August – Christa Wolf (translated by Katy Derbyshire)

August

My second review of a book titled “August” for Women In Translation month, this one from Germany and Christa Wolf, beautifully and eloquently translated by Katy Derbyshire, whose translation work I have come across before when reading the 2017 Man Booker International Prize longlisted “Bricks and Mortar” by Clemens Meyer.

As the publisher, Seagull Books tells us:

August is Christa Wolf’s last piece of fiction, written in a single sitting as an anniversary gift to her husband. In it, she revisits her stay at a tuberculosis hospital in the winter of 1946, a real life event that was the inspiration for the closing scenes of her 1976 novel Patterns of Childhood. This time, however, her fictional perspective is very different. The story unfolds through the eyes of August, a young patient who has lost both his parents to the war. He adores an older girl, Lilo, a rebellious teenager who controls the wards. Sixty years later, August reflects on his life and the things that she taught him.

This is a beautifully presented book, as are all of the Seagull Books titles, as Tristan Foster pointed out in a recent review of Georg Trakl’s “Sebastian Dreaming” at Asymptote Journal.

It is not possible to discuss a Seagull book without discussing Seagull Books. Since 1982, this Kolkata publishing house has been salvaging literature which time may have otherwise cast aside. Not only do they pluck from obscurity, they also present literature with a seriousness and gravitas befitting an era preceding our sales-obsessed one. Their books are less consumer goods than they are artefacts: house designer Sunandini Banerjee’s sensitivity and skill result in hardbacks with covers that bloom like rainforest flowers.

“August” is no exception to this observation. The only criticism I have is that it is a very (very) short book, a short story of 74 pages, and the text populating only half of each page, and once you are immersed in Christa Wolf’s work you feel like reading more. Maybe the book could have contained a few short stories.

Stunningly stark, the haunting loneliness of being hospitalised and ostracised from such a young age, is conveyed through the simple prose, you feel as though each word was perfectly chosen;

August doesn’t like the outskirts of cities. The huge, ugly shopping centres with their oversized carparks. The car showrooms outbidding each other’s advertising claims. The fast-food restaurants that August never sets foot inside. He usually brings his own sandwiches along, although they’re not as lovingly made when Trude was alive. He’s not hungry yet. He has to concentrate on the motorway near the city, which gets more and more crowded with every year, on the building sites that never end, only change position. On the traffic jams they cause, which makes the journey longer. August keeps his cool. He never gets impatient. You have the patience of an angel, Trude used to tell him. He never loses his temper. His workmates appreciate that. Sometimes, he knows, they think he’s a bit boring. Come on, say something for a change, they used to nudge him in the beginning when they sat together in their lunch break. But what did he have to say? He had no reason to complain about his wife. No separation to report on. No arguments with the children to moan about. They didn’t have any children. It has simply turned out that way. There’s been no need to talk to Trude about it first. They wanted for nothing. And when Trude died two years ago he certainly couldn’t talk to anyone about it.

A simple life told through a simple tale, I am (yet again) reminded of the 2016 Man Booker International Prize Shortlisted “A Whole Life” by Robert Seethaler (translated by Charlotte Collins), however in this case the simplicity of a simple life is barer.

Dipping into familiar territory of an unreliable memory, the ageing process and the march of time, the simplicity of August’s life still shows through as emotionally complex, and fraught with ignorance:

…there was a good reason why God gave us the power to forget.

Simple, a work that can be read in a single sitting, and given it was written in a single sitting it is probably the preferred way to approach this book, but also very moving and touching, it makes a great introductory work into Christa Wolf’s oeuvre, even if it contains her only male protagonist, and it is her last written piece!!!

Kudos to Seagull Books for bringing this work to the attention of English language readers, a “women in translation” writer we should be discussing more often.

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Bricks and Mortar – Clemens Meyer (translated by Katy Derbyshire)

BricksAndMortar

Once upon a time there lived a little girl who was stubborn and inquisitive, and whenever her parents told her to do something she refused. How could things possibly go well for her? One day she said to her parents: “I’ve heard so much about Mother Trudy. I’d like to go visit her. They say that her house is quite strange and that odd things happen there. That’s made me really curious about her.”

The girl’s parents gave her strict orders not to go near the house, and they told her: “Mother Trudy is an evil woman, who does wicked things. If you go to see her, you’re no longer our daughter.”

But the child paid no attention to what her parents said and went to see Mother Trudy anyway. When she arrived at the house, Mother Trudy asked her: “Why are you so pale?”

“I saw something that really scared me.”

“What did you see?”

“On your staircase I saw a black man.”

“That was just the charcoal burner.”

“Then I saw a green man.”

“That was just a huntsman.”

“And then I saw a blood red man.”

“That was just the butcher.”

“Oh, Mother Trudy, I was so scared. I looked through the window and couldn’t see you, but I did see a devil with a fiery head.”

“Aha!” she said. “Then you saw the witch in all her finery. I’ve been hoping that you would come here, and I’ve been waiting for a long time. You can provide me with some light.”

And with that, she turned the girl into a block of wood and threw it on the fire. And when it was blazing, she sat down beside it, warmed herself up, and said: “Now that really does give off a nice bright light.”

  • ‘Mother Trudy’ from “The Bicentennial Edition, The Annotated Brothers Grimm (Translated by Maria Tatar)

 

German Fairy Tales (or Märchen) take on various forms, we’ve all heard of ‘Little Red Riding Hood’, ‘Hansel and Gretel’ and ‘Snow White’, probably less so ‘Mother Trudy’, but Clemens Meyer’s “Bricks and Mortar” picks the threads of these classic tales, mentioning a few by name, and then represents them in the reality of modern Germany, from the period just prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall to (possibly) the current day. But the tale of a developing, changing Germany is told through the eyes of the sex industry. Can “Little Red Riding Hood” be linked to the “red light industry”? Is “Mother Trudy”, one of the tales recalled by our first narrator, a sex-worker, a metaphor for all female sex-workers?

And this is no short fairy tale, running to 653 pages, it is a long work indeed.

In this novel the character’s blur, the dead talk, people take the lead role and then move back into the shadows, time is not linear, we have one character talking about 9/11 and it is 1999!!! Told in a multitude of voices, you are not always certain who is the narrator, nor their role in this kaleidoscope, rest assured things do draw together the further you travel into this melting pot.

An exploration of capitalism, economies, a unified Germany (and sex), this book, at no stage, enters cliché mode, the football hooligan who becomes a landlord for the apartments used by the prostitutes, gives economic rants about the number of workers, the rooms, euros and then refers to Stanisław Lem’s “Solaris”. An alcoholic ex-jockey spends his nights looking for his young daughter who has become a street worker, a policeman who works on a cold case of three bodies found in the bottom of a peat bog;

am I the only person who sees that? That the markets and the marketplaces are becoming more linked, steel and concrete town halls, the meat markets expanding, the bricks and mortar, sticks and stones, the rock growing, in a red-lit circle where everything’s linked, the rubbish truck, the fat woman, the Coke, the Viagras, the blockers, uppers and downers, lost cats, the right to sexual self-determination, scraps of memory like old police badges, the Angels on their motorbikes, peat mosses, flyovers, sixty-six municipal brothels in 1865, trade chronicles, he burrows in the old files, real estate on silver strings leading all the way to Italy, and the fall of the real-estate boss Silvio Lübbke, three bullets, boom, boom, Dead Peppers Alley, houses for pocket money, clues, clues, the country air so clean and pure, soon they’ll be building here but we’ll stop the diggers, the question is, who brings three bodies out to this mire, the swamped puddle, where everyone knows they won’t decompose, when you can dig holes in the sandy ground of the heath or drive out to the forest lakes like the ‘Blue Eye’, and there must be anglers there who discover the remotest of lakes, the woods arching around the north-eastern belt of the suburbs and incorporated villages to the south, all of if as flat as a pancake. (pp 176-177)

Uppers, downers, alcohol, tobacco and Viagra, each scene the language and style mirrors the drug of choice, with sentences lingering or rapid and short, moving from 1st to 2nd to 3rd person, each scene descends or ascends holding a mirror to a seedy existence, it can be pacy or languid, an hallucinogenic romp, but there is hardly any colour here, it’s all shadows nightclubs, swamps and darklands.

As Meyer says himself, this is an “unorganized flow” (should that read “disorganised flow”?), you need to allow the language, the mood, the environment of each section, voice, character to simply sink in, there is no point in over analysis;

A park opposite. Snow on the trees, towers behind the park, behind the trees, far away or very close by, the distances change, tower blocks connected by bridges, corridors of glass, A temple-like low building with a curved roof among the white and green of the park, for the trees aren’t bare, winter in this city, but days, you remember them now, that smelled of spring, the air suddenly mild and the sky clear, no grey any more from which the snow fell wet on your face, but then another icy gust of wind that grabbed you on your paths through the night, on your way along the neon alleys, along the river, across empty parks like small woods, where are you going? And what are you looking for? (pp 411)

Each section (chapter?) has a reference to “Bricks and Mortar”, in various guises, nicknames, buildings, retaining walls, realigning a river’s flow, stability, and the real estate industry. The juxtaposition of the Communism/Capitalism is subtle throughout, likely due to the blurring timelines, but it is the one constant subplot, at times is can be a little more blatantly pointed out as in;

There was always plenty to see on International Worker’s Day at the racetrack, on the terrace with bubbly and finger food. (pp 460)

A bleak fairy tale of a unified Germany, told through the eyes of a sector that either boomed or plummeted depending upon what side of the wall you came from, and whether you were the exploited or the exploiter. Using a plethora of styles this is a complicated and many layered work, with sub-plots a plenty, including the ex-jockey’s child prostitute daughter, the bodies in the bog, diamond smuggling, to list just a few. There is reference to the Prostitution Act of 2002 and the changes that brought into place, although the one (slight) failing I found with the book is that he female characters appear more as meat or commodities rather than human, with the male characters getting more depth to their motivations and behaviours, however this may be an intentional portrayal as in the industry they are forever changing and are treated in that manner.

After the Wall, things really took off on the building sites. The cranes grew up to the sky, that’s how he’d put it. Shut up. He drives through the suburbs, the high-rise estates, Schönewweide’s not such a pretty meadow as the name suggests, he stopped at some building site, got out of the car and took a few steps toward the scaffolding, breathed in the smell of dust, earth and damp, breathed deeply. Sometimes he wishes he could stand on roofs again, walk along scaffolds, gut flats, make the mixture, breathe in that smell. (pp 584)

A book that is not for the faint-hearted, it contains numerous descriptions of sexual perversions, however not without context and not in any way gratuitous. As I mentioned before this is not a clichéd work, a many levelled construction all mixed up, hallucinogenic style, throw in a hint of dreams, a cemetery, a crematorium, even Japanese scenery, and you’ve only scratched the surface of Clemens Meyer’s novel that was shortlisted for the 2013 German Book Prize. Keeping the tradition of German Fairy Tales, this is a dark dark Fairy Tale, why not throw another young girl on the fire the brighten things up?

Can it win the Man Booker International Prize? It is hard to judge, as this is a book that will certainly polarise the judges, it would, therefore, be a bold decision to declare it the winner, even if it is worthy of the top gong. Personally I rate it highly, however time will tell if my tastes align with the judges (and the Shadow Jury)!

 

 

Bottom’s Dream – Arno Schmidt (tr. John E. Woods) Pages 96-141

It is probably fitting that my first post for 2017 is another progress update on Arno Schmidt’s “Bottom’s Dream”, considering I intend to continue my reading journey through this literary revelation, it will probably take up a substantial amount of my 2017 posts. As I have posted in the past though, I will only add what I feel is relevant content over and above the magnificent resource at “The Untranslated” blog https://theuntranslated.wordpress.com/ , for context I will of course cover some similar content.

Where I left you last time, I was at page ninety-five (of 1,496!!!) and the reference to Edgar Allan Poe’s “Mesmeric Revelation”.

I say that these – which are the laws of mesmerism in its general features – it would be supererogation to demonstrate; nor shall I inflict upon my readers so needless a demonstration to-day. My purpose at present is a very different one indeed, I am impelled, even in the teeth of a world of prejudice, to detail without comment the very remarkable substance of a colloquy, occurring between a sleepwalker and myself.

The relevance to “Bottom’s Dream” and the narrative at the time I have completely missed. That is a common occurrence with this work, as you attempt to work out the cryptic references you find many a rabbit hole, or the reference escapes you. It is all part of the immersion.

In the narrative, we have Wilma arguing with Paul and Dan about their drunkenness, of course “POE notoriously loved the bottle to excess, it might very well be that in doing so He kept a latent psychosis tolerable under control”, found in the margin.

There is then a substantial reading and reference to Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Island of the Fay”, a very short story, however we have Wilma taking the lead here, taking Dan’s copy of Poe’s works and pointing out; “for darkness fell over all things, and I beheld her magical figure no more”. We move into an in-depth dissection of this short story, the links to Virgil, the beauty of music alone and they draw the sexual allusions to the wonders of nature.

The Poe expertise coming to the fore as we are advised that the second paragraph of “Fay” is the same argument as the last paragraph of the long prose poem “Eureka”. And the two lines of poetry in Fay, in fact from one of Poe’s own poems “City in the Sea”;

So blend the turrets and shadows there
That all seem pendulous in air, _ _ _
While from a proud tower in the town
Death looed gigantically down.

This becomes;

So blended bank and shadows there,
That each seemed pendulous in air –

A discussion takes place about where “Fay” is situated, some historians believe Babylon, however when they ask the Biblically educated Franziska, she claims “SODOM & GOMORRAH”, a link to Poe’s poem “Al Aaraaf” (Section II) “Of beautiful Gomorrah! O, the wave/Is now upon thee – but too late to save”

More discussions about Fay, including how Poe always refers to circular river islands (in Rodman, Landor, Pym and Fay), which are “downrite impussibilities”. Is Poe referring to the “Isles of Circe”?

Dan then draws a chart in the sand, explaining Poe’s writings;

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The diagram is used to explain how “Fay” moves through the phases cosmology, wanderer, landscape, flora. The same progress in “The Domain of Arnheim”. For “The Facts in the case of M. Valdemar” it moves from sickness to cosmology. “Landor’s Cottage”, wanderer, landscape, flora fauna. “The Fall of the House of Usher” from voyeur (wanderer), landscape, flora fauna, population and death.

We also have the narrator, Dan presenting his theory of the human psyche, “According to GOETHE’s >Faust<” there are two agents, “According to FREUD of 3…”, according to Dan himself, once “circa=50” there are 4!

A reference to “The night thoughts of midwife Walter Vierneissel anent his lost foetus=ideal, whereby he became naught but a man.< JEAN PAUL” an essay by Jean Paul Friedrich Richter. In that work the writer comes across a wunderkid Christian Heinrich Heineken, who only lived for four years but managed to write a book about Danish history aged three – (“some sorda sharp 3-year-old, with a novel inside”) – thanks to Matt at Goodreads for the link here.

The drawing on the sand of Poe’s writing journey is then used by Dan to cast a spell on Wilma, Paul and Franziska, they are put inside the magic circle, Dan spouts about “an exceedingly rare & curious bbookk in Quarto Gothic” and then recites the following poem

Bottom3.jpg

Wilma, Paul and Franziska are then turned into horses, a discussion between “The Old Woman” (Wilma) and “The Young Woman” (Franziska) ensues, generally about stud horses.

Sigmund Freud enters the fray again with a reference “that by >talking it out<, writing it down etc, one can free oneself from all sorda things? So that the ejaculation of a short story? : Would mean the jettisoning of a complex.:?<<” Note – Question marks in the text can have reference to human movement, twisting back and forth between two people in discussion.

“Naiades” make an appearance in the side column, the freshwater nymphs of Greek mythology, their relevance unknown to me, no specific reference to “Undine” the other water nymph featuring heavily in the opening pages, appeared to me, however it could be hidden in the depths of the text.

The Poe translators and their daughter do return to human form. Wilma, with one of her numerous rebuttals;

>>Are You nòt=aware that many poets place positive value on writing >automatically<? That is, on letting their subcon become visible & productive?<< . / (I am aware of it, my angel; but I do not hold the process in high esteem.)/-):

We then have a discussion about Poe’s overuse of the word “lolling”, as these revelations are highlighted they change your reading of Poe and all of a sudden you also notice the over use of certain words “crystal”, “lolling”, Schmidt changing your own perception and reading habits.

Moving onto Poe’s “William Wilson” and there is a reading – to display Poe’s dislike of his own name (there is also a reference to “SCHMIDT”!!!)

Further discussions about Poe’s favourite books, “Undine” (which I have covered before and did read as part of this immersion), “The Bride of Lammermoor” and “Lalla Rukh” by Thomas Moore (this is a 200 page poem, methinksnot reading this one!!! Maybe if I was retired!!) Dan gives us a precis so that will suffice for now.

Book one “The Horrorfield” ends with Dan giving the young Franziska advice “devote oneself, with discipline & diligence, to the preservation, the understanding (later p’r’aps even the production) of works of art”

The section ending with the interaction;

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Thanks to Nathan and Matt at Goodreads for helping me out here, Dan is counting to ten in Wendish, Franziska saying “at the same pace and compass” and “always by my side” in Spanish. A pact between the narrator and his sixteen year old subject of his desires, an orgasmic ending to the travels through the field.

Twelve Days of Messenger’s Blog – Day Five

93d08-weightA handful of titles remaining on my favourite books of 2016. Very early in the year I came across this work, one that for some strange reason didn’t make the Best Translated Book Award lists, a bleak, dark foggy tale from Marianne Fritz “The Weight of Things”. Here’s my review from February.

 

If there was a scene characteristic of my humble poetics, it would be a foggy atmosphere where a solitary man waked down a lonely road and smoke always got him thinking.

I evoked that characteristic for sequence evident in so many of my stories.

                                   Enrique Vila-Matas ‘The Illogic of Kassel’

A thematic staple in many a literature, the fog, and Marianne Fritz uses the same image in her only translated work, “The Weight of Things”;

Ever since stepping into Ward 66, Wilhelm’s brain cells seemed veiled in a thick waft of fog, so that he could make out his thoughts only vaguely, and he had to proceed slowly and carefully, feeling them out, to be able to tell one from another at all. He resolved to restrict his thoughts to a level appropriate to the circumstances, to concentrate his energies, like a chauffeur driving in the fog who has to focus his attention on the oncoming cars: on seeing them for what they are, on not drifting too near them, on recognizing trees in the roadside shadows, concrete dividers in the spectral darkness, on knowing the median isn’t just a harmless fringe, to grasping, above all, that what surrounds him is real space, not some sort of vacuum, as the fog would prefer him to think – to the extent that a fog prefers anything – and to understanding that this material world is more resilient than he, so that failing to respect it, approaching it with arrogant recklessness, incautious stubbornness, or dogmatic inflexibility, would be extremely dangerous.

Very much like Wilhelm, you need to approach this book slowly and carefully, feel it out, see it for what it is, be aware of the median…it’s not just a harmless fringe.

Marianne Fritz’s first novel, the winner of the Robert Walser Prize in 1978, has recently been translated and released as part of the “Dorothy Project”, a publishing project mainly by women that publishes two books simultaneously, two books that “draw upon different aesthetic traditions”, because their “interest in literature lies in its possibilities, its endless stylistic and formal variety.” And from the opening pages you know that this is gem discovered.

The opening seven pages condenses the period 1945- January 1963 and includes pregnancy, marriage, the post-war decline of humanity, and the Madonna. We have three main characters, Wilhelmine, Wilhelm (who are married) and Berta and we cut back and forth across the eighteen-year period;

In view of Wilhelmine’s inclination to demand fulfilment of every last verbal concession she’d wrung out of him, usually without warning, he might have done better to vow henceforth never to make his vows so hastily, and to leave himself more ways out.

Without a background in German the nuances in the character’s names, and the places names are somewhat lost, however the “Note on the Translation” at the start gave me a clue as to some of the secondary meanings, for example, Berta’s maiden name means fist (‘Faust’ which is also, of course, Goethe’s famous play), Wilhelm’s surname means scream or cry etc. And there are numerical references throughout too, a recurring “unlucky” 13, ward 66, Anniversaries and more, I am sure there are many hidden references to all of these numbers.

The title, “The Weight of Things” is the daily grind of being alive;

“When she’s asleep, you know, she’s not caught up in the world, so concerned with the surface of things. The stamping and molding hands of life, the rolling, pressing, and flattening fingers – the weight of things, life as such, it can’t hurt her so long as she’s asleep. It’s that simple, Sleep startles everything away. Everything and everyone.”

Our novel starts out as a simple domestic story and once the fog descends it loops around on time, with satire, post-World War Two recovery, complex character internalisation, and includes a startling revelation. As I do my best to avoid spoilers in my reviews you won’t know what the revelation is unless you read this work yourself, however it does mean I have to be brief with my comments on this book as the “spoiler” is key to a number of the time threads that run throughout this book.

The afterword by translator Adrian Nathan West, reveals the following about the complex world of Marianne Fritz and her work, this being the only work we will possibly see in English;

Indeed, her entire oeuvre works toward a vindication of the livers of the poor, mean and especially women, who were expelled from the dignified arenas of Austrian society in the first half of the twentieth century and crushed like roaches under the millstone of history.

There are many articles available about Marianne Fritz’s other works, the untranslatable “Whose Language You Don’t Understand”, a 3,392-page story set in 1914, not only the beginning of World War One but also a “period in which the traditional agrarian economy gave way to industrialisation, when those who had previously worked the land became a despised and neglected appendage to the modern capitalist state.” This was followed by a 7,000 page ten volume work reproduced directly from Fritz’s typescript, a work so complex the spacing, drawings, angles of the text making it impossible to typeset.

A wonderfully bleak, dark, foggy tale, set during a further period of human decline after the second world-war, with Biblical references to Sodom and Gomorrah, Christ and the Madonna, this can be read as a straight forward tale, it can also be mulled over, steered through carefully, and is a work that demands a re-read from the moment you finish it. A worthy contender to make the Best Translated Book Award lists for 2016 and another wonderful addition to the world of Women in Translation.

Bottom’s Dream – Arno Schmidt (tr. John E. Woods) Pages 71-80

On the surface, it appears to have been a slow week on the “Bottoms Dream” progress charts, a mere nine pages…at this rate I should be done sometime in 2019!!!

The nine pages of narrative contain further discussions on Poe’s works and a lot more references to “Undine” by Friedrich Heinrich Karl de la Motte, Baron Fouqué, the work I reviewed during the week, “the entire work bubbles=over with the most obfayus water symbolism”. As Arno Schmidt advises (through the narration of Dan) “For one Fouqué there are fifty Molières”.

The debate about Poe’s works contains the instruction “reread, in cold blood, the end of >ELEONORA< sometime: there’s no longer hymnic prose but rather a very culious meowing with a heavily swollen tongue<<”. So, Poe’s “Eleonora” I read:

They who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night.

A nice early quote to align with Arno Schmidt’s references to Freud’s “Interpretation of Dreams” and to his (narrator Dan’s) theory of etyms.

A story where the narrator tells of his undying love for his cousin Eleonora, although he tells us he is made in later life we are meant to understand that he is sane in the earlier sections of his story. The tale set up for the reader to wonder, what is the source of our narrator’s madness?

The loveliness of Eleonora was that of the Seraphim; but she was a maiden artless and innocent as the brief life she had led among the flowers. No guile disguised the fervor of love which animated her heart, and she examined with me its inmost recesses as we walked together in the Valley of the Many Colored-Grass, and discoursed of the mighty changes which had lately taken place therein.

The valley where our narrator and Eleonora live has become stunning since they have declared their love for each other, voluminous clouds, murmurs that swell, flowers grow where none had been known before, the tints of the green carpet deepen, ruby-red asphodels spring up…the etyms are rife.

SPOLIER ALERT for this short story, another Poe one AND “Undine” – “Eleonora” is the tale of two wives, as is the other Poe references story “Ligeia”.

“Ligeia” opens with an epigraph by Joseph Glanvill, a quote which will be referenced several times throughout the story itself;

And the will therein lieth, which dieth not. Who knoweth the mysteries of the will, with its vigor? For God is but a great will pervading all things by nature of its intentness. Man doth not yield himself to the angels, nor unto death utterly, save only through the weakness of his feeble will.

Very similar to the story of “Eleonora” this story tells of an undying love for Ligeia, whose physical features are described in vivid detail in the opening sections;

Those eyes! those large, those shining, those divine orbs! they became to me twin stars of Leda, and I to them devoutest of astrologers.

Another case of passionate writing about a woman the narrator dearly loves;

Of all the women whom I have ever known, she, the outwardly calm, the ever-placid Ligeia, was the most violently a prey to the tumultuous vultures of stern passion. And of such passion I could form no estimate, save by the miraculous expansion of those eyes which at once so delighted and appalled me — by the almost magical melody, modulation, distinctness and placidity of her very low voice — and by the fierce energy (rendered doubly effective by contrast with her manner of utterance) of the wild words which she habitually uttered.

This story containing the opium infused ramblings of a man grieving through the death of both of his wives, including all the trademark horror we (incorrectly) associate with all of Poe’s works, gothic castles, moving tapestries, flickering shadows, spirits and more.

And to continue the sexual references and Dan’s obsession with the young Franziska, there is a brief discussion about her bedding, which then aligns (in the far-right column) to the following text;

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A text that refers again to Fouqué’s “Undine”.

A break in the narration with a new section commenting with “>CROSSING THE BROOK,”, in the far right column there is the following reference “(WILLIAM TURNER; ɪ of my favorites)”

crossing-the-brook-jpglarge

Source www.artrenewal.org

Other literary references abound in the section with discussions with Franziska referring to “Callistris” (which = penis in Rabelais), there’s a passing reference to “those eternally dripping moons” in Poe’s poems and the book by Oppolzer “Canon of Eclipses”, a work published in 1887, which is a compilation of 8,000 solar and 5,200 lunar eclipses between the years 1,270 BC and 2,161 CE. Of course this is a sexual reference, with Dan talking of an eclipse being the same as “>something lacking< – : impotence.”

Further Poe discussions, educational talks to Franziska, as we know our other three characters are all Poe experts, mentioning for Poe it was always summer “winter does not exist”, “even in spots where it should be coldasst, at the pole, it just keeps getting’ hotter!<<” and the fact “>That in His work children appear nowhere & never…<< and “He never assigned a >short’n’plumpy< to be a heroine” – with a reference back to Lady Ligeia again.

We then have two of Poe’s lengthier works references, the prose poem “Eureka” and the story “The Mystery of Marie Roget”, that means a fair amount of Edgar Allan Poe reading over the coming week, two stories not being enough, the other two, more substantial works, are next up on my reading agenda, hence nine pages in a week!!!

Undine – Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué

undine

Arno Schmidt’s “Bottom’s Dream”, which I am slowly making my way through, in the early sections there are several references to Friedrich Heinrich Karl de la Motte, Baron Fouqué’s most popular work “Undine”. As part of my unravelling and immersion into Schmidt’s book, I purchased and read the novella from the German Romantic period.  First published in 1811, the same year as Jane Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility” (originally titled “Elinor and Marianne”) and a year before the German brothers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm published their “Children’s and Household Tales”, “Undine” tells the tale of a watersprite, a nymph with the unique ability to assume the human form.

Following the well-worn Romantic theme of female characters being chaste, subservient, obedient, chaste, coquettish slaves, “Undine” tells of Sir Huldbrand of Ringstetten, a knight who lives in a castle near the source of the Danube. A chivalrous man who travels into a “very wild forest, which, both from its gloom and pathless solitude as well as from the wonderful creatures and illusions with which it was said to abound, was avoided by most people except in cases of necessity.” He does so on the wishes of a noble woman, Bertalda. In the forest he comes across a fisherman, his wife and their adopted daughter, Undine.

The knight interrupted the fisherman to draw his attention to a noise, as of a rushing flood of waters, which had caught his ear during the old man’s talk, and which now burst against the cottage-window with redoubled fury. Both sprang to the door. There they saw, by the light of the now risen moon, the book which issued from the wood, wildly overflowing its banks, and whirling away stones and branches of trees in its sweeping course. The storm, as if awakened by the tumult, burst forth from the mighty clouds which passed rapidly across the moon; the lake roared under the furious lashing of the wind; the trees of the little peninsula groaned from root to topmost bought, and bent, as if reeling, ober the surging waters. “Undine! For Heaven’s sake, Undine!” cried the two men in alarm. No answer was returned, and regardless of every other consideration, they ran out of the cottage, one in this direction, and the other in that, searching and calling.

As a young girl Undine had appeared at the fisherman’s door, to naturally replace their daughter who had fallen into the lake and disappeared. As a young girl Undine (who chose her own name to be used for christening) spoke of golden castles and crystal domes. Whilst both the nameless fisherman and his wife (who is a lightly sketched character) question Undine’s sanity they are not aware that she is in fact a water nymph who has taken human form. She lacks a soul, but can gain one by marrying a mortal – and conveniently for our tale the knight in shining armour, literally, rides into her world.

A mysterious tale with water, moisture references throughout, as Undine marries the knight and her evil uncle, who lives in creeks, fountains, lakes attempts to get Sir Huldbrand to “forsake” Undine near water so she will lose her human soul and return to life as a watersprite. Light romanticism with allusions to sexual activity, the illustrations are more risqué than the text itself, here is the opening paragraph from the chapter titled “The Day After The Wedding”:

The fresh light of the morning awoke the young married pair. Wonderful and horrible dreams had disturbed Huldbrand’s rest; he had been haunted by spectres, who, grinning at him by stealth, had tried to disguise themselves as beautiful women, and from beautiful women they all at once assumed the faces of dragons, and when he started up from these hideous visions, the moonlight shone pale and cold into the room; terrified he looked at Undine, who still lay in unaltered beauty and grace. Then he would press a light kiss upon her rosy lips, and would fall asleep again only to be awakened by new terrors. After he had reflected on all this, now he was fully awake, he reproached himself for any doubt that could have led him into error with regard to his beautiful wife. He begged her to forgive him for the injustice he had done her, but she only held out to him her fair hand, sighed deeply and remained silent. But a glance of exquisite fervour beamed from her eyes such as he had never seen before, carrying with it the full assurance that Undine bore him no ill-will. He then rose cheerfully and left her, to join his friends in the common apartment.

undine1The fantasy fairy tale language a pleasure to read, bringing back childhood memories of similar tales (although I’m not sure I had tales like these to read, ageing memory getting me!!!) And reading this work with an Arno Schmidt bent made some of the references to “Crystal” (see an earlier “Bottom’s Dream” post about the etym there) did make me smile.

“You must know, my loved one, that there are beings in the elements which almost appear like mortals, and which rarely allow themselves to become visible to your race. Wonderful salamanders glitter and sport in the flames; lean and malicious gnomes dwell deep within the earth; spirits, belonging to the air, wander through the forests; and a vast family of water spirits live in the lakes and streams and brooks. In resounding domes of crystal, through which the sky looks in with its sun and stars, these latter spirits find their beautiful abode; lofty trees of coral with blue and crimson fruits gleam in their gardens; they wander over the pure sand of the sea, and among lovely variegated shells, and amid all exquisite treasures of the old world, which the present is no longer worthy to enjoy; all these the floods have covered with their secret veils of silver, and the noble monuments sparkle below, stately and solemn, and bedewed by the loving waters which allure from them many a beautiful moss-flower and entwining cluster of sea-grass. Those, however, who dwell there, are very fair and lovely to behold, and for the most part, are more beautiful than human beings. Many a fisherman has been so fortunate as to surprise some tender mermaid, as she rose above the waters and sang. He would then tell afar of her beauty, and such wonderful beings have been given the name of Undines. You, however, are now actually beholding an Undine.”

As Sir Huldbrand learns of Undine’s background and they travel back through the haunted forest to advise Bertalda that no harm has befallen the hero, the story turns into a romantic love triangle, as we know Sir Huldbrand cannot forsake Undine (she is totally in his power) near water or she will lose her soul and Bertalda had romantic feelings for the knight prior to his departure and the interruptions by Undine’s uncle Kühleborn we know this tale is not going to end happily.

But in a region, otherwise so pleasant, and in the enjoyment of which they had promised themselves the purest delight, the ungovernable Kühleborn began, undisguisedly, to exhibit his power of interference. This was indeed manifested in mere teasing tricks, for Undine often rebuked the agitated waves, or the contrary winds, and then the violence of the enemy would be immediately humbled; but again the attacks would be renewed, and again Undine’s reproofs would become necessary, so that the pleasure of the little party was completely destroyed. The boatmen too were continually whispering to each other in dismay, and looking with distrust at the three strangers, whose servants even began more and more to forebode something uncomfortable, and to watch their superiors with suspicious glances. Huldbrand often said to himself: “This comes from like not being linked with like, from a man uniting himself with a mermaid!” Excusing himself as we all love to do, he would often think indeed as he said this: “I did not really know that she was a sea-maiden, mine is misfortune, that every step I take is disturbed and haunted by wild caprices of her race, but mine is not the fault.”

Throughout the male hero does not take responsibility for his actions, falling for a stunningly beautiful woman, asking her to marry, taking her to a new home, sharing his love with another woman and “mine is not the fault”!!! An interesting tale with the forlorn swooning woman falling for the knight, gaining a soul, holding control through the evil spirit intervention, however wanting to keep her human soul, she is wholly dependent upon the male lead, she is his subservient, obedient, coquettish slave. Often falling into tears to manipulate the hero on horseback the water nymph never takes control of her fate, knowing she is trapped by the curse that the male can forsake her at any time.

This chivalrous tale has an interesting ending (which I will not give away) and one that is a little more pleasant than the ending of the Grimm Brother’s tale “Mother Trudy” – a tale I read as it was referenced Clemens Meyer’s “Bricks and Mortar” (translated by Katy Derbyshire), a recent translated release. The Grimm tale ending as follows:

And with that, she turned the girl into a block of wood and threw it on the fire. And when it was blazing, she sat down beside it, warmed herself up, and said: “Now that really does give off a nice bright light.”

The edition of “Undine” I purchased is published by Dedalus European Classics and interestingly a translator is not credited, the introduction telling us “in 1897 alone, two new translations were published, of which the present is one.” A tale that brings the innocence of nature to life through a character and the suffering that is humanity befalling her as she gains a soul, Undine moving from innocence to sorrow simply through marriage, or through gaining a human soul.

A worthwhile transgression from the reading of “Bottom’s Dream” and I am sure there will be many more references in Schmidt’s novel that I will come across in my journey…..back to it.

Bottom’s Dream – Arno Schmidt (tr John E. Woods) pages 57-71

I have written four blog posts about “Bottom’s Dream”, initial thoughts, Poe references in the first 35 pages, literary references and a critique of Poe’s “Pym” and the use of “etyms”. I will revert back to a  more standard narrative for a while and cover the riches that are to be found, today I look at the section between pages 57 and 71.

Again, I am attempting to add to the riches revealed at the blog “The Untranslated”, not merely transposing the revelations there.

After our characters have climbed through the barbed wire fence, typographically depicted as two lines of xxxxx across the page, they again discuss Poe and his fondness of Spenser’s “The Faerie Queene”;

? wonder if POE was so fond of this >Fairy Queen< because it’s divided into all those cuntos?

Our characters come to a river where the sixteen year old nubile Franziska and her dumpy mother Wilma decide to go for a swim, already having their swimming costumes on underneath their clothes. They begin to undress.

The far left section of the page (the section dedicated to Poe quotes generally – see my post about the page structure) contains the quote;

>A nice morsel from the see< PYM

Aligned to the description of the women undressing. The centre section of the page (the “action”) is here split into two sections, Franziska on the left, Wilma on the right. Franziska’s undressing is, partially, described;

Her flat but bud=dings sat just beneath her collarbones!); suddenly got 2 shameless little nipple=ups; and contentedly stroked at what public=hairlets she had

Wilma described as;

Toppt by giganticoquette nipploosititties; rite Nude Fawnland, left New Foundlong).

The far right hand side of the page (the literary and cultural references) says

>Island of the Narrthorn Hemisphere<; oval from sheer weight (>>a substantial globe<<, >EIROS & CHARMION<

This refers to the Edgar Alan Poe short story “The conversation of Eiros and Charmion”, which opens with the epigraph “Πυρ σοι προσισω” “I will bring fire to thee” from  Euripides. The story is a conversation between Eiros and Charmion, in the afterlife, talking of the destruction of humankind by a comet inflicting a raging fire upon earth;

What minor evils might arise from the contact were points of elaborate question. The learned spoke of slight geological disturbances, of probable alterations in climate, and consequently in vegetation; of possible magnetic and electric influences. Many held that no visible or perceptible effect would in any manner be produced. While such discussions were going on, their subject gradually approached, growing larger in apparent diameter, and of a more brilliant lustre. Mankind grew paler as it came. All human operations were suspended.

The references to Newfoundland, or to women swimming or female body image I could not find, although an enjoyable short “science fiction” story written at a time where the Great Comet was filling headlines, and Biblical prophesies about the world being destroyed by fire;

Yet another day — and the evil was not altogether upon us. It was now evident that its nucleus would first reach us. A wild change had come over all men; and the first sense of pain was the wild signal for general lamentation and horror. This first sense of pain lay in a rigorous constriction of the breast and lungs, and an insufferable dryness of the skin. It could not be denied that our atmosphere was radically affected; the conformation of this atmosphere and the possible modifications to which it might be subjected, were now the topics of discussion. The result of investigation sent an electric thrill of the intensest terror through the universal heart of man.

Sometimes the connections between the main text and the references are not easily solved, however that is part of the thrill of reading this work, read a paragraph (if the sections can be called that) and head off and read something else to get the link or a deeper understanding of the message. Other readers may find the “Eiros & Charmion” link, I did not.

Whilst Wilma and Franziska swim, Dan and Paul discuss various works and the etyms contained in them, taking he smuttiness to a new level whilst the women are absent. First up they talk about “Poe’s fav’rut=piece”, “The Bride of Lammermoor”, the discussion is both about the novel by Sir Walker Scott and the Opera “Lucia di Lammermoor” by Donizetti, the opera being based on Scott’s work.

(The novel appeared in 1819: the DONIZETTI=opera in 35)

The debaters disagree with Poe’s assertions claiming it is one of Scott’s weakest pieces “written in a fortnight<< by the by; according to SCOTT’s own account”. When talking of the opera the far left column talks of Anna Cora Mowatt

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Poe attending Mowatt’s readings and reviewing her writings, the following opening appearing in the “Godey’s Lady Book” June 1846, “The Literati of New York City – No. II” (Written by Poe)

Mrs. Mowatt is in some respects a remarkable woman, and has undoubtedly wrought a deeper impression upon the public than any one of her sex in America.

She became first known through her recitations. To these she drew large and discriminating audiences in Boston, New York, and elsewhere to the north and east. Her subjects were much in the usual way of these exhibitions, including comic as well as serious pieces, chiefly in verse. In her selections she evinced no very refined taste, but was probably influenced by the elocutionary rather than by the literary value of her programmes.  She read well; her voice was melodious; her youth and general appearance excited interest, but, upon the whole, she produced no great effect, and the enterprise may be termed unsuccessful, although the press, as is its wont, spoke in the most sonorous tones of her success.

The parallels between Scott’s work and Poe’s are discussed including the tapestries that “rattle there as they do in >Usher<” and the sexual allusions start coming thick and fast, for example the Castle in Scott’s work is called “Wolf’s Crag” which becomes “Vulv’s Crack” using Schmidt’s pen. There is also talk of ‘Naid’s Fountain half EGERIA, half UNDINE” (more on “Undine” later).

Dan and Paul go on to discuss Wilma’s recent voting in a local election for her swimming instructor going on to state “The Swiss’re absolutely rite not to let their women vote”, the left column containing a reference to MUMMY, which is the short story by Poe “Some Words with a Mummy”.

A short story about a late-night revival of a mummy that has been brought from the Libyan mountains to America, the mummy, Allamistakeo, comes to life and speaks. Not simply a piece commenting on Egyptology, it also contains biting satire of the current era, excessive drinking and eating. The mummy cannot understand the word ‘politics’  so one of the characters draws a hieroglyphic “ a little carbuncle-nosed gentleman, out at elbows, standing upon a stump, with his left leg drawn back, his right arm thrown forward, with his fist shut, the eyes rolled up towards Heaven, and the mouth open at an angle of ninety degrees.”

The conversation continues with explanations to the mummy about many “modern” items to see if the Egyptians had similar, or better learnings or examples:

We then spoke of the great beauty and importance of Democracy, and were at much trouble in impressing the Count with a due sense of the advantages we enjoyed in living where there was suffrage ad libitum, and no king.

The link to the suffragette movement and the passing comment about Wilma’s vote for her swimming instructor.

The sexual discussions on etyms continues between Dan and Paul and they discuss Poe’s overuse of the word “crystal” and the possible subconscious reasons for such, including an extensive discussion about the possible etyms;

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Further discussions take place about Wilma and Franziska swimming and there is a reference to Phryne, allegedly the model for the statue ‘Aphrodite of Knidos” the first nude statue of a woman from ancient Greece. She was also mentioned by Athenaeus as stipping naked and stepping into the sea during the festivals of the Eleusinia and Poseidonia. Her trial is also mentioned by Schmidt, with Hypereides defending her, apparently charged with impiety. When it seemed as if the verdict would be unfavourable, Hypereides removed Phryne’s robe and bared her breasts before the judges to arouse their pity. Her beauty instilled the judges with a superstitious fear, who could not bring themselves to condemn “a prophetess and priestess of Aphrodite” to death. They decided to acquit her out of pity. There are various repudiations of these facts, however given the sexual allusions to young Franziska swimming the references to her beauty and nudity are quite probably the references that Schmidt is alluding to.

640px-Jean-Léon_Gérôme,_Phryne_revealed_before_the_Areopagus_(1861)_-_01.jpg

By Jean-Léon Gérôme – Uploaded by Popszes on 19 February 2006., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=586161

The women then finish their swimming and get undressed, changed, behind some “(very near & sparse) willo brushes”. This aligns to a reference to Poe’s Poem “Eulalie – A Song”

With the moon-tints of purple and pearl,
Can vie with the modest Eulalie’s most unregarded pearl.

Again the middle section is split with Franziska on the left and Wilma on the right, the poetry references aligns with Franziska “beginning of a browninsh pelt” and a further Spenser “The Faerie Queene” reference “>from her yellow haere/christalilne humour dropped down apace<”. Dan’s sexual obsessions with the young Franziska coming to the fore here.

She needs her hair combed and asks Dan, this simple request in Schmidt’s hands becomes;

She was alreddy, mutely, handing me a footlong coalblack comb with an awfullotta teeth; knellt vestally; and held her lo’erd head to me; (subMissively : Your victim! : coif to Your fill!)

The discussion then turns to their favourite books, works, Paul says “New Organon” by Lambert, (Neues Organon by Johann Heinrich Lambert), Franziska mentions a work of art, Raphael’s “Madonna Sixtina”

 

Before we learn of Dan or Wilma’s favourite works there is a long discussion about Poe’s favourite book, “Undine” by Fouqué and a long discussion about all the possible etyms, it finally becomes “Undone by fuck”.

Later in the week I’ll review Fouqué’s work, a 17th century German Romantic fairy tale.