The Marquise of O – and other stories by Heinrich Von Kleist

Source – library

Heinrich Von Kleist was probably the best known German writer of his time .Born in 1777 in Frankfurt ,he had little formal education ,joined the Prussian army in his teens ,he rose to rank of lieutenant ,left after  seven years and went to study law at Vidrina university ,he was a leading light in the romantic movement he stared writing in his late twenties ,this collection gathers he most well-known short stories together and was published by Faber in 1960 .

Now there are 8 stories in this collection ,I m going to mention two of them that I like one that I felt showed that in two hundred years little has changed ,the other a short story that after recent news events seems apt .the first is the longest in the book Michael Kohlhaas is about the said Michael a man who was based on a real person ,that fell foul of the high-class and royalty of the day ,the story revolves around the michael horses and a fine he has to pay ,the story is he is stopped doesn’t have the right papers ,this leads to a petty official takeing horse as payment for this and using his other horse in the fields ,Michael feels mistreated so sets about some restitution for his loss this leads to a downward spiral leading Michael to more trouble and in the end ? ,well read it and find out !.Now Kafka is said to have loved this story and you can see why Michael is a prototype for Josef K or any of characters ,a man caught in the system ,but also a class struggle old boy afraid to lose face in the face of Michael’s complaints at his injustices .

Towards the middle of the sixteenth century ,there lived on the banks of the Havel a horse dealer by the name of Michael Kohlhaas ,the son of a schoolmaster ,one of the most upright and at the same time one of the most terrible men of his day .until his thirtieth year this extraordinary man would have been thought the model of a good citizen .In  a  village that still bears his name

the opening of this story .

The second story I want to mention is The earthquake in Chile ,this short story follows the aftermath of the great earthquake in Santiago in 1647 ,Jerenimo a spanish man is about to hang himself in prison as it strikes he ends up fee from prison as the city is in ruins following the quake ,so he sets of to find his wife and son ,but with the feeling that his wife is lying dead ,but much to his relief they are alive and well ,meanwhile a rich man Don Fermando ,lose his with and his son is still young so he ask Josphe Jeronimo wife to join him and for them to help his son Juan ,this like Michael Kohlhaas leads to a series of unforseen events ,as the locals struggle to cope with the aftermath and look to the bible and this leads to people who are seen as sinners  being sought out  .

Jeronimo Rugera went rigid with terror and ,as if all his awareness of thing had been destroyed ,he clung to the very pillar on which he had meant to die ,to keep himself from falling .the ground swayed under his feet ,great cracks suddenly appeared in all the prison walls and the whole building leaned forward .

Jernimo finds life just as he wants death ,but is the a price ?

I really enjoyed these stories ,I was a bit worried with the age of the stories ,but had seen Von Kleist mentioned as an influence on a lot of German writers .I saw what Kafka took from him in Michael Kohlhaas this is so like Kafka’s work over a hundred years later .Also earthquake in chile reminded me of modern stories about the aftermaths of natural disasters and I felt how little had changed in a big earthquake is as bad now as it was then as Japan and New Zealand show in the last few months .The translation by Martin Greenberg still worked really well after nearly 50 years .I hope I inspire some more english readers to try him ,he shows you the background of modern German literature .

Have you read von Kleist ? 

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June 2011
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