In the latest of our series of our most treasured book covers, Robbie Guillory brings you Švejk, the (anti)hero from Czechoslovakia (as was).
The (sadly unfinished) tale of The Good Soldier Švejk (or Schweik or Swejk, depending on your ability to produce accents) is one of the greatest novels of the First World War in in existence. An exploration of the futility of war and the pointless activities acted out in the name of military discipline, Švejk is an exemplar of passive resistance (or stupidity – the arguments flow back and forth). I will review this at some point. But on to the covers, because we will be looking at variations on a theme.
I don’t have this splendid brown Czech example, but I do happen to have three different copies of tGSS (as it will henceforth be known). One is the first cover in this post, and is (I think) the version seen most often in secondhand bookshops near you. Here is my favourite one:
It may be that I really like yellow, but I think there is a neatness to this, allowing such a large area of blank space in the middle (the empty nature of war? I am reading too much into it), and the two typefaces fit together very nicely, too. Here is the third one I own:
This is the version most likely to end up in a secondhand bookshop near you if you live near me, because it it my least favourite. I can’t put my finger on exactly why, but I think it is to do with a general feeling of imbalance. The generic Classics typeface just doesn’t help, and the black background feels wrong. You may have noticed that there is a similarity running through all these editions, however. The illustrations.
The illustrations are mostly by Josef Lada, a Czech painter, illustrator, set designer, author and bookbinder, and they perfectly express the simple good-naturedness of Švejk. I think one criticism I could lay at his door is that these drawings may be responsible for the main idea that Švejk is an idiot, but that is a small cross against the a man who has his own asteroid.