They Divided The SkyI wanted to read Christa Wolf’s second novel when it featured as one of the the artefacts in Neil MacGregor’s Germany: Memories of a Nation last year. Published in 1963, two years after the Berlin Wall was built, it brought Wolf political favour, for its explanation of why some people chose to stay in the East.

Actually the novel starts with a traumatic event – the nervous breakdown of a young girl called Rita.  The story which follows is Rita’s telling of what led up to that point.

When Rita meets Manfred, she is young, inexperienced, shy and timid. He is 10 years older, an educated man, protective, if also patronising.  They move into the attic at his parent’s home, where he occupies himself writing a thesis and she, a trainee teacher, starts a summer job, in a train carriage manufacturing plant. This is where her political education begins.  As she learns to respect her comrades, even in the face of some unsavoury workplace politics, her own respect for the ‘new society’ grows.  At home with Manfred, who despises his ex-Nazi father,  his West-loving and possessive mother, and, once he has been disappointed by them, the socialist values of the East, life is not so comfortable.  The day arrives when Manfred’s disaffection is complete and he fails to return from an academic conference in the West.  Rita is devastated. As soon as she can, she visits Manfred, with the intention of staying herself.  Yet she determines in the course of one day that the West is not for her.  She forgoes her lover and returns to the East.

The nervous breakdown that follows show the cost of this act of faith.  For act of faith it is.  Rita’s memories do not depict an idealistic socialist society.  Petty politics and power struggles in the factory, harsh treatment by die-hard Stalinists on those left behind by relatives fleeing to the West show the limitations and potential cruelties of this fledgling society.  And yet she chooses what she knows over the limitless freedom of the West, hopeful that this new society will, with her help, become a success. It is a decision that sits well, once she has recovered her health.

Maybe later people will realize that during a long, difficult, threatening and hope-filled historic moment it is the spiritual courage of countless ordinary people that determines the fate of those who are born afterwards.

Set in the summer before and the autumn after the building of the Berlin Wall, these words in the context of the novel give voice to the sincere hopes of those who chose to stay and help build what they hoped would be a better society. (The author included). The novel was controversial on both sides of the Wall. In the West because Manfred, the defector, is shown to be unhappy in his new life.  In the East, because of the imperfections alluded to above, Wolf was decried by hardliners as a degenerate.

Christa_Wolf_Reading_Week.pngThis didn’t stop the East Berlin publishing house, Seven Seas Verlag, turning the novel into a piece of propaganda.  In her fascinating introduction, Luise von Flutow, translator of They Divided The Sky, explains the liberties Seven Seas Verlag took with the novel when they first translated it into English in 1965.  This included replacing the 1st person narrator with an omniscient, non-critical third, and removing entire sections because they didn’t conform with party discipline. This changes the entire tone and feel of Wolf’s novel.  Note well, therefore, if you choose to read Divided Heaven, translated by Joan Becker, you will be reading a novel substantially different to the one Wolf wrote.

For the final post of Schiller week, I am dressed in my glad rags to relive one of the literary highlights of 2015 – a night out at the German National Theater in Weimar.  I determined that one day I would see a play by either Schiller or Goethe performed there.

Deitsches Nationaltheater, Weimar

Deutsches Nationaltheater, Weimarr

Once upon a time, i.e 12 October 1798, Goethe was the director of this theatre, then known as the Weimarer Hoftheater, and he premiered Wallenstein’s Camp – the first part of what was to become the Wallenstein trilogy.  Schiller has come a long way since his debut, which Goethe hated.  In the years since, the two men have become firm friends and mentors. It’s almost 10 years since Schiller wrote Don Carlos. In the meantime Schiller has been Professor of History and Philosophy at Jena, and has written a history of the 30-years war.  So he is well-acquainted with his subject – the mass of material,  the complex political landscape, the intrigues and his main character, Albrecht Wenzel Eusebius von Wallenstein.

Schiller summarised his character thus: Sein Charakter ist niemals edel und doch is er kolossal. (His character is never honourable and yet he’s a colossus.) A quick look at the facts show Wallenstein to be a charismatic man, a gifted and successful commander-in-chief, who inspired loyalty in his troops.  But with a troubled relationship with his Emperor, who distrusted him, and whom he did not consider sufficiently grateful. Wallenstein was a man with an ego.   This diagnosis is confirmed by the Wallenstein Palace in Prague, which he built to rival Prague Castle, and is so impressive that it is today a fitting home for the Czech State Senate. But lest we forget who built the place, there he is, depicted as Mars, riding high across the skies in the main hall.

Wallenstein as Mars

Faced with the challenge of distilling this character into theatrical form, Schiller does something extremely clever. He starts the trilogy in the army camp and we come to know Wallenstein through the testimony of his soldiers.  Why does he do this?  From Schilller’s own prologue:

Not he it is, who on the tragic scene
Will now appear
Whom his command alone could sway, and whom
His spirit fired, you may his shadow see,
Until the bashful Muse shall dare to bring
Himself before you in a living form;
For power it was that bore his heart astray
His Camp, alone, elucidates his crime.

Wallenstein is here at the height of his powers.  His soldiers are happy to be under his command because he allows them to run riot over the countryside!  Provided they maintain discipline in the ranks, that’s OK by him.  He is powerful and unchallenged, except by one.  The Emperor Ferdinand who fears Wallenstein may soon have ideas above his station.


Wallenstein, Schiller Room, Weimar Palace

Wallenstein does have ideas above his station.  This is the half-way point in the 30 years war.  The land is ravaged and the people are suffering,  Wallenstein is thinking of switching sides.  His idea is that this will enforce a truce to the good of all.  He is the man who wants to change history. The supreme dramatic irony is that this moment in which he begins to plot against his own emperor is the moment he fails.  All that happens from here on in is his inexorable slide to disaster.

Ferdinand discovers the plan and decides to assign half of Wallenstein’s troops to his Spanish generals.  This forces Wallenstein’s hand.  But he’s in for a nasty shock because the Swedes aren’t going to play the game that Wallenstein has designed. Caught between a rock and a hard place, Wallenstein is forced to retreat to Eger, where he is assassinated with the emperor’s consent.

I’ve restricted myself to the political plot here, although there are other narratives.  Wallenstein’s is not the only tragedy. There’s the tragedy of the village folk, pillaged out of existence by Wallenstein’s troops, and the tragic love story of Max Piccolomini, the son of Ferdinand’s spy, Octavio, and Wallenstein’s daughter, Thekla.  But holding the whole together is the demise of Wallenstein, from seeming invincibiliity to victim of assassination and why?  As Schiller himself says “For power it was that bore his heart astray.”

I read the trilogy in English, translated by James Churchill and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, prior to going to the theatre.  It was a wise move.  I may be able to read Schiller’s German (with a dictionary) but I certainly couldn’t keep up with 4 1/2 hours of constant dialogue.   Anyway, one of my first thoughts was this is impossible to stage.  For example: the opening stage direction:

Sutler’s tents – in front, a slop-shop,  Soldiers of all colours and uniforms thronging about.  Tables all filled.  Croats and Hulans cooking at a fire.  Sutler-women serving out wine.  Soldier-boys throwing dice on a Drum head.  Singing heard from the tent.

Got that?  So when the curtain opened in Weimar, it revealed a huge white cross lying horizontally across the rest of the stage.  Then two bishops climbed onto it to set the religious backdrop; thereafter two soldiers to tell the military history to this point.  Unexpected but brilliant in its simplicity and intense from the start.  It stayed that way, although I wasn’t too keen on the modern dress. I understand it is to signify the continuing relevance of the themes in today’s world, but, really wouldn’t a audience choosing to attend a 4 1/2 hour Schillerian performance have the intelligence to understand that anyway? One scene will stay with me forever – the scene when Wallenstein meets the Swedish messenger.  It was chilling when I read it.  It must have been terrifying for Wallenstein to comprehend the size of his miscalculation, and the staging in Weimar was designed to show how the great commander had been reduced to the size of a little fish. (Photos here.)

Schiller may have had a 10-year break from writing drama, but he produced a masterpiece in Wallenstein.  Even those fierce critics of his, the early Romantics, were forced to admit its worth.

In unserem Kreis hatte man keine große Neigung, Schiller sehr günstig zu beurteilen; man ließ ihm kaum Gerechtigkeit widerfahren, und dennoch sprach sich der mächtige Eindruck, den das Stück hinterlassen hatte, fast unwillkürlich aus. (Henrik Steffens)

Our circle had no great desire to judge Schiller favourably. We would hardly give him any credit and yet we found ourselves talking unwillingly about the powerful impression the play had made on us. (Trans my own.)

Schiller_Reading_Week.png3 trips to Weimar in 2 years and it’s already a custom to spend a couple of hours browsing (and spending lots of cash) in my favourite bookshop.  There are lots of excellent bookshops in Weimar but my favourite without a shadow of a doubt is the one in the Bauernhaus, tucked just behind the marketsquare: the Eckermann-Buchhandlung, with its wall of books dedicated to literary history in Weimar, and its two literary giants Goethe and Schiller.  The selection ranges from the highly academic to the distinctly quirkly.  I now have a capsule collection and it has been my great pleasure in the run-up to Schiller Reading Week to refer to these time and time again. As the knowledge from these has contributed significantly to my posts about Schiller, it’s only right to give them their five minutes of fame.

bitt und bettelbriefe Gnädigster Herr, Ich habe Familie – Schillers Bitt- und Bettelbriefe (Most gracious Sir, I have a family – Schiller’s requests and begging letters) is a judicious selection of Schiller’s letters with commentary from Christiana Engelmann.  The first letter dating from November 1780 is from the time when the young Schiller was looking for an agent to help him publish The Robbers.  He’s trying to persuade his former school friend to take on the role and in the P.S he promises:

Höre Kerl! Wenn’s reussiert.  Ich will mir ein paar Bouteillen Burgunder drauf schmecken lassen.
Listen Mate.  If it succeeds, I’ll drink to it with a couple of bottles of burgundy.

The final letter, dated 20 August 1804 is addressed to Princess Caroline of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach, and asks her to become the godmother of his fourth child.  The tone is markedly different.

Werden Sie mir verzeihen, gnädigste Prinzessin, dass ich mir die Freiheit genommen habe, Sie als Patin meiner kleinen Emilie zu nennen?
Most gracious Princess, will you excuse me for taking the liberty of naming you little Emily’s godmother?

The letters inbetween chart the difficulties, struggles and triumphs of Schiller’s life.  All I can say is that his supporters must have worshipped him, because at times, despite desperately needing every penny they can send him, he comes across as quite imperious. And yet, when writing to the aristocracy he never forgets his position.  He’s a fawning groveller par excellence – no more so than in his sign-off to Carl Eugen, Duke of Württemberg.

Euerer Herzoglichen Durchlaucht untertanigst treugehorsamster Schiller
Your Excellency’s most submissive and obedient Schiller

The book is illustrated through with cartoons by Gottfried Müller.

schillers frauenSchillers Frauen (Schiller’s Women) consists of 42 portraits of the women – both real and fictional – in Schiller’s life.  It provides a look at the man from another angle as well as insights into which woman inspired which character.  For example Charlotte von Kalb – the married woman with whom Schiller had an affair before fleeing Mannheim when all became too intense. Her feelings are projected onto Elisabeth von Valois, married to the King of Spain but still in love with his son, Don Carlos, to who, she was formerly betrothed.

The chapters are presented chronologically with fictional women inserted into the timeline of the real.  All are visualised either by painting, drawing, lithograph or in silhouette.

It’s not a book I’m likely to read cover to cover but it is a book I’ll reference again and again.

schillers kritikerSo too, the final book in this selection, Torsten Unger’s Freiheitsschwabe und Moral-Trompeter: Schillers Kritiker (Freedoms’s Swabian and Moral Trumpeter: Schillers Critics). A book full of insults and invective spanning the centuries from the C18th right up to the present day.   A quick scan of the contents page reveals that the world of German literature hasn’t universally acclaimed dear old Fritz, who had a penchant for making enemies.  It seems the fire in the writer of The Robbers never diminished and he didn’t reserve his criticism to his literary works.  That feud with the early Romantics I alluded to in the A-Z that began Schiller week was more or less an outright war at times.  C19th and C20th  giants of German culture added their tuppence worth to the mix.  Heine, Buechner, Jean Paul, Grillparzer, Hebbel, Nietzsche, Fontane, Brecht, Enzensberger, Duerrenmatt, they’re all here.  They can’t all be wrong, or can they?

Grillparzer is particularly damming in his faint praise. Schiller geht nach oben, Goethe kommt von oben. (Schiller is on his way to the top, Goethe comes from there.)

This book is wicked and I can’t read a chapter without a gleeful smile on my face.  I recommend this to those who, scarred by school experiences, think reading Schiller is torture.  (I know you’re out there.) There is a companion volume Fuerstenknecht und Idiotenreptil: Goethes Kritiker (Prince’s henchman and reptile of idiots: Goethe’s Critics). No-one is safe from a literary critic it seems.

(Apologies for the lack of umlauts in the second half of this post  – they will return when I retrieve my ipad from the office.  I was in such a rush to leave earlier today ….)

Ladies and Gentlemen, We have a ticket to a world premier.

It’s 13.01.1782 and we are headed to the Mannheim Theatre to see the first performance of a debut drama: Friedrich Schiller’s The Robbers.  We know this play because we read the text when it was published last year.  We are expecting fireworks – metaphorically speaking – for the plot is sensational.

Two brothers are at war – only one, Karl, the older brother doesn’t realise.  He has left home to escape the strictures of his position and do his own thing for a while.  His younger Machiavellian brother, Franz, is taking advantage of his absence to turn their father against him.  Gradually his father’s feelings cool to the point of estrangement and Karl is disowned.  This drives him to despair and he joins a robber band, becoming their leader.  Franz then makes a play for his brother’s childhood sweetheart, Amalia, and disposes of his father ….

(I’m deliberately not giving specific detail here, because I wouldn’t want to rob you of the shock value. Even now, when I was reading Alexander Fraser Tytler’s 1792 translation in 2015, the plot twists literally took my breathe away.)

Events conspire to bring Karl back to his father’s estate – only, he cannot make himself known for he is a criminal.  This cannot end well, nor does it, even if the villain of the piece gets his just desserts.  But that is not the end.  The final brutal end comes as Karl realises there is no way back to his previous existence and takes extreme measures to shorten the suffering of those he loves.

Storm and stress in spades! Back in 1782, there was an uproar as the play challenged familial loyalties, ducal authority, established notions of criminality and justice.  And the young 21-year old author was in the audience to see the effect of his drama.  It must have been a heady mix for him, because he was in hot water.  He had abandoned his post as regimental doctor in Stuttgart to attend and the Duke of Württemberg will hold him to account.  His punishment will be a ban on publishing anything again!  Sooner than he knows the young Schiller will emulate Karl Moor and run away (although, thankfully not to a criminal future.)

As mentioned before, The Robbers still retains its power to shock. Overwrought language, heightened emotions, bold depictions of violence prevail throughout. It’s melodrama at its finest.   What a villainous creature is that Franz Moor!  I love a good villain (by that I mean an evil conniving schemer.)  He ticked all the boxes until an out-of-character crisis of conscience.  What I can’t stand is a female who is the epitome of virtue without a single flaw.  Enter Amalia … Yawn.  Still I can’t be too hard on the playwright.  At the time of writing, he had been cooped up in an all male military academy for 8 years.  What did he known of real femininity?  All he could create was a amalgam of the perfect female creatures he had encountered in the literature he had read.

Schiller_Reading_Week.pngSo while The Robbers is not perfect, it certainly brought Schiller to the attention of the literary establishment of the time.  What did Goethe, that contemporary giant of German Literature think?

Ich komme aus Italien zurück und finde Dichterwerke im großem Ansehen, die mich äußerst anwidern.  Zum Beispiel Die Räuber. Das Rumoren, das sie erregt haben, der Beifall, der gezollt wurde, erschreckt mich.  Schiller ist mir verhasst, ein kraftvolles, aber unreifes Talent. (Page 27 Schillers Kritiker – Torsten Unger)

I return from Italy and find some completely repulsive literary works held in high regard.  For example The Robbers. The disquiet it has caused, the plaudits it receives, frighten me. I hate Schiller.  He’s a powerful but unripe talent. (Translation my own.)

Don’t hold back, Goethe!  He changed his mind about Schiller, once he met him, but this assessment of Schiller’s writing capability at the time of The Robbers was spot on.

© Lizzy’s Literary Life 2015

A-Z Schiller

German Literature Month V opens with Schiller reading week. But who was this Schiller? He is the playwright voted the most influential after Shakespeare by the audience of the TV channel Arte in 2008; an  accolade proving this 18th century wordsmith still has things to say to us in 2015.

Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller (Fritz to his family) was born (without the von) on 10 November 1759 in Marbach to an army recruitment officer.  His parents, intending him to become a pastor, ensured he was taught Latin and Greek.  Later, his intelligence caught the eye of Carl Eugen, Duke of Württemberg, who decided to educate him at the Karlsschule, his elite military academy.  Schiller eventually studied medicine there.

He married Charlotte von Lengefeld in 1790, but there were many C’s in his life: her sister Caroline von Wolzogen (who wrote the first biography of Schiller in 1830),  his early love and the woman who never really stopped loving him, the married Charlotte von Kalb.  Also Carl Eugen, Duke of Württemberg, who educated him and Carl August, Duke of Saxe-Weimar, who elevated him to the realms of immortality.

10 years prior to his marriage, he was working as a regimental doctor in Stuttgart, which he hated. Having completed his debut play, The Robbers, he took out a loan to publish 250 copies.  (Yes, even Schiller had to self-publish!)  In 1782, he went absent without leave to attend the opening of The Robbers in Mannheim.    The  play, a stormy and stressful affair, caused a sensation, and not only amongst the audiences. Carl Eugen was not amused and he banned Schiller from ever publishing anything ever again! This ultimately led to a complete break, with Schiller fleeing the Duchy of Württemberg in September 1792.

The loans taken to publish The Robbers were the first in a series that were to plague Schiller’s early career. It wasn’t until he arrived in Weimar in 1787, with the patronage of Carl August, Duke of Weimar, that life  began to settle. There he was ennobled, becoming Friedrich von Schiller in 1802.

Perhaps the most influential friendship in German literary history was formed in Weimar, Schiller’s friendship with Goethe.  Though it’s fair to say that, at first, the older man, who wasn’t at all keen and actively avoided meeting the young upstart.

Ich vermied Schillern, der, sich in Weimar aufhaltend, in meiner Nachbarschaft wohnte.

I avoided Schiller, who, while in Weimar, lived in my neighbourhood.

Goethe couldn’t avoid him forever and made his acquaintance in 1794.  A friendship developed and following the publication of The Fall of the Low Countries (1788) and The 30 Years War (1791-2) Schiller was, with Goethe’s support, appointed Professor of History and Philosophy at the University of Jena.

Mary and Elizabeth (Schiller Room, Weimar Castle)

Not that his academic career interfered with his imagination in any way.  In his two classical dramas, The Maid of Orleans and Mary Stuart –  both published 1800/1801 –  historical fact does not impinge on dramatic requirement.  In the first Joan of Arc dies in battle (not burnt at the stake as a witch) and in the second, the emotional, political and dramatic climax is a meeting between the two queens, Mary and Elizabeth, a meeting that never took place.

Jena was Schiller’s home for 10 years. (1789-1799).

Without Christian Gottfried Körner Schiller may have sunk into debt-ridden obscurity.  Schiller and Körner became friends in 1784, and, when Schiller’s debts threatened to overwhelm him, he fled to Körner spending some time on his estates in Loschwitz in Dresden.  Körner bankrolled Schiller on may occasions thereafter, never ceasing to encourage and discuss Schiller’s literary and philosophical concepts.

Many of those discussions have been preserved in their correspondence.  Schiller was an inveterate letter writer, particularly adept at writing begging letters.  (More on these later in the week.)

This skill was a matter of survival.  Schiller’s early career was a hand to mouth affair, particularly when in 1784 his one year contract as director of the Mannheim National Theatre was not extended.

Schiller’s only novel, The Man Who Sees Ghosts,  remained unfinished.  Unlike his ballads and plays, many of which were adapted and turned into opera.  The most famous musical piece has to be this section of Beethoven’s 9th symphony which incorporates Schiller’s Ode to Joy, which he dedicated to the aforementioned Körner.

Professor Schiller (as he would have been known to his students in Jena) taught history and philosophy. Amongst the philosophical concepts important to him were Wieland’s Die Schöne Seele (the beautiful soul), human freedom and das Erhabene (the sublime) or the ability for human to put aside their instinct for self-preservation and sacrifice themselves for higher ideals.

Schiller cries freedom! “No ties bind me. / No bounds chain me. / I fly freely through space. / Thought is my immeasurable kingdom and words are my winged tools./” Rough translation my own.

All of which is extremely laudable, and yet  Schiller’s actions were sometimes questionable. He didn’t always repay his debts, he had an affair with a married woman, and there may or may not have been a ménage à trois with his then future wife and her sister!  An assured fact is that he was less than pleasant towards Goethe’s partner, Christiane Vulpius.  The story goes that while staying with Goethe for two weeks in 1799, Schiller never spoke to Christiane, nor sent a word of thanks when he left.

Not that Weimar society would have criticised him for that – the Goethes didn’t marry until long after Schiller’s death.  Nevertheless Schiller wasn’t without his contemporary critics.  The German Romantics were less than impressed with Schiller’s idealism.  Caroline Schelling (another C!) once noted: Last night we almost fell off our seats laughing at Schiller’s poem Song of the Bell.

Sturm und Drang (Storm and Stress) was all the rage when Schiller began writing, so he was a latecomer to the movement.  Yet his early dramas – The Robbers, Fiesco, Passion and Politics and Don Carlos are now recognised as prime examples.

The Thalia (1784-1791) was the first cultural magazine edited by Schiller. In 1795 he set up a monthly periodical – Die Horen – which published pieces from all the great names in German literary circles of the time (including those pesky Romantics.) Another less known string on Schiller’s bow was his translation work.  Do you recognise this piece from Shakespeare’s Macbeth?

Ist dies ein Dolch, was ich da vor mir sehe, Den Griff mir zugewendet? Komm! Laß mich dich fassen, Ich hab’ dich nicht und sehe dich doch immer. Furchtbares Bild! Bist du so fühlbar nicht der Hand, Als du dem Auge sichtbar bist? Bist du Nur ein Gedankendolch, ein Wahngebilde Des fieberhaft entzündeten Gehirns? Ich seh’ dich immer, so leibhaftig wie Den Dolch, den ich in meiner Hand hier zücke. Du weisest mir den Weg, den ich will gehn; Entweder ist mein Auge nur der Narr Der andern Sinne oder mehr werth, als sie alle. –Noch immer seh’ ich dich und Tropfen Bluts Auf deiner Klinge, die erst nicht da waren. – Es ist nichts Wirkliches. Mein blutiger Gedanke ist’s, der so heraustritt vor das Auge!

Demetrius on Schiller’s Desk (Schillerhaus, Weimar)

Demetrius was Schiller’s final play – it was unfinished at time of his death from tuberculosis on 9th May 1805. A page remains on his desk in Weimar to this day.

The emotional pitch of Schiller’s text may be hard to swallow these days, but he couldn’t half write a good villain! Franz from the Robbers, The Duke of Alba from Don Carlos spring immediately to mind.

Following his decade in Jena, Schiller returned in 1799  to Weimar, where that friendship and collaboration with Goethe grew ever closer resulting in the golden age of Weimar Classicism and the founding of the Weimar National Theatre, where the two of them preside to this day.

Goethe and Schiller Memorial, Weimar

Before that, however, they penned The  Xenien, a series of wicked satirical epigrams designed  to answer their literary and philosophical foes and critics. They didn’t hold back!

If you had imagination, and wit, and sensitivity and judgment

Really you would not lack much for being like Wieland and Lessing.

When Schiller died, he was a relatively young man of 45, at the zenith  of his career.  Goethe was grief-stricken and penned an Epilogue to Schiller’s Song of the Bell.  (I doubt Caroline Schelling fell off her chair laughing at this.)


Source materials:

My own photographs / 3 trips to Weimar / Gnädigster Herr, Ich Habe Familie: Edited Christiana Engelmann ISBN 978-3-8353-0159-6 / Schillers Frauen – Joseph Kiermeier-Debre ISBN: 978-3-423-13769-0 / Schillers Kritiker – Torsten Unger ISBN 978-3-95400-300-6

© Lizzy’s Literary Life 2015

Just 48 hours and then it’s time for

Giveaway books have been sent (although the last giveaway is currently running over at Caroline’s place.) The German Literature Month linkies have been set up.  Two linkies this year: one for author/blogger recognition, the second for translator/author.  I thought it would be interesting to build a translator index in addition to the traditional GLM Author Index.  So if you would dual entry your contributions (where appropriate) and #namethetranslator in your reviews, that would be really helpful.

if you are going to participate, please leave a comment below.  This will help me update the German Literature Month participants Blogroll too.

And finally, there are not one but three #germanlitmonth badges this year. In addition to the main one (above), there is a badge for Friedrich Schiller Reading Week (November 1-7) and another for Christa Wolf Reading Week (Nov 8-14).

Take your pick and join in where you wish.  if not for the reading weeks, then perhaps for the readalongs. I’m hosting a readalong of Ursula Poznanski’s Erebos on November 20 and Caroline is hosting a readalong of Erich Maria Remarque’s A Time to Love and A Time to Die on November 27.

Should none of the above appeal, you can read (as little or as much) as you please throughout the whole month.  Only one rule: whatever you read must have originally been written in German.  OK, two rules: enjoy yourself!

I look forward to discussing German Literature with you throughout November.  I’m well prepared this year – I have already read 10 books and there are more on the reading pile.  The question is will I have the time to blog about them all?  We shall see.  I love a challenge. 😄

EDIT: 31.10.2015

I’ve now set up the German Lit Month participant blogroll over at http://www.germanlitmonth.blogspot.co.uk. I think I’ve got everyone who’s registered an interest either here or over at Caroline’s place. We have a starting line-up of 33! If I’ve missed you, or you wish to join in anytime during November, just let me know and I’d add you in.


The Story of the Lost Child Translated from Italian by Ann Goldstein

Review contains spoilers.

Does the world need another Ferrante review?  No.  Does the world need my thoughts on the finale of the Neapolitan quartet?  Definitely not.  On that basis I shouldn’t be writing this, but I’m in completist mode and I did review the first three books on Shiny New Books last year.  It would be a shame not to finish what I started.

The benefit of that SNB piece is that I can quickly remind myself of my expectations when cracking open volume 4.  They included the hope of a thrilling and shocking climax and the hope that Lenu would come to her senses.  Let’s take them in reverse sequence.

In this story of a long and troubled friendship, Lenu has been the fortunate one.  Thanks to her parents’s sacrifices for the sake of her education, she escaped the neighbourhood, enjoyed a university education, and by the time book 4 starts has established a literary career of her own.  At the same time, she makes a highly unintelligent choice and runs away from her husband with a deeply unsuitable man.  It’s going to end in tears.  It does, along with anger and recriminations, but not before Lenu has a love child.  This, by the way, is a woman who has already established that she cannot sacrifice her career for the demands of motherhood.  Can I scream now?

The inevitable breakup leaves her a single-parent and finds her moving back to the Neapolitan neighbourhood of her childhood, where, thankfully there is no shortage of childminders, paid or unpaid, to take care of her 3 children (2 by her ex-husband) while she’s off flying around the world on jaunts with various lovers or book tours.  While the neighbourhood is an ugly and dangerous place to be (she constantly bemoans its bad influence on her children), she stays because it provides plenty of material for her pen.  It’s not until her two elder children move away to join her ex-husband (I wonder why she says sarcastically), that she thinks it might be better to remove herself from the area before she loses her third daughter also.

I completely lost patience with her.  Her professional reputation is that of a feminist but I’m avoiding that word, because she’s a poor ambassador. At times Lenu became as vain, self-centred, egotistical and deluded as her waistrel of a lover, Nino.

(This, by the way, is a complete reversal of my feelings as they were at the end of book two.)

My relationship with Lila travelled on an opposite trajectory. She’s not easy to like, and I can’t say I ever did, but I grew to respect her.  She has suffered a life of hard knocks – the refusal of her parents to educate her, an abusive and violent first marriage, working her way through a succession of menial jobs to become a successful business woman, at the same time never leaving her kids to fend for themselves with strangers, struggling with a difficult first son and still having the generosity to become a quasi surrogate mother to Lenu’s daughters.

I suppose this is Ferrante’s novel of motherhood.  While Lenu whinges and makes excuses for herself, Lila gets on it with, practically, and, surprisingly for a woman with so many jagged edges, lovingly. The things that threatened to take over the domestic concerns at the end of book three (politics, feminism, terrorism, organised crime) are almost relegated to background noise.  Long expected assassinations cause nothing but short-term ripples.  Daily, domestic life goes on, and, with it, ongoing psychological torments.

So what about my shocking climax? We know from the beginning of book one that Lila has disappeared, and that she and Lenu were not in contact for years prior to that.  Finally the mystery is solved. It’s not at all what I expected at the start of book 4, but becomes inevitable as life throws that final horrible curveball at her.  Poor Lila. Poor, poor Lila.


© Lizzy’s Literary Life 2007-2015


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