‘Sultry Days’ (‘Schwüle Tage’) by Eduard Graf von Keyserling (Introduction)

Welcome, one and all, to November – and to the latest edition of German Literature Month!  As has been the case every year since 2011, Caroline and Lizzy are inviting everyone to read and write about their favourite books from Germany, Austria, Switzerland and beyond, and I’m on board once more to introduce you all to some more excellent books.  This year, though, my participation will be a little different.  While I’ll still have room for a few of the usual reviews, I’ll also be doing something a little special.  What, exactly?  Well, read on, and you’ll find out 😉

The first book I’m looking at this month is Schwüle Tage (Sultry Days), a novella by early-twentieth-century writer Eduard Graf von Keyserling.  Having enjoyed his most famous novel Wellen (Waves) a few years back, I’d always intended to try more of his work, and this one turned out to be another interesting story.  While it only runs to around sixty pages, it’s a fascinating tale of a hot summer spent in the country, a story that shows appearances can be deceiving.

The narrator of the tale is Bill, the eighteen-year-old son of a Prussian nobleman.  Our unfortunate hero has managed to bomb out in his final exam at school, so while his mother and siblings have fun at the beach, he must accompany his stern father to their property in Fernow, where he is to knuckle down to some serious studies in order to do better next time around.

However, his dull holiday in the country is to prove far more interesting than he could have imagined. Although his dreams of romance with his beautiful cousin get off to a rocky start, she’s not the only attractive young woman in the vicinity, and while the days are hot, the nights prove to be even hotter when love is in the air.  Young Bill is also about to learn that when it comes to romance, women usually have the upper hand.

Yet the main attraction of this unwanted holiday is, surprisingly, the time spent with his dad.  Having grown up rather apart from the distant figure of his travelling father, Bill will see a rather different side to him during the time spent together on their property.  In fact, he’s about to be let into a secret that will not only change the course of his summer, but also have an effect on the rest of his life…

Sadly, Keyserling is a writer whose work has failed to capture the imagination of English-language readers (or publishers), and virtually none of his work is available in translation, with this one being no exception.  That is, until now…  You see, I found myself with a little spare time on my hands a couple of months back, and I decided that it might be a good idea to have a go at translating the story myself.  And so I did 🙂

To start off German Literature Month, then, I’ll be serialising the book over the next couple of weeks.  While the original text had no real chapters, I’ve divided the novella into thirteen bite-sized parts, and I’ll be publishing one section each day for the next couple of weeks, before finishing off with a translator’s afterword dealing with the text and some of the issues I had in bringing it across into English.  While I can’t promise that I’ve done a wonderful job (I’m an amateur, and I did my own editing…), I hope you’ll enjoy the story just the same.

For anyone who wants to check my work and shame me, the copyright-free digital text I used as a starting point can be found here, at the German equivalent of Project Gutenberg.  For those of you whose German isn’t quite up to that task, stay tuned over the next couple of weeks, and come back each day for the latest installment of the story.  It may be autumn already in the northern hemisphere (and only spring down here in Melbourne), but in my story, it’s still summer.  If you like the sound of spending a couple of weeks in the sun, feel free to read along 🙂

26 thoughts on “‘Sultry Days’ (‘Schwüle Tage’) by Eduard Graf von Keyserling (Introduction)

  1. Terrific, Tony! I am thrilled. This is a new author for me, and as I have no time these days to work on my German, I will be reading your English translation as you post it.


  2. Translation is an heroic act. Well done Tony. You’ve inspired me to follow your translation in the German too, to revive that long-dormant muscle.


    1. Passage à l’Est! – It certainly made for a rather busy month or so while I was knocking up the first draft… Anyway, I hope you enjoy it, whether you read it in German or English 🙂


  3. Three novels of Keyserling’s, and one collection of novellas, were published in English translation by Macaulay (New York) between 1927 and 1930:

    Twilight (three novellas), 1927
    The Curse of the Tarniffs (Beate und Mareile), 1928
    Tides (Wellen), 1929
    The Man of God (Dumalu), 1930

    At least four other stories/novellas have been translated; see the Wikipedia article on Keyserling for details. Three are available freely at the Carolina Digital Repository; the fourth is in an anthology available at Project Gutenberg.


    1. Patrick – I’d heard of the 1920s translations, but it’s definitely time for more modern versions (see the comment below for news on that!). Still, I haven’t seen this one in translation anywhere yet…


      1. Absolutely! It is great what you have done. Those 20s translations are probably difficult to come by, but I’m going to see what I can do.

        It would be interesting to have contact with John B. Rutledge, who translated the three texts at the Carolina Digital Repisitory, and was supposed to be working on a fourth. He is probably a professor, but doesn’t seem to have a Twitter presence.


  4. An English translation of Wellen is scheduled to be published January 18, 2019 by Dedalus European Classics. The translator is Gary Miller, and the title of this English translation is Waves.


    1. Nanosecond – I hadn’t heard that before! ‘Wellen’ is excellent, so it’s good that they’re getting a translation out there 🙂


  5. I hadn’t even heard of him before. He sounds like the sort of author I’d like.

    I may read all of the instalments once they’re all posted. It must have been rewarding translating the work.


    1. Jonathan – Rewarding… Yes, but I can think of other words, too 😉

      Keyserling is a writer many readers would like, if they got to read him. As an earlier comment pointed out, his work has made it into English before, but in the 1920s, so a revival is well overdue.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m glad it’s ‘Sultry Days’. 🙂
    You did an amazing job, Tony. I’m full of admiration.
    Welles, of course is stellar, but this is so good too. Not surprised that an editor has finally decided to have him translated. After the success with Zweig . . . Not that I compare them. He’s closer to Schnitzler.


    1. Caroline – I’m still not 100% convinced, but I bowed to yours and Lizzy’s judgement 😉

      It’ll be interesting to see if more follows in the wake of the new translation of ‘Wellen’. I’m not sure I’m up for novels, but I may tackle another of the novellas at some point…

      Liked by 1 person

          1. Now that I’ve finally read the novella, I think ‘Sultry Days’ is perfect as a title. As Caroline says, it’s close to the sound of the original, plus it conveys the languid heat of summer and hints at the element of sexuality that’s a key part of the story. I don’t know what the other choice was, but this works perfectly for me 🙂


            1. Andrew – My original pick for the title was ‘Oppressive Days’, as I felt it suited the feeling weighing over Bill during his holidays- and because I’m a not a fan of the word ‘sultry’ (it’s simpy not a word I’d personally use!).


              1. Yes, I’m not sure if I’ve ever used the word ‘sultry’ either, Tony! I can see your argument for ‘Oppressive Days’. But I do think ‘Sultry Days’ *sounds* better for reasons I can’t quite define. Moral of the story: always listen to Caroline and Lizzy 😉


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