I’m late to the game with my first review for German Literature month, and my first pick was:
Brigitta is a novella which runs, in my edition, about 47 pages. The narrator is a man who relates a tale from his youth, and the tale covers the narrator’s journey to Hungary to visit an “old Major,” a man he’s met earlier on his travels. The two men met in Southern Italy. At the time the major was about 50 and “feted everywhere in society.”
But, so legend had it, his influence over women’s hearts had once been truly disturbing. There were rumours of victories an conquests he had made, and these were wonderful enough. But he had one fault, so it was said, which made him really dangerous, which was that no one, not even the greatest beauty on earth, had succeeded in captivating him for longer than suited him. He behaved to the end with that charm which won him all hearts and filled his chosen lady with the joy of conquest, then he bade farewell, went on a journey and never came back. But this fault, instead of frightening women off, attracted them all the more.
So the Major is the love-’em-and-leave-’em type. Over time and many conversations, the narrator and the major become fast friends, and the major invites the narrator to visit his estate in Hungary and “spend a summer a year, or five or ten years with him.” After travelling through Hungary, taking his time, the narrator finally arrives in the region of the major’s estate.
Eventually the narrator learns the mysteries of the major’s life, but the great reveal is long in arriving and it’s a somewhat circuitous road. For this reader, the story was a storm in a tea cup and a romantic one at that. There were hints of something sinister afoot but these hints sadly came to naught. For this reader, the best bits were the narrator’s descriptions of Hungarian culture.
My edition came with an informative introduction. Arguably Stifter’s greatest theme, according to the intro, is “seeing and seeing truly,” and that certainly applies to this story.
Translated by Helen Watanabe-O’Kelly