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