My intention for German Literature Month was, apart from the readalongs and Kleist, to discover new authors. This post should have been a review of something by E T A Hoffman but after Vishy posted about Immensee during week 1, I found it utterly inconceivable that I should spend a month reading German literature and not pick up anything by Theodor Storm. So my apologies to Hoffman – your day will come, I promise – but for now I have returned to the bosom of my second beloved Theodor. Don’t ask me to pick between Theodor Fontane or Theodor Storm …
who were contemporaries and friends. While Fontane wrote novels, Storm restricted himself to novellas. Economic circumstances dictated this choice to some extent. Storm had a large family to support and novellas have a faster turnaround. Also the novella has roots in oral story telling. They are stories to be told/read in one sitting. According to Fontane, Storm was a fantastic storyteller.
I can still see how we sat round the large oval table, the ladies with their work in their hands, we with our eyes directed expectantly at Storm. But, instead of beginning, he first stood up, and making an apologetic bow towards Frau Kugler, went to the door to lock it. The thought that the servant might come in with tea was intolerable to him. Then he turned the oil-lamp right down, though it was already provided with a semi-opaque green shade, and then he began …. He was totally engaged in what he read, almost intoning the words, while his eyes lit up like a sorcerer’s peering at us at the same time to measure the kind of effect his words were having on us at every turn. We were supposed to be captivated by the ghostly, amused by the humorous … He wanted to read each and every response in our faces … (Theodor Fontane – From Twenty to Thirty)
If Storm had been reading my face, whilst I was reading this fourth collection of stories translated by Denis Jackson, he would have found the captivation he sought in his live audiences. What an immeasurably sad series of tales documenting the transcience of life, the loss of familial relationships, and the impossibility of living up to our ideals, promises and plans in a world which is indifferent to our sufferings and carries on regardless. All told with the greatest economy and precision and translated in the same way, I may add.
This collection contains four of Storm’s novellas. By the Fireside takes us to the heart of a 19th-century household as its occupants gather round the fireside for an evening of ghostly story telling. The Swallows of St George’s shows how easy it is to lose the love of one’s life forever. The Last Farmstead wraps the devastating impact of the Napoleonic Wars on Storm’s beloved Schleswig-Holstein into an allegorical love story. Carsten The Trustee shows how even the most honourable and well-intentioned parent can still fail their child. (Well, we can discuss whether that is actually the case, but it’s certainly the burden of guilt that Carsten feels – a reflection of the troubled relationship that Storm himself experienced in relation to his eldest son, Hans.)
I felt sad reading this stories for two reasons. 1) The empathy I felt with both the author and his characters and 2) This is the fourth volume of translations by Denis Jackson. I have read the other three and reviewed two of them here and here. What is a girl to do now besides hope that there are more volumes to follow? (Please DJ, hear my pleas!) In the meantime, there is no other option. It’s time to go back to the start and read them all again!
P.S A piece of book cover trivia - Compare the cover of Carsten The Trustee with an earlier Penguin edition of German Literature Month Readalong Effi Briest. The picture which graces the cover of books by both my beloved Theodors is known to the world as Living-Room with the Artist’s Sister by A von Menzel. I call it Effi in Kessin. It’s no wonder I went to visit her in the Neue Pinakothek last time I was in Munich.