Tuesday, February 26, 2013

He took care of his son and didn’t even try to prove to him how beautiful these things were - Stifter's utopia

With all of my attention on Indian Summer’s Rose House and its Idealist host, I have neglected the narrator Heinrich’s winter quarters, with his family, with his father.  Heinrich spends the spring, summer, and fall in the mountains or at Rose House, making discoveries about nature and art, his Bildung moving along at a steady pace.  Every time he returns home to Vienna, he makes further discoveries in his own home.

For example:

My father had paintings by Titian, Guido Reni, Paul Veronese, Annibale Caracci, Dominichino, Salvator Rosa, Nicolas Poussin, Claude Lorraine, Albrecht Durer, both Holbeins, Lucas Cranach, Van Dyck, Rembrandt [all right, that’s enough].  We went from one to the other, admiring each one, placing many of them on the easel, discussing each.  My heart was filled with joy.  (260)

A Titian, you don’t say.  Remember that the path for Heinrich has been: science leads to the direct study of nature which leads to drawing which leads to painting, and at the same time there is the study of marble, all of which culminates into the sudden discovery of the beauty of a Classical Greek sculpture, which in turn leads to an appreciation for the host’s collection of Old Master paintings.  Back home, when he enters his father’s art gallery, he “is utterly astonished,” understandably.  I mentioned the Titian?  Previously, Heinrich, had been undeveloped, unprepared to even see his father’s paintings:

A strangely profound sensation came into my soul.  That was my great and indescribable love for my father.  He owned these precious things, his heart was devoted to them; his son had simply passed them without giving them any notice at all; yet Father hadn’t withheld even a fraction of his affection from his son; he sacrificed himself, he had been sacrificing himself for most of his life, he took care of his son and didn’t even try to prove to him how beautiful these things were.  (258)

This is a strange passage, a strange response.  That “sacrifice” is the father’s long hours working as a merchant, obviously a successful one (“Forced into business of the most boring type or perhaps having entered it of his own volition since he conducted it with such order, integrity, tenacity, and devotion,” 263).

Even if I think of Indian Summer as an exemplary novel, like Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women or Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Émile, not necessarily a guide to my own behavior but an ideal example, I begin at this point to wonder exactly what Adalbert Stifter expects his reader to do.  Neither my own family nor my fortuitously discovered mentor have collections of Old Master paintings or Greek carvings (the father also has a drawer of Classical carved stones), and Heinrich has both.  No wonder his Bildung is so smooth.  But what about my Bildung?  I am in trouble, I am afraid.

Stifter creates a utopia in Indian Summer.  Next I will try to figure out exactly what kind.

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