The restless, alienated spirit of turn-of-the-century Vienna is brilliantly caught in these tales – hitherto not readily available together in English translation – by Hugo von Hofmannsthal, one of the major writers of the Early Modernist period and Richard Strauss’s librettist.
Powerful issues and emotions lie below the surface of these narratives – of a young aesthete’s crack-up as he wanders through a terrifying psychic landscape (The Tale of the 672nd Night); of an insubordinate soldier’s brutal nemesis during Field Marshal Radetzky’s 1848 campaign against Italian insurgents (A Cavalry Tale); of love and death in time of plague in seventeenth-century France (Marshal de Bassompierre’s Adventure). The celebrated Letter from Lord Chandos, a fictional epistle addressed to Francis Bacon, records a young writer’s crisis over the mismatch between words and truth. Finally, in the delightful comedic gender-reversal story Lucidor, the nucleus of the later libretto of Strauss’s Arabella, the cloud of sexual repression and violence hanging over the characters in the other tales is lifted.
Hofmannsthal’s elusive personality and the finer points of these exquisitely styled narratives are illuminated in an absorbing and wide-ranging introduction by the translator.
‘Crafted with subtlety … fresh and a joy to read.’
– Steven Kippax, The London Miscellany