The second time the reviewer uses a word with the root “aware” is when she alerts the readers that “there also has to be an awareness … this may not be … the better translation.” That is one point of the reviewer’s agenda that was not stated up front.

Vernacular Ain’t The Only Or The Biggest Problem


There is still the point (3) of the dichotomy of “literary and vernacular forms” of the Czech language. Ms. Woods writes “making the vernacular literary” is both “possibly one of the most subversive acts of Hašek’s writing” and “possibly the most difficult element of the novel to translate”. She does not explain why it is so or address how the translator’s success or failure is to be determined. But she adds that we “produce something not dissimilar in intent to what Parrott had done”. What she means by that is that our intent was “to make the novel more accessible to a domestic readership through a simplification of style and through additional explanatory information inserted in the text.” That is partially correct. We did not have just a “domestic” readership in mind though. And the instances of inserting purely “explanatory” information are rare. Most of such alterations are not simple insertions, but part of translating a concept.


From my perspective the literary-vernacular dichotomy is one of several difficulties of translating the text. As František Daneš wrote in his The Language and Style of Hašek’s Novel The Good Soldier Švejk from the Viewpoint of Translation, “Firstly, in ‘The Good Soldier Svejk’, more than in a great majority of other literary works, the difference between particular languages, their (social) stratifications, along with cultural, historical and ethical specificities are highly involved, so that to find or contrive truthful translational equivalents is in many instances extremely difficult and in part simply impossible.”



Upon closer examination Ms. Woods’ evidence supporting her conclusions appears to be far from convincing. Her method of pointing out lexical variances of our translation solutions in comparison to her own, which are referenced as if pointing to the Czech original, is superficial, biased, misleading, and inadequate. In the three examples of alleged lexical errors the reviewer presents, the results of applying her method are faulty. The reasons for the translator’s choice of one word has been erroneously ascribed to the word’s value of being modish; one colloquialism was misidentified as slang and became the basis for calling ours an “American view of the translation”. The examples are then used as evidence to substantiate the sweeping charges that we are “often simply transplanting Parrott’s formulations with American-influenced slang” and that our text has “a limited shelf-life because [we] choose modish slang terms”.


Our having a different understanding of the essence, character and role of Josef Švejk contravenes the reviewer’s premise that he is an eternal enigma whose spirit is veiled or misrepresented by introduction of punctuation and hard returns on a typewritten page. It is true that punctuation and hard returns break up the format that forces the reader to read “as Švejk speaks — without a breath”. We decided to do that in Book One so that modern readers wouldn’t asphyxiate before the end of the book, as the goal was to convey the whole novel. There are two factors mitigating our structural crime: the larger portion of Švejk’s spirit lives in the other aspects of the text: point of view, syntax and semantics. While the length of paragraphs and sentences may impact semantics, one has to remember that the text of Švejk’s utterances only represents spoken, by the author virtually recorded dialogue. Textual transcription (and subsequent translation) of speech, consisting of sounds uttered in three-dimensional space in the presence of others, may fail to reproduce much more than placement and length of pauses if one is not careful. Unfortunately, Ms. Woods has not detected the semantic improvements of our translation and its greater Czech feel praised by others.


Turn to the Appendix now for an analysis of the reviewers’ case claiming ours is not the overall better translation. See for yourself whether in the end you will able to agree with her conclusions.



Aside from settling on his understanding of the essence of the novel or its point, the translator’s job is to translate the text. I must warn you that the following passages will of necessity lead “into the weeds” of translating. As the cliché proclaims, “the devil is in the details”. But so is his nemesis, the truth.


The reviewer writes “… Sadlon and Joyce feel that they need to guide the reader through the text in two ways. First of all, falsely in the guise of Hašek’s language, and secondly, through dismantling the layout of the text.” Let us see how she presents our lexical and structural failures.

The Analysis

Lexical Accuracy Issues


1) The reviewer charges Sadlon and Joyce with “often simply transplanting Parrott’s formulations with American-influenced slang”. She then gives an example of what resembles an engraft, rather than a transplant: Sadlon and Joyce’s “mongrel mutants” for Parrott’s “mongrel monstrosities”. She declares: “both exaggerate slightly”. As recorded in her footnote, she uses “‘mongrel monsters’ (Švejk CZ, 9)”, her own translation of the Czech original, as the yardstick. The original reads “nečistokrevných oblud”, i.e. “non-clean-blood monsters” in translation, the first component being a literal translation. The proper word-by-word translation then could read “underbred [6] monsters” or “mongrel monsters” as both “underbred” and “mongrel” dogs do not have “pure”, i.e. “unmixed” blood.


Why is Ms. Woods’ translation better than either of the two she’s reviewing? This is a rare occasion for me to come to the defense of Sir Cecil Parrott. His translation of the Czech original does not — contrary to the reviewer’s claim — exaggerate, not even slightly. It is a straightforward translation, although there might be other choices. All three translations, Ms. Woods’, Sir Cecil’s and ours include the word “mongrel”. They differ in the rendition of the second term of the phrase. According to Merriam-Webster on-line dictionary “monstrosity”, used by Parrott, is a synonym of “monster” set forth by Michelle Woods as the proper rendition of the original. What charge against Ms. Woods would be appropriate for using a synonym of Sir Cecil Parrott’s solution and calling his choice a slight exaggeration?


Let us look at the second part of the charge against Sadlon/Joyce being exemplified by the phrase “mongrel mutants”. In what way is that phrase a case of “transplanting [supplanting?] Parrott’s formulation with American-influenced slang”? At first I had no idea why this particular phrase should be categorized as “American-influenced slang”. Only writing this response I realized that I was charged with using an expression not of “American slang”, but “American-influenced slang”. I am quite familiar with the former, but know next to nothing about the latter. Then I remembered that Ms. Woods is from the British Isles and must be referring to the way people speak over there. I believe she contacted me while she was enrolled as a postgraduate student at Charles University in Prague. I don’t know her age, but an indication of it might be the fact that she received her “B.A. Hons., Trinity College, Dublin (1995)”. [7] (She eventually received her Ph.D. from Trinity College, Dublin in 2002.) While writing these lines eight years after the charge was made, a question emerged: Is the word “mutant” in Ms. Woods’ mind associated with the phenomenon of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, given the timing of the “peak of its popularity in the late 1980s through early 1990s”? [8]


When I chose to use the word “mutant” I had no idea that it was part of an “American-influenced slang” anywhere. I was aware of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles TV cartoons that I’m sure increased the frequency of usage of the word among American children. However, my daughter was only four years old at the time and did not watch the show. I have personally never seen but a few minutes of an episode. Why then did I choose “mutants” in place of “monsters” or “monstrosities” as a rendition of “obludy”? The reason certainly was not because I thought the term “modish”.


I don’t translate by picking terms from a dictionary word by word. If that were possible, machine translators would have replaced humans already. However, I will first illustrate post facto that my choice of the word was not purely arbitrary. The italicized items are entries of interrelated terms in a Czech dictionary (Váša and Trávníček) [9] capturing the lexicon of Hašek’s time. Their English equivalents in brackets are from a contemporary dictionary (Ivan Poldauf) [10]:


obluda [monstrous beast, monster, monstrosity]

= nestvůra [monster, freak], přízrak [phantom; specter]

nestvůra = obluda, šereda [a fright, non-looker],

= netvor [clumsy, shapeless, deformed, misshapen monster]

netvor = obluda, nestvůra,

= mravní [moral] zrůda [monstrosity, freak of nature]

zrůda = odchylný jedinec [devious / anomalous individual], nestvůra, netvor (additionally rendered into English in the contemporary PC Translator by LangSoft s.r.o., not only as monstrosity, monster, and freak, but also hybrid, malformation, abnormity, and mutant)

mutace (Váša and Trávníček) [change, alteration, version, mutation] = dědičná odchylka [hereditary deviation]

mutation (Karel Hais) = a significant and basic alteration

mutant (Karel Hais) = of, relating to, or produced by mutation

monster (Karel Hais) = an animal or plant of abnormal form or structure; one who deviates from normal or acceptable behavior or character


Interestingly, “obluda” is not included among the Czech renditions of the English “monster” in the standard contemporary dictionary (Karel Hais) [11]. The first sense of “monster” in Czech is given as “zrůda” which is actually the link connecting “obluda” to “mutant” in the above table. The related adjective “zrůdný” means “deformed” and “perverted”. What is more, Hašek could have used “monstrum = zrůda, netvor, příšera”, but chose the genuine Czech “obluda”. There isn’t a one-to-one correspondence between “obluda” and “monster”. No such tight correspondence exists between “obluda” and “mutant” either. However, the latter relationship is informed by the process whereby the dogs that Švejk sells are altered. Some, all or none of the canines acquired by him might start as biological mutants. But regardless of their original state they all inevitably end up as mutants, i.e. results of a mutation, “a significant and basic alteration” [Note 11] performed by the unscrupulous dog seller Švejk.


So how did I actually arrive at the choice if not by consulting dictionaries? Not having the benefit of a Czech equivalent of a Webster-style dictionary that would include etymology of the entries, I had to rely mostly on my native knowledge of Czech, analytical skills, and intuition. I sometimes tell people that as a practitioner of translating I usually don’t need a dictionary, but when I do, chances are what I’m looking for isn’t listed there.


The word “obluda”, [monster, freak, phantom; specter], sounds as if related to the verb “oblouditi = oklamati [deceive, pull the wool over a person’s eyes, mislead, beguile, double-cross].” Švejk’s canine ugly monsters of mixed blood were results of artificial alterations with the intent to deceive. But, why and how would a generic “obluda” deceive, i.e. beguile anyone it encounters? The answer might be provided by the word “nestvůra” which is listed [Note 9] as the first meaning of “obluda”. “Nestvůra” is an ugly “fright” and a “netvor”, i.e. “clumsy, shapeless, deformed, misshapen monster”. How did it get to be so? It has to do with the process of creating. A living result of God’s creative act is a creature, “tvor” in Czech. (A human can create only “výtvor”, i.e. “a creation”, not “tvor”, i.e. “a creature”.) The prefix “ne” signifies negation in Czech. Thus the aboriginal “netvor”, i.e. literally “noncreature”, could be understood as something other than God’s creation: A monster more likely than not coming from hell itself, if its essence is, as signified by the structure and meaning of the noun which serves as the semiotic label for the monster, a denial of a potential claim that it was the result of the creative power wielded by the Supremely Good Force of the Universe, the Creator, i.e. “Stvořitel” Himself. God is not “Tvořitel” who might be creating without ever ending the process in a result, but “Stvořitel” who has a finished product or two to his credit. “Obluda” is the first meaning of “netvor”, i.e. “a noncreature”, which solidifies the perception that “obluda” is not a finished product of a creative act, a creature envisioned by The Creator. At best it is a fake. The devil does not create but forms illusions and delusions by deforming the truth. A deformed creature, a perversion of the genuine article deceiving us into believing the monster is an original, is “obluda”.


The processes of changing, i.e. altering or mutating the originals of dubious quality which Švejk applied and of which the reader learns a bit about later on, result “in phantom (something existing in appearance only) mutants”, as far as genetics, a discipline the word “mutant” may nowadays invoke first, is concerned. Since they were not of pure blood, they were “mongrel mutants”. To Ms. Woods this is merely an example of “modish slang terms” that are a reason why “Sadlon and Joyce’s translation also has a limited shelf-life”.


2) Her second and last example of using purportedly “modish slang terms”, although judged to be of some merit, is not “American-influenced” but a genuine “American slang” expression “how they had gotten into this mess”. Having merely just introduced our translation of the phrase in question, before giving us her “correct” translation or Parrott’s preceding attempt at it, Michelle Woods points out our “lack of acknowledgement that [our translation] is simply a contemporary and deliberately Americanized view of the translation.” Before I could acknowledge such a characterization I would have to believe that it is true. Is it? Let us see:


Once again, the reviewer sets the standard for the translation of the Czech original: “how they had got into this. (Švejk CZ, 20)”. The Czech text actually reads “jak se do toho dostali”. The first question is why would Ms. Woods translate “toho” as “this” rather than “it”. Either way, the next question is what “this” or “it” is. It definitely is not the place they ended up in, as Parrott claims by translating “toho” as “there” in “how they got there”. The pronoun, be it “this” or “it” is a placeholder for the situation, not the space they were in. Given Jasper Parrott’s report that his father “with his excellent Czech … was fortunate to have around him in his department Czech colleagues with whom he could discuss the finer points of Hašek’s rich and often ribald language”, it is errors like these and their acceptance by casual reviewers like Ms. Woods that are especially troublesome. I chose the word “mess” not because it is considered slang [12] or to invoke the spirit of Laurel and Hardy, but because it is a component of an appropriate rendition of the Czech idiom. The word “mess” might invoke Laurel and Hardy among non-Americans, but in the U.S. it is a common, every-day colloquial expression. Having apparently wrongly identified some words as Americanisms and some colloquial expressions as slang, Ms. Woods proceeds to suggest that “[p]erhaps the only way to produce a translation that serves the original well, in terms of the slang, is to keep updating it” in some collective collaborative effort on the Internet, if the text were not copyrighted. The whole lexicon evolves. Not just slang. Perhaps one day somebody will produce a fresh translation. But it won’t be on account of ours including slang.


Our translation is Americanized to the extent to which it’s been translated from the Czech to the American language, just as Sir Cecil rendered it into British English. Ms. Woods’ sensibilities seems to be so irritated by the difference between our American and Parrott’s British English and so offended by our criticism of the previous translation that she doesn’t compare the degree to which the English language of the two competing translations has or has not been allowed “to be powerfully affected by the foreign tongue”. Perhaps she hasn’t noticed it.


3) As the next piece of evidence that ours is not the better translation, the reviewer presents the case of “borovička”. “Both Parrott and Sadlon and Joyce are attempting … in different, but in equally problematic ways … to convey cultural information to target readerships that would be automatic to a Czech readership … Parrott had included additional historical and contextual information in footnotes. … Sadlon and Joyce, however, decide to approach the translation in a far more appropriative and misleading way — that is, by adding their own material to Hašek’s text without any flagging of this.” I will reproduce my response to the chosen example from my presentation given in Lipnice nad Sázavou in 2003: The previous translation explains the Czech word ‘borovička’ used in the English text by a footnote when it first appears in the Czech original. The footnote “Schnapps made out of juniper” contains the German word ‘schnapps’ rather than the English ‘gin’ for ‘kořalka’, i.e. ‘hard liquor’ or ‘booze’. Michelle Woods is right in saying that Jaroslav Hašek does not elaborate on the word ‘borovička’ by including in the text the words “that liquor that tastes like pine wood” which we used in our experimental translation of Book One. She characterizes our approach to translation in this case as “far more appropriative and misleading”. Every reader, not only translator, appropriates and therefore explains the text his way, consciously or not. Whether a given appropriation or interpretation is misleading is a rather more complicated issue than a mere appearance of words in the translation which were not in the original text or vice versa. When mere terminology is considered, both translations should have used simply the words ‘juniper gin’, i.e. ‘jalovcová kořalka’ in the text, either by themselves, or following the Czech word ‘borovička’.


A translator can use the original word in the translated text for various reasons. One of them is that the given word represents a unique phenomenon or concept. ‘Juniper gin’, i.e. ‘jalovcová kořalka’ does not have in the Anglo-Saxon world such a strong reputation and position which ‘borovička’ enjoys among the Czech, Moravian and Slovak people. Therefore it is worth calling the Czech variety by its genuine name in an English text. However, a reader with no knowledge of Czech is denied not only the experience of drinking ‘borovička’ during his first, virtual encounter with it, but he is also denied its association with ‘pine’. In Czech, that is the language of Švejk, ‘borovička’ is a diminutive of ‘borovice’, i.e. a tree known in English as ‘pine’. Thus the first sense of the word is ‘young pine’ or ‘pine sapling’. Unless a Czech is a drinker or has read Švejk, or in some other round about way accidentally found out the connection between ‘borovička’, i.e. ‘juniper gin’, and ‘jalovec’, i.e. ‘juniper’, in his reader’s imagination he is induced to attempt capturing on his virtual tongue the taste of pine, be it its wood or needles. Whence our insertion of the words “that liquor that tastes like pine wood”.


Both the readers of the original and the readers of the English translations find out the connection between ‘borovička’, i.e. ‘juniper gin’ and ‘jalovec’, i.e. ‘juniper’, three sentences later: “If it had been at least the genuine article, for instance, a distillate from juniper, like the one I drank in Moravia.” In Bohemia, in Moravia, and in Slovakia ‘jalovcová’ is commonly called ‘borovička’. It is worth noting that the Slovak word for ‘jalovec’, i.e. ‘juniper’, is ‘borievka’, and ‘borovčie’ denotes ‘jalovčí’, i.e. ‘juniper bushes’. It is then altogether legitimate to guess that ‘borovička’, as an inebriating distillate, is derived from the Slovak term for juniper and not, as Michelle Woods claims, that it is a distillate from ‘bilberries’. It is possible that during her extended stay in Prague the blueberries were suggested to her by somebody who, just as I, did not have a clue during the first reading of Švejk as a youth that ‘borovička’ did not come from ‘borovice’, i.e. ‘pine’, or from ‘borůvky’, i.e. blueberries, but from ‘jalovec’, i.e. juniper. Slovník spisovného jazyka českého, I, a-g, (The Dictionary of the Proper Czech Language, Academia 1989) unequivocally states that ‘borovička’ is ‘jalovcová kořalka’, which in English translation means ‘juniper booze’, i.e. ‘juniper gin’.

Additions and Omissions Issue


As for the charge of “the omission of material” and “additions”, I admit, mea culpa on all counts. Not only in the places pointed out by the reviewer, but in a few other places. The omissions and additions are occasional aberrations. I could reproduce the reasons and the arguments Mike Joyce and I had about such departures from the original text. There is no room for that here and probably no interest on the part of the readers either (if any are still with me.) Suffice it to say that since Mike’s departure from the project due to personal hardship, I finished the remaining three books in two volumes without resorting to augmenting the text with unnecessary material. Nevertheless, having found Ms. Woods’ previous charges of lexical inaccuracy unfounded, perhaps it would be worth looking at these three examples more closely as well:


1) The text in the example 2) above, provided erroneously as an example of using slang, is indeed missing the word “conspirators”. Mike and I had a long discussion about that word and the choice of using it as is or in quotation marks. I don’t recall how and why we reached the consensus to drop the word. I suspect that since I’m rather stubborn and a purist, I consented, as in all such cases, because Mike had a very strong opinion about the given issue and we needed to move forward.


2) Next example is the addition of the sentence “Nusle is one of the toughest neighborhoods in Prague”. Ms. Woods writes, “there is a running joke about a Prague district … ‘Nusle’, in the opening section … Hašek makes this obvious a couple of pages later when one of his characters thinks that Sarajevo is a wine cellar in Nusle, so the news of violence is unsurprising given that there is always fighting in Nusle.” (There was a Sarajevo wine bar in Nusle. The question was not of its existence, but of the identity of Sarajevo referred to in the report of the assassination.)


As has been the case in the earlier examples, things are not as simple as the reviewer presents them. The first mention of Nusle, presumably setting up the joke Ms. Woods refers to, is in reference to a massacre: “Not long ago, a man from Nusle, near where I live, was also playing with a revolver. And, he blasted away the whole family. Right on the third floor of an apartment building there.” For this to be truly a set up for a joke, rather than a case of politically incorrect profiling, as it would be labeled nowadays, when the reader finds later on that Nusle was a place where “the news of violence is unsurprising” he would have to be ignorant of Nusle’s reputation. I don’t believe Hašek was setting up a joke. He was a Praguer, Prague journalist, wrote about Praguers, and for Praguers first and foremost. Most of his readers at the time would have known of Nusle’s reputation at the first mention of it. That is why we decided to put the contemporary English reader on an equal footing with them by finishing the report of the massacre with “Nusle is one of the toughest neighborhoods in Prague!” Our true error was we didn’t know that Nusle didn’t technically become a Prague neighborhood by being incorporated into the city limits until 1922, a year after Hašek passed away.


Three more points: If this was to be a “running joke”, it ran only once, from the set up to the punch line. Nusle is not mentioned in the book again. Also, “the news of violence” pertained specifically to “twine bar in Nusle? They fight every day there.” Only then there’s the reference to the reputation of the town, which is common knowledge. “That’s Nusle, you know.” The true punch line here is that Ms. Woods, who charged Sir Cecil with exaggerating slightly when he used a synonym of the word she chose, does not notice here that he translated “Tam se perou každej den” as “They’re always fighting there … ” rather than “They fight every day there” as we correctly did.


3) The final lexical example is actually a series of variances in the scene of “Bretschneider … trying to bring the conversation round to the assassination in order to trick someone into sedition”. Both Ms. Woods and Cecil Parrott, although the reviewer doesn’t offer his text, use “Bretschneider resumed” where we elaborated “said Bretschneider, returning to his favorite subject”. In the same sentence they both correctly chose “it was Serbs who did it”, while we ended up specifying “it was the Serbs who killed the Archduke”. These are indeed an unnecessary addition and a substitution, although I’m not sure it could be said of this particular group that it “serves to challenge the subtlety of Hašek’s humour”.


The next in the series is an example of the most complex of the variances to be found in our version of Book One, especially its early chapters:


“Bretschneider was once again becoming discouraged, and losing hope that either of the two could be hooked into disloyal conversation. Still, he tried once again: ‘Very well, Mister pubkeeper,’ he ventured. ‘But, you will admit that it was a great loss for Austria.’”


Ms. Woods’ translation: “‘Fine, mister barman,’ chimed in Bretschneider, in whom the hope was raised again that he might get catch one of these two, ‘but admit it, it’s a big loss for Austria.’”


The reviewer mistook the Czech word “pozbýval”, “was losing”, for “nabýval”, i.e. “was gaining” hope. She also uses “barman”, i.e. “an employee who mixes and serves alcoholic drinks at a bar” for “hostinský”, i.e. “an owner or a renter/operator of a commercial house of hospitality, a pub” [Note 9]. She doesn’t offer Sir Cecil’s version: “‘All right now, Mr Palivec,’ resumed Bretschneider, who was again beginning to despair of catching either of them out, ‘but all the same you’ll admit that it’s a great loss for Austria.’”


In the last of the Bretschneider example series “Once again, Sadlon and Joyce elaborate”:


“‘How do you mean that?’ asked Bretschneider, his hopes suddenly revived.”


The reviewer’s yardstick, “‘What do you mean?’ Bretschneider came to life,’” is once again referenced as “(Švejk CZ)”, suggesting that this is the definitive version of the Czech original. Ms. Woods states in “Note [1] — Editions consulted in this review: — Jaroslav Hašek, Osudy dobrého vojáka Švejka (Prague: Práce, 1951), my translations”.


This is yet another time when the reviewer does not present Cecil Parrott’s solution: “‘What do you mean?’, Bretschneider livened up.” Parrott’s “livened up”, is in fact better than the reviewer’s standard “came to life”. The original Czech reads: “‘Jak to myslíte?’ ožil Bretschneider.” [ožít — of return to life revive, come (back) return | be restored to life] [Note 10] Ms. Woods chose the second option, “come back to life”. Bretschneider wasn’t literally dead, so he could come back to life only figuratively, which he did. Cecil Parrott used “livened up”. His choice, “liven up”, translates back to the English-Czech dictionary examples “to liven things up, the party is beginning to liven up”. He didn’t have to use a word figuratively, as “liven up” is a specific figurative sense of the words “oživit, dát|vlít trochu života do ožít, ožívat, rozehřát|se” [Note 12]. We used the first term listed in the Czech-English dictionary for “ožít”, i.e. “revive” [Note 10], compared to the reviewer’s choice of the second term “come back to life”. Obviously, Jaroslav Hašek used the word “ožít” figuratively. Since the much lexically richer English has a word for a specific figurative sense of the word, Sir Cecil decided to use it. We, just as the reviewer did, chose a literal translation of the word. But we included its true object, i.e. Bretscheider’s hopes, and characterized the change as “sudden”. (Speed and energy are closely intertwined and would have a similar effect on the observers, were this a case of miraculous revival of Bretschneider’s body. Bretschneider’s figurative coming back to life probably demonstrated an apparently increased energy noticed by his immediate audience as well).


The reviewer ends examining the Bretschneider example series of variances by saying “the changes are subtle”. But she adds they “deny the suggestion in the text which is funny for the reader because the reader surmises what is going on, rather than being told it.” Perhaps on some occasions in case of some readers they do. For other readers they might bring to attention something they would miss. I would concede the generalization of the point to Ms. Wood had she presented a consistent substantiation for it.


I am aware of the few aberrations in our text and admitted their existence. It would had been interesting if in the course of her review Ms. Woods turned the table once in a while and started presenting Sir Cecil’s omissions and other errors and compared them to our solutions. But she never does. To our knowledge Parrott’s translation has never been analyzed. Yet she’s warning potential readers “this may not be, as the translators might claim, the better translation”. True, it might not. But is it not?


The reviewer’s exposition of the lexical variances from the original Czech text, as translated by her, does not warrant her characterizing our translation as “often simply transplanting Parrott’s formulations with American-influenced slang”, having “a limited shelf-life because [we] choose modish slang terms”, “simply a contemporary and deliberately Americanized view of the translation”, and worst of all, that “it consolidates and expands on the limitations of Parrott’s version.”


Ms. Woods then turns her attention to the other side of the language coin:

Structural Issues


“Sadlon and Joyce … literally signpost Švejk’s meanderings by cutting them up into short three or four sentence paragraphs and suggest a logical rhetoric being put forth by Švejk. … ”


The purported result of our addition of paragraph breaks is to “suggest a logical rhetoric” where there is none. That was not our intent, although we have a different opinion of the essence of Švejk, as addressed above. The main reason we experimented with breaking up “These long paragraphs, which are the backbone of the novel … ” was, as Ms. Woods correctly reports, because they “also contain insanely long, looping sentences. Many readers may find Švejk unreadably verbose as a result … ” The last one is precisely our point. We intended for the readers whom Hašek wrote for to actually absorb his text. As the reviewer adds, “The Czech language is perhaps more versatile than English in terms of its ability to sustain lengthy sentences, but it is more possible in a translation of Švejk to produce English sentences of comparable length than has been attempted.” So it turns out that our failure is a matter of degree of effort.


As I said in Lipnice in 2003: “The formalistic dilemma of whether to preserve or divide some paragraphs is, from the point of view of the communicative effect, a false one because it abstracts reality ad absurdum. The manner in which people communicate and are willing or even just able to receive and in the end actually do receive the communicated messages, changes. Not long after Hašek’s passing on, the literary public became aware of Ernest Hemingway, then came television, and now there is the Internet [and mobile device text messaging shorthand codes]. If a reader is unable to get “lost in Švejk’s garrulousness” [13] due to the paragraphs delineated by the translator, then there is something wrong with the language of the translation or the reader’s ability to perceive and process ideas after having received the visual sensation.”


Ms. Woods’ suggested solution to the dilemma is that “as with Tristram Shandy or Gargantua, it is necessary to read differently, to go with the flow and read it partially for the sound and the rhythm rather than the sense.” Unfortunately, the translator cannot pick the mode in which the reader decides to read the text. He has no means of influencing the reader other than shaping the translated text in such a way that the reader reading it receives the same content as if he were reading the original.


I believe that what we might have subtracted in the experimental Book One from Švejk’s spirit, inasmuch as it resides in lengthy sentences and paragraphs by breaking up some them for the readership with probably the shortest attention span in history, has been more than compensated for and outweighed by countless semantic improvements as well as a better point of view. That is precisely what many of our readers refer to when praising our version as superior. What is more, I finished the remaining three volumes alone, without resorting to breaking up the text as well as to augmenting it with unnecessary material, as I’ve already mentioned. Ms. Woods might appreciate that. I am not sure yet how most readers will react to my translation of the remaining volumes. One reader already wrote: “I can recommend the remaining two books. Apart from a few purely technical issues (mostly with regards to geographical names), the translation is nearly spotless in my view.”


I planned on finishing the translation in no more than three years. (As it turns out, that is how long it took Cecil Parrott to complete his.) We finished Book One in three months. Unlike Sir Cecil, we did not have a commission and backing from a major publisher, or anybody else, for that matter. We didn’t have “a formidable team of scholars and experts drawn from different backgrounds and representing many different Eastern European countries”, including “Czech colleagues” with pertinent expertise. We responded to the generally acknowledged need for a new translation. The faults of our text of Book One can be easily corrected. We, and many others, believe our translation to be superior to the previous ones. The examples of mistranslation of words or phrases that Ms. Woods chose to present do not give credence to her sweeping conclusions about the quality of our text.


Ms. Woods allows the general admission that Parrott’s text is wanting, while neither she, nor anybody else produces the kind of attempt at a systematic analysis of his text to which our translation is being subjected. Yet, Parrott’s text, as unsatisfactory as it is, is being upheld as either as good as ours, or even better. Ms. Woods “wrote her Ph.D dissertation on the French and English translations of Milan Kundera’s Czech novels and on the concept of the ‘original’ text in comparison to the translated text.” I am sure she’s doing fine theoretical work in this area, but the review of our book is not what I would call an example of such work.



I wish I could end here. However, I must respond to a couple of other statements Ms. Woods made in her closing paragraphs:


The [] website as well as the PDF version are replete with reviews and positive comments about their translation … First of all, all of reviews quoted are, it seems, from non-Czech speakers. This suggests that Sadlon and Joyce have been successful in making the translation more accessible to a domestic readership, but is no recommendation that the translation is faithful in spirit to the Czech version.


What it suggests to me is that Czechs don’t usually read Czech literary works in translation. And, there have been positive reactions from readers whose native language is Czech. The very first reader comment on which I reposted on my site was made on January 21, 2001 by a Czech from Prague: “… this new translation also preserves the rhythm of the sentences, their overall sense and spirit.”


The reviewer’s introduction of the fact that there are plenty positive comments about our translation ends with a statement containing the curious concept of “democratization of the translation process” that “has to be applauded but it does carry dangers.” I am not a student of the history of translation, literary or otherwise. I am not aware that translation has been an institutional or social process. (Is the fact that Cecil Parrott was approached by Penguin to translate Švejk an indication of the existence of such institutionalized literary translating?) But I know publishing has. (Perhaps that is what Ms. Woods had in mind.) There are indeed dangers which democracy in publishing, specifically on the Internet, carries. For the Internet presents all voices as equal, inasmuch as they’re discoverable and visible regardless of their merit. But even the Internet is not a true democracy. All websites are not equal. Their discoverability and influence are tied to variables such as Internet publishing programming software and skills, number of visitors, sponsors, advertising, credentials of the operators, etc. Once published though, the material takes on a life of its own. It can be linked to other content, quoted, misquoted, plagiarized, and even “go viral”. If it has merit, great. But if it doesn’t, woe is anything which the untruths contained therein pertain to. Joseph Goebbels was supposed to have said, “Repeat a lie a thousand times and it becomes the truth.” That is the real danger of unprecedented propagation of anything posted on the Internet. Our words, as well as deeds, have consequences. Ms. Woods reminded us of that in her next paragraph.


“It is unusual that professional translators … be so damning about previous translators.” Mike Joyce, in his Introduction to our translation, reported “The only attempt at a complete English translation has often been criticized, by those who have read the novel in another language, as a clumsy rendition that left The Good Soldier Švejk reading like a hackneyed novel about the British army in the 19th century.” He did so based on his many conversations with such readers. Does his sentence constitute our damning the previous translator rather than the result of his labor? Bringing up our daughter, my wife has always stressed, “We separate the ‘do’ from the ‘who’”.


Referring to Mike and me, Ms. Woods wrote: “It would serve their cause better if they were more forthright about the technical decisions of their translation process and state why exactly their translation is qualitatively different, if they really believe it is so.” Using the phrase “more forthright” makes it sound as if we are being impugned with being evasive, hesitant, or less than frank. Is this a case of “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” since it is perceived that we have somehow disrespected Sir Cecil Parrott? Ms. Woods is not alone in her view that we did something we should not have done.


James Partridge, of Oxford University, wrote regarding our effort in Winter 2001, as we found out two years later: “… while it is easy to criticize Parrott’s work, he should also be respected for his devotion to Hašek … ” Mr. Partridge brought the issue out in the open. Our unpardonable faux pas has been apparently saying openly that which even James Partridge knows and wrote about Parrott’s version in his review [14] of Parrott’s text while still a PhD candidate at Oxford: “Parrott is a rather literal translator, sometimes unimaginatively so. This literalness and uncertain command of English slang registers sometimes leads Parrott into awkward-sounding English. … sentences … seem clumsy, rather than amusing as in the Czech. In short, Parrott translates the words literally but often at the cost of leaving the humour behind. … this is a serious criticism. … It is, admittedly, hard to know how to render Colonel Kraus’ hilarious imbecilities into equally hilarious English, but Parrott does not manage it. The passage comes out sounding flat and a bit silly … ”


Ms. Woods wrote: “… the important issue is not to dismiss other versions of the novel — the most illustrative exegesis of any work in translation may come from comparing different attempts, be they successful or not.” I agree. It’s just that Ms. Woods has not provided a proper comparison with Sir Cecil’s translated text.


[1] “Provocateur” is a specific type of faux naif. Ms. Woods establishes “provocateur” as the opposite pole of “idiot” in the dichotomy “any interpretation and translation of Švejk” has to contend with. Would he be working on his own or somebody else’s behalf? To what purpose? The reviewer says he could be a “faux naif who knows how to work the system”. “Working the system” usually means working within its parameters for personal gain received by manipulating the system undetected and without upsetting it. That seems to be rather at odds with being a “provocateur”; he risks being found out and punished by the system that detects being subverted by the provocateur’s manipulation the aim of which is a self-defeating overreaction by the system.

[2] In one readers’ poll, only 5% of the respondents from twenty countries around the globe believed Švejk was an idiot. Only 15% thought “You can’t tell from reading The Fateful Adventures of the Good Soldier Švejk During the World War whether he’s stupid or just acting like it.” Full 80% believe he is no idiot. According to them Švejk only “pretends to be naïve” (15%) or “manages to survive the results of other people’s idiocies one stupidity at a time” (65%). No female respondent thought that Švejk was an idiot or that she couldn’t tell whether he was or wasn’t.

[3] As late as 1999, in the film A Trial in Prague “Kundera extols the idealism of the young Czech communists in the early 1950s … ‘say what you will, the Communists were more intelligent. They had an imposing programme.’” — Jan Čulík (2007) Man, a wide garden: Milan Kundera as a young Stalinist. Blok, miedzynarodowe pismo poswiecone kulturze stalinowskiej i poststalinowskiej. (Published by Wydawnictvo Akademii Bydgoskiej)

[4] Milan Kundera,, Sunday, March 28, 2010

[5] This paragraph is gleaned from the novel Osudy humoristy Jaroslava Haška v říši carů a komisařů i doma v Čechách (The Fateful Adventures of Jaroslav Hasek in the Empire of the Czars and Commissars And Even at Home in the Czechlands) by Pavel Gan who based it on a number of his contextual studies about Jaroslav Hašek.

[6] “of inferior or mixed breed “ according to the Princeton University’s WordNet® lexical database of English

[7] State University of New York at New Paltz web site, 2010


[9] Slovník jazyka českého (Dictionary of the Czech Language), Váša and Trávníček, second edition, published by Fr. Borový, 1941

[10] English terms in the brackets are from the Comprehensive Czech-English Dictionary, Ivan Poldauf, WD Publications, third edition, 1996

[11] [Large] english-czech dictionary II. F-M, Karel Hais — Břetislav Hodek, Academia, Praha 1992.

[12] Actually not slang but a colloquial expression according to the Second College Edition of the New World Dictionary of the American Language: “mess (mes) n. … 6. a) a state of embarrassment, trouble, difficulty, or confusion; muddle [Colloq.]” “Colloquial: The term or sense is generally characteristic of conversational and informal writing. It is not to be regarded as substandard or illiterate.”

[13] REVIEWS — The Fateful Adventures of the Good Soldier Svejk During the World War, Book One.

Hasek, Jaroslav. / Sadlon, Zdenek. / Joyce, Emmet. — Partridge, James The Slavic and East European Journal, Vol. 45, No. 4 (Winter, 2001), pp. 759–760

[14] Encyclopedia of literary translation into English, Volume 1 by Olive Classe, Routledge; 2nd edition (December 1, 2000)

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