Brigitta; with Abdias, Limestone and The Forest Path
Translated from the German by Helen Watanabe-O’Kelly
Thomas Mann found the nineteenth-century Austrian writer Adalbert Stifter ‘one of the most extraordinary, the most enigmatic, the most secretly daring and the most strangely gripping narrators in world literature’. Yet he is little known to the English-speaking world; translations of mostly single works have only occasionally appeared, and major works remain untranslated. He was for a long time grossly undervalued by Germanists. Stifter is far ahead of his time in portraying the diseased subconscious and the influence that the earliest years have on a person’s development. Helen Watanabe-O’Kelly’s masterly new translations constitute the most substantial selection of Stifter’s richly symbolic narratives to appear in English.
The ugly heroine of the love-story Brigitta makes a barren corner of the Hungarian plains bloom. Limestone tells of a repressed priest whose single erotic encounter determines his behaviour for the rest of his life. Abdias is the epic, Job-like story of a Jew raised in the North African desert and driven out into the harsh world by his father at an early age. The hero of The Forest Path, another product of an alienated childhood, is a comic counterpart to the tragic Brigitta; this story is here translated into English for the first time.
Stifter, like Kafka, has a modern appeal in that his narration is as much a veil as a window; the reader, like the characters, must learn how to see.
‘Four of Stifter’s stories, richly evocative and brushed with mystery, are presented here in wonderful new translations.’ – Publishers’ Weekly
‘The novellas of Stifter have a special quality of poetic realism which has no real equivalent in English …’ – Brian Fallon, Irish Times
‘These versions are so good that you are never aware of the translator’s presence.’ – Idris Parry, PN Review
ADALBERT STIFTER was born in 1805 in Upper Bohemia, and the forest country in which he spent his boyhood is prominent in his fiction. After studying law at Vienna University he earned his living as a tutor with leading Viennese families, after which he was a primary school inspector in Upper Austria for fifteen years. He began to write around 1840, and his stories became increasingly popular in the Taschenbücher – fashionable periodicals – of the day; he rewrote many of them for publication in volume form. His two novels, Indian Summer and the unfinished Witiko, were written in his last decade (he died in Linz in 1868). In his later years he devoted more and more time to landscape painting, in which he had been interested from the first. His attitude to life is summed up in his famous two-edged ‘gentle law’: that the same force that causes the milk to boil over leads a volcano to erupt, and the latter event is intrinsically no more important than the former.