Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s Conversations about a new book

August 15, 2012 § Leave a comment

A day in the country, a landscape humming with greenery, a gentry home described with such clarity that one may not only draw its plan, but feel the cool of the foyer as one enters it.

Waldo and Gottfried return from a walk. From their conversation we learn about an expected visit from an uncle, a person not easy to get along with. They enter (and we along with them) Ferdinand’s room. The owner of the house is in the middle of reading, we have interrupted him, so, only naturally, after a few remarks of general nature, there comes a question about the book. It is Jacob Wassermann’s The Sisters: Three Novelas. But Ferdinand is unable to answer coherently the question as to what connects the three novelas, or what they are about. Instead, he explodes in a passionate story of how he read this book the night before, in the middle of a thunderstorm, how it moved him, how he now sees in a new light everything around him. The other two are disconcerted, they “have no key” with which to understand Ferdinand’s experience.

Soon the uncle enters and takes the book in order to form an opinion about it. The second conversation about the book takes place between him and Ferdinand. The uncle has read the book and criticizes it severely. He admits the author has talent, but accuses him of literary clumsiness. Soon the conversation breaks off, other guests enter, all sorts of plans for the day are discussed, as it is in the countryside in the summer.

Going to bed at night, Ferdinand comes upon the book – he finds it lying on the table in his bedroom – but he is unable to find what it was in it that had roused him so much the night before. But later, when he wakes up in the middle of the night, various scenes from the book return to him. Suddenly, his own room seems to him a strange place, and he seems to himself a different man. “Everything in that space harbored a mystery within it; life has placed him on that beautiful bed, for one night or perhaps for many; and though he was in his own house, he felt that he was the most unfamiliar guest.”

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