Thursday, 30 September 2010

Drunkards Tales by Jaroslav Hašek

I felt that it was time to return to Hašek’s book of short stories. A notorious toper himself, Hašek seems to have little time for the practice of abstinence and attempts to give up the sauce usually meet in failure in this collection. Take, for example, the case of Professor Dr. Sahula in Fighting Against Alcohol:

Professor Dr. Sahula used to be a severe alcoholic in his youth. He used to drink up to thirty beers a day. Then he got kidney disease, an expansion of the stomach, fat around the heart and the result was, that he stopped drinking beer, spirits and wine, and began drinking mineral water.

Unfortunately, Sahula develops a prodigious appetite for Geisshübel saltzer and starts corroding his stomach with that instead. Finally forgoing restaurants as well, he has no choice but to apply himself to his studies, where he consumed learning just like alcohol before, with zest, with vigour and in unusually large quantities.

After several unorthodox treatments for insanity are patented, (the Sahula system sees a madman locked in a cell for three months with a sane man: when released the madman is sane, the sane man is mad. Repeat ad infinitum...) he turns his attention to his old nemesis, alcohol: first he based his attempts on a principle that alcohol must be despised. He carried with him a small bottle of some loathsome liquid for retching, and went around to pubs and bars. There he treated all drunks and secretly dripped his poison into their glasses. They drank it like water and when he was discovered, one even begged, “Give us a drop as well, it gives me a devil of a thirst.”

Seeing that the emetic doesn’t work, Sahula investigates the side effects of booze:

According to his discoveries, alcohol works like radiation at a distance. Therefore, a photographer taking pictures of some drunken group cannot be sure that his children will not be born stupid. His book “About the Effects of Alcoholism” is a colourful collection of interesting documents showing the rampages of alcohol from a distance. An example, An eight-year-old son of a cooper fell into an unfinished barrel. When they pulled him out, he had a red nose.

His book lists 116 illustrations similar to the above, but what he really wanted was a live audience on the lecture circuit:

He managed to obtain a typical example of acute alcoholism. A man with a red nose stands in front of him, with a swollen face and shaking hands. “You are an alcoholic Bezděk.” “You bet!” says Bezděk happily. “Are you married?” “Somewhere in the Hradčany area,” replies Bezděk...

Now all he needs is the wretched man’s family. Mrs Bezděk makes an appearance with five kids and Sahula is ready to test his theory on the offspring of a man who drank up to two litres of slivovitz daily, and was able to stand fifty beers and five litres of wine at the same time. Sadly, his hypothesis never gets off the ground. Mrs Bezděk hasn’t seen her husband in twenty years and the kids are someone else’s. Sahula gives up:

When professor Dr. Sahula was crossing the square on his way home from the lecture, people walking behind him heard him pound the pavement and mutter, “I am going to get smashed tonight.”


  1. I didn't know these were published in English! Btw, here is my own page related to Hašek:

  2. My father got the book in Prague, but I've not seen it available elsewhere.

    Thanks for the link to the site, by the way. That's a great resource you have there.