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Tales of the German Imagination from the Brothers Grimm to Ingeborg Bachmann

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Spanning the Brothers Grimm to Kafka and beyond, a new collection of the most strange and fantastical German stories from the past 200 years Franz Kafka posthumously cornered the nightmare market in the twentieth century. Yet in our adulation of Kafka's wonderfully bizarre prose, English-language readers tend to overlook the fact that he was not spawned Athena-like from th Spanning the Brothers Grimm to Kafka and beyond, a new collection of the most strange and fantastical German stories from the past 200 years Franz Kafka posthumously cornered the nightmare market in the twentieth century. Yet in our adulation of Kafka's wonderfully bizarre prose, English-language readers tend to overlook the fact that he was not spawned Athena-like from the cranium of German literature. Kafka had his precursors among the German Romantics, as well as his contemporaries working in kindred veins and his heirs in post–World War II Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. This rich and varied anthology gathers together many haunting stories, from the dark fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm, to Kafka's own chilling satire "In the Penal Colony," to the surreal fantasies of Kurt Schwitter in "The Onion."


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Spanning the Brothers Grimm to Kafka and beyond, a new collection of the most strange and fantastical German stories from the past 200 years Franz Kafka posthumously cornered the nightmare market in the twentieth century. Yet in our adulation of Kafka's wonderfully bizarre prose, English-language readers tend to overlook the fact that he was not spawned Athena-like from th Spanning the Brothers Grimm to Kafka and beyond, a new collection of the most strange and fantastical German stories from the past 200 years Franz Kafka posthumously cornered the nightmare market in the twentieth century. Yet in our adulation of Kafka's wonderfully bizarre prose, English-language readers tend to overlook the fact that he was not spawned Athena-like from the cranium of German literature. Kafka had his precursors among the German Romantics, as well as his contemporaries working in kindred veins and his heirs in post–World War II Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. This rich and varied anthology gathers together many haunting stories, from the dark fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm, to Kafka's own chilling satire "In the Penal Colony," to the surreal fantasies of Kurt Schwitter in "The Onion."

30 review for Tales of the German Imagination from the Brothers Grimm to Ingeborg Bachmann

  1. 5 out of 5

    Tim Pendry

    This Penguin Classics collection seems to be part of a relatively recent commitment by the publishers to the fantasy tale and (perhaps deliberately) competes with the slightly more 'high art' and European-focused Daedalus series. The tales are derived from three periods. The first is the German romantic era (approximately 1800-1830) with the tales of the Brothers Grimm as the ur-cultural artefact. Half the book is devoted to this era with three short Grimm tales, the expected Hoffmann The Sandman This Penguin Classics collection seems to be part of a relatively recent commitment by the publishers to the fantasy tale and (perhaps deliberately) competes with the slightly more 'high art' and European-focused Daedalus series. The tales are derived from three periods. The first is the German romantic era (approximately 1800-1830) with the tales of the Brothers Grimm as the ur-cultural artefact. Half the book is devoted to this era with three short Grimm tales, the expected Hoffmann The Sandman and a picaresque fantasy novella that owes a great deal to the previous century Peter Schlemiel. It is a decent enough selection with Adelbert von Chamisso's Schlemiel standing ahead of the pack and the rest more interesting for the global influence of the romantic German mind-set, not excluding its more disturbing aspects in the context of later history. The final Heine story has a romantic traditionalism about Dukes, the 'Faithful Eckhart' placing loyalty to an evil lord above the lives of his own children and the transmission of myths that causes one to squirm when one considers that he was an assimilated Jew by origin. The next section jumps to the period 1890-1945 as if the Germans had lost their imagination for well over half a century. These tales are often very short indeed and concentrated into the highly disruptive years between 1910-1925. The selection seems at pain to give us examples of 'movements' - Symbolism (Rilke) and Dada (Schwitters) - but this is no bad thing. It is at this point, however, that one suspects that the selection has its ideological aspects since there seems to be an intent to show the German imagination in a certain light for which we are pre-prepared by our own prejudices. This makes me suspicious. As the first section was dominated by Grimm and Peter Schlemiel so this section has as its centre-piece the necessary Kafka - In the Penal Colony. This sets the tone. A disproportionate number of stories are about aspects of institutionalisation in army, prison and asylum, which may, indeed, reflect the mentality of the sensitive German intellectual but may equally be what we want to hear about Germany in this period. Some tales are quasi-poetic literary experiments that require work in order to tease out their meaning. Wortsmann's excellent short notes on the authors are invaluable but he is quite right to make us work for our supper and to leave them to the end. There are chunks of heavy-handed political satire about the usual suspects such as militarism though, needless to say, as the prejudice of our times, nationalist and national socialist material is excluded. Rainer Maria Rilke's 1894 sexual horror story, perfectly in accord with symbolist sexual anxieties, The Seamstress, stands up very well as does Robert Musil's remarkable and poetic exercise in conveying the ineffable not once but three times in The Blackbird. Two other tales deserve mention - George Heym's violently sadistic The Lunatic from 1913 and Egon Erwin Kisch's ribald satire on military life from 1941 The Tattooed Portrait. Both of these last continue the dehumanising and resentful theme of institutionalisation which appears again with equal force in the final and shortest section which contains three stories from the immediate post-war period and then one from 1971 and one from 1984. This short section is more like a teaser to modern German literature and perhaps over-depends on our understanding the history of two of the writers Paul Celan and Ingeborg Bachmann, whose tale set amongst the floodplains of the Danube brought to mind Blackwood's The Willows'. The two 'finds' in the section though are Wolfgang Borchert's intense prison story The Dandelion which is riddled with male aggression under conditions of inhumane constraint and the remarkable and mysterious Conversation by Jurg Laederach. This last story is on the edge of being Ligotti-esque but made me think that because it was ostensibly unfilmable, it should be filmed. Avant-garde in imagery and tone, it conveys something very important about human alienation that teases us at every stage in its delivery. Well over a quarter of the writers represented were from Jewish, largely assimilated Jewish, backgrounds and there are Austrian, German-Czech and Swiss representatives so German means German-language rather than of the German political nation. The first half of the book is entirely a matter of writers who had no political nation only a romantic notion of what it was to be German in an essentialist cultural sense. This is a good collection that could have done with a better introduction either to make any editorial agenda more clear or to allay fears that messages are being sent in the choices. I still want to know if and why the Germans lost their imagination between 1830 and 1890 and if it is true that the German imagination after 1890 is always to be assumed to be as grim, anxiety-driven and negative as it is presented here. But, if you do not know the particular stories recommended above, then the paperback is a decent investment for a library even if, in my opinion, marginally overpriced.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    My favourite stories in the collection: The Sandman by E. T. A. Hoffmann Peter Schlemiel by Adelbert von Chamisso In the Penal Colony by Franz Kafka

  3. 4 out of 5

    Victoria

    I'm gradually coming to the conclusion that all preceding eras had a (limited, nonetheless existing) vigour of spirit we most unfortunately lack today. Gosh, aren't such compilations a treasure! I'm gradually coming to the conclusion that all preceding eras had a (limited, nonetheless existing) vigour of spirit we most unfortunately lack today. Gosh, aren't such compilations a treasure!

  4. 4 out of 5

    Kirsty

    Tales of the German Imagination, from the Brothers Grimm to Ingeborg Bachmann, is a ‘new collection of fantastical, strange and compelling stories from 200 years of German literature’. It ‘includes such literary giants as the Brothers Grimm, Kafka, Musil and Rilke, as well as many surprising and unexpected voices’. The introduction has been written by translator Peter Wortsman, who has also edited the collection. In it, he states that ‘fear has indeed proven rich fodder for fantasy in the German Tales of the German Imagination, from the Brothers Grimm to Ingeborg Bachmann, is a ‘new collection of fantastical, strange and compelling stories from 200 years of German literature’. It ‘includes such literary giants as the Brothers Grimm, Kafka, Musil and Rilke, as well as many surprising and unexpected voices’. The introduction has been written by translator Peter Wortsman, who has also edited the collection. In it, he states that ‘fear has indeed proven rich fodder for fantasy in the German storytelling tradition’, and that ‘the darkest German literary confections are such a pleasure to read because they are also spiked with humour – therein lies their enduring appeal’. Wortsman goes on to say that in editing the anthology, he has aimed to include stories and extracts ‘from a span of several centuries and from various literary movements born of crisis and doubt’. Tales of the German Imagination is split into three separate parts, and includes predominantly male authors. In fact, Ingeborg Bachmann, mentioned in the title, is one of only two females featured in the collection. There are some other famous names amongst the authors – E.T.A. Hoffmann, Heinrich Heine and Rainer Maria Rilke, for example. The anthology begins with three stories by the Brothers Grimm – ‘The Singing Bone’, ‘Hansel and Gretel’ and ‘The Children of Hameln’, which is their telling of a tale more commonly known as ‘The Pied Piper of Hamelin’. Whilst these stories are relatively well known in the English speaking world, others from the less popular authors feel fresh and add a nice twist to such a collection. The stories themselves provide a varied mixture of themes and styles. Some are told from the first person perspective and others from the third, and we are immersed into a variety of historical settings where we meet a whole host of diverse protagonists and bystanders. The settings too are diverse, from Germany to Italy and from the Netherlands to the United States. Several of the tales of much longer than others – ‘The Sandman’ by E.T.A. Hoffmann, ‘Rune Mountain’ by Ludwig Tieck and ‘Peter Schlemiel’ by Adelbert von Chamisso, for example, read more like novellas than short stories. The majority are standalone pieces, but several of the tales have been taken from longer works of fiction. Throughout, many different themes and literary elements have been made use of, from magic, the unexplained and the macabre to poverty, war and peace and the concept of madness. The stories themselves have been nicely varied for the most part, and there is sure to be something to suit the tastes of even the most particular short story connoisseur. All relate to the human psyche in some way, and the most stunning and unsettling are provided by the Brothers Grimm, Georg Heym and Kurt Schwitters. Some of the tales are rather disturbed and the subject matter is not easy to read about at times, but the starkness of their telling and events certainly pack a punch. In Georg Heym’s ‘The Lunatic’, his protagonist ‘pranced about with two skulls stuck to his feet, like eggshells he’d just stepped out of and hadn’t yet shaken off… and then he stamped down, splotch, so the brains splattered nicely like a little golden fountain’. In Kurt Schwitters’ ‘The Onion’, the protagonist tells us: ‘It was a very momentous day, the day on which I was to be slaughtered… I had never yet in all my life been slaughtered’. In some cases, the year in which the story was published is included below its title, but in others the life span of the author is included. This inconsistency is a little confusing at times, as is the way in which none of the stories have been included in a chronological order. Ordering the stories in such a way would have made it easy for the reader to see how the darker elements of German fiction have progressed as the years have passed. The biographical information pertaining to each of the authors has been tucked away in an appendix at the back of the volume, and it is a shame that these short yet informative paragraphs have not been paired with the stories themselves.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Sophie

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. I am coming to the end of Part One of three. My favourite stories have been St Cecilia or the Power of Music by Heinrich von Kleist and Rune Mountain by Ludwig Tieck. St Cecilia tells the story of some iconoclasts who gather in a cloister in Aachen at the end of the sixteenth century, ready to wreak destruction. Having witnessed the destruction of Palmyra by so-called Islamic State, I felt terrible about the impending destruction and was reeled into the story. As for Rune Mountain, I have been r I am coming to the end of Part One of three. My favourite stories have been St Cecilia or the Power of Music by Heinrich von Kleist and Rune Mountain by Ludwig Tieck. St Cecilia tells the story of some iconoclasts who gather in a cloister in Aachen at the end of the sixteenth century, ready to wreak destruction. Having witnessed the destruction of Palmyra by so-called Islamic State, I felt terrible about the impending destruction and was reeled into the story. As for Rune Mountain, I have been reading Lovecraft and could see certain similarities in style and substance, but there isn't enough input from the editor (e.g. commentary) to know if this is coincidental or not. I personally doubt Lovecraft would have read Rune Mountain, but he might have developed similar sensibilities (e.g. fear or awe of mountainous landscapes) via the Romantic movement. I hope to make more connections and learn about them in further reading. This book can't deliver that level of learning and is just intended as an initial reader.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Richard Anderson

    Many interesting finds, but 19th Cent part overly familiar.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Elentarri

    Mixed bag of weird short stories.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Blake Brownrigg

  9. 5 out of 5

    Horhat George

  10. 5 out of 5

    Jess

  11. 4 out of 5

    Megh Marie

  12. 5 out of 5

    Eileen

  13. 5 out of 5

    Hannah

  14. 4 out of 5

    Laura

  15. 5 out of 5

    John McGowan

  16. 5 out of 5

    Marc Cobley

  17. 4 out of 5

    MySecond CupofTea

  18. 5 out of 5

    John P.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Abby

  20. 4 out of 5

    Anthony Spaeth

  21. 5 out of 5

    Alex Olive

  22. 4 out of 5

    Cleo

  23. 4 out of 5

    Jolie

  24. 5 out of 5

    Neil

  25. 5 out of 5

    The Scrivener's Quill

  26. 4 out of 5

    Scott Walker

  27. 4 out of 5

    Ross Scott-Buccleuch

  28. 5 out of 5

    Tulika I. Bahadur

  29. 4 out of 5

    Marquise

  30. 5 out of 5

    Tom

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