A Crime by Heinrich Mann



For German Literature Month 2012 I read Heinrich Mann’s novel, Man of Straw, a book which follows the life of an ultra-patriotic, pompous, proto-fascist petty bourgeois. There’s a film of the book, The Kaiser’s Lackey, and both the book and the film are highly recommended.

Der Untertan

Earlier in 2012, I read The Blue Angel–also known as Professor Unrat. This is the story of a professor, a widower, who teaches at a boy’s school in a small provincial town.  He discovers that some of his pupils are hanging around a disreputable club known as The Blue Angel and he takes it upon himself to catch the boys. While on his moral quest, he runs into the nightclub singer, Rosa (Lola Lola in the film) and so begins a self-destructive obsession.  The book and film differ in significant ways with the book allowing the professor to exact his revenge against the inhabitants of the town while the film version, from director Von Sternberg and starring Marlene Dietrich, is tragic. My favourite scene in the marvelous film version is Marlene Dietrich singing “Falling in Love Again.” This is the scene where the professor loses himself to the singer, but the scene is extraordinary for the presence of the delicious Marlene Dietrich. There’s a moment at the end of the song, as she’s sitting on the chair, and she gazes into the camera. She knows she nailed the scene.


I’m bringing up these two books (both made into excellent films) written by Heinrich Mann for a couple of reasons: 1) Thomas Mann seems to the Mann brother most talked about and 2) I found a short story by Heinrich Mann available for the kindle. 99c for 10 pages–well there’s an argument both for and against the purchase (hours of work for very little compensation vs I was hoping for a novel…), but since I loved both Heinrich Mann novels I’ve read, plus the fact I’m reading a Goebbels biography (almost 1000 pages) in which Heinrich’s books were part of the book burning ceremony, well, it only seems appropriate that this author should make an appearance for German Literature month. So here’s the short story : A Crime.

The story opens with a retired cavalry officer, Captain von Hecht giving some words of advice about women to a younger man, and from the way he’s talking, we know he has some experiences in mind.

As far as great passion is concerned, the problem is that it never happens to be equally great on both sides. If it’s greater on your side, it’s a misfortune, but here one can say: activity wards off sorrows, or at least it often does. If, on the other hand, a woman’s passion becomes too great, you are seeking rest at the foot of a volcano: a shower of sulfur will bury you.

Then von Hecht goes back to 1882 and tells the story of being stationed in the small town of M. He quickly discovers that the only house worth visiting belongs to a merchant named Starke who has a beautiful wife:

I had seen her on the street, only from behind, to be sure, but she exaggerated the swaying of her hips as she walked. She had an overly short and thus perfectly round waist and striking thick brown hair. Her nose, in addition, was of a delightful fineness, with slightly mobile nostrils. When she smiled, she would bite her blood-red lips with her sharp white teeth as if she were biting into a peach, and her gray eyes would flash with dreamy, veiled curiosity. Later, in moments of transport, I saw silvery serpents flicking out their tongues in them.

There’s some wonderful imagery in that quote which tells us a lot about Annemarie, the wife of the merchant. She’s beautiful, she’s passionate and she’s bad, bad, bad. She’s one of those kamikaze women, a term coined by Woody Allen in the film Husbands and Wives: I’ve always had this penchant for what I call Kamikaze women… I call them kamikaze because they crash their plane right into you. You die with them.”

One look at Annemarie and Von Hecht is hooked. Perhaps the attraction is bolstered by boredom or lack of choices in the small provincial town, but whatever the motivations, von Hecht can’t help but feel sorry for Annemarie’s poor clueless husband. Of course, he’s not so sorry for the husband that he keeps his hands off the man’s wife. The unattractive, seemingly thick Starke is obviously outclassed in the marriage–not by his wife’s status (she has none) or her dowry (she was penniless), but he’s outclassed by her slyness and avarice. She’s a demanding wife, and, of course, she’s also a demanding mistress–one of “those women who take possession of even the slightest fragment of their lovers’ private lives.” With her extravagance and love of finery, Annemarie reminded me of Madame Bovary, and when von Hecht “inadvertently calls her Emma” neither he nor the reader is surprised by the connection. But there’s also an Anna Karenina connection here:

Once a woman whose rightful lot had been to be the mother in a conventional family has set off down the wrong path, she takes madder leaps than any other.

Those ‘mad leaps’ are at the heart of the story, but that’s as much as I’m going to give away. After finishing the story, I ran a search on the translator’s name (thanks for translating Heinrich Mann) and came across many more stories from this translator available for the kindle, including a dual language version of one Stendhal title. I’ll be digging through the list, hoping for more Heinrich Mann but open to whatever’s there.

Original title: Ein Verbrechen: translated by Juan LePuen



Filed under Fiction, Mann Heinrich

17 responses to “A Crime by Heinrich Mann

  1. Thanks for reviewing what sounds like an interesting story by Heinrich Mann. However, I am mainly commenting because I share your feelings regarding the wonderful performance of Marlene Dietrich in the film The Blue Angel. The scene you describe is one I will never forget.

  2. Count me as another fan of Marlene Dietrich in The Blue Angel. I haven’t read anything by Heinrich Mann, but this sounds like a great taster. Many thanks for the review.

  3. I’ve just finished re-reading Death in Venice and I should think about reading Heinrich instead of Thomas next time, I remember your previous reviews.
    Annemarie reminded you of Emma Bovary. For me, Annemarie is a French name. I wonder if it’s also a German name or if it’s chosen to recall Emma Bovary. I hope Caroline knows.

    • Emma and Jacqui. A few years ago I read an article on Thomas and Heinrich Mann. I knew I’d really like Heinrich but Thomas sounded like a bit of a drag. Anyway, I’d heard of the novels of Thomas Mann but had never even seen one by Heinrich. I was motivated to seek his work out and try it for myself.

  4. Jonathan

    It sounds good. I haven’t read much of Thomas Mann either. I think you recommended ‘A Man of Straw’ as well a little while ago. I keep saying I’ll have to have a GLY to read all the German Lit I want to read.

  5. Just to add to the mix, I also quite enjoyed Klaus Mann’s Mephisto about a narcisstic actor and his Der Vulkan about life in exile. That was one talented family, what can I say!

  6. I have been meaning to read Heinrich Mann for a while. I have also not seen the film versions of these books. These are two oversights that I should really remedy soon.

  7. I have read Klaus and Thomas Mann but only a few short stories of Heinrich Mann. I think it’s sad he’s overshadowed by his brother. I should pick him up again.
    Emma – Annemarie is very common as a German name. It’s pronounced differently.

  8. This seems like quite a nice introduction to Heinrich Mann, and the same translation is available for 99p in the UK kindle store. I’ve been reading more short stories of late so I’ll definitely pick this up.

  9. I was wondering why this story seemed to be selling a bit better than almost any of the other ones I’ve translated and published (under my real name or one of various pen names, including Gregory López de Górgolas). Now I know. And I must thank you.

    I’m also grateful to Amazon for having popularized a platform without which these translations would either have remained on my hard drive or not been done at all. In that connection, I’ll note in passing (though it has nothing to do with this blog post) that I therefore detest the publishers and other book people who assert with a straight face that Amazon somehow represents a threat to what they call literary culture.

    • Thanks for the comment. Any more translations of Heinrich Mann planned for the future? I agree re: Amazon. It’s altered options for readers, writers, and translators, and that’s a good thing.

      • Nothing planned for the moment. The day job is too taxing. Besides, with H. Mann in particular, the difficulty is figuring out whether his work is or is not out of copyright (and where).

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