Posts Tagged ‘Heinrich von Kleist’

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 November. And it is time for German literature month 🙂 Hosted by Caroline from Beauty is a Sleeping Cat and Lizzy from Lizzy’s Literary Life. You can find the homepage of this challenge with introductory posts, information on readalongs and giveaways, the list of participants and potential books that will be read, here.


I wrote a post on the books that I wanted to read for German Literature Month. As it always happens, after one makes plans, I changed the plan when November arrived. I had two short story collections which had German stories and I decided to read them first. One was a collection of German stories and it had creations by many of the masters there. The second one was a collection of short stories from across the world and it had a German section. I started reading the stories on Tuesday and finished the last story today.


The Stories


These are the stories I read (by alphabetical order of the author’s last name).


Flagman Thiel by Gerhart Hauptmann – Flagman Thiel works in a bunk in a remote forest and his job is to open the gate and show the flag when the train passes. He has a son by his first wife whom his current wife treats badly. But Thiel likes being left alone and allowing the house to be run by his wife. How long can he ignore the unfair situation at home and bear the pressure in his heart? Unfortunately, something tragic happens and suddenly the taut string in his heart breaks and all hell breaks loose. An interesting story on what happens when a nice guy is pushed to the edge.


Gods in Exile by Heinrich Heine – It tries to picture what Greek gods who were expelled from people’s hearts and minds after the advent of Christianity might be doing today. The last scene where Zeus cries after discovering the status of his beloved temple is very poignant.


Harry’s Loves by Hermann Hesse – It describes Harry’s loves at different times in his life. I suspect that this is an excerpt, probably from Hesse’s novel ‘Steppenwolf’. I suspect that because the name ‘Steppenwolf’ appears many times in the story.


A Country Doctor by Franz Kafka – It is about a country doctor who has to go to a patient’s home urgently, but there is no coach available. Very Kafkaesque, with a lot of fantastic elements open to different kinds of interpretation, and very difficult to understand (atleast for me).


The Married Couple by Franz Kafka – Another typical Kafka story. Though I could connect with the story better. It is about how a couple who are married for many years are connected to each other in a very deep way from different perspectives.


The Naughty Saint Vitalis by Gottfried Keller – Vitalis is an unconventional monk. Every night he goes to disreputable houses, and prays for the beautiful girl who practises her profession there, for the whole night. Most of the time, the concerned girl gets frustrated by Vitalis’ strange behaviour but by morning her heart has changed and she reforms her ways and joins a convent. But then Vitalis meets a girl, whom he is not able to change despite his repeated visits. And more interestingly, Vitalis has a young admirer who lives in the neighbourhood, who wants to change him. What happens next is the rest of the story.


The Earthquake in Chile by Heinrich von Kleist – It is about two lovers whose love is not accepted by their elders and society and how an earthquake, which brings misery to everyone, brings them back together and brings happiness and joy to them. And how all this taken away again at the blink of an eye.


Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler – I didn’t know this when I read it, but I discovered that ‘Darkness at Noon’ is a novel. What I read appears to be an excerpt from the last part of the novel. It is about the execution of a prisoner in a country which is very similar to the former Soviet Union of the 1930s-40s and his thoughts on the hours preceding his execution. It was very poignant with beautiful passages. Also, isn’t that such a wonderful title – beautiful, dark, terrifying – making us want to find out what happens in the story.


Three Minute Novel by Heinrich Mann – The narrator describes his love life in a kaleidoscope of quickly transitioning images.


Death in Venice by Thomas Mann – A writer decides to get out of his comfort zone and long work days and tries to do something adventurous – that is he goes on a holiday. He goes to Venice. He notices a Polish family staying at the same hotel as him and one of his chief pleasures is to observe what they are doing everyday. He is particularly attracted to the young son and at one point falls in love with that beautiful boy. This unexpected sway of his heart makes him question his past and his life.


Disorder and Early Sorrow by Thomas Mann – Describes a party in a professor’s house and how a young girl experiences the first stirrings and pangs of love in her heart.


How Old Timofei Died Singing by Rainer Maria Rilke – Old Timofei sings in his village and is the best singer among all the neighbouring villages. In Timofei’s profession there is a tradition that all the songs that the father knows are taught to the son who will carry on the legacy. But Timofei’s son has had a quarrel with him, married a beautiful girl and left home to live in another city. Timofei is getting old and there is no one to whom he wants to pass on his songs and his legacy. Will Timofei’s son return back? Or will Timofei take away all his beautiful songs with him?


The Tale of the Hands of God by Rainer Maria Rilke – What were the Hands of God doing when man was created? This story tries to answer that.


The Sport of Destiny by Johann von Schiller – It is about a young man who becomes the prince’s favourite and how that impacts his life and career and the ups and downs he has. The story painted a picture of how capricious destiny is.


The Dead are Silent by Arthur Schnitzler – A man and married woman are having an affair. During one of their clandestine meetings, the coach they are travelling is overturned, overthrowing the man and the woman. The woman is not hurt but the man falls unconscious. What does the woman do? Does she summon help and wait for it to arrive and risk her honour? Or does she abandon the man she loves and escape? The story shows how a woman tackles this difficult and very real question. Also, isn’t that such an awesome title? One of my two most favourite titles out of the stories I read.


Immensee by Theodor Storm – An achingly beautiful and heartbreaking love story of two childhood sweethearts, one of whom ends up marrying a different person, and what happens when they meet again later in life.


The Burning of Egliswyl by Frank Wedekind – It is about a young prisoner who narrates his tale on how the burning love in his heart made him commit arson which took him to prison.


Kong at the Seaside by Arnold Zweig – Very short story about how one has to make difficult decisions when one is poor. Simple story with a powerful theme, involving a boy and a dog called Kong.


Moonbeam Alley by Stefan Zweig – It describes the adventures of a gentleman in a port city in the disreputable alleys near the harbour. It is a story about how people try to own those they love and how they inflict pain on those they are trying to own and how when they lose the person they love, they pine for what they have lost and try to get it back.


What I think


So, what do I think about these stories? Which ones are my favourites? I will try to answer the second question first.


I think the prize for my most favourite story would go to either ‘Immensee’ by Theodor Storm or ‘Darkness at Noon’ by Arthur Koestler. ‘Immensee’ is an achingly beautiful heartbreaking love story. It reminded me of Ivan Turgenev’s stories – like ‘First Love’ and ‘Spring Torrents’ – which always make me cry. ‘Immensee’ evokes beautiful images of childhood love and how it evolves across the years and takes many strange turns. Storm is a wonderful new discovery for me. His picture in Wikipedia looks forbidden, but going by his story, he seems to have had a passionate heart. I want to read more of his works. Caroline recommended his novella ‘The Rider on the White Horse’ and I want to read that next. ‘Darkness at Noon’ is a novel and what I read is an excerpt and so I don’t know whether it counts. Also Arthur Koestler seems to be Hungarian or British depending on the way we look at things, but he wrote in German during his initial days. I loved the fact that it was difficult to pigeon-hole him in one country – it just showed that nationality is not the rigid thing that it seems to be these days. So, I was not sure whether his story would count as a German story, but for practical purposes I am counting it so. Though I read only an excerpt of the last part of the book, it had some beautiful passages. Like this one :


Since the bell of silence had sunk over him, he was puzzling over certain questions to which he would have liked to find an answer before it was too late. They were rather naïve questions; they concerned the meaning of suffering, or, more exactly, the difference between suffering which made sense and senseless suffering. Obviously only such suffering made sense as was inevitable; that is, as was rooted in biological fatality. On the other hand, all suffering with a social origin was accidental, hence pointless and senseless. The sole object of revolution was the abolition of senseless suffering. But it had turned out that the removal of this second kind of suffering was only possible at the price of a temporary enormous increase in the sum total of the first. So the question now ran : Was such an operation justified? Obviously it was, if one spoke in the abstract of “mankind”; but, applied to “man” in the singular, to the cipher 2-4, the real human being of bone and flesh and blood and skin, the principle led to absurdity.


And this one :


Sometimes he would respond unexpectedly to a tune, or even the memory of a tune, or of the folded hands of the Pietà, or of certain scenes of his childhood. As if a tuning-fork had been struck, there would be answering vibrations, and once this had started a state would be produced which the mystics called “ecstasy” and saints “contemplation”; the greatest and soberest of modern psychologists had recognized this state as a fact and called it the “oceanic sense.” And, indeed, one’s personality dissolved as a grain of salt in the sea; but at the same time the infinite sea seemed to be contained in the grain of salt. The grain could no longer be localized in time and space. It was a state in which thought lost its direction and started to circle, like the compass needle at the magnetic pole; until finally it cut loose from its axis and traveled freely in space, like a bunch of light in the night; and until it seemed that all thoughts and all sensations, even pain and joy itself, were only the spectrum lines of the same ray of light, disintegrating in the prism of consciousness.


I would make these two stories my joint “most favourite”.


Which are my other favourites? I liked ‘How Old Timofei Died Singing’ by Rainer Maria Rilke, especially for its first page. My favourite passage on the first page, which I found absolutely magical, went like this :


      “Where did you get the story you told me last time?” he finally asked. “Out of a book?”

      “Yes,” I answered sadly, “the historians have kept it buried there, since it died; that is not so very long ago. Only a hundred years since, it lived – carelessly, for sure – on many lips. But the words that people use now, those heavy words one cannot sing, were its enemies and took from it one mouth after another, so that in the end it lived, most secluded and in poverty, on one pair of dry lips, as on a miserable widow’s portion. And there it died, leaving no heirs, and was, as I have already said, buried with all honors in a book where others of its family already lay.”


I also liked ‘Gods in Exile’ by Heinrich Heine, for showing a different perspective on what Greek gods might be doing today and ‘The Earthquake in Chile’ by Heinrich von Kleist, for its depiction on how big events which bring misery to everyone can bring happiness to a family. I liked ‘The Dead are Silent’ by Arthur Schnitzler – isn’t that such an amazing title –  because it was very poignant and it asked some difficult questions on life and ‘Kong on the Seaside’ by Arnold Zweig for asking a different set of difficult questions in a few pages. ‘Moonbeam Alley’ by Stefan Zweig was wonderful because of its depiction of the cruelties in everyday life. All of these will be a close second favourite for me.


I somehow never got along with Thomas Mann. His ‘Death in Venice’ was quite difficult to read as I found it quite ponderous most of the time and I had to plod along for a long while with a lot of determination to finish the story. At around eighty-odd pages, it was the longest of all the stories I read, and it was also quite difficult to read. Interestingly for a story which I found tough to read, there were a lot of beautiful passages strewn throughout the story like beautiful pearls. Like this :


The horizon was unbroken. The sea, empty, like an enormous disk, lay stretched under the curve of the sky. But in empty inarticulate space our senses lose also the dimensions of time, and we slip into the incommensurate.


And this :


The experiences of a man who lives alone and in silence are both vaguer and more penetrating than those of people in society; his thoughts are heavier, more odd, and touched always with melancholy. Images and observations which could easily be disposed of by a glance, a smile, an exchange of opinion, will occupy him unbearably, sink deep into the silence, become full of meaning, become life, adventure, emotion. Loneliness ripens the eccentric, the daringly and estrangingly beautiful, the poetic. But loneliness also ripens the perverse, the disproportionate, the absurd, and the illicit.


The story probably caused some controversy when it was published because of its homoerotic content. When I started reading Thomas Mann’s ‘Disorder and Early Sorrow’, I started thinking ‘Oh no, not again’, because in the story of around 24 pages, nothing much had happened till around 20 pages – in some ways it was similar to ‘Death in Venice’. But then things changed in the last four pages where Mann depicted the first stirrings of love and the first pangs of love-pain in the heart of a young girl, beautifully and skillfully. Those four pages warmed my heart towards him. I don’t think I love Mann yet, but I wouldn’t mind exploring some of his shorter work.


On Kafka – I think he is not for me. I read a graphic novel version of ‘The Metamorphosis’ a few years back and I liked it. I found it dark and strange and powerful. But the two short stories I read here were too strange – especially ‘A Country Doctor’ which I couldn’t understand or interpret and it was too fantastic without any clear demarcation between the events which were happening in the story and the leading character’s imaginary fantasies. ‘The Married Couple’ was a little bit better, because it was more realistic and was a short story in the classic sense. Maybe certain kinds of Kafka stories will appeal to me, but I don’t think he will become one of my favourite writers.


I want to explore more works of Theodor Storm, Rainer Maria Rilke, Heinrich von Kleist, Stefan Zweig, Arthur Schnitzler and Arthur Koestler.


Have you read any of the above stories or books by any of the above writers? What do you think about them?

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