Fit for any office of the state

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October 23, 2017 by AK

My thoughts keep coming back to the story of the postmistress from the Sedlčany district as told by Švejk in Jaroslav Hašek’s novel. You can find it near the end of Part III, “A Glorious Spanking.” I’m relying on Cecil Parrott’s 1973 for the quotes while keeping an eye on Petr Bogatyrev’s Russian translation and the Czech original.

While everybody’s waiting for dinner, lieutenant Lukáš asks Švejk to tell him one of his stories. Švejk responds that he could tell the whole history of the Czech nation before the food is given out:

‘But instead I know only a very short story about a postmaster’s wife from the district of Sedlčany, who after the death of her husband took over the post office. I straightaway thought of her when I heard that speech about these field posts, although it has absolutely nothing to do with field posts.’

This is typical Švejk, always sliding towards the absurd. He deviates from the subject of the postmistress until Lukáš insists on hearing her story. Švejk is generous to his protagonist:

‘She was a very good woman, the only thing was that she was a bit of a bitch, sir.’

The postmaster’s widow believed that everyone was stalking her to have sex, and complained to authorities. One morning, on her way to the woods to pick mushrooms, she passed by the schoolmaster’s house and noticed that he was up. He greeted the woman, asked where she was headed, and, hearing about the mushroom picking, told her he would follow after. From this, she concluded that he had indecent designs on her, “an old crone.”

…[A]fterwards when she saw him actually coming out of the bushes she took fright, ran away and at once wrote to the local school council denouncing him for having tried to rape her.

The schoolmaster was summoned before a disciplinary commission. (The Czech text and the standard Russian translation have simply “teacher”; I defer to Parrott on the job title.) To avoid a scandal, the district school inspector arrived and asked the local gendarme officer if he thought the schoolmaster was the sort of man to do such a thing. The gendarme checked with the files and responded it would have been impossible

…because once already he had been accused by the priest of running after his niece, whom the priest used to sleep with, and the schoolmaster had obtained from the district doctor a certificate confirming that he’d been impotent since he was six, when he fell with wide-open legs from the loft down on to the shaft of a haycart.

“That bitch” went on to denounce the school inspector, the doctor and the gendarme, saying the schoolmaster had bribed them. They sued in response; she lost but appealed, claiming insanity. The court’s doctors examined her and concluded that

…although she was feeble-minded she could hold any office in the State service.

“Jesus H. Christ!” exclaimed Lieutenant Lukáš, and Švejk moved on to another tale.


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