Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Hell's a sort of high-class nightclub

At the TLS, Alastair Sooke on biographies of the Devil; also, a rather characteristic and really quite wonderful piece by George Steiner on a new edition of Büchner. He begins thus:

I must declare an interest. We owe the precarious survival of Georg Büchner’s works to the inspired perspicacity of my great-great-uncle, the Galician-Jewish novelist and publicist Karl Emil Franzos. It was he who began publishing Büchner’s writings in 1878, in the periodical Mehr Licht! – a characteristic homage to Goethe’s mythical last words. Franzos’s editorial labours began in 1875. Virtually no minutiae of textual, biographical, historical information, no particles in the history of Büchner’s reception to this day (there will be one glaring omission) seem to elude Henri and Rosemarie Poschmann, editors of these two volumes. Their edition of Büchner’s Dichtungen, Schriften, Briefe und Dokumente runs to some 2,300 pages on thin paper. Yet, so far as I can make out, they do not tell us how or why Büchner’s fragmentary, often scarcely legible “foul papers” came into Franzos’s caring hands. Nor do they elucidate the awesome clairvoyance which it must have taken at that date to recognize something of Büchner’s stature. My mother, a Viennese grande dame if ever there was, affirmed that it was an apothecary in Lemberg who drew Franzos’s attention to the material, when it ran the risk of becoming waste paper. This may be a family legend. But it would not be out of tune. Büchner’s resurrection is as miraculous as are his creations.

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