Monday, March 08, 2010

Dirda, Michael. "The Stories of Heinrich von Kleist." BarnesandNobleReview.Com February 5, 2010.

Kleist, Heinrich von.
  • Selected Prose of Heinrich von Kleist. Trans. Peter Wortsman. Archipelago, 2009.
  • Selected Writings of Heinrich von Kleist. Ed. and trans. David Constantine. Indianopolis: Hackett, 2004.
  • The Marquise of O and Other Stories. Trans. David Luke and Nigel Reeves. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1978.
Kleist's ironies are . . . what make his fiction so appealing to modern sensibilities. By contrast, the writer's attractively doomed and abbreviated life is nothing if not Romantic. The scion of an old Prussian military family, Kleist was by all accounts nervous and maladroit in society, hypochondriacal, a restless traveler, deeply ambitious (he hoped to unseat Goethe as the leading German author), and, ultimately, a suicide at 34. Reading Kant, he explained, had undermined his faith in Enlightenment reason, and most of his life was as unsettled as the Napoleonic era he lived through. Thus, while Kleist writes with surprising frankness about the darker reaches of eros, his own sexuality remains enigmatic. Before breaking off his engagement to a suitable young woman, his letters allude to some kind of mysterious impairment to happiness; later he flirts seriously with a cousin old enough to be his mother. Even more seriously, he seems to have suggested double-suicide to more than one female acquaintance -- and eventually found in the cancer-ridden Henriette Vogel the partner he was looking for. He shot her, then himself. . . .

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