Sunday, September 28, 2008

Another Stifter-colored stone - this is a very dark story

Tourmaline, or the Doorkeeper (1853) is hardly a favorite of mine, but it has a Modernist feel to it that is especially interesting, so I'll end my week of Stifter here.

There is a couple with a daughter living in an apartment in Vienna. The man seems to be a gentleman of leisure with numerous hobbies. His room has as a grand piano, and two violins, and two flutes, and "a special work corner where he could cut up cardboard and make boxes, containers, lampshades, and other articles." Yes, that sounds like fun.

Also, the "walls of the apartment were completely pasted over with portraits of famous men." The man has special couches and ladders made to allow optimal viewing of the portraits at all different heights. A famous actor, friend of this fellow, likes to come over and see the portraits; together, they look up information about the famous men in books.

The actor begins, and ends, an affair with the wife. Later, the wife disappears. The husband searches for her, then he and his daughter disappear as well, abandoning the apartment. The narrator, a Stifter-like figure, tells us about all of the details of the landlord putting ads in the paper, and the city auctioning off the furniture.

That is that, until, years later, "Stifter" meets a woman who happens to have met the father and daughter, and who assisted the daughter, who was mentally handicapped, after the father's death. And, again, that is that. What happened to the wife? Why did the man disappear? Why does any of this matter?

If there are answers to these questions, I missed them. Except for the last one, which Stifter addresses before the story even begins:

"It [this story] is like a sad letter that tells us what extremity man may come when he dims the light of his reason, when he no longer understands life, when he abandons that inner law which is his steadfast guide along the right path, when he surrenders so utterly to the intensity of his joys and sorrows, loses his foothold, and is lost in regions of experience which for the rest of us are almost wholly shrouded in mystery."

The story, the behavior of the characters, remains shrouded in mystery. Stifter gives us pieces, and even views from different angles, but the center is missing, deliberately. The opening words: "Tourmaline is a dark stone, and this is a very dark story"; the last: "the new generation has no knowledge of what stood there before them and of what took place there."

Stifter will return to Wuthering Expectations in December, I predict, when I take a look at Rock Crystal. I know, he sounds like just the guy for a jolly Christmas story. And someday, I will read the long, slow Indian Summer, perhaps when I am convalescing.

I would be remiss in not directing the reader's attention to this German-language Adalbert Stifter website. Note especially the map of Stifter sites on Der Adalbert-Stifter-Weg. Call your travel agent now.


  1. Really enjoyed your Stifter week, I will seek out his work and see what it feels like to read. I like dark and if he's playing with elements of modernism, even better.
    What would you recommend starting with? I love the title Der Nachsommer, so I might just have to start there...

  2. Thanks. I would start with "The Recluse" aka "The Bachelors", or maybe "Brigitta", which I barely mentioned. It has a fairly strong story. I think "Rock Crystal" is most famous in English because it's a Christmas story, but, as with "Indian Summer," I haven't read it yet.