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Archive for November, 2011

As the last read for German Literature Month hosted by Caroline from Beauty is a Sleeping Cat and Lizzy from Lizzy’s Literary Life, in November, I thought I will read two novellas and a short story. This is what I read.

 

The Sandman by E.T.A.Hoffmann

 

 

‘The Sandman’ was first recommended to me by Bina from ‘If You Can Read This’. I finally got a chance to read it today. It is about a young man called Nathaniel, who has lived his childhood fearing someone called ‘The Sandman’. When it is bedtime, his mother tells him that he should go to sleep as otherwise the Sandman will come and take him away. At one point, Nathaniel hears footsteps coming into their house and his mother hurriedly takes him away to his bedroom. Nathaniel thinks it is the actual Sandman entering their home. One day he wants to see the Sandman with his own eyes. So he hides inside his father’s room and waits for this mysterious person. During the appropriate time of the night, the mysterious stranger arrives. He is an old acquaintance of the family whom no one likes. But interestingly, this stranger and Nathaniel’s father get to work on something which looks like sorcery or an alchemical experiment. He screams and faints and is in delirium for weeks. This mysterious person stops coming to their house. A year passes. Then suddenly this mysterious stranger comes back, something happens inside his father’s room, there is an explosion and the father dies. The image of the Sandman is forever seared inside Nathaniel’s heart. Later, after many years, when he is a student at the university, he meets someone who sells barometers and he looks like the mysterious stranger who used to visit his father. Nathaniel gets scared and worried and depressed. An unknown fear possesses him. He writes about this to his fiancée and her brother, who is also his friend. Then strange things start happening in his life. The surprising and tragic turns that Nathaniel’s life takes form the rest of the story.

 

‘The Sandman’ was eerie and scary. I can imagine why it is such a popular classic. We don’t know whether the fears of Nathaniel are based on reality or are a product of his own imagination. At one point Nathaniel’s fiancée writes this to him :

 

“If there is a dark and hostile power, laying its treacherous toils within us, by which it holds us fast and draws us along the path of peril and destruction, which we should not otherwise have trod; if, I say there is such a power, it must form itself inside us and out of ourselves, indeed; it must become identical with ourselves. For it is only in this condition that we can believe in it, and grant it the room which it requires to accomplish its secret work. Now, if we have a mind which is sufficiently firm, sufficiently strengthened by the joy of life, always to recognize this strange enemy as such, and calmly to follow the path of our own inclination and calling, then the dark power will fail in its attempt to gain a form that shall be a reflection of ourselves. Lothaire adds that if we have willingly yielded ourselves up to the dark powers, they are known often to impress upon our minds any strange, unfamiliar shape which the external world has thrown in our way; so that we ourselves kindle the spirit, which we in our strange delusion believe to be speaking to us. It is the phantom of our own selves, the close relationship with which, and its deep operation on our mind, casts us into hell or transports us into heaven.”

 

I found that passage quite powerful. The story also asks some questions on what is possible with science and technology – whether human-like machines can be created. It is interesting that Hoffmann thought about this in the early 19th century.

 

Another passage I liked in the novella was where the narrator of the story wonders how he can start a story. It goes like this :

 

“I was puzzled how to begin Nathaniel’s story in a manner as inspiring, original and striking as possible. ‘Once upon a time,’ the beautiful beginning of every tale, was too tame. ‘In the little provincial town of S____ lived’ – was somewhat better, as it at least prepared for the climax. Or should I dart at once, medias in res, with “‘Go to the devil,” cried the student Nathaniel with rage and horror in his wild looks, when the barometer-dealer, Giuseppe Coppola . . .?'”

 

Interesting analysis of how to start a story, isn’t it? It made me remember Kleist, who includes an unexpected event in the first sentence of his stories and grabs the reader’s attention.

 

I want to read more stories by Hoffmann now. If you would like to read ‘The Sandman’ online, you can find it here.

 

You can find other reviews of this novella, here :

 

Caroline’s Review

Nymeth’s Review

 

The Jews’ Beech by Annette von Droste-Hülshoff

 

 

‘The Jews’ Beech’ was recommended by Caroline in her ’14 German Women Writers You Shouldn’t Miss’ post. As it was short, I thought I will read it. I also found the writer’s name interesting – she must be the writer with the longest name whose work I have read J It is about the life and times of a boy called Friedrich Mergel. The story starts in 1738 and ends towards the end of the 18th century. How this boy grows up to become a young man and the experience he goes through and the strange happenings in the village where he lives form the story. There are thieves who come to the forest near the village and cut trees without permission. The rangers try to catch them but the thieves repeatedly evade them. During this time, one of the rangers is killed. Nobody knows what happened. Some suspicion falls on Friedrich, but he has an alibi. Friedrich has an uncle who seems to have a mysterious background and there is another boy called Johannes who is, strangely, Friedrich’s lookalike. What happens across the years and how the fortunes of Friedrich turn out form the rest of the story.

 

One of the passages from the book, which I really liked, came on the first page of the story and went like this :

 

It is difficult to view that period impartially. Since its disappearance, it has been either arrogantly criticised or absurdly praised, because those who experienced it are blinded by too many dear memories and those born later do not understand it.

 

I read two translations of ‘The Jews’ Beech’ online – here and here. The first one seemed to be closer to the original as it had long sentences and traditional words and constructs. I started with that, but when I lost track of an important element of the story, I went and read the second translation, which had shorter sentences and modern words. However, there were some issues I had with the second translation – for example Friedrich’s mother’s name was anglicized from Margrethe to Margaret. And Johannes Neimand’s name to John Nobody. It made me wonder what is more important in a translation – whether the story has to be conveyed clearly to the reader or whether the style of the author in the original book should be preserved. It made me appreciate the difficulties and intricacies of translation and how one translated version could vary significantly from another.

 

The Beggar Woman of Locarno by Heinrich von Kleist

 

This is a short story by Kleist, which I found here. It is about a beggar woman who is taken into a Marquis’ castle and lives in one of the rooms. Unfortunately, one day the Marquis asks her roughly to move from her corner to near the stove and when the old woman is trying to do that she slips and falls and injures her spine and dies in agony. In later years, the Marquis is not doing well financially and wants to sell-off his castle. Unfortunately the beggar woman’s ghost haunts the room where she lived her last days and the impact this has on the Marquis and his wife forms the rest of the story.

 

I have read only longer short stories and novellas by Kleist till now. This was a ‘short short’ and was around two pages. So it was a breezy read. Kleist also didn’t have the space to squeeze in so many characters in the story, like he normally does J Even then he manages to sneak in four characters!

 

On German Literature Month

 

I had a wonderful time during German Literature Month. It was fun to read new writers and works that I haven’t read before. I discovered many wonderful new writers whose works I would like to explore in the future. I also won two Kleist novellas in a giveaway and I liked both of them very much. My only regret was that I wanted to read a couple of thick books – ‘Every Man Dies Alone’ by Hans Fallada and ‘Ink Heart’ by Cornelia Funke – but because I was away from blogging for a week, I couldn’t do that. I really wanted to read Fallada’s book. I hope to read it next month. When I look at the books I had read, I discovered that I had read lots of novellas and short stories – 7 novellas, 17 short stories. I also read three novels. I hope to read more novels next time.

 

Lots of thanks to Caroline and Lizzy for hosting German Literature Month. Congratulations to all the participants for participating and thanks for all the wonderful posts. I am already looking forward to ‘German Literature Month’ next year.

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I won ‘Michael Kohlhaas’ by Heinrich von Kleist in a giveaway hosted by Caroline from Beauty is a Sleeping Cat and Lizzy from Lizzy’s Literary Life, who are also the hosts of German Literature Month in November. I read it in one sitting. Here is what I think.

 

 

What I think

 

‘Michael Kohlhaas’ is about a horse dealer of the same name who is honest and works hard and has a happy family. Once, when he is travelling to the market to sell horses, he is stopped on the way, near a castle, and the castellan asks him to pay the toll charge. He also harasses him asking him for documentation that he doesn’t have. Then, the castellan holds back two of his horses and asks him to come back with the documentation and collect them. When Michael Kohlhaas goes to the city, he asks his friends who work in the government whether any new documentation is required. He discovers that it is not required and that the castellan has just harassed him. He lets things be. After selling the other horses he had brought with him and completing his business he goes back and asks the castellan for his horses. The castellan asks him to take his horses from the stable. When Kohlhaas goes to the stable, he discovers that in his absence, his horses have been worked to death, and are unrecognizable. His groom, who he has left behind to take care of the horses, is missing. The castellan says that the groom didn’t behave himself and so was expelled. Kohlhaas is extremely annoyed, but lets things be. He goes back home and finds his groom, who has been beaten up by the castellan and others and is recovering from his injuries. After listening to the groom’s side of the story, Kohlhaas discovers that he has been taken for a ride. He files a case in a court of law against the owner of the castle, Junker Wenzel von Tronka, asking for his horses to be returned in their original condition. But von Tronka is a knight and has connections everywhere and so Kohlhaas’ case is dismissed. Kohlhaas tries repeatedly to get justice through normal means but his attempts are foiled. His wife tries to help him but it results in her death. Kohlhaas decides to defy the law and find justice for himself. What happens next forms the rest of the story.

 

‘Michael Kohlhaas’ is a vintage Kleist novella. It grips the reader from the first page. Normally the first line of a Kleist novella grabs the reader’s attention, but in this novel, it is the last line of the first page which does that. It goes like this – “But his sense of justice turned him into a brigand and a murderer.” I suspect that out of Kleist’s novellas, this must be the longest at 131 pages. Like a typical Kleist novella, it also has dozens of characters – it is amazing how many characters Kleist manages to squeeze in, in such a short space.

 

‘Michael Kohlhaas’ is the story of a normal man who finds it difficult to get justice on a small issue and ends up fighting the system – the courts, society, the government, the King. It is like an everyday man goes at war with the world. He is clearly the underdog. As readers, we know that the odds are stacked against him, but we root for him. We hope he wins in the end. We hope he is happy in the end and continues with his normal life. Michael Kohlhaas wins. But he opens a Pandora’s Box while doing that and this leads to not-so-good consequences for him.

 

An innocent man pitted against the might of the world is a theme which has been frequently exploited by writers and movie-makers. I didn’t know that the original version of this theme was first envisioned by Kleist in this novella. My favourite movie versions of this theme are ‘Payback’ (which has Mel Gibson) and the Tamil movie ‘Dhool’ (which has Vikram and Jyothika). Both of them have happy endings. ‘Payback’ seems to have been inspired by an older movie which was based on a novel and I think if we dig deeper we will end up at the footsteps of Kleist’s book.

 

I haven’t read Kleist’s ‘The Marquise of O-‘ yet, but till I get to it, I have to say that ‘Michael Kohlhaas’ is my favourite novella of his. I discovered that there is a 1969 German movie version of this book. I want to see that sometime.

 

Other Reviews

 

Tony’s Review

 

Have you read ‘Michael Kohlhaas’ or other novellas of Kleist? What do you think about this or other books of his?

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I won ‘The Duel’ by Heinrich von Kleist in a giveaway hosted by Caroline from Beauty is a Sleeping Cat and Lizzy from Lizzy’s Literary Life, who are also the hosts of German Literature Month in November. I read it in one sitting. Here is what I think.

 

 

What I think

 

‘The Duel’ is a short novella. It is around fifty pages. It is smaller in size when compared to regular paperbacks. The edition I read was published by Melville Press and it has a distinctive, unique look. The paper was quite beautiful and the font was delightful. It was a pleasure to read. The first thing I thought of, while reading the book and after finishing it, was what would happen, when the whole world moves to e-readers and e-books and paper books become a thing of the past. Yes, we will save trees, which is a good thing. But the feeling of holding a beautiful book in one’s hand, turning over the pages, taking in the fragrance of the paper, taking pleasure in the touch and feel of the paper, revelling in the delight of a beautiful font – all this is going to be lost. Anne Fadiman says in her essay ‘Never do that to a book’ that to her and her family what mattered most were the words in a book and a book’s look and feel and whether the pages were dog-eared or had stains were not important. I am guessing Fadiman wouldn’t have any issues in moving to an e-reader and staying there. But I will miss all these if I start using an e-reader. I am not a Luddite. I love the kind of changes new devices bring. I love the fact that one can get a new book on an e-reader the day it gets released. And I also love the fact that one can change the font-size of an e-book to suit one’s needs. I also know that I can put my whole book collection inside an e-reader. But I will miss all the beauty and the delights that a paper book offers. Maybe I am an old-fashioned romantic.

 

Before I write about Kleist’s book, I wanted to write about something else. I discovered through the book that there are other books called ‘The Duel’. The others were written by Giacomo Casanova, Anton Chekhov, Joseph Conrad and Alexander Kuprin. I have read the one by Casanova. I have the one by Anton Chekhov in a collection. I want to read that and the other two novellas too. Maybe I will do ‘The Duel reading festival’ J I have read one by Georgette Heyer called ‘The Duel’, but that is more a short story than a novella.

 

The simplified plot of ‘The Duel’ goes like this – a Duke is killed one day by an arrow and the Duchess gets his kingdom. The Duke has an estranged half-brother, Count Rotbart, who could have disputed the fact that the Duchess got the kingdom but he behaves gracefully. Things go well, till it is discovered that the arrow which killed the Duke came from his half-brother’s armoury. The half-brother protests against this and says that he is innocent and on the night the Duke was killed, he was in the company of a beautiful noblewoman called Littegarde. Rotbart shows evidence in support of his claim and which look convincing. Littegarde denies this, but she is not able to bring independent witnesses to support her denial. One of Littegarde’s admirers, a knight who was also the slain Duke’s chamberlain, tries to help her and save her honour. He challenges Count Rotbart to a duel. Interesting things take place during the duel and after surprising twists and turns the story reaches an interesting conclusion.

 

I liked ‘The Duel’ because it is a vintage von Kleist story. The themes and ideas that Kleist explores are all there – the unexpected surprising start, the way events unfold in people’s lives suddenly like a storm, how these events toss people to unexpected highs and lows and how it all ends in a surprising way. The first Kleist story I read was ‘The Earthquake in Chile’. It had a sad ending with a thin silver lining. ‘The Duel’ has a happy ending. Kleist must have been in a good mood when he wrote this story.

 

I can’t wait to read my next Kleist book. Which is ‘Michael Kohlhaas’. I am also going to check Melville House’s catalogue and buy all their books. They have a real awesome collection.

 

Other Reviews

 

Caroline’s Review

 

Have you read any books by Heinrich von Kleist? What do you think about them?

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This is the third and final week of the Effi Briest readalong. Here are my answers to the readalong questions for the third week.

 

 

Why do you think Effi kept Crampas’s letters?

 

It was quite interesting that Effi kept Crampas’ letters. Maybe she didn’t want to let go off her affair and she had those letters so that she can read them sometime and be reminded of the good times she had, though they might not have been socially acceptable.

 

Did Innstetten have a choice?

 

I think as an individual, Innstetten had a choice. But as he says sometimes society dictates how one lives and it is difficult to defy those norms. And if one defies those norms, then one might become an outcast. It takes a lot of courage to defy norms. This is true even today in the 21st century. But the fact is that Innstetten stil had a choice. If he had wanted, he could have defied norms. Or he could have kept the affair quiet.

 

Are there any events in this final section that make you feel outraged?  Is that how Fontane wants you to feel?

 

I felt sad at the way the story took the turn it did. I was hoping that Innstetten would show some character and talk things over with his wife and calm things down. But he didn’t. I was hoping that Effi’s reunion with her daughter will go off well. But it didn’t. I was hoping that Effi will find joy in being an artist and will meet someone her age who is interesting and exciting. It didn’t happen. And the ending was so sad.

 

Is there a villain in this piece?

 

I don’t think there is a villain in the story. I think the strength of the novel is that it depicts people as complex, paradoxical, imperfect and realistic beings.

 

Discuss Effi’s reaction to her mother’s accusation “You brought it on yourself”.          

 

I felt sorry that Effi believed that she was wrong and her husband was right. I will put it down to 19th century values, but there were circumstances which led Effi to do what she did and I think her husband could have been kinder and more sensitive to her and tried to understand her instead of pulling the trigger. Especially when, if the situation had been reversed, and if it had been Innstetten who had been having an affair, he wouldn’t have suffered the way Effi did. Things might have gone merrily for him. Unless he had a rival who challenged him to a duel and shot him like he did Crampas. But I guess this is me trying to impose 21st century sensibilities into a 19th century novel. The position of women in those days was, regrettably, not equal to that of men. Any amount of ranting by me is not going to change that. Fontane describes this aspect of his era quite realistically.

 

The lot of the real-life Effi, Elizabeth von Plotho, was a much happier one. Why do you think Fontane made the outcome for Effi much harder?

 

I was surprised to know that Effi’s character was based on the real-life Elizabeth von Plotho. When I read more about her, I could imagine how the story of Effi Briest must have emanated with readers of that era, because it was based on the life of a real person. I am not sure whether Elizabeth von Plotho’s story had a happy ending – because she seems to have suffered the same way as Effi did. But, fortunately, she got reconciled with her children and also outlived her husband by more than thirty years. But her sufferings while being ostracized from her family and community were probably very real. Fontane has probably depicted the life of Effi quite similarly except for the ending.

 

Were you surprised by the ending?

 

I was surprised and saddened. A more life affirmative ending would have been to build on Effi’s interest in art which could have resulted in her being a famous artist in the end. But probably a 19th century audience wouldn’t have accepted that kind of ending – the redemption of an adulteress. It is amazing how reading taste and cultural values have changed so much in a century.

 

Where would you place Effi in the pantheon of C19th fictional adulteresses?

 

I haven’t read the other two novels with which ‘Effi Briest’ is compared – ‘Madame Bovary’ and ‘Anna Karenina’. So, it is difficult for me to answer this question. I would say that ‘Effi Briest’ probably gives a German perspective on this topic.

 

Do you think you would ever reread Effi Briest?

 

I hope to read atleast some of my favourites passages again. One of my favourites was :

 

Everything that is to give us pleasure must come at the right time and in the right circumstances, for what delights us today may be valueless tomorrow. Innstetten felt this deeply, and as certainly as he had formerly laid store by honors and distinctions coming from his highest superiors, just so certainly was he now firmly convinced that the glittering appearance of things amounted to but little, and that what is called happiness, if it existed at all, is something other than this appearance. “Happiness, if I am right, lies in two things: being exactly where one belongs–but what official can say that of himself?–and, especially, performing comfortably the most commonplace functions, that is, getting enough sleep and not having new boots that pinch. When the 720 minutes of a twelve-hour day pass without any special annoyance that can be called a happy day.”

 

If I get to learn German sometime, maybe I will try to read this book in German.

 

You can find links to replies of other readalong participants here.

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I discovered ‘Three Bags Full’ by Leonie Swann during one of my random browsing sessions at the bookshop. I thought I will read it for German Literature Month hosted by Caroline from Beauty is a Sleeping Cat and Lizzy from Lizzy’s Literary Life. I did a readathon yesterday and finished the book. This is what I think.

What I think

Glennkill is a village and a meadow in Ireland. One morning the sheep which graze there discover that their shepherd, George Glenn, is dead, with a spade driven through his body. They want to find out who killed their beloved shepherd. Soon the village people discover the shepherd’s body. And the police come in and investigations start. But nobody is able to find anything. Meanwhile, the sheep, led by the intelligent Miss Maple (named after you-know-who), start their own process of detection. They use their sharp sheep intelligence and soon they discover interesting things about the village and the people who live there and about their shepherd George. How they find the killer of George and what happens in the end form the rest of the story.

I found ‘Three Bags Full’ interesting because the whole story is told from the sheep’s point of view. Miss Maple is the smartest among the sheep and she leads the investigation. Mopple the Whale accompanies her because he is the one who has the best memory. Othello the black ram joins in too, because he is courageous. Other sheep join in at different times – Maude and Heather and Rameses and Cloud and Zora and Sir Ritchfield and Cordelia. Even a lamb which doesn’t have a name joins in at times. There is also a mysterious sheep called Melmoth which joins in after a while and contributes to the investigation with his intelligence and his worldly experience.

I liked the book for some of the descriptions which Leonie Swann gives. Not long ones. But short, one sentence or one phrase descriptions.  Like this :

They were standing on the cliffs between the watery-blue sky and the sky-blue sea.

And this :

The sea looked as if it had been licked clean, blue and clear and smooth…

And this :

A gentle breeze softly fanned their fears away…

And this :

The horizon was rosy as a March lamb’s nuzzle now.

And this :

…their tension melted away like mist.

And this :

A hot wind was blowing through his shaggy fleece, making the wool ripple like trembling gray flames.

And this :

Out there dark had fallen. Dense, velvety night air, incredibly sweet and clear, streamed into his nostrils.

And this :

When Melmoth told them something, it was like a strange wind caressing their faces, a wind spiced with vague presentiments and mysterious scents.

The mystery when it was resolved wasn’t so surprising, but the way the sheep went about resolving the mystery was delightful and fascinating. On the way, the author talks, through the sheep’s voices, about the art and science of detection and how an author can nudge readers in a particular direction by giving false clues. For example, there is a passage which goes like this :

The sheep knew what investigating meant; they had heard the word in the detective story. During investigations the detective delves into other people’s business and gets into difficulties.

In another place Miss Maple says this about suspects :

“Have you noticed something? A little while ago no one would have thought it of Gabriel, because we liked him. And now he’s a suspect, because we don’t like him anymore. Perhaps we’re making a mistake. The murderer could be someone we like.”

In another place she says this about how things may not perfectly fit in a murder puzzle :

“…perhaps not everything has to fit. Perhaps it’s a mistake to think that everything always has to fit together. In that detective story it was all supposed to fit, and then it got tangled up, and George threw the book away. Perhaps the answer is that many things simply don’t fit. Things that we think are connected, but really they don’t have anything to do with each other.”

There were many delightful passages in the story. Some of my favourites :

She thought of the day when she brought her first lamb into the world, she thought of the pain, and the anxiety later, because the lamb had been brown as earth, even after she had spent ages carefully licking the blood off his coat. Brown as earth, with a black face. Later the brown would turn a woolly white, but Zora wasn’t to know that at the time. She had wondered why she was the only sheep in the meadow not to have had a white lamb. But then the lamb had bleated, tiny and brown as he was, and he had a more beautiful voice than any of the other lambs. He had smelled good too. And Zora knew she would defend him against the whole world, whether or not he was the brown color of earth.

What do the sheep do in the flock? They grazed and rested. What would he do without a flock? Graze and rest, of course. Anything else was just imagination.

“A flock of sheep can be herded because you know something about them. You know they’ll stay together. They’ll do all they can to stay together. That’s why you can herd them. You can’t herd a single sheep on its own. A sheep on its own is unpredictable. Sometimes being alone is an advantage.”

      What helped him was the wind.

      For the wind brought with it – who knew from where? – a leaf, and laid it carefully in front of Othello’s hooves. A golden leaf. Autumn gold. Swallow-flying time. The time of scents, mating time. Once again he turned back to the meadow, where Mopple, Maple, Zora, and Cloud were gazing reverently at a gray cloud. But he saw none of them. What he saw, scented, felt with all seven senses and several brand-new autumn senses too, were three dazzling beauties with white fleeces and intoxicating scents. And a rival, young and strong but inexperienced.

 

I enjoyed reading ‘Three Bags Full’. One of my favourite lines from the book’s blurb went like this – “It’s…as if Agatha Christie had rewritten The Wind in the Willows…” Isn’t that perfectly put?

If you like cozy mysteries with animal characters, you will like ‘Three Bags Full’

Have you read ‘Three Bags Full’? What do you think about it?

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This is the second week of the Effi Briest readalong. I could’t post about it last week, because I joined the readalong quite late. Here are my answers to the readalong questions for the second week.

What strikes you most in this novel,  what do you like or dislike the most?

I like the descriptions of Effi’s house in the initial part of the book – about how Effi is a playful girl who is playing with her friends and how in less than an hour her life is going to change in a fundamental way. I also found it interesting that Fontane doesn’t describe the major events in the novel – for example, Effi’s wedding or the music session by Marietta Trippelli. (I don’t know whether this is the translator’s doing or whether Fontane himself shies away from describing these events. I assumed that Fontane was the one who did it.) For some reason Fontane shies away from describing these important events in the novel. Even the affair between Effi and Crampas, which is an important part of the novel, is implied rather than described. I found this quite interesting. It seemed like Fontane wanted the reader to read closely and work hard to follow the story. Or he seemed to imply that what we consider important and what we consider common place in our lives, are all the same in the long run. I don’t know what Fontane thought, but I found this aspect of the novel quite interesting.

Do you think Fontane likes Effi? Whose side is he on?

Effi is the heroine of the novel and Fontane takes a lot of space in describing the events surrounding her life. I am not sure whose side Fontane is on. I felt that he tried to describe nineteenth century German values quite realistically and beautifully in the book and tries to show the world of that era from different perspectives.

What do you make of the story of the Chinese and the haunted house. How would you interpret it? And what about Crampas’ interpretation?

The story of the Chinaman and the haunted house was quite interesting. It succeeded in providing an eerie and haunting atmosphere for part of the book. I don’t know whether this is a feature of nineteenth century German literature, because I am discovering haunting and eerie descriptions in novels by different nineteenth century German authors. The haunting of the upstairs room seems to be real from Effi’s perspective. But as readers, we are not sure whether this is just a dream or a hallucination of Effi as a result of her conversation with her husband and her maid on the Chinaman, or whether the haunting is real. Crampas’ interpretation of the haunted room is interesting. I didn’t like it when I read it, because it looked like a smooth guy’s way of poisoning a girl’s heart. But when I read the book further, I wasn’t sure. Because there seemed to be some element of truth in what Crampas said that her husband was using the haunted house description to make his wife think in a particular way.

Descriptions are an important part in Effi Briest. How do you like them and how important do you think they are for the novel?

I liked the descriptions in ‘Effi Briest’. The descriptions in the initial part of the book which describe Effi’s carefree life are a pleasure to read. One of my favourite descriptions in the book comes in the last chapter (so this is a spoiler). It goes like this :

The only one who remained calm during the welcoming scene was Rollo himself, who either had no appreciation of time or considered the separation as an irregularity which was now simply removed. The fact that he had grown old also had something to do with it, no doubt. He remained sparing with his demonstrations of affection as he had been with his evidences of joy, during the welcoming scene. But he had grown in fidelity, if such a thing were possible. He never left the side of his mistress. The hunting dog he treated benevolently, but as a being of a lower order. At night he lay on the rush mat before Effi’s door; in the morning, when breakfast was served out of doors by the sundial, he was always quiet, always sleepy, and only when Effi arose from the breakfast table and walked toward the hall to take her straw hat and umbrella from the rack, did his youth return. Then, without troubling himself about whether his strength was to be put to a hard or easy test, he ran up the village road and back again and did not calm down till they were out in the fields.

It struck me while I was reading this novel how Fontane pairs descriptions of cozy and scary. Did you notice this as well and if so, what did you make of this?

I didn’t notice this when I read the book. But when I think about it now, I think it is true. Fontane’s pairing of contrasting situations – cozy and scary –  is quite interesting. He definitely plays with opposites to create an interesting effect.

What do you think of Crampas?

I didn’t like Crampas much. His character is not really explored in depth in the book, though it serves an important part in the central theme of the book. He starts out as a playboy kind of character, and I didn’t find that changing much. Though towards the end I found it sad to read about him.

Fontane chose to describe more than one Christmas in this novel, what do you think Christmas signifies?

Fontane describes the contrasting Christmas weeks during different times of the novel. They reveal the pulse of the current moment in the story – the initial happy days of Effi’s married life, the days leading to her affair with Crampas and the time when she spends Christmas alone, cutoff from the world. In one way, reading the description of Effi’s Christmas during these three times, we can discover the central theme and plot of the story and its ebbs and flows.

What kind of mother is Effi?

She loves her daughter and accepts her as she is. And later pines for her. And is disappointed with her reunion with her daughter.

Where will the novel go from here? What do you think will happen next?

At the end of Chapter 24, Effi has settled down in Berlin and the second phase of her life has started. We hope that it will be peaceful for her and her family and the uncomfortable events of the past are forgotten. But the past has a way of coming back into one’s life. So, it will be interesting to wait and see what happens.

You can find the link to other participants’ readalong posts here.

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I know that the second week of German Literature Month is dedicated to German crime fiction. But I thought I will read more of one of the authors whom I discovered last week, first, before tackling some German crime fiction. I loved Theodor Storm’s ‘Immensee’ when I read it last week. So, this week I thought I will read Storm’s ‘The Rider on the White Horse’ which was recommended to me by Caroline from Beauty is a Sleeping Cat, who is hosting German Literature Month with Lizzy from Lizzy’s Literary Life. I got Storm’s book and read it today. I finished it sometime back. Here is what I think.

 

 

What I think

 

‘The Rider on the White Horse’ is a story set in a small North German village. It is told by a narrator, who seems to be the author, but we are not sure. The narrator says that he read this story half a century ago, in his great-grandmother’s place, in a newspaper. The story in the newspaper is told by another storyteller. This storytelling traveller is riding through a storm, despite his friend warning him to stay back in the warmth of the home, because he has some urgent business. On the way, he suddenly sees a ghostly white horse with a rider brushing past him in the opposite direction. The horse and the rider come back and pass him again. In a short while, the storyteller arrives at a village inn. He goes in and discovers that a few people – the dykemaster and a few dyke overseers – are having a conversation. He joins them. After a short while he tells them about the white horse and the strange horseman. Everyone becomes silent. When the traveller asks them about it, the dykemaster says that there is a story behind the white horse and its rider. The dykemaster asks the local village schoolmaster to tell the story. While the storm rages outside, the schoolmaster tells the story of Hauke Haien, how he was a lonely and an intelligent boy, how he got interested in mathematics, design and related topics, how he went to work at the place of the dykemaster of that time and how he fell in love with the dykemaster’s daughter Elke. The schoolmaster’s story goes on to tell the story of Hauke and Elke, how they get married and how Hauke becomes the dykemaster after many years, realizing his dream and how he planned a major project of building a new dyke, how it turned out to be a tremendous success but made a lot of people in the village suspicious of him and how a small flaw in the dyke and the violence of nature lead to disastrous consequences in the end.

 

‘The Rider on the White Horse’ evokes the haunting atmosphere of the North Frisian landscape, with its farms, dykes, storms and floods. I liked that aspect of the book very much. It also gives an interesting picture of North Frisian people and their culture. The book also contrasts reason with superstition – Hauke Haien wants to use logic while building a dyke, while the people of the village who are working with him are superstitious and suspect him. Many haunting visions appear throughout the story – the ghostly horse with its strange rider, a mermaid, strange creatures that Hauke sees near the dyke, when he is young, and which he sees again later, when he comes there as an adult with his young daughter. We are not sure whether these visions are optical illusions or whether they actually are what they seem to indicate. The reader is expected to form his / her own conclusions based on which side of the divide he / she is in. The story has a sad ending – how can it be otherwise, when it happens in the middle of a storm?

 

I liked ‘The Rider on the White Horse’ for the haunting images it evokes. I can’t wait to read more of Storm’s novellas.

 

If you would like to read ‘The Rider on the White Horse’ online, you can find it here.

 

Have you read ‘The Rider on the White Horse’? What do you think about it?

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