Translated from German by Eleanor Bron (1992)
Over the past 10 years, I have acquired many volumes of G-lit on the recommendation of fellow enthusiasts. This is one such that made its made to my collection in 2013 thanks to Alex in Leeds. (Blog no longer extant.) A further piece of trivia is that it is the only green-spined Virago I own!
Are you aware of Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads? Well, think of this as a German version. In eleven monologues, Christine Brückner gives eleven incensed women their say. As a result this book might be better read with strategic pauses, because the cumulative effect of so much anger – even if justified – gives the impression that the women (the author?) is just ranting. Even I switched off at times.
Which is not to say that this is not an enjoyable read, though a lot depends on whether one is acquainted with a particular speaker and the “wrongs” they endured. Brückner’s women are taken from history, both ancient and modern, from real life (Sappho, Mary, Mother of Jesus, Petrarch’s Laura, Katharina Luther, Christiane Vulpius, Gundrun Esslin, Brückner herself) and from literature (Megara – one of three Furies, Clytaemnestra, Effi Briest, Desdemona). Each monologue is preceded by a short introductory paragraph to provide context. Sometimes this sufficed, sometimes it did not.
My favourite pieces were from the women I knew most about. Effi Briest’s monologue proved to me that Brückner’s pieces are detailed and well-informed. I found her portrayal of Effi talking to her deaf dog, Rollo, very nuanced – particularly the explanation at the centre of Effi’s tragedy. (Just why did she keep Crampas’s letters?) Christiane Vulpius (Goethe’s unsophisticated earthy wife) made me laugh as she sat in the lobby drinking port waiting for the very courtly Charlotte von Stein (Goethe’s great platonic love) to grant her an audience. Gundrun Esslin (a member of the Baader Meinhof Gang) terrified me and Petrarch’s Laura, dying of the plague, made me cry.
Other pieces weren’t so successful, either because I didn’t agree with the argument or tired of the tone. There was only one piece that I positively disliked. Ironically, Brückner’s own headache-inducing speech. Probably a combination of me not knowing enough about the person she is ranting at – a Fräulein von Meysenburg – and a deep disquiet at taking a person from the past to task for sins against contemporary attitudes.
All in all, a mixed bag. I’m glad I read it though.