Saturday, May 31, 2008

The Marquise of O- by Heinrich von Kleist

Heinrich von Kleist, is an 18th Century Born German Play write and novelist. He ended his life in the tender age of 34 by shooting himself ( after shooting his girlfriend who was suffering from terminal Cancer, where they had signed a suicidal pact before executing the same). His style and language have influenced the next generation of German writers including Thomas Mann and Franz Kafka. After his short term military service, as his father, he enrolled and devoted himself in to education and have started writing short stories and plays. His encounter with the writing of Kants have made a huge change in his way of looking at the world and the people which in turn have ended in his suicide.

This book , re-published by London based Hesperuspress include a foreword by Andrew Miller and an introduction by the translator Richard Stokes, giving us insight to the interesting author. This short book consists of a novella with the same name and two short stories, 'the earthquake in Chile' and 'the foundling'.

The little town of M** in northern Italy was greeted with this announcement in the local newspaper , by the Widowed Marquise of O** , a lady of excellent reputation and mother of several well bred children, without knowing the cause, come to find herself in an interesting condition, that she wished the father of the child she was expecting to present himself; and that she was resolved, out of consideration to her family, to marry him. The lady, who is the daughter of Colonel G**, commander of the citadel at M**, have lost her husband three years ago during a journey. She along with her parents and brother have to come out of the citadel, after the citadel was attacked and held control by the Russian Army. During the siege and attack, she along with her mother who was escaping from the citadel to their bunglaw in the outskirts, have been molested by a group of soldiers, before the young Count F** , the lieutenant colonel of of the rifle corps, came to her rescue. The family, now in their country house, rejects the repeated request of Count F** to marry the widowed marquise. Sooner, she gets this odd sensation and get herself examined by the doctor , and a midwife. She is not willing to accept that she is pregnant and does not know how is this happened. Midwife answeres to her query of divine pregnancy as she is the only other case, after the holy virgin. Unable to accept the shame and the insult, the family discards her and make her leave the home. The newspaper advertisement comes thus, before the issue is settled and the family unites.

The earthquake in Chile is also talks about a lady of repute, gets pregnant by her tutor of lower origin and was condemned to death by beheading, while her lover was imprisoned awaiting his death sentence by hanging. On the day of the execution, a huge earthquake hits the city of Santiago and the city is destroyed. The turn of events get the lovers back together with their newborn kid. Planning to escape the city and to request pardon from the viceroy, the couple joins the other families who are spared from the disruption, attends the mass at the only surviving church, where they were identified and attacked by a group of people, accusing them of bringing the damage to their city.

The Foundling is about a wealthy businessman and his young wife, accepting an adopted boy as their son, in place of his own son who dies of plague during one of his business trips. As the folk tales go, the time and turn of events make the young man lead an anti-social life and gets killed by the old man after his sons attempts to seduce and force his stepmother to his desire. The old man is sentenced to death by hanging , but refuses to receive absolution. He wanted to go to hell, where he is sure that his adopted son will be, and wants to continue his revenge. " I do not wish to be saved. I wish to descend into the deepest depths of hell. I wish to find Nicolo, who will not be in heaven, and proceed with my revenge, which could only be partially completed here on earth" was hi slast words before climbing the scaffold.

As Milan Kundera said, you need to understand the era of the writing and the life and background of the author to understand the text well. Considering the time by which this is written and the turbulence this would have caused in his lifetime, these are interesting reads. Unlike the earlier style of translations of old texts, I found this translation to be very good and easy reading. This is an important read for serious book readers.

The Marquise of O-Heirich von Kleist - translated by Richard Stokes
Harperus Press
100 pages ( incl of introduction)
Rs 240/-

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