Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Two Novellas by Arthur Schnitzler

Late Fame

In Late Fame, Eduard Saxberger is an unmarried civil servant in Vienna; he's approaching seventy. His life is quiet, but he has a few friends he meets regularly at his favorite restaurant.

Forty years ago he published a book of poetry The Wanderers which sank without notice; but in the 1890s, young poet Wolfgang Meier finds the book again, loves it, hunts down the aging Saxberger, and draws him into his circle of young literati. Late Fame has come to Saxberger.

At first it's nice. None of his restaurant regular friends knew he once had aspirations to poetry; he scarcely believed it himself anymore, but now Meier and his circle are telling him he's inspirational. Fräulein Gasteiner, the actress in the group, flirts with him, and the circle organize a reading and wouldn't he write something new to be the star of the evening?

Of an earlier draft, Schnitzler wrote in his diary, "...end not sad enough." You'll have to see if you think the end is now sad enough, but it's not as sad as it possibly could be, and there's definitely humor in the middle parts.

The younger characters in the novella in the novella are partly caricatures of the Jung-Wien group of the 1890s in Vienna, of which Schnitzler himself was a young member. But the novella's artists are a little more hapless than the Jung-Wien group, which did have some notable successes among its members: Schnitzler himself as well as Hugo von Hofmannsthal and (for a while) Karl Kraus.

The novella was written at the time it was set for a weekly magazine Die Zeit (not connected as far as I can tell to the current German newspaper) but it was deemed too long for that and so it never appeared while Schnitzler was alive. His papers were rescued with the help of the British embassy in the aftermath of Anschluss; otherwise it would have been lost. It came out in English in 2015 and is translated by Alexander Starritt with an afterword.

Fräulein Else

Else is a nineteen-year-old girl staying a vacation spot in the Italian Alps; she's chaperoned by an aunt and her cousin is also present, but her parents are at home in Vienna. A nice life, right? Well, not entirely.

A letter arrives from her mother--written at the instigation of her father--asking Else to ask Herr von Dorsday for money. The situation is desperate; her father, a society lawyer, has been caught pilfering from a trust he administers in order to feed his gambling habit; if the money isn't restored in a few days, he'll be taken up for embezzlement, which means dishonorable jail or an honorable-ish suicide. Hours later a telegram comes from her father saying even more money is needed.

Herr von Dorsday is ostensibly a friend of her father, if her father still has any friends; his gambling compulsion and consequent need to sponge is well-known in Viennese society. And worse, what everyone knows, including both Else and her father, is that Herr von Dorsday is an old roué, who can't keep his hands off the girls. Does her father want Else to ask because it's an emergency and the personal touch is better? Or does he figure the 'personal touch' is better and it's Else who will be touched?

The novel is told in stream of consciousness--Else's--and it follows every twist and turn of her thought throughout this impossible situation she's been thrown into. I found it very convincing, but also very painful. So, though it's impressive, you might want to be sure to save it for a moment you can bear to read such a thing. It is timely, though, as Harvey Weinstein (hopefully!) is going off to jail.

The novella came out in German in 1924. My copy is from Pushkin Press and is translated by F. H. Lyon.

Collected Arthur Schnitzler on the blog.

Unsettled times. Keep well!

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Washington Irving's Tales of the Alhambra

"The peculiar charm of this old dreamy palace is its power of calling up vague reveries and picturings of the past,..."

Washington Irving's Tales of the Alhambra (1832) relies upon the power and charm of the Alhambra to work its magic. Though no doubt Irving worked on those reveries for a while himself.

In 1829, Irving, already a professional writer, traveled to Spain, and in particular to Granada, where he had arranged to live in the Alhambra. Though he had originally intended to stay longer, he was only there six months before he was drafted into taking on the secretary role at the American embassy in London. But he gathered enough material in those six months to write this book.

It's structured as a travel or guide book, and it begins with his crossing the lonely mountains north of Granada and worrying about bandits. He arrives in Granada, establishes himself in the Alhambra, and hires Mateo as his guide/valet. He looks around the Alhambra and describes its various features, famous towers and halls, and here it functions particularly like a guide book.

But the truly fun part is the embedded tales, unsurprising from the man who brought us Rip van Winkle and the Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Irving knew Spanish and ten years later he was the U.S. Ambassador to Spain, and he presents these tales as picked up in conversation, quite often from Mateo. They're Romantic--Irving was influenced by Sir Walter Scott--but have an ironic humor to them that lightens the romanticizing. There's the tale of the three Moorish princesses in the Tower of Princesses, or the Two Discreet Statues that indicate (to those who know) where (one of the) buried Moorish treasures are. My favorite story was the longest, the story of Ahmed the Perfect, or the Pilgrim of Love. Ahmed is a Moorish prince, and the prophecies say he will live long and happily in a happy realm if only his father can keep him from thinking about love until after his teen years are done. Well, we know how that will go, don't we? (Or do we?)

His prose is a little fulsome, with more adjectives than it needs (see above) but also is also capable of amusing ironies like this, "Mohammed the Left-handed was acknowledged to be a wise king by his courtiers and was certainly so considered by himself." He's also, especially for a New England Protestant of that period, surprisingly tolerant of Catholicism and even of Islam.

Anyway, quite a fun book and a better read than I thought it was going to be. My edition is printed in Spain, in Granada in fact, and has an introduction by R. Villa-Real, though I bought it in Chicago. Mr. Royal House is almost too appropriate as the author of an introduction to a book on the Alhambra. It also comes with colored engravings from the 19th century of the Alhambra that are an amusing accompaniment.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Poem For A Thursday (#Dewithon20 edition)


Job Davies, eighty-five
Winters old, and still alive
After the slow poison
And treachery of the seasons.
Miserable? Kick my arse!
It needs more than the rain's hearse,
Wind-drawn, to pull me off
The great perch of my laugh.
What's living but courage?
Paunch full of hot porridge,
Nerves strengthened with tea,
Peat-black, dawn found me 
Mowing where the grass grew,
Bearded with golden dew.
Rhythm of the long scythe
Kept this tall frame lithe. 
What to do? Stay green.
Never mind the machine,
Whose fuel is human souls.
Live large, man, and dream small.
-R. S. Thomas 

"Grumpy old clergyman, sour old sod," is the description of Thomas at this link from the Guardian, but the author also made Thomas' Collected Poetry one of his ten best Welsh books. 'Lore' is from his 1961 book Tares. Here's another of my favorite Thomas poems.

I got that Guardian link from Paula's organizing post for her Welsh readalong Dewithon, which is full of other great resources.

Jennifer is featuring a poem by Kim Addonizio this week.