Thursday, 11 March 2010

Drunkards Tales by Jaroslav Hašek

I began this blog with Hašek’s most famous work, The Good Soldier Švejk, but he also wrote a prodigious amount of short stories, some of which are collected in Drunkard’s Tales From Old Prague.

Appropriately enough most of them revolve around the pub, although the first story An Attempt at a Temperance Social or a Yankee Do starts the other way entirely. Fresh back from America where she had married a high preacher of some religious sect, newly widowed Mrs. Piccknown has come home with a fervour for abstinence and is determined to hold a social event sans drink to show the townspeople how they can enjoy themselves without getting drunk.

Her choice of venue is provocative to say the least:

...the town was filled with indignation, best summed up by the somewhat harsh declaration of the retired old forester Mr. Polívka, “Such a thing does not belong in the pub, why don’t they take it to some clearing in the woods.” Bandleader Vořech went further and said in the railway station pub, “I am going to go there and get pissed as a parrot.”

Everyone ends up at the hall in the back of the pub and Mrs. Piccknown berates them for drinking, urging them to give up the sauce and read the bible instead. The men aren’t impressed:

A few individuals wanted to slip out and go the taproom for some liquid refreshments, but were apprehended at the door and sent back by Mrs. Chief Railway Auditor, who guarded the exit, but all in vain, since several gentlemen popped across to garden through a window, from there to the kitchen, from the kitchen to the taproom.

Once inside, the men drink as quickly as they can before the ‘games’ begin back at the social:

The participants poured it into themselves at such a pace never before seen in the town. Before a new game started one gentleman – who usually drank four glasses of beer a day at the outside, drank half a bottle of spirits and in his intoxicated state almost burned down the pig sty at the courtyard, while looking for the hall’s entrance with a lighted match in the daytime.

Needless to say, the event turns into a farce and the hall gets trashed. Still, it isn’t all bad news. The barkeeper notes that after all the excessive drinking between the games, the teetotal night actually turned a large profit:

Mr. Vašata, despite the damage he suffered at the end of the last chapter, declares publicly, that the bad financial showing of the public establishments can be improved only by holding temperance socials and Yankee dos.

Hašek wisely declines to say whether there is a moral to this story or not...

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