Tag Archives: GLM V

‘The Green Face’ by Gustav Meyrink

GLM-V 2015The Green Face (Das grüne Gesicht) was written by Austrian author Gustav Meyrink and first published in 1916. Curiously, the events in the book take place in Amsterdam following World War One.

The book opens with Fortunas Hauberrisser entering a shop to escape the crowds. The sign on the shop says ‘Chidher Green’s Hall of Riddles’. The shop sells a mixture of practical jokes, occult material and pornographic material. Hauberrisser is followed into the shop by a Zulu carrying a spear and who is known by the staff. Both the Zulu and Hauberrisser are allowed to enter the back of the shop where there are other customers and staff. One of the staff members appears to be an old Jewish man who is making entries into a ledger—his face is in shadows. Hauberrisser makes himself comfortable and after a while starts to nod off. He awakes to see the Jewish man before him:

…the face before him was like nothing he had ever seen before. It was smooth, with a black strip of cloth tied over its forehead, and yet it was deeply furrowed, like the sea, that can have tall waves but not a wrinkle on the surface. The eyes were like dark chasms and yet they were the eyes of a human being and not empty sockets. The skin was a greenish olive colour and looked as if it were made of bronze…

The man speaks cryptically which confuses Hauberrisser. A salesgirl takes advantage of his confusion to sell him a papier mache skull that tells fortunes. Before leaving he glances round at the Jewish man to see he is seated as he was when he entered.

We are subsequently faced with a whole number of strange characters with strange names; such as Baron Pfeill, Professor Arpád Zitter (a.k.a Count Ciechonski), Anselm Klinkherbogk the cobbler, Eva van Druysen, Dr Sephardi, Lazarus Egyolk, Usibepu the Zulu, Jan Swammerdam and more. After conversing with his friend, Baron Pfeil, Meyrink The Green FaceHauberrisser finds out that the ‘Wandering Jew’ is also known as Chidher Green, ‘the Green One’. When Hauberrisser returns home and goes to bed some previously concealed documents fall on to him. When he looks at these documents he keeps seeing the name ‘Chidher Green’. When he returns to the shop to see if he can find the Jewish man he finds that no-one knows him and that the shop is called ‘Arpád Zitter’s Hall of Riddles’. Intrigued with Hauberrisser’s experiences with the Green Face Baron Pfeill enquires with Dr Sephardi about the connection between the Wandering Jew and Chidher Green. When he had been talking to Hauberrisser he had recalled seeing a painting of this Chidher Green but now, in conversation with Sepahardi he is unsure whether it was a painting, a dream or a vision. They then end up going to a ‘spiritual circle’ headed by the elderly Jan Swammerdam where things begin to get increasingly bizarre. The group are invited, by Klinkherbogk’s granddaughter Kaatje, to attend Klinkherbogk’s ‘second birth’ in the room above. He believes that he is Abraham reborn and as the evening progresses ends up in a trance. In this state Klinkherbogk sees the green-gold face of a man take up the whole sky. When he regains consciousness all the others have left and he discovers that he has stabbed his granddaughter in the heart. If that’s not enough, when Klinkherbogk turns towards the window, still half-ecstatic from his vision, he sees the Zulu Usibepu who comes in, kills Klinkherbogk and leaves with his money.

Trying to make sense of this crazy novel is probably a waste of time; instead I think the reader should just enjoy the general weirdness of it all. It’s like trying to follow one of E.T.A. Hoffmann’s more madcap stories where any attempt to work out what’s happening just ties oneself in knots. This novel is populated by people seeking all sorts of spiritual help from wherever they can find it. That most of these attempts end in failure and death probably says something about the time in which it was written.

One of my favourite scenes from this novel is in chapter eight when Eva, Hauberrisser’s beloved, is walking through the city at night, and as she walks there are fewer people about and the sense of malevolence begins to grow:

The very earth gave off a dark malevolence which was directed against her; the icy, pitiless fury of nature towards any man who tries to cast off the bonds of his servitude.

She comes across the Zulu in a sort of trance. She ‘felt that it was from him that the demonic power emanated’. The Zulu comes around and tries to abduct Eva. Eva screams and they are chased by a crowd from a local tavern. As some of the attackers are in reach of the Zulu, Eva manages to get clear. They’re in a churchyard and she’s watching the Zulu protect himself against his assailants:

Then, for a sudden moment, she thought she must have gone mad, for there, in the middle of the garden, with a calm smile on her face, stood her own double.
    The negro must have seen it as well; he halted in astonishment and then went over to it. She thought she could hear him talking to the apparition; she could not understand what was said, but his voice suddenly changed to that of a man paralysed by horror and hardly able to stammer a few words.

Still, he regains his composure as the image fades, and makes his escape. Eva goes missing and events get even stranger from here on.

This novel has a suitably surreal, cataclysmic ending. I’ve re-read parts of it since and realised that there were so many bits that I missed on my first reading that I may have to schedule in a second reading soon. I think I’ve concentrated on some of the more horrific episodes but there is also a lot of humour in this book. Have you read anything by Meyrink? The Golem perhaps?

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‘Aquis Submersus’ by Theodor Storm

GLM-V 2015Aquis Submersus is a novella that is included in the New York Review of Books collection called The Rider on the White Horse translated by James Wright. I’m a new convert to Theodor Storm’s work and although this collection is all that I’ve read so far I will certainly be reading some of the other collections that have been translated by Denis Jackson and published by Angel Books. It’s probably fair to say that I generally prefer short stories and novellas to long novels. I find that a short story stands more chance of reaching perfection than a novel does and Aquis Submersus is such a story, so close to perfection.

The story was written in 1875/6 and begins with a contemporary narrator recalling his childhood friend, the pastor’s son, together with descriptions of the surrounding countryside. On the very first page of the story we get this description:

Here the honeybees and white-gray bumblebees hummed over the fragrant blossoms of heather, and the beautiful gold-green beetles ran among the plants; here in the sweet clouds of the erica and the resinous bushes hovered butterflies that could be found nowhere else on this earth.

But it’s not nature that particularly piques the narrator’s interest, instead it is a picture of a dead five year old boy holding a water lily that hangs inside the church. Next to this there is a portrait of the boy’s father, a severe looking pastor. The Storm_Rider-on-White-Horse-fc-magXC-700pxpicture of the boy is dated 1666 and all that is known is that the boy drowned in a pond on the premises of the church. The narrator notices that the letters C.P.A.S. appear at the bottom of the painting. The pastor explains that ‘A.S.’ must stand for ‘Aquis Submersus’ or ‘drowned’ but is unsure what ‘C.P.’ stands for. After a while the narrator suggests ‘Culpa Patris’ or ‘Because of the father’s guilt’. The pastor dismisses this suggestion vehemently. Years later, whilst looking for a room to rent, the narrator notices a portrait of a man holding a dead boy with a water lily in his hand. When he asks the landlord about the painting it is revealed that there are some old papers including two notebooks. The narrator is intrigued and these notebooks contain the story of Johannes, a painter, that begins in 1661.

Johannes is studying to be a painter and since the death of his father has been lucky enough to have Herr Gerhardus, an old aristocratic friend of his father, as a patron. Life with Gerhardus had been idyllic, he had often spent days playing with Gerhardus’s beautiful daughter Katherina and chatting with the friendly caretaker Dietrich. However Johannes is disliked by Katherina’s brother Wulf and it is apparent that a local young aristocrat, Kurt von der Rusch, has eyes for Katherina. When Johannes leaves for Amsterdam to continue his studies Katherina comes out to see him on his way and to give him a gift.

But on his return five years later the situation has changed. Gerhardus has recently died and now his son, Wulf, is the new master. Kurt has a vicious streak and is pursuing Katherina’s hand in marriage. The atmosphere is now one of violence and oppression. Katherina is happy to have Johannes present as a kindred spirit. They get to spend some time together when Johannes is asked to paint Katherina’s portrait and Johannes soon agrees to help deliver messages between Katherina and her aunt in order to escape from Kurt and Wulf. Johannes returns late one evening with a reply from Katherina’s aunt. It is too late to enter the estate so he goes to an inn only to find that Wulf and Kurt are there. Wulf guesses that Johannes is carrying messages for Katherina, tussles with him and then sets his dogs on him. Johannes manages to escape and finds himself up a tree outside Katherina’s window. She lets him in and they spend the night together. With their love for one another now certain they plan to elope the following day, but when Katherina doesn’t appear Johannes confronts Wulf and asks for her hand in marriage. Wulf shoots Johannes but does not kill him. After recuperating Johannes escapes to Amsterdam and has a relapse. He is unable to contact Katherina and no-one has seen her since that day. The first notebook ends.

There is much symbolism and foreshadowing in the first notebook. When, as children, Katherina wants to show Johannes some birds that have nested in the hollow of a tree, she is shocked to find an owl standing guard over the opening waiting for the birds to exit. She cries ‘the goblin!’ and urges Johannes to shoot the owl, which he does. Later on Katherina would shout ‘the goblin!’ whenever Kurt would appear and they would both run away. Wulf later became a more sinister manifestation of the goblin, preventing Katherina from escaping. After Johannes had escaped to Amsterdam following the shooting he still had hopes of returning to Katherina; but he was unaware of those intent on thwarting his ambitions:

…and soon I could see the day of my journey to Katherina moving happily toward me, nearer and nearer and nearer—totally unaware of the evil obstacles that I would have to struggle against, before I came to the end.
    But a man’s eyes cannot see the darkness that lies right in front of him.

When Johannes is looking at the older portraits in Gerhardus’s home and he comes across a painting of a woman displaying Wulf’s harshness it is revealed that she cursed her own daughter for not marrying the man she wished her to. The daughter was found the following day drowned in the pond.

I will reveal the ending in what follows so if you wish to remain ignorant of the ending it may be best to stop reading any further.

The second notebook resumes the story five years later in 1666. Johannes is living with his brother and he has a steady income from his painting. One day he receives a commission to paint a portrait of a pastor; it’s not well paid but he’s between jobs and he decides to use it as an excuse to spend some time in the country. When he arrives he sees the pastor leading ‘a ‘beautiful, pale little boy of four’ by the hand. The boy is often present when the pastor sits for the painting and Johannes is surprised to discover that the boy is also called Johannes. He only catches brief glimpses of the boy’s mother. Later at home it dawns on him:

The eyes! The eyes of that beautiful, pale little boy! They were her eyes! What had I been thinking of? But then, if it were she, if I had already seen her again—I shuddered at my thoughts

Whilst the others are away in town he manages to talk to the boy’s mother, who is indeed Katherina. She reveals that the boy is Johannes’ son and that the pastor had been kind enough to take her as his wife despite her being a ‘fallen woman’. When the pastor and the sexton return Johannes leaves Katherina to speak to them, but they are interrupted by a cry—little Johannes has drowned in the pond.

The ending of the story is very powerful and controlled. The pastor discovers the truth about Johannes and Katherina and he orders Johannes to paint a portrait of the dead child. Left alone, for the first time, with his son, Johannes holds him. Johannes explains that C.P.A.S. stands for ‘Drowned in the flood of his father’s guilt’.

I felt it necessary to include much of the plot details in this post because the basic plot could so easily point towards a melodrama. Indeed, I could imagine other nineteenth-century authors really going to town with such a story and creating some hideously mawkish story. But it’s Storm’s incredibly controlled, but poetic, style that really brings the story alive. The story is told in a clear, realistic way. For example, the scene where Johannes and Katherina spend the night together following Johannes’ escape from Wulf’s dogs is so naturally depicted that it’s entirely believable. Due to Johannes’ lowly status, their intended marriage will never be accepted by others and so they plan their escape the following day; Johannes asks:

“Should I leave you now, Katherina?” I said at last. But the young arms raised me up to her mouth without a word, and I did not leave.

That Johannes somehow feels guilty over the death of his son may be, to some extent, understandable but would we agree with his judgement? I’m still unsure why he feels guilty over his son’s death unless it was just a brief, but overwhelming, feeling as he came to the end of his painting. Or is it that he feels guilty of his son’s existence and therefore his death? Is this what is meant by this quote?:

We had created the life that came to this death;

Is it guilt over creating a life that had to die young?

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‘The Lost Reflection’ by E.T.A. Hoffmann

GLM-V 2015The Lost Reflection is a story from the 1932 collection of tales ‘Tales of Hoffmann’ published in 1932 by Dodd, Mead & Co. I started posting reviews of the stories from this collection earlier this year, which was really an excuse to show the lovely illustrations by Mario Laboccetta. I have already posted reviews on The Entail and The Sandman. I thought I’d use GLM V as an excuse to post some reviews and images of the other stories in the collection.

The story reviewed here, The Lost Reflection, is also known as The Night of New Year’s Eve or The Adventures of New Year’s Eve. The original German title is Abenteuer der Silvester-Nacht and was published in 1815. Sometimes the story contained within this one (i.e. Erasmus’s story) is published separately as The Lost Reflection or The Story of the Lost Reflection. It’s all a little confusing, I know, so I hope I’ve got it correct.

So, the story begins on New Year’s Eve and it’s worth quoting the opening sentence:

I was delirious with fever: the cold of death pierced my very heart, and heedless of the fury of the storm I ran through the streets hatless and cloakless like one escaped from a madhouse.

Hoffmann_Lost-Reflection-01-500pxThe narrator recounts how he came to be running throught the streets like a madman. He’d attended a ball hosted by the counsellor of justice where he met Julia, a woman he’d previously been in love with. He acts like an ass, bumps into people and when he finally gets to talk to her he faints. When he awakes he discovers that Julia is married. This totally freaks him out and he rushes through the streets until he reaches a tavern. He settles down and orders some beer and tobacco. Before long a tall, thin man comes in, keeping his back to the wall, and sits down at the narrator’s table. Then a short man enters the tavern and he asks the landlord to cover the mirror. The two men know each other and argue about obscure topics. By the time the tall man leaves, the narrator realises he is Peter Schlemihl, the man who sold his shadow to the devil.

The narrator seeks out a room for the night at another tavern. In the room there is a large mirror and when he looks into it he sees Julia’s image and cries out ‘Julia!’. Hoffmann_Lost-Reflection-02-900pxHe realises that there is another person in the room and is surprised that it’s the short man from the other tavern. He’s having a bad dream and is calling out ‘Giulietta!’. The narrator wakes him and the man asks him to cover the mirror. The narrator is curious about the man and it turns out that he has no reflection, but rather than selling it like Schlemihl, he gave it away for love. He promises to tell the narrator his story but they are both too tired. The narrator has vivid dreams and in the morning he finds the man has gone. He has, however, left some written pages. The man was called Erasmus Spicker and we now switch to his story.

Erasmus had decided to leave his family to go travelling and so he heads for Italy. In Florence he makes friends and frequents parties. His friends all take mistresses but Erasmus loves his wife and wishes to remain faithful. The others mock him and they decide to test him by calling in Giulietta. Hoffmann_Lost-Reflection-04-900pxErasmus is intoxicated with desire and declares his undying love for her to the astonishment of his friends. Upon returning home he encounters a strange man called Signor Dapertutto who mocks him. His friends think he’s making a fool of himself and decide that he should return home before he does something foolish but Dapertutto convinces him to meet with Giulietta before he leaves. He decides to stay. Erasmus ends up getting in a fight with an ugly Italian over Giulietta and inadvertently kills him. Somehow he escapes with Giulietta. In her boudoir she says he must leave or he will be arrested, but he must leave his reflection with her as a sign of his love for her. Although confused by this request, he agrees, and his image is detached from himself and he sees Giulietta disappear into the mirror with his image.

Erasmus leaves but soon finds that it’s difficult moving about as he is mobbed whenever it’s discovered that he has no reflection. He finally gets home to his loving wife and child and hopes to forget about what has happened. However, one day his missing reflection is noticed and both his wife and child are Hoffmann_Lost-Reflection-03-600pxhorrified. He flees from his house in a distraught state and Dapertutto appears before him. He says that Giulietta still loves him and will be happy to give his reflection back if only he will poison his wife and child. Giulietta also appears to him later in a vision in an embrace with his image. She says if he can’t poison his wife then he should sign a contract in blood allowing Dapertutto to do it. He nearly signs but is prevented by the ghost of his mother. Giulietta and Dapertutto disappear but his reflection is still missing. His wife says that he can only return to her when he has found it. He now searches the world for his reflection along with Schlemihl who is looking for his shadow.

This probably isn’t the best Hoffmann story as it’s all just a bit too manic and contrived, even for Hoffmann, but that may have something to do with the translation. I’m not sure who the translator is but I’d love to compare it with a new translation. The translations of two of the other stories in this collection, ‘The Entail’ and ‘The Sandman’, seem to have parts missing from the stories so I wonder if something similar has been done with this story. Still, if read in the right mood it is quite a fun tale and has all the obsessions of Hoffmann: stories-within-stories, identity problems, magic, madness, coincidences, obsessive love etc. You can’t really go wrong with that combination, can you?

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‘The Mother of God’ (Die Gottesmutter) by Sacher-Masoch

GLM-V 2015
After reading Vishy’s review of Venus in Furs I happened to mention that ‘Venus’ was the only book by Sacher-Masoch that was available in English; well that was the case when I’d previously checked, however, I had another look and found that a translation of his 1883 novel Die Gottesmutter was published in 2015 as The Mother of God. It was translated by William Holmes and is available on Amazon. I’m guessing that it was a self-published translation as there are no publisher details on my kindle version. From the details on the Amazon page it’s a bit unclear whether Holmes translated it directly from the German or from the French translation, La Mère de Dieu. When I saw this was available I dropped my intended read for GLM and switched to this as I was excited to actually read something other than Venus in Furs by Sacher-Masoch. I really didn’t know what to expect but the Amazon blurb made it sound promising.

The story begins by describing Sabadil, a thirty-year old peasant from Solisko who likes spending time alone wandering in the forest. On one of his walks he stops to look in a pond and is surprised when he sees a beautiful woman’s face appear next to his in the reflection. Although he hadn’t heard her approach he finds that she is indeed standing next to him.

At his side now stood a young woman, strongly built and tall, so much so that she was looking down on him, even though he was of medium height. Her face was that of a Madonna with a white complexion, delicately tinted pink. Her blonde hair, with tawny highlights, was braided and arranged in heavy layers on top of her head. The stranger wore tall red leather boots, a percale skirt in bright colours and a dark green cloth corsage mounted on a shirt of dazzling whiteness.

Sacher-Masoch_Mother-of-God-fcSabadil’s heart is pounding and there’s a buzzing sound in his ears; he’s smitten. He tries to engage her in conversation and is soon picking flowers for her and helping her crosss streams. Sabadil’s subservience seems natural to her and Sabadil is attracted to her ‘natural, cold and majestic’ manner. When he tries to kiss her she evades him and says that it is a sin for him to touch her and she escapes. After a period of time he tracks her down to a neighbouring village called Fargowiza-polna and first sees her driving a horse-drawn cart with a whip in her hand and later she appeared to be ordering others about. He learns from a little girl that she is called ‘The Mother of God’ and later discovers her name is Mardona. He discovers from a Jewish trader that Mardona is part of a Christian sect called the Duchobarzen who have no priests, marry and divorce freely and worship the Mother of God who is believed to be the manifestation of the Virgin Mary.

Sabadil begins visiting Mardona and sees that she is indeed revered by the other villagers. Although Sabadil is accepted into their life he does not worship Mardona as a God as the others do; he is, however, in love with her. Sabadil gets drawn further into the sect and it becomes apparent that everything is not as rosy as it first appeared. Not everyone is happy with the situation and the position of ‘Mother of God’, being essentially an elected position, has to be defended against usurpers. When Mardona feels that her position is under attack she feels it necessary to issue severe punishments on those who are deemed guilty. When Sofia, a young attractive woman, is judged to be guilty of adultery she is taken out, dragged through the streets and stoned by the others. Only Mardona’s intervention prevents the crowd from killing her. While witnessing this Sabadil is horrified and mesmerised by it and also a little turned on.

Sabadil stood at some distance away, observing Mardona closely. He never had seen her so beautiful, despite her angry face and quivering lips.

The sect, however, is part of a larger world and can’t hide from the police and accusations of attempted murder. But Mardona is quite capable of manipulating those outside of the sect as well as those within – she just has to use different tactics.

Possibly one of the most interesting characters in this book is Sukalou. He’s introduced as a comic figure, basically someone who is constantly hungry and begs food from others whilst pretending to be an ascetic who has been fasting for days. Here is how his entrance is described:

Suddenly a man arrived who immediately caught Sabadil’s attention, or, rather, did not arrive. He simply poked his nose, long and pointed, through the gap in the barely opened door, followed by his bald head, revealing a face with blinking eyes and ears adorned with thick silver rings. […] But he did not come in right away. A few moments passed; then his long neck extended through the opening in the door. After this came a boot with a worn heel and finally Sukalou in person dressed in an extremely long light blue coat. He remained near the door, drew from his pocket a small birch bark snuff box, delicately pinched a little of the tobacco between finger and thumb and snuffed it with a triumphant air, as if challenging everyone to do likewise.

Although a comical figure, he also gets involved in some of the political manoeuvrings and subsequent punishments.

I won’t reveal any more of the story as it would spoil it for anyone who fancies reading the book for themselves. The ending is particularly powerful and a little unexpected although we can see which way the story is heading. But as powerful as the ending is, curiously, the translator decided that he didn’t particularly like it and decided to write a few more chapters. I have to say that I disagree with him and prefer the way that the original novel cuts off at the most dramatic point. There is nothing particularly wrong with Holmes’ added chapters as they form a type of epilogue to the story but I don’t think it adds anything to the novel. At least we are warned that these chapters have been written by the translator and so can decide for ourselves whether to read them or not. As far as I can tell the translation was excellent and the style of the novel was very readable. The translator also included many notes that I found useful.

The Mother of God would certainly be interesting for anyone who’s read Venus in Furs not least because it also shows Sacher-Masoch’s obsessions of dominant females, subservient males and the abuses of power that appeared in his more famous book. But it does show what a great storyteller he was and that he could incorporate his obsessions into different types of stories and the novel is easily as good as ‘Venus’, maybe better. I’d love to read more by him.

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