Discreet Charm: Discovered Senses: Theodor Fontane's Schach von Wuthenow (1883) and David R. Slavitt's the Hussar (1987)

by Edith H. Krause
Discreet Charm: Discovered Senses: Theodor Fontane's Schach von Wuthenow (1883) and David R. Slavitt's the Hussar (1987)
Edith H. Krause
The German Quarterly
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Moorhead State University

Discreet Charm-Discovered Senses:
Theodor Fontane's Schach von Wuthenow (1883)
and David R. Slavitt's TheHussar (1987)

Among the literary experts in and outside of Germany, Fontane is now recog- nized as one of the great European realists of the 19th century. Inview of his continuing popularity among German readers, and in view of a steadily expanding body of critical literature, we must agree, today, that Fontane has reaped considerably more than "ein maRiger Anstands-Erfolg," to which he modestly limits his prospects in a letter to Mathilde von Rohr written in connection with the publication of Schach von Wuthe- now (3 January 1883, quoted from Brink- maflietholter 11: 317). Still, if we look beyond the narrow confines of an academic readership, Fontane, generally ranked as a "classic" among German readers, has re- mained virtually unknown to the broader reading public outside his homeland. A survey of the nonacademic Anglo-American reception of Fontane yields a few isolated press reports and an incomplete list of English translations ofhis works as the only sparseevidenceof some glimmeringinterest that may have beensparked by the scholarly enthusiasm reigning in the field of German- istics.

Fontane "has been slumbering. . . in one of those cemeteries of the mind that are rarely visited by travelers from the Anglo- Saxon world" (Andrews 75). Few readers have attempted what Peter Gay assumed would be an "agreeab1e"and "rewarding"act ofdiscovering, or rediscovering, this novelist ("'Foreword" to Fontane, Short Novels ix). Among them is Samuel Beckett, who endows his figure Krapp in Krapp$ Last

The German Quarterly 65.3-4 (Summer-Fall1992)

Tapewith a surprising literary profile, ashe has him reflect on reading Effi Briest: "Scalded the eyes out of me reading Effie [sic] again, a page a day, with tears again. Effie . . . pause) Could have been happy with her, up there on the Baltic, and the pines and the dunes" (Krapp$Last Tape 25). David Turner reads this passage as a 'lit- erary curiosity After all, what business has the heroine of a Realist novel in the Theatre of the Absurd?' (234). He is, however, even more intrigued 'by the fact that a non- German writer of our own day should have been acquainted with a German novel of the nineteenth century and should then have conceived the ideaof intrpducingan allusion to it into his work, an allusion intelligible to only a tiny fraction of his audience" (234).If this is remarkable, it is even more remark- able that another non-Geiman writer of our own day, David R. Slavitt, should have engaged in a literary project whose outcome was nothing less than, in his words, "my version of Theodor Fontane's novel, A Man ofHonor," ashe states in the foreword to his 1987 novel The Hussar. Within the rather dreary-looking field of Anglo-American Fontane reception, Slavitt's work, along with the translations of most of Fontane's major novels, appears to be another token witness to the 19th-century German realist's survival abroad. After all, a literary work of art does not lead an autonomous life but 'lebt, soweit es wirkt" (Benjamin 51). At long last, someone other than a knowledgeable critic has given new life to an author who, outside of his home country, has been

largely ignored. (Incidentally, Slavitt's lit- erary resurrection of a 19th-century Ger- man author who has remained largely unknown in America does not stand alone. With The Hussar, he joins another Ameri- can writer of our time, namely E. L. Doctor-ow, whose novel Ragtzme (1974) retells the story of Heinrichvon Kleist's Michael Kohl- haas (1810) in the setting of a turn-of-the- century America.)

While, as acritic of The Hussar observes, "he idea of reimagining or rewriting the myths, tales, stories and novels of others, whether as an act of homage, humor or hubris," is not unusual in general (Zeno- wich), this particular case does not corre- spond to the usual process of immersion fol- lowed by creation. Fontane, who knew how to treasure a paradox, would have approved of Slavitt's capricious reversal of the proce- dure: his novel, which is described as "a kind of literary parlor game" (The Hussar, 'Tore- word"), is not the result of a deliberate ex- ploitation of an extensively studied model, but rather an intensive elaboration on a mere skeleton of the story that he had come across in an essay. Only after completing his own work did he want to read Fontane's in order tosee "how Ihad done in comparison" (The Hussar, 'l?oreword"). In what follows, I will first illustrate how Fontane's novel came to Slavitt's attention; second, I will look at the question of what he did with the orig- inal story, and how his work compares with the model from which he departed.

Outside academia, precious little has been done in the way of promoting the cause of Fontane, although Douglas ParmBe's Beyond Recall of 1964 (Uwiederbringliclz), praised as "an important occasion in Ger- man and English letters" (Herd), was the first in a series of translations that have, in the meantime, made most of Fontane's major novels available to English-speaking readers. Thus, for reviewers of The Hussar, Fontane has remained "a relatively obscure Prussian" (Butler), "an obscure German novelist" (Rungren). This last reviewer even goes as far as to discredit The Husscu~ on

account of "its esoteric source" which "des- tines this for more scholarly audiences." All the more noteworthy is an essay on Fontane which appeared in the New York Review of Boolzs on 7 October 1982. It was prompted by the publication of Fontane's ShortNovels and Other Witings (ed. Peter Demetz), vol. 46 of the German Library. An ambitious project of the notable Continuum publishing house, this series is designed to introduce in 100 volumes a representative selection of German literature '%on Weltruf" mittig- Davis 555) to the English-speaking public. Significantly enough, it is a review essay written by an expert, Gabriele Annan, who herself has tried to secure Fontane an au- dience with her translations The Woman Taken in Adultery and The Poggenpuhl Family.l It is also important to note that her review is the first and, so far, the last large- scale attempt in the media to bring Fontane closer to American readers, and it is the only American review for the general reader that in quality and scope can hold its own next to the competition on the other side of the Atlantic.

Among other prose works by Fontane, Annan discusses E.M. Valk's translation of Schachvon Wuthenow: AManofHonor, and thus helps build the framework for Slavitt's work, a countercreation of Fontane's novel in the 1980s. Her review introduces the reader to the "excessively handsome, neu- rotically vain" officer Schach, who is "ob- sessed by the concept of honor," mentions his long-time relation to the beautiful Frau Carayon, his tragic involvement with her pockmarked daughter Victoire, and his sudden suicide following the ceremonies on the day of their wedding. Schach's death is interpreted mainly as an answer to aconflict between military obedience and personal pride, as his image of himselfwould rule out the idea of marriage to either the beautiful but aging widow or her charming but disfig- ured daughter. Within the conventional con- stellation of a love triangle that has its 'ha- tiirliche Konsequenzen" (Schach 84), i.e., pregnancy and marriage, our attention is drawn to the unconventionality and psycho- logically truthful depiction of the unshak- able "tender, companionable relationship between mother and daughter." We are also alerted to the fact that this "private drama is interwoven with political events and with ideas . . . about what Prussia is [in 18051, has been [under Frederick the Great], and might become." This aspect of the novel re- ceives hrther clarification by the mention of the Schonbrunn Treaty, through which "Russia herself has fallen into a state of dishono~atleast in conservative opinion." Further political implications are given in remarks about theopposedviews ofthe "pro- gressive, rational" fi-ondeur Biilow and the "chivalrous" Schach, who is more "for the old ways" and 'Teudal values." The salon life of the uppercrust, as Annan emphasizes, pro- vides an appropriate framework for the por- trayal of the "witty and elegiac" Victoire's "special gift forplaudern" in particular, and the confrontational exchange of ideas in general. The overall impact of the novel is described as '%izarre" and "disturbing," as it puts urbanity and '8umane atmosphere" in sharp contrast to the "shocking" end (Annan 27).

Slavitt was intrigued by Annan's summary, but it was a fascination ex negatiuo. He found the novel in Annan's essay basically "unappealing," yet appealing enough to get "hooked" and "to write a kind of counter-story" in order "to undo the Fontane novel as much as redo it" (letter to the author, 3/8/90). '1 was struck by the weirdness of the story," Slavitt remarks (letter to the author, 1/20/90) and, clarifying his point of departure, mentions that 'there was something appealing about the women together, and about the airlessness of con- vention, and the ruinous denouement" (letter to the author, 3/8/90).

Much like Schach in Fontane's story, the main character of Slavitt's novel, a young oflicer named Stefan, finds himself in a love triangle. He gets involved with an attractive, middle-aged widow, Frau Krasinska, in whose house he is billeted, and her daughter Eugenie, who, less visibly disfigured than Victoire Carayon, is beautiful but impaired by a Byronic club foot. Like Schach, he has to act upon the "natiirliche Konsequenzen" when Eugenie gets pregnant, and he is forced to marry her. In fear of being subject to a public disgrace he, too, like Schach, "greift ... zu dem altenAuskunftsmitte1 der Verzweifelten: un peu de poudre" (Schach 131) and ends his life shortly after the wedding.

As in Schach von Wuthenow, the events in The Hussar take place at a decisive his- torical junction. The battle of Jena and Au- erstedt and Prussia's defeat in 1806 provide the historical frameworkforSchach von Wu- thenow. In The Hussar, which, as a "counter- story," is set in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Seven Weeks' War and the events leading to Austria's defeat in 1866 are highlighted in the end. Fontane chooses his historical setting quite deliberately and "mirrors the total situation of Prussia on the eve of its collapse before Napoleon" in "a story of small circle" and "personal relation- ships and fate" (Pascal 185). Thus, he trans- poses an actually "banale Verfiihrungsge- schichte" (Guenther 186) into "a virtual al- legory of Prussian history" (Garland 43) and uses it as an artistic vehicle for the descrip- tion and evaluation of the physiognomy of a historic moment. At thesame time, the novel is not limited to this dimension. It is written at a time when Prussia, having reached a new height in the 1880s, finds herself again marked by discomforting "Zeichen einer pompBsen Hohlheit" (Guenther 194) which threaten to lead to her final undoing. Thus, Fontane demonstrates his ability intuitively to understand imminent dangers and their far-reaching consequences for his time, even if he "couldn't have imagined the bloodbath that was to come in ours" (Slavitt, letter of 1/20/90).

Compared with the complex integration of the private and public spheres in Schach uon Wuthenow, The Hussar appears rather limited anddoesnot quite reach aplane from which the stark facts of involvement, seduc-

tion, and suicide become a strong and con- vincing argument in the discussion of the broader reality of their time. The author does not seem to take much of an interest in the story's actual location, "a town of no sig- nificance" by the name of Waldenburg (The Hussar 3). Nor is the actual historical situa- tion put into relief other than in some fleet- ing remarks of battle names and royalties. 'Who has ever heard of Trautenau or KGniggratz?' (The Hussar 173), the narrator asks. Time and place are only vaguely suggested by the identification of a certain cavalry regiment in the title of the story. On the whole, however, the picture remains rather blurred, much like "the green blur of the surrounding woods or the brown of tilled fields" (The Hussar 3) in which this insignif- icant townis implanted. What the narration does hasten to reveal, as a touch of the time, is a Hussar's concept of honor, or rather, what the protagonist, Stefan, conceives honor to be: namely, a superficial array of attitudes and adornments: 'Xe wanted only to wear the uniform proudly and bring honor to it." And thus '%e reveled in his rank, his uniform, and the smell and squeak of its highly polished leather," indulging whole- heartedly in the promise ofgainingpersonal stature by "the brightness of the regiment's glory" (The Hussar 5f.). Apart from this manifestation of the time's decadence and lack of substance, the era remains quite ab- stract, a remote backdrop that adds a little color and tone.

But if the narrator doesn't quite throw us into the middle of a sharply accentuated, heated political discussion in a fashionable salon of a metropolitan city, he takes us somewhere else-a place to which Fontane, given the conventions of histime and place and the self-imposed limitations of narra- tive, is not willingto take us. If it is true that the town is of no significance, the one region that opens up before the reader of The Hussar is the landscape of the soul which provides the real, the significant, battlefield in this muddle of feelings, passions, agonies, lusts, and longings. Quite logically, then, the love triangle, whose contours remain ever so delicate and indeterminate in Fontan* we do not really know the extent of Schach's involvement with the mother; nor are we given substantial conclusive evidence about his feelings for Victoimis at the heart of Slavitt's narrative, whose modern trade- markis introspection,explorationoftheself, and immersion into intricate details in order to find in the inner depths of some mystify- ing dilemma a clarity to satisfy the mind.2

Although Slavitt points out "that the story I am telling here is Fontane's story" (The Hussar, 'l?oreword"), his exploration of the triangle-suicide theme isthat of a 20thcentury writer. In Fontane, we meet the characters primarily in the metropolitan public sphere that precludes intimacies, commands behavioral restrictions, and prescribes the proper tone and topics of con- versation. The story of Stefan unfolds between two poles marked, on the one hand, by the routine barrack life in Waldenburg and, on the other, by the "unexpectedly imaginative female world of the farmhouse" (Zenowich) at the outskirts. The first time we meet him, he is on his way to his quarters. We accompany him "as he trotted down the country road in a slanting afternoon light that sliced through the foliage of overarch- ing trees" (Tlze Hussar 4), and we are in- formed, at the end of the first chapter, that "with every step his horse took upon this almost submarine passageway beneath the arching branches, he was drawing closer to his time of trial" (Tlze Hussar 6).The trip to his quarters is a trip to unexplored regions of his inner self, and the "times of trial" lying "in wait to ambush him" will culminate in the torment that he encounters in the de- ceptive "coziness of a country farmhouse" (The Hussar 6).

In the remote farmhouse, public propri- ety is soon left behind, and highly intimate and eccentric personal drives determine the field of action as Stefan gets out of his uniform and the nightly traffickings begin. Sonja Krasinska, the mother, readily adopts the naive Stefan as her lover, making it clear,

though, that he is merely to be the object of her desires. Soon enough, he also finds himself involved with the lame daughter Eugenie, who, much like Victoire impresses Schach with herjeu d'esprit, dazzles Stefan with loquacious demonstrations of her un- inhibited, free, and unconventional spirit. The conventional, cheap design behind his courtship for the daughter is to bring about jealousy and submission in the capricious mother. Instead, in deadly answer to Stefan's innermost wishes, a threesome re- lationship develops by general consensus. This seems an adventurous hussar's dream come true. His dream, though, turns quickly from enrapture to bewilderment to night- mare. Utter confusion reigns as Stefan feels victimized by the two women, "terrified" by the situation, yet at the same time "fascinat- ed and helpless," and a mere 'beast" (Tlze Hussar 107). As much as he longs for it, he loathes his affair with the two women out of fear of compromising what he believes is his honor and integrity. In a first move, he at- tempts to compensate the loss of personal value he experiences from within and without by trying to "secure apower position in this game of sexual politics" (Zenowich), as if his being in control were to signal that he is also right, good. But then Eugenie gets pregnant and Sonja, like Frau von Carayon, demands their relationship be legitimized (without necessarily giving up her demands on Stefan), much to Stefan's distress. In tor- turing images, he sees Eugenie 'limping up the aisle of a church and lurching along under the crossed swords of his fellow ofi- cers, whose training and discipline would just barely suppress their condescending smiles" (Tlze Hussar 68). These words remind us of Schach who cannot bear being seen in public withvictoire. But underneath this concern with outward appearances, another, stronger, conflict is present within Stefan as he begins to experience fully the torments of an "unimaginable depravity" (The Hussar 143) in his relationship with the two women. His absurd concept of honor clashes tragically with his growing aware-

ness of this facet of life, which he is not ready to face or able to understand. However, he is unable to withdraw. His "monstrous" desires (The Hussar 140), unleashed by the situation, the unknown femininity, are in control of him, and the only way out is ex- tinguishing them and himself in the process.

Given the narrative focus on the trian- gular dilemma, the concept of beauty, which in Schaclz uonWuthenow is instrumental in the protagonist's demise in a very sophisti- cated way, is saturated with sensuality in Tlze Hussar. Frau Carayon, an (almost?) im- maculate and impressively beautifulgrande dame of the city's social life, reappears as a lavish Sonja Krasinska who strikes Stefan as "just a bit overstuffed, with her plump cheeks, her pudgy hands and ample bosom decorated with a number of rings and brooches" (Tlze Hussar 9). Her daughter, an "altogether lovely" sight at first, features "deep deep blue" eyes, and Stefan "saw- and all but felt-her slender waist" (The Hussar 11). His sexual fantasies, though, are soon and brutally undermined when he has to acknowledge that Sonja is old and Eugenie 1ame.Yet bothprotagonists, Schach as well as Stefan, become fatefully bound to the flawed daughters. Schach falls prey to the seductive power of whimsically uttered words, and acts upon the prince's paradoxi- cal "le laid c'est le beau" (Schach 60).~ Stefan craves the sensual reality in his affair with the two women but, feeling "ashamed of himself" (Tlze Hussar 78), turns against the abysmal self that he thinks he is, and feels he must pay the final debt of honor with his life.

In both novels, the decision to commit suicide is made during a time of retreat. Schach returns to SchloI3 Wuthenow, the home of his ancestors, in an attempt to find relief and an answer to his dilemma. Stefan, while pursuing his regimental tasks, per- forms an inner retreat. Left an orphan after his parents had been killed in an avalanche, he is a homeless half-hero who has no castle to retreat to; his refuge is his inner self', Unlike Schach, whose Wuthenow scene

offers us the best view of his psychological

Stefan closes the door to his inner world as he stops confiding and leaves the narrator in the dark. On the eve of the wedding, he jovially stages a jeu de cartes with his captain, loses by design, and thus creak an excuse for shooting himself since he would not be able to pay his debL5 Inboth novels, this act is triggered by external events that deeply affect the psychological stability of the protagonists. The caricatures in Schach, which wilfully ridicule the title figure's situation, are experienced as the representation of a tormenting reality. In The Hussar, a fellow officer remarks toward Stefan: 'You must have swept her right off her feet" (The Hussar 152). Although ap- parently made in all innocence and destined to express true approval of Stefan's choice, these words are tragically "misunderstood."

AsFontane's novel, Slavitt's does not end with the catastrophe. Fontane opens the floor for discussion by concluding with two interpretationsof the event: there is the ra- tional, critical explanation of Bulow, who offers acase study of Schach anddraws clear lines to the sociopolitical reality of his time; this view is followed by a psychological analysis through Victoire, who tries to un- derstand and forgive, perhaps in order to save something other than bitterness for her future life with Schach's child. This struc- tural device is indicative of Fontane who avoids postulating truths and gains a certain "objectivity" by leaving the field of action to the subjective voices of his charac- ter~.~

His narrator is mostly a coordinator of conversations and scenes a.nd hardly ever intrudes. It is up to him to engineer settings and configurations, but it is up to the dra- m& personae as well as the reader to in- terpret signs and draw conclusions. The nar- rator, keepinghimselfat adistance, does not offer decisive answers or conclusive expla- nations, thus betraying a typical feature of the author: ''Fontane nimmt chiastisch Partei: fur keinen, fur beide" (Demetz 157).

The author of The Hussar also "performs some elegant turns with the book's point of view" (Butler). At the beginning, an appar- ently omniscient narrator controls the field of action. He infers, compares, and judges as he introduces Stefan and affords us insight into his complex thoughts and feel- ings, revealing numerous determining inci- dents from his life. However, rather than being this "faceless, quasi-authorial intelli- gence" (Butler), he turns out to be a charac- ter in the book: namely, Captain Rudolph Kraus, whose narration skillfully shifts our attention from the quasi-authorial Stefan story to his own I-narration which eventu- ally becomes the main focus in the second part of the book. As the reader is still won- dering about the narrator's expertise re- garding the many minute details of which he,asa character in the plot, could not really have had any knowledge, there is another surprise at the end of The Hussar. Here, the captain's voice stops, and we encounter Fritz1 again, formerly Stefan's batman, then Kraus's caretaker in the field hospital, and, finally, narrator of the story after Kraus, on his way to a quiet life at the end of the war, is blown up in a train. His conclusion gives the narration its final frame and illuminates its design. By way of Fritzl's comments and reported dialogues with Kraus, it becomes apparent that the narrative ''I"is not a mere reporter and commentator of events that have been confided to him; nor is there an omniscient narrative authority who knows all about Stefan. What the reader is dealing with all along is the voice of the captain who, slipping into and out of Stefan's mind, comes up with a subjective re-creation of the

latter's inner life. Much like the author of The Hussar himself, whose 'literary parlor game''-the retelling of Fontane's story- "sustained me," ashe says, "at a particularly difficult time in my life" (The Hussar, 'Tore- word"), the narratortinventor of Stefan's life (who is seriously wounded in battle) resorts to writing during his painful time ofrecovery in the field hospital: "It's what keeps me alive. I live to get it all down" (The Hussar 172).7

The captain is actingupon an existential

dilemma. In the course of his story, it becomes obvious that he is trying to come to terms with 'The Legacy" and a certain "realism" bequeathed to him by his "iduca- tion sentimentale" (The Hussar 39-41). Unlike the rather innocent and naive Stefan, who "was one of those people to whom the opposite sex might as well have been inhabitants of a remote country, or indeed visitors from some distant planet," he was "introduced. . . at a very early age to the lists of lust" (The Hussar 39). The "un- orthodox and louche mhnage" of his mother and grandmother gave this bastard Haps- burg, in his words, "the chance to accustom myself to the enjoyment of. . . a series of Olgas, Marias, Catherines, Marguerites, Ilses, Wandas," and so forth from an early age on. Yet this has won him only aUnegative advantage": 'What I was saved were the agonies of puppy love, the mooncalf trans- ports. . . . What I missed was the madness, thegrande folk that transcends the merely human, rational plane upon which we live most of the time" (The Hussar 40f.). Stefan's grande folk provides him with an excep- tional opportunity to map out and recapture a component of existence that is a deep mystery to him. On the one hand, this inter- est explains the painstaking narrative voice that likes to go into the graphic descriptions of Stefan's trials and entanglements. On the other, explaining the impulse upon which Kraus acts, Slavitt also "suggests something about the whole process of fiction-writing (Butler) which, as a theme itself, runs through the works of many authors of our time. Throughout Fontane's 19th-century novel, we detect a dialectical process of ex- plaining and understanding, the willing- ness to forgive and the courage to hope. Mind and heart are working together in order to restore sense to an action that seems incom- prehensible. Thus, even though there are warning signs pointing ahead, in the end of the novel a certain harmony is established again. In the image ofVictoire and the baby who have lived through these times of chaos and confusion, we find the message that in

the midst of a discouraging loss of life and distortion of values there can be hope for a better future.

Slavitt writes from the perspective of an author whose view of the world has been tainted by the "bloodbath" of our time that Fontane did not live to see. As in Fontane, a certain objective stance is operative in his presentation of Stefan's story. Slavitt's nar- rator, too, searching from inside and outside Stefan, avoids an explicit judgment as to whether the latter was "right" or "wrong." He understands that in this case traditional categories of judgment are invalid, and ex- plains that Stefan had simply "done what he had conceived to be the necessary and honorable thing" (The Hussar 166). Still, his very first reaction to the shocking news of the suicide is quite telling: 'What a fool!" (The Hussar 163) and 'Madman" (The Hussar 165), he exclaims. Where Fontane establishes some kind of cause and effect argument, with the reservation (inVictoirels famous words) that some determinables in a person's behavior remain inaccessible? Slavitt does not allow for any real explana- tion. Stefan's act is portrayed as a foolish deed in an absurd and destructive environ- ment that undermines the quest for whole- ness and wholesomeness of the individual being. The captain tries to resolve this pre- dicament. Wounded himself and facing the gruesome toll the war has taken, he is in the end "thinking about the battles but writing about Stefan." When asked by Fritz1 about the connection between the two, his laconic answer is: "There isn't any" (The Hussar 173). Ironically, though, his whole project of re-creating Stefan's life appears to be another search for man's lost honor on the battlefield of a crazy world. More broadly than in Fontane, the notion of honor here touches upon the wish to be able to live de- cently in a decent world. (It is interesting that Stefan repeatedly describes the Kra- sinskas and their household asGdecent"[The Hussar 16, 221.) The craziness of the time, however, leads to an undermining of all value; the search for it remains-an illusion.

Thus, rather than a wholesome picture of a woman and her baby who survive the worst as in Schach, The Hussar's final scenario reveals only chaos. Battles have been won and lost; the captain is dead; Sonja and Eugenie are dead, killed by the war action that destroyed the town; the child, a baby girl, presumably is alive and with the house- keeper (incidentally, one of the captain's former playmates), but no record of their whereabouts can be found. The little hope remaining is beyond retrieval. What could be retrieved was the captain's account, which Fritzl finds among the debris of the train. He rescues it as a treasure of truth that could tell "how things really are and what the world is actually going to do to you, no matter how noble or kind or sensitive you are." And, the shrewd batman assumes, "there could be money in it, after all" (The Hussar 178). But the manuscript, too, isdes- tined to be rejected finally by a publisher to whom Fritzl had taken it: 'What kind of ter- rible human being could write such a novel?" (The Hussar 179).

The black scenario on which The Hussar ends, as much as the retelling ofthe Fontane novel in general, can be traced back to two related impulses. For one, Slavitt describes how he "used the airlessness of the conven- tions of honor as a foil to my own fairly deep depression of the time" (Slavitt, letter of 1/20/90);9 personal circumstances, however, are seen in relation to the general "preten- sions of civility." The appeal of the Fontane story also lies in the fact that it underscores Slavitt's concept of Europe as a showcase "of this kind of hypocrisy, with more pretension to civilization and culture and with more flagrant and deplorable butchery than in America. The fact that this [Fontane's] story is German is not incidental, I think" (Slavitt, letter of 3/8/90). The historical vagueness of his story has a purpose, as it points more definitely than Fontane's preciseness to the "barbarization of all . . . of modern life" (Slavitt, letter of 3/8/90). And this lies at the heart of Slavitt's work

Romance and love as well as glory and honor experience a reductw ad absurdurn in Slavitt's novel. The monster that Stefan fears lies not so much within him as without, in an inimical world that leaves him essen- tially homeless. Schach's existence, too, as much as his fate, is intertwined with the history, the decadence, and the hollow values of his era, and is brandished by this keen sense of homelessness. Going back to his roots that lie in SchloR Wuthenow, he finds dust, decay, disorde~a place where, with or without Kctoire, he does not really belong and from which he returns without having restored himself to life. But then, neither does he belong in the glib world of the uppercrust salons, and in the regiment, too, he is an outsider. The ideals of a past time he subscribes to make him a quixotic anachronistic misfit (Aust 147-48) and, at the same time, a modern stranger who, like Stefan, reacts in a seemingly irresponsible manner against social demands.

Slavitt has taken 'liberties .. . with this small work of an important German nov- elist" (letter of 1/20/90), but his distillation of a 19thcentury life may still serve us as a pointer when turning back from the sensu- ality and sexuality of the 20th-century novel to the discreet nature of Fontanels prose. With sensibilities sharpened and challenged by comparing these two largely incongruent yet closely related fates, we are invited to return to chapter 18 of Schach von Wuthenow,which now may open new horizons to us. The focal point here is Schach's travel fantasy, which, as Christian Grawe ob- serves, "in der sekundarliteratur bisher kaum gewiirdigt worden ist" (259). Out of touch with the reality of his time and place, Schach conjures up one desirable destina- tion in this chapter, which bears the telling title "Fata Morgans." Picturing his honey- moon trip to the south of Italy and beyond, he becomes the loquacious architect of the image of that ominous Dark Continent, the description of which is, remarkably enough, layered with a strange and, for Schach, unusual sensuality:

Und dann wollten sie nach Malta. Nicht urn Maltas willen, o nein. Aber auf dem Wege dahin sei die Stelle, wo der geheim- nisvolle schwane Weltteil in Luftbildern und Spiegelungen ein allererstes Ma1 zu dem in Nebel und Schnee gebornen Hyperboreer sprache. Das sei die Stelle, wo die bilderreiche Fee wohne, die sturnme Sirene, die mit dem Zauber ihrer Farbe fast noch verfirischer locke als die sin- gende. Bestlindig wechselnd seien die Szenen und Gestalten ihrer Laterna magica, und wahrend eben noch ein ermiideter Zug uber den gelben Sand ziehe, dehne sich's plotzlich wie griine Trif- ten, und unter der schattengebenden Palme siiI3e die Schar der Manner, die Kijpfe gebeugt und alle Pfeifen in Brand, und schwarz und braune Madchen, ihre Flechten gelost und wie zum Tanze geschiint, erhuben die Becken und schliigen das Tamburin. Und mitunter sei's, als lach'es. Und dann schwieg'es und schwand' es wieder. Und diese Spiegelung aus der geheimnisvollen Ferne, dm sei das Ziel! (Schach124)

In Grawe's understanding of this scene, Schach finds himself at the threshold of a "reich der imagination, das voll von todesas- soziationen ist und keineswegs auf eine gliickliche ehe vorausdeutef' (261). For him, the seductive Fata Morgana episode is Schach's 'Gision der freiheit," representing the desirable "erotischer wunschtraum eines junggesellen," not the "christlich-monogame vision eines bsutigams" (263), a role which Schach rejects. However, Schach's distance to his time, place, and the persons surround- ing him seems to warrant a different view of his vision. Like his modern variant, Stefan, Schach is on an "almost submarine pas- sageway" that leads him 'Yo his time of trial" h he~ussar~).~O~nd he harbors

like ~tefan, erotic dreams which turn against him just as he begins to feel the impact of their reality. Schach, too, it seems, feels victimized by the albeit covert courtship of two women who have definite needs, desires, and expecta- tions. Their rivalry is continuously alluded to until the day of Schach and Victoire's wed- ding when Frau Carayon jokes in a private conversation with Schach: "On revient

toujours A ses premiers amours" @chuch 128). And although the nature of the al- lusions may change from quiet, deeply felt disappointment (Victoire after the Tempel- hof scene) to a tone of jovial and even joyful renunciation Frau Carayon on the wedding day), the basic configuration of two women sharing their interest in one man remains unaltered. As long as they are "dancing around him" at a distance, Schach is safe. But, like the mythological sea nymph, Vic- toire gains control over him. It is not only her song (cf. Schmh 18) which possesses magical power. Schach is fascinated as well as taken aback when he is confronted by "ein adblit- zendes Feuer in ihrem Auge" which, during his fateful visit at the Carayons' home, ''traf ihn mit dem Ausdruck einer trotzigen Entschlossenheit" (Schach 68). Victoire's challenge leads to the famously understated seduction scene which, in turn, leads to Schach's demise. He is magically drawn to the Dark Continent of his travel fantasy; but still, he wants to remain at a distance, will- fully requesting only the 'Spiegelung aus der geheimnisvollen Ferne" (Schmh 124) asultimate goal of his journey. Just as magically, he is drawn to Victoire, another "dark con- tinent," to borrow a Freudian term with which, asGilrnan points out, "he tied female sexuality to the image of contemporary colonialism and thus to the exotism and pathology of the Other" (Gilman 107). Yet intervention by higher powers and social necessities will not tolerate this desirable, non-threatening remoteness. As a mirage, the 'Wunderhold Mirabelle" (cf. Schach 69) poses no danger. But in the close proximity of this darkcontinent of the Other, being sub- jected to Victoire's making use of him in the holy bonds of marriage, Schach loses control and face. We may recall here the fate of the Tempelritter with whom he feels a great af- finity, whose features hewn in stone suffer abuse during constant sacrosanct rituals (cf. Schmh 38). The dark continent is desirable as a controlled figment of the imagination. But Schach wants to keep it at a distance, just like the symbolic darkness of Victoire's

disfigured face. "C'est Elle! noire et pourtant lumineuse" (Charles ~audelaire)," and Schach responds to her calling. She is the 'Wunderhold," living proof of the proposition established by the prince and applied by Schach, "daR sich die Seele den Korper schafft oder ihn durchleuchtet und verkliirt" (Schach 68E). But she is also a demanding woman who has a definite "Anrecht auf Leben und Liebe," as Schach himself ac- knowledges (Schach 69). In a different and yet equally frantic and hopeless way, Schach, like the lover in Baudelaire's poem, "knows that only in dreams and in visions is there any life remaining" (Charnberlin 267). It is no accident that she is initially excluded from his travel fantasy andonlyremembered with seeming strain in the personal pronoun: 'Vnd dam wollten sie nach Malta" (Sclzaclz 24; my emphasis).

Fontane "had a stimulating and liberat- ing impact on the later development of the novel in German" (Hatfield 3) and found his true heir in Thomas Mann. The extraordi- nary sensuality of Schach's travel fantasy, for example, reverberates in the experiences of Mann's protagonists in Der Tod in Venedig and Der Zauberberg. Both Aschenbach's "furchtbarer Traum," which is filled with the resounding of "eherne Becken" and a beckoning "Flotenton" (Tod in Ven.edig 257- 59), and Hans Castorp's "Sudmeer" vision (Zauberberg 677ff.) describe encounters of a "Hyperboreer" like Schach with a desirable and, at the same time, dreadful Dionysian world of dance, sun, senses, and sacrifice. In some ways, Schach, too, shares with Hans Castorp "das Begeisterungsgluck leichter Liebesberuhrungen mit Machten, deren volle Umarmung vernichtend sein wurde" (Zauberberg 258).

Schach is caught in the duality of home and foreignness, past and present, fear and desire, and, and in

the private as well as the public sphere. Grawespeaks the unresolveddilemma a "hoffnungsloses fernsein" of Schach's goals and destinations. I would rather call his plight, as it is expressed in the travel vision, the utopiaofa"erhofftes Fernsein."Fontane postulates in his novels, and most impres- sively in the famous Wullersdorf-Innstetten dialogue in Efi Briest, that life cannot be lived outside a certain social network. Hence, Schach, after his animated, high- spirited performance, must fall silent and vanish from the scene, like his vision. U1- timately, he and his modern counterpart

Stefan are both overwhelmed by female power politics, the general threats of an ali- enating, frustrating, and debilitating reality, and the impact of their myths-here,

looming dangerously; there, vanishing ben- evolently As we have seen, they cannot but resolve the muddle of their existence with "Un peu de poudre." The last words belong to those who manage to live through the

confusions of hearts, minds, and times.

How did Slavitt fare in comparison with Fontane? In both novels, the basic points of juncture show great similarities. In tone and atmosphere, Fontane excels as a chronicler of his time. Slavitt excels by not falling prey to any possible "preciosity" or '%ookishness" associated with the genre ofhistorical novels (Wilhelmus 676). While capturing "the feel of a 19th century novel" without letting it turn into "a stiff costume drama" (Rungren), he brings new life to a set of characters "in whom one can believe even in the 1980's" (Hegi). The result of the comparison of the two then amounts to an observation of a pe- culiar balance of identity and difference. The modern work, paradoxically true to itself and its model, provides yet another view of the original which in the structure of its con- clusion invites us to continue the debate opened by Bulow and Victoire, and to reex- amine again a fate that left us disturbed.12


new translation of L,>Mulkraby Lynn R.

Eliason appealdin 1990.

In a letter of 12 June 1895 to a lady, Fontane &rongiy discredits "die beliihmten 'Schilderungen3 (der Gipfel der Geschmacklosigkeit)" as appropriate means of expression in his social novels (Effi Briest

327). meeres angesiedelt" (261).

ahgrid ~ittenzwei offers a convincing discussion of the importance of the verbal cues (50-64).

41n thia chapter in particular, Fontane exhibits narrative features (polyperspedive, minor images, correlation of outerlinner situation) which place him "in die Nahe der modernen RomantechniK' (Demetz 160).

b~uriously enough, the historical Major von Schack, who served Fontane as a model, is described as "ein hemrnungsloser, riicksichtsloser Spieler und Draufdnger, der in einer Nacht seinem Kameraden, Graf Riedaedel, 20 000 Taler abgewann, worauf sich der Grafnach Bezahlung der Summe erschofi" (Guen- ther 198). Fontane's Schach is involved in a betting incident, but it regards a third party. His batman Baarsch lost his bet with an oficer when it tuns out that, aRer all, Schach is going to get ma~ted. Schach agrees to take care of the expenditures, thus making me that all debts related to his actions are paid.- Regarding the original Frau von Crayen, it is also mentioned in the historical sources that she had some- what of a "kokette Vergangenheit," thus bearing almost more resemblance to Sonja Krasinska than to Frau Carayon, whom Fontane declares "zur absoluten grande dameder Gesellschaft" (Guenther 212).

6~veryapt discussion of what is termed Fontane's "reflektierte Enahlweise" is given by Oh1 161.

7There is a certain irony in the fad that he should lose his leg and be reduced to "a quiet life" (The Hussar 173).

in Rest von Dunklem und Unaufgekliirtem bleibt, und in die letzten und geheimsten niebfedein andrer oder auch nur unsrer eignen Handtungsweise hineinzublicken, ist uns versagt" (Schach 133).

9~ithpennissionofMr. Slavitt, thefollowingper- mnalinformation (as stated in his letter of 3/8/90) can be disclosed. Here he points again to the senseless disaster at the end of Fontane's novel as a great pat of his fascination with Fontane's work. But he also mentions his own bitterness at the time, resulting from a personal loss under equally senseless chm- stances: "I was depressed. My mother had been mur- dered by a burglar."

1°~rawecorrelates the symbolism in the Wuthe- now chapter which includes Schach's ominous boat ride on the "wasser des todes" (260) with that of chapter 18: "Schach's reisefantasie im 18. kapitel ist die folgerichtige weiterentwicklung seines verfallen- seins an das wasser, denn was zuniichst an seinen reisezielen aufEallt, ist, dass sie alle nur iiber das wasser zu erreichen sind: Venedig, Sizilien, die She- neninseln, Malta. Durchweg handelt es sich urn inseln; und das letzte ziel, Nordafrika, ist jenseits des

llcharles Baudelaire, "Les Tbnhbres," quoted from Chamberlin 267.

121nhis letter of 1/20/90, Mr. Slavitt informed me that the film rights of his book have been bought by David Picker, formerly president of United Artists, and now an independent producer. Mr. Slavitt is the co-author of the fh script and he believes "there is now every indication that the film will actually get made." Shooting was originally planned to be in pm- pss by the spring of 1991. There is also word that the Gelman actress Hannah Schygulla has agreed to play the part of Sonja Krasinska.

Works Cited

Primary Sources

Fontane, Theodor.L'Adultera. Trans. lj?mR. Eliason. New York, Bern, Frankfurt am Main, Paris: Lang, 1990.

-. Efi Briest. Fontane Bibliothek, vol. 17. Frank- fut am Main: Ullstein, 1979. -. Efi Briest. Trans. Douglas Parmbe. Har- mondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin Books, 1967.

-.A ManofHonor. Trans. E.M. Valk. New York: Ungar 1975. Rpt. in Fontane, Short Novels and Other Writings. Vol. 46 of The German Library. Ed. Peter Demetz. Trans. E.M. Valk, Ulf Zimmennann, and Krishna Winston. New York: Continuum, 1982.

-. Sclwh von Wuthenow. Fontane Bibliothek, vol. 8. Frankfiut am Main: Ullstein, 1979. -. Short Novels and Other Writings. Vol. 46 of The German Library. Ed. Peter Demetz, trans.

E.M. Valk, Ulf Zimmermann, and Krishna Winston. New York: Cantinuurn, 1982.

-. The Woman Taken in Adultery and The Pog- genpuhl Family. Trans. Gabriele Annan. Chicago and London: U of Chicago P, 1979.

Slavitt, David R. The Hussar. Baton Rouge and London: Louisiana State UP, 1987.

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Aust, Hugo. Theodor Fontane: 'Verkliirung. "Eim Un-

tersuchung zum Ideengehult seiner Werke. Bonn: Bouvier, 1974.

Beckett, Samuel. Krapp's Last Tape and Other Dra- matic Pieces (1957). Rpt. New York: Grove Press, 1970.

Benjamin, Walter. "Die Aufgabe des ijbersetzers!'~l- luminutionen. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1980.50-62.

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Butler, Robert Olen. "A Novelist Fids a Challenge in a Work from 19th Century!' Rev. of The Hussar by David R. Slavitt. Philadelphia Inquirer, 19 July 1987, S03. Chamberlin, J. Edward. "Images: 'lbnings and Transformations!' Degeneration: The Dark Side of Progress. Ed. J. Edward Chamberlin and Sander

L. Gilman. New York: Columbia UP 1985.26335.

Demetz, Peter. Formen des Realismus: Theodor Fontane. Kritische Untersuchungen. Munich: Hanser, 1964.

Gay, Peter. "Foreword." Theodor Fontane, Short Novels and Other Writings, vol. 46 of The Germ Library, ed.Peter Demetz. New York: Continuum, 1982.

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Gilman, Sander L. Difference and Pathology: Stereo- types of Sexuality, Race, and Madness. Ithaca and London: Cornell UP, 1985.

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Held, E.W. Rev. ofBeyond Remll by Theodor Fontane, trans. Douglas ParmC, Lcndon, New York: Oxford UP, 1964. German Life &Letters 21 (1967-68): 82.

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Mittenzwei, Ingrid. Die Sprache als Themu-Unter- suchungen zu Fontanes Gesellschufkrom. Bad Homburg v.d.H., Berlin, Zurich: Gehlen, 1970.

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Pascal, Roy. The German Novel: Studies. Manchester: Manchester UP, 1956.

Rungen, Lawrence. Rev, of The Hussar by David R. Slavitt. Library Journal 112.9 (15 May 1987): 99. Slavitt, David R. Letters to the author, 1/20/90 and


Turner, David. 'Theodor Fontane: Efji Briest." The Monster in the Mirror. Ed. D.A. Williams. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1978.234-56.

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Zenowich, Christopher. "The Hussar: 'A Witty, Bitter- sweet Love Story for All Fans of The Graduate'." Rev. of The Hussar by David R. Slavitt. Chicago IIEibune, 31 May 1987,3.

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