Writing in Exile-the Land of Lost Content

The lines from A.E.Housman are well known:-

Into my heart an air that kills
 From yon far country blows:
What are those blue remembered hills,
 What spires, what farms are those?

That is the land of lost content,
 I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I went
 And cannot come again.

The condition of being in Exile, is one common element in the human condition. It is certainly an important factor in Irish culture as is well pointed out in this excerpt from The Guardian on Beckett and Joyce – http://www.theguardian.com/world/2010/feb/28/ireland-exile-culture

Here Sean O’Hagan mentions,”This sense of spiritual as well as cultural displacement was evoked, too, by the poet Patrick Kavanagh, who walked the streets around Ealing Broadway in 1953 willing himself to remember his native Monaghan “until a world comes to life – morning, the silent bog”. In the second half of that same decade, an estimated half a million people left Ireland to begin their lives all over again, abroad.” There is spiritual exile, linguistic exile and the sense of personal exile when someone close dies or moves away, in an emotional or geographical sense.

George Klaar (1920-2009)
George Klaar (1920-2009)

TLW I have just been reading a deeply moving account of lost Austrian-Jewish culture in George Klaar’s Last Waltz in Vienna and was sorry to hear of his passing.http://www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/george-clare-memoirist-who-recalled-life-in-nazi-vienna-and-postwar-berlin-1726060.html .This threnody mentions his experiences not only in Vienna but also in Berlin, from where Klaar attempted his escape from the Nazis, initially to Ireland. A different approach and general introduction to exilliteratur (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exilliteratur) is to be found in Martin Maunthner’s book on German Writers in French Exile 1933-1940. Mauthner was born in Leningrad of  Austrian parents. He worked in journalism and with the

Katharina Mann in Munich in 1905-she later converted to Lutheranism
Katharina Mann in Munich in 1905-she later converted to Lutheranism

European Commission in Brussels as a senior information officer. He also worked with Randolph Churchill on the biography of the latter’s father. In fact the book centres around a small port near Toulon. It makes much mention too of Aldous Huxley, Somerset Maugham,H.G.Wells, Muggeridge and Mosley. The French writers, Malraux and Gide are included in this account of the émigré community which provides an introduction to the intellectual drama and the tragic zeitgeist of this seven year period. The major figures are naturally Thomas, whose wife Katia came from a wealthy Jewish family of mathematicians, and his francophile brother Heinrich Mann, as well as Thomas’s son Klaus who engaged in a bitter battle of words at one stage with the Berlin based, Gottfried Benn- before the latter was to realise the full implication of Goebbel’s authoritarian drive from 1933 to achieve the synchronisation of the arts (Gleichschaltung) from his Ministry of Propaganda as Weimar collapse. Directed against Bolshevism it engendered militarism and focussed on anti-semitism taking in gypsies and homosexuals on the way and ending in the horrors of the Holocaust. This was all under the title of popular enlightenment. The account by Mauthner lacks the stylistic verve of George Klaar’s biographical account which affords an insight into the historical development of fascism upon Jewish life in Vienna.

Many Jews who were physically harassed and otherwise threatened by the Nazis and travelled to many locations and were exiled to Amsterdam, Stockholm, Zürich, London, Prague, Moscow as well as across the Atlantic to both North and South America. Martin Mauthner’s book seems to have three great strengths. It shows the wide variety of responses of individual refugees and their attempts to organise opposition to Hitler and the hampering difficulties other countries governments and other organisations presented. There is considerable detail about individuals like Feuchtwanger and Schwarzschild, famous at the time and now unfortunately neglected as well as journalists, publishers, cartoonists and illustrators. This book confines itself to writers, poets and playwrights but is particularly intriguing on the splits with the communists and within the United Front. The cruel trials under the auspices of Stalin proving a profound sticking point; also the different approaches in the Spanish Civil War.

Leopold Schwarzschild Editor of Das Neue Tagebuch
Leopold Schwarzschild
Editor of Das Neue Tagebuch

Just this morning I recieved an interesting posting concerning classical antiquity from http://poemsintranslation.blogspot.co.uk/ with a version of Ovid’s Tristia and the mortifying effects of having to leave his wife behind in charge of his posessions.

Illa dolōre āmēns tenebrīs nārrātur obortīs
   sēmjanimis mediā prōcubuisse domō,
utque resurrēxit foedātis pulvere turpī
  crīnibus et gelidā membra levāvit humō,
sē modo, dēsertōs modo complōrāsse Penātēs,
  nōmen et ēreptī saepe vocāsse virī,
nec gemuisse minus, quam sī nātaeve meumve
 vīdisset strūctōs corpus habēre, rogōs,
et voluisse morī, moriendō pōnere sēnsus,
   respectūque tamen nōn periisse meī.
Vīvat, et absentem, quoniam sīc fāta tulērunt,
    vīvat et auxiliō sublevet usque suō.

Translated by A.Z.Foreman as:-

I’m told she fainted from grief, mind plunged in dark,   
   And fell half-dead right there in our house.
When she came round, with disheveled dust-fouled hair,   
   Staggering up from the cold hard ground,
She wept for herself, for a house abandoned, screaming   
   Her stolen man’s name time after time,
Wailing as though she’d witnessed our daughter’s body   
   Or mine, upon the high-stacked pyre;
And longed for death, to kill the horror and hardship,   
   Yet out of regard for me she lived.
Long may she live! And in life give aid to her absent   
   Love, whose exile the Fates have willed. Tristia

House of Exile by Evelyn Juers

Heinrick Mann and Nelly Kröger-Mann were in a constant state of hazardous exile after the rise of fascism inGermanyin 1933. He became like Zola, his favourite author, a socially committed novelist and political activist and fierce critic of militarism. He was convivial, having a wide circle of friends that contained many creative artists, playwrights, socialists. He seemed drawn to the bohemians and the demi-monde. This elegant and sometimes formal gentleman came from the Hanseatic town ofLubeckwhere his father belonged to a renowned grain merchant family. These might be described as the haute-bourgeoise. There was an unusual degree of sibling rivalry between him and his less robust brother, the famous author of “The magic Mountain, Thomas Mann, Hendrick possessed a sensual nature and fell passionately and easily in love with a number of women. Of these his relationship with the Nelly, a fascinating woman, a seamstress and nightclub hostess, as full of contradictions as himself, was the most successful and long lasting. She followed him on the long painful journey into exile at first in Nice and later to theUnited States.

The Mann Family

This is an unusual book which is termed by its author a collective memoir and portrays the attempts of a generation of writers and poets to continue their work in dark and terrifying times. Exile placed a severe stress on the community of authors acrossEurope, their dispersed families and friends. Jews and political activists, amongst others were to be viciously and systematically persecuted, tortured and executed by the Nazis and the heart-braking news appeared a tunnel of night to those exiled men and women who escaped from one country to another. Escapees were to be faced with the further eruption of civil war inSpainwhich lay in the path of their escape. Some were forcibly returned to their persecutors. The news of Stalin’s tergiversations and show trials made the formation of a United Front harder still. Sensibilities of women, like those of Virginia Woolf or like gentle Nelly, who had early in her life suffered the traumatic loss of a child, were strained to the limits of their endurance.

Heinrich and Nelly Mann

The first part of ‘’House of Exile’’ contains many moving and poetic passages. The writing, which has been compared with W.G.Sebald, is quietly dazzling and also reminiscent of the American novelist, Andrea Barrett.  A lyrical chapter concerns Heinrich’s sister, Carla, of whom he was deeply fond. This darkly romantic actress encounters some Scandinavian biologists whilst transporting a skull in which she has concealed cyanide. Mention is made of nasturtiums which glow at dusk and we are given an exposition on Goethe who read Linneaus, as well as his beloved Shakespeare and Spinoza. The writing thus appeals on two levels as prose poetry and simultaneously this illumines the literary and philosophical background. Goethe propounds the concept of Anschauung which maintains the importance of intuition as well as observation and can be expressed in English as the notion of the Gaze. Juers here is also exploring how the imagination works in reconstructing the past.

These were indeed dark times and although Heinrich and Nelly found a temporary refuge in the South of France, the pressure of events mounted on both a personal and political level. Heinrich takes Veronal, an unreliable barbiturate to calm his nerves. Juers reminds us that despite these pressures he manages to keep working on his biography of Henry IV. There are interesting parallels between his difficult relationship with his brother, which is mirrored by Virginia Woolf, stoically sticking at her novels between headaches which forced her to take refuge in her bed and rather envying her artist sister, Vanessa having her children. Family festivities maintain morale with copious quantities of champagne and Baumkukhen even as troops march, dictators thunder, air raids threaten as does the internment of those unable to escape the gathering storm.

Evelyn Juers’s fascinating work

Although Freud and the stream of consciousness and historical novels are major themes in this work it is difficult to tell if Evelyn Juers consciously intends the jump cuts in the later section to conveys the fractionated experience of these writers. The author has spent ten years in research. The result is an excellent introduction to intellectuals as varied as Joyce, Woolf and in particularly the Germans; Brecht, Döblin, Kafka, Walter Benjamin, Karl Schwitters and many, many others. It also describes the horrific realities of anti-semitism, mass aerial bombardment and consequent individual trauma. Juers is at her most moving in her depiction of the day to day harshness of life for women in exile and the personal cruelties dealt by fate and also men’s unkindness to poor Nelly Kroeger-Mann. She lost a child, her lover steals her story and destroys her manuscript and yet she transports him over mountains to escape, scrapes and scrimps to ensure their survival and is harassed by the FBI just as she was the brown-shirts. Finally she is constantly subjected to the snobbery of her brother-in-law. Little wonder she resorted to drink.

The Author

Exile literature is, of course ancient;’’ By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion’’. (Psalm 137). Classical authors such as Cicero and Ovid were subject to exile and the latter sang evocatively in the ‘’Tristia’’ in elegiac couplets. Evelyn Juers approach to imaginatively exploring this dark period of the European zeitgeist is striking; her innovative book, in its intensive exploration of the literary links of the German dissident writers from 1933 to 1945, known as exilliteratur contributes a new dimension to the understanding of post-war, post-modern consciousness – the state of loneliness, isolation and apprehensiveness in the face of political and military forces that threaten the individual and those he loves.