It’s All About the Journey, Not the Destination…

Welcome one and all to another German Literature Month!  After the success of last year’s inaugural event, Lizzie and Caroline were forced delighted to do it all again in 2012, and I, for one, will be putting a lot of energy into a month of German-language reading and posting 🙂

Week One is all about plays, poetry and novellas, and I’ll be starting off today with a couple of pieces from a master of the short-prose form.  Oh, and for those of you who are eager to know the result of my Stefan Zweig giveaway, the winners will be announced after the reviews 🙂

Well, what are you waiting for?  The engine’s running, and the bus is ready to roll…

Adalbert Stifter was an Austrian writer (born in what is today the Czech Republic…) whose works are staples of the Germanic school curriculum even today.  I had one of his novellas, Brigitta, lying around on my shelves, and I decided to read another, Bergkristall (Mountain Crystal) on my Kindle in order to compare the stories.

Brigitta is the story of a young man who accepts an invitation to stay with a holiday acquaintance on his Hungarian properties.  After a long, leisurely journey through the Hungarian countryside, he arrives at his friend’s property and comes to love the relaxed lifestyle.  Nevertheless, he is confused about the nature of his host’s attachment to this sedentary life, especially as his friend was a man prone to travelling all over Europe – that is, until he visits a neighbouring estate, owned by a certain Brigitta…

Brigitta is a slow, meandering story which moves along at its own pace.  Stifter treats the reader to lengthy descriptions of the Hungarian countryside, sketching out both the stony, barren wastelands and the lush pastures and orchards of the Major’s estates.  Amazingly, the majority of the tale is the frame of the real narrative, in which we hear the tale of the title character and her unfortunate love.  Brigitta is actually said to be unattractive (unusual for literature!), but her pride will not allow her partner to take her for granted:

“Ich weiß, daß ich häßlich bin, darum würde ich eine höhere Liebe fordern, als das schönste Mädchen dieser Erde.”

“I know that I’m ugly, and that’s why I would demand a higher love than the most beautiful girl in the world.”

As mentioned above, the story is slow to unfold, but Stifter eventually gets there with a culmination of events which resolves everything nicely 🙂

Bergkristall is a later work, but the style is very similar to that of the earlier novella.  It is set in an isolated village on Christmas Eve, where two children, outsiders because their mother was born in a neighbouring village, take a wrong turn in a snowstorm, taking them up the local mountain for what is to prove to be a very long night…

Again, the story progresses in a relaxed fashion – Stifter won’t be hurried into lifting the pace of his story, even when it appears that there aren’t enough pages left to even start one.  Most writers would probably get their heroes onto the mountain in the first few pages of a forty-five-page novella – by that point in Bergkristall, the children’s parents haven’t even met yet…

Once again, the writer excels at portraying the beauty of nature, describing the ice on the mountain, showing us huge caves and ice fields:

“In der ganzen Höhlung aber war es blau, so blau, wie gar nichts in der Welt ist, viel tiefer and viel schöner blau als das Firmament, gleichsam wie himmelblau gefärbtes Glas, durch welches Lichter Schein hineinsinkt.”

“But throughout the depression it was blue, so blue, like nothing else in the world, a much deeper and more beautiful blue than the sky, almost like sky-blue coloured glass into which rays of light are absorbed.”

The brother and sister, all alone on the mountain, are witness to beauty beyond the dreams of most people.  The fact that this beauty has a definite bite to it only adds to the weight of Stifter’s prose…

As in Brigitta, the ending is a little kitschy and melodramatic, but the path to the conclusion, winding as it is, is wonderful.  I doubt that Stifter is for everyone – anyone who spends much of their time imploring the author to get on with it should probably stay well away.  However, if you like your novellas descriptive and fairly eventless, then Herr Stifter may well be the writer for you 🙂

And so to the winners of my Stefan Zweig Giveaway 🙂  Using the usual random-number-generator thingy, I tossed the entries into the pot and left it to fate to see what came out – and the winners are…

The Pushkin Press (English-language) edition goes to: Jereme Gray

The Fischer Verlag (German-language) edition goes to: Bettina @Liburuak

Congratulations!  Both winners will be e-mailed shortly, so as soon as you reply with your full name and address, I’ll be getting the books off to you.

That’s all for today then – but stay tuned,  There’ll be a lot more G-Lit going on around here this month…


13 thoughts on “It’s All About the Journey, Not the Destination…

  1. Great start, Tony.
    Of these two I have only read Bergkristall (and the rest of the collection). I think Stifter's descriptions are some of the best. Maybe he is a bit sentimental but I didn't mind that.


  2. Margit – Well, I did say he's not for everyone 😉 Stifter is for those who enjoy the words for words' sake – the plot is a little , shall we say, irrelevant…

    Stu – Thanks Stu – a first try for me too. He's a writer I could see myself coming back to for a nice comfort read on a cold day (like a lot of G-Lit novelass really).


  3. I read 'Rock Crystal' for last year's edition of G-Lit month. I kind of like it. I'd like to read his 'Indian Summer' but I couldn't find a copy at a good price.


  4. Thanks Tony: I have Brigitta here in a collection but I've hesitated to take the plunge with Mountain Crystal (It has another title, doesn't it?), and after reading your review I think I'm right.


  5. Guy – Rise mentioned 'Rock Crystal' above, which could be right. Stifter's stories are pleasant enough, so if you have a spare hour or two (and a liking for descriptive prose), it's worth a try 🙂


  6. Wonderful reviews, Tony! Both the books looks wonderful, but my favourite from your description is the first one 'Brigitta'. I love the fact that Adalbert Stifter moves the story at a slow pace lingering on the beauty of the landscape. He is the kind of writer I will fall in love with. I will look for both these books. Thanks for this wonderful review and for introducing a new writer to readers like me.


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