Monday, September 22, 2008

Stifter-mania sweeps the nation!

And it's about time. NYRB has re-published the old Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Mayer translation of Adalbert Stifter's Christmas novella Rock Crystal (1853), and the literary world has gone wild. Look, here's Adam Kirsch, reviewing Rock Crystal in the New York Sun. And here's Terry Vertigo, writing about a 1999 London edition.

Well, it's more attention than Stifter usually gets.

Adalbert Stifter wrote novellas, mostly, or long tales, or whatever they are. Dozens of them. They were often published in odd little periodical books called Tachenbücher, anthologies of stories, poems, and illustrations, mostly read by women. Bourgeois Austrians must have had interesting taste, because Stifter was fairly popular, and he's also fairly weird. Or so he seems now.

I haven't actually read Rock Crystal yet. It's a Christmas story, so I'm saving it for Christmas. And I haven't dared the long novel Der Nachsommer (1857), translated both accurately and inaccurately as Indian Summer. Here's the Columbia Encyclopedia: "His late novels... are considered diffuse." I love the passive voice and the understatement.

Over the last couple of weeks, I have read, actually re-read, what I think is everything else in English, the four novellas in the Penguin Brigitta and Other Tales (tr. Helen Watanabe-O'Kelly) and Limestone and Other Stories (tr. David Luke), which has three novellas, including The Recluse, my favorite. Irritatingly, the tale Limestone is in both books.

I think Stifter actually has been receiving a little more attention over the last decade or so, due to the influence of W. G. Sebald. Sebald's novels were so original that many readers, including me, cast about for precedents. Adalbert Stifter was one of these literary life preservers. And Sebald gave me an entry into Stifter that was equally helpful.

Last week, writing about George Eliot, I received an unusual number of useful and interesting comments, which I very much appreciate. I will squander that goodwill and fellow-feeling by spending this week with the dull and humorless Adalbert Stifter.


  1. I still haven't read Stifter, but he's on my TBR list due to Sebald. Alok ( referred me to an interview in which Sebald talks about Stifter as an influence.

    It's available at

  2. The 1999 UK edition you refer to is one of the beautiful Pushkin Press 'jewel' editions. This is the one I'll be getting I think, fond as I am of NYRB Classics.

    The first mention of it I saw was here. Very interested to read of the connection with Sebald.

  3. Never heard of Stifter - I look forward to an introduction in your posts.

  4. I knew I was forgetting one that I'd seen - it was the Dispatches from Zembla post. That's what I'm saying - Stifter-mania!

    Pushkin Press is publishing more Stifter soon - The Bachelors, aka The Recluse. See here. Good for them.

    I suppose, verbivore, that Switzerland is so caught up in Walser-mania that Stifter-mania has passed you by.

  5. And I see now that he's Austrian - that's enough to get the Swiss shuffling his books to the back of the shelves :-)