Category Archives: Bergengruen Werner

It’s a Wrap: 2019

Three novels

Time for my best-of-year round up. For some reason, this year the choices seemed easier.

Three Novels: The Resurrection of Mozart, The Waiter and the Slut, Astashev in Paris: Nina Berberova. 

Berberova never disappoints. 3 novellas here–all quite different from each other, yet they each weave in the theme of  Russian displacement. Berberova deserves far more recognition than she gets.

A Severed Head: Iris Murdoch

My first Murdoch novel and I hit a winner. This is the nastily funny tale of bored privileged people who create drama in their lives by unpleasant, selfish self-focused behaviour. I love reading books about nasty people, so it’s no surprise that I loved this.

Olive Kitteridge: Elizabeth Strout

Ahh… Olive Kitteridge. What a woman. Of course, we wouldn’t want her as a mother or a wife but she’s great to read about. Olive seems the epitome of a person possessing good and bad characteristics. Someone may make a great teacher or neighbour but a lousy relative. It’s no wonder that Olive elicts strong reactions from people. Olive Again is also highly recommended.

The Children: Edith Wharton

It’s been too long since I read Edith Wharton. The Children isn’t considered one of her greats, but it’s wonderful–a study in subconscious human behaviour and how we get what we want without quite confronting our own negative drives.

The Travels Of Maudie Tipstaff: Margaret Forster

Narrow-minded, inflexible, pious Maudie finally leaves Glasgow to visit each of her three children. Her first visit is awful but it goes downhill from there–until finally Maudie finds herself in a surreal situation, living in a primitive hut (without plumbing) on an isolated island.

A Very Scotch Affair: Robin Jenkins

A married man decides to ditch his wife and family in Glasgow and run off to Barcelona with his mistress. The book focuses not so much on his escape but the fallout of his actions.

Artists’ Wives: Alphonse Daudet

I’m glad that a short story collection makes my list this year. The range, the wit, the understanding of human nature–all these things make for marvellous reading.

The Hotel: Elizabeth Bowen

My first Elizabeth Bowen wasn’t that great but The Hotel is a treasure. I like books set in hotels anyway but this story is subtle, rich and entertaining.  Post WWI, a hodge-podge of guests, mainly British, socialise with varying results.

Three Obscurities from the Borderlands: Werner Bergengruen, Adalbert Stifter, Maria von Eschenbach.

A fluke find for German Literature month. One story is outstanding, another is excellent and the third has redeeming characteristics. In spite of the fact that I liked these three stories to varying degrees, it still makes my best of year list.

So Evil My Love: Joseph Shearing

I didn’t expect to like this book as much as I did. It’s not my typical read but this gaslight noir is very well done indeed. The main character is a missionary’s widow. She’s always led a pious religious life but it was never a choice. When the widow gets choices, her real nature emerges.

Dodsworth: Sinclair Lewis

Certainly not an exciting book, but nonetheless still relevant 90 years later… This is an American Abroad book. It addresses American materialism and subsequent lack of quality of life. Get off the hamster wheel in retirement and boom… what are you left with?….

 

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Filed under Berberova, Nina, Bergengruen Werner, Daudet Alphonse, Fiction, Forster Margaret, Jenkins, Robin, Lewis Sinclair, Murdoch Iris, Shearing Joseph, Stifter Adalbert, Strout Elizabeth, von Eschenbach Marie, Wharton, Edith

Three Obscurities from the Borderlands: Werner Bergengruen, Adalbert Stifter, Maria von Eschenbach.

German literature month 2019

Werner Bergengruen’s The Hornung Homesickness (Das Hornunger Heimweh) is one of my best-of-year reads. The second story in the collection, The High Forest (Der Hochwald) by Adalbert Stifter was a bit too romantic for my taste, but I thoroughly enjoyed the premise and the descriptions. 

This story is set during the Thirty Years War. The narrator begins with a description of the landscape and a ruined castle surrounded by a forest, and then the tale shifts to two centuries earlier when this castle was the home of Heinrich of Wittinghausen. There’s a gentle, peaceful domestic scene which focuses on two sisters, Clarissa and Johanna. But into this idyllic scene threats of danger and “spooky tales” worm their way into the conversation. There’s been a murder in the woods and there are rumours of a vicious poacher.

The sun had by now risen above the forest; the late morning light shone and glistened over the silent tree-tops. A thin beam of sunlight gradually began to cover the embroidery; and then from outside came a light knocking–someone seeking entry.

It’s the girls’ father, and with a light manner, he suggests a trip into the forest “wilderness” to explore an area where, apparently there’s a tower of rock from which the castle can be seen. The suggestion of what seems to be an excursion is actually an excuse to send the girls to safely as their father is expecting an attack from the Swedes and in every likelihood their “home will be swept away as they pass through.”. The girls are subsequently transported deep into the forest and placed under the protection of a trusted friend of their father. 

The idyllic wilderness has its sinister, secretive aspects, and added to this, there’s a telescope so that the girls can watch their castle home and see if it still stands. 

The third story The Barons von Gemperlein  (Die Freiherrn von Gemperlein) is from Marie von Eschenbach*. The von Gemperlein family is “an ancient and noble one,” 

Largely driving the rapid changes in fortunes of the house have been the members themselves. Nature has never brought forth a patient Gemperlein, never one who could not by all rights carry the title of “The Combative.” This powerful familial trait was held by all. Yet in contrast to this, there are no sharper contradictions than how the different generations of Gemperleins stood to one another in political conviction.

While those of one generation spent their life with sword in hand demonstrating their dependence upon the hereditary ruler, sealing this with their blood until the last drop had spurted out, the others made themselves into pioneers of revolution and died heroes to their cause, as enemies of those in power and as wild despisers of every form of subjugation. 

The last Baron died leaving two sons, Barons Friedrich and Ludwig, and in these two we find “both types of the race, the feudal and the radical.” Predictably Friedrich attended the military academy and Ludwig went off to university. In time, both men turn with some frustration from their ideals and they settle together in harmony at the family estate at Vlastovitz. In middle age, the brothers decide to wed, and it’s this decision that unleashes the story’s action.

The Barons von Gemperlein is my second favourite in this three story collection (with The Hornung Homesickness coming in first place and The High Forest third). At times The Barons von Gemperlein is funny, and then at one point my sympathies for Ludwig’s cause were abandoned. This story explores how the brothers’ characters both direct and impede courtship, so while it’s a tale of competitive siblings, it’s also philosophical. 

This three story collection is a treasure, and for this reader, a wonderful find. There’s a pertinent introduction and extensive notes after each story. I hope the translator publishes more as these stories are marvelous.

(*note: Maria von Eschenbach is also Marie within the text)

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Filed under Bergengruen Werner, Fiction, Stifter Adalbert, von Eschenbach Marie

Three Obscurities from the Borderlands: Werner Bergengruen, Adalbert Stifter, Maria von Ebner-Eschenbach (1842-1942)

German literature month 2019

German Literature Month IX

The first story in Three Obscurities from the Borderlands is The Hornung Homesickness (Das Hornunger Heimweh by Werner Bergengruen. The title is intriguing but considering I paid 2.99 for the kindle version of these three stories, I wasn’t expecting much. I’d never heard of Bergengruen, and wanted to try a new author. The Hornung Homesickness  is a contemplative, philosophical take on the issue, and price of, moral cowardice. 

The story is narrated by Georg, the son of a “mid-level civil servant.” Ill health forced the father to retire early and with a small pension he settled at Hornung by the Lake. The narrator’s father died; his mother died and the lad’s uncle serving as guardian, permits him to conclude his education in Hornung before beginning a career at a bank.

Georg notes that: I felt within myself two equally strong drives at odds with each other, one toward separation from my peers and the other toward inclusion, and with time I began to see that it would be my task to find balance between these two. 

I reject here the teachings of some that the experiences of a man, even in the smallest details, have been predetermined from all eternity, and that he has but to live them out. Yet I must admit at the same time, how insufficient his intentions often are at having any recognizable influence on his experiences. So it seems to me that between the determined and the chosen a relationship of opposing pressure and potentiality exists, in consideration of which I am of the opinion that it is not given to us to distinguish with any certainty between the two, the more, though, that we are convinced that both are given us from the one hand, the less then that we need to distinguish between the two. And so, in the long run, even this conflict may be seen as resolved. 

I was hooked by this segment of the story, and reread that passage several time. Georg argues against fate, and then seems to back off from that statement. The full implication of Georg’s thoughts are realised by the time the story concludes, and what a terrific story this is.

So back to our narrator, who as an impoverished child meets and befriends Elisabeth Williger, a girl who is growing up in a secluded state behind the walls of a “fortress-like brick villa above the old part of the city,”  under the care of her grandmother. At first, it appears that these two children, who form a fast friendship, are both orphans, but Elisabeth has a dark secret in her past which scars her future. 

The tale would seem to take a predictable turn when the narrator falls in love with Elisabeth, but then another young man, the very clever, witty, confident Alphonse Kürtzell enters the scene and suddenly three’s a crowd. Elisabeth laughs at Alphonse’s jokes and merry ways, and that leaves Georg simmering with jealousy. One night the three young people go to a tavern, and after Elisabeth leaves, Alphonse and Georg cross the lake in a boat. Only one man arrives on the shore. ….

That’s as much of this fantastic story as I intend to reveal, but there are many twists and turns, with fate playing a large part. But is it fate or is it human nature? Can we tell the difference? At the core of the story festers moral cowardice. The main character slips into that mode more than one time and it always produces disastrous results. But Georg is not the sole moral coward here. Alphonse is guilty too, and poor Elisabeth pays a heavy price.

I cannot emphasize how much I loved this story which I stumbled across by accident (fate?). Unhappily it seems that not much else exists in English from this author. More’s the pity. I like how he thinks. 

It may be that every longing which we feel in our heart, leaving it unsettled and restless, is indeed wrapped in a place that is but a succession of representations, and that every longing for home, is in truth but the promise of a higher homecoming. 

Three Obscurities from the Borderlands includes: The Hornung Homesickness, Adalbert Stifter’s The High Forest, and Maria von Ebner-Eschenbach’s The Barons von Gemperlein. My edition came with a pertinent intro and a post-story note section. This is obviously a labour of love for the translator. And if you ever read this… please translate more. Since I bought this, I discovered that there’s also Four Obscurities from the Borderlands. which includes a story by Joseph Roth–The Bust of the Kaiser. (Both are available in print and kindle versions.)

Translated by Edwin K. Tucker, Dr Sheryl F. Nadler, Editor. 

 

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