Saturday, January 21, 2012

Joseph Roth: A Life in Letters: 1927 - 1932

From Joseph Roth: A Life in Letters, translated and edited by Michael Hofmann.

The letters from this period covers much of the same material as in the previous post. During this period he wrote The Radetzky March, although how he did so in his circumstance is amazing—taking care of his sick wife, scrambling for money, physical infirmities taking their toll, an affair with a 20-year old girl, lawsuits hounding him, an affair with another woman with two kids, and more problems he doesn’t fully confess in his letters. During this time period, Roth tries to move from journalist to novelist while playing publishing houses against each other. He often references his liver, “flushed with calvados”, or admitting “I’ve been full of cognac since morning.” Roth demonstrates that he earned the comment that he was “a ferocious, gifted, principled, and implacable hater.” In his letters he loves to give advice, much of which he ignores in his own situations. On to some quotes...

Footnote to letter 43 (14 June 1927) to Ludwig Marcuse—I loved Hoffman’s note on the recipient’s wife:
[David] Bronson [biographer of Roth] tells the lovely story of how they met: Marcuse was upset after being dumped by some other flame, Roth reminded him that the world was full of attractive women, and pointed to the waitress in the bar in Berlin where they were sitting. This was Erna, who, a little later, became Sasha when Marcuse told Roth that he loved her dearly, but found her Berlin speech full of embarrassing solecisms. Roth’s solution was to dub her Sasha and claim she was a Russian princess; his policy with Friedl, his own wife, was not dissimilar, but much less successful.

From letter 52 to Benno Reifenberg (1927):

I’m finished with the Saarland. … I have visited factories and a mine. For half a day I worked as a salesman, got drunk at night, and slept with an ugly hotel chambermaid from sheer wretchedness.

From letter 61 (17 January 1928):

I finally got to be introduced to [André] Gide. He Olympian. I merely snotty.

From letter 79 (27 February 1929) to Stefan Zweig:

The only reason I work though is material. I must succeed in producing the minimum from my existence, without regularly writing articles that undermine my health. So that my life isn’t too grotesquely abbreviated, I should like to find myself a free man in a year’s time. And for that to happen, I have to write every day. But that’s a change. It’s impossible to fix myself. I have no such thing as a stable literary “character.” I am not stable in other respects either. I haven’t lived in a house since my eighteenth year, aside from the odd week staying with friends. Everything I own fits into three suitcases. It doesn’t strike me as odd at all, either. What is odd, though, to me, and even romantic, is a house, with pictures on the walls, and so on and so forth. In a fit of mindlessness, I took on the responsibility for a young woman. I need to keep her somewhere, she is frail, and physically not up to a life at my side.

From letter 89 (20 January 1930) to Rene Schickele:

Being an author is actually no help at all. That may be my official designation, but privately I’m just a poor wretch who’s worse off than a tram conductor. Only time and not talent can provide us with distance, and I don’t have much time left. A ten-year marriage ending like this has the effect of forty, and my natural tendency to e an old man is horribly supported by external misfortunes. Eight books to date, over 1,000 articles, ten hours’ work a day, every day for ten years, and today, losing my hair, my teeth, my potency, my most basic capacity for joy, not even the chance of spending a month without financial worries. And that wretch literature!
Letter 98 is to publisher Gustav Kiepenheuer on his fiftieth birthday (10 June 1930). The famous “Kiepenheur letter” ends with this section:
There must be some secret connection between us somewhere. Because sometimes we do agree. It’s a though we each made concessions to the other, but we don’t. Because he doesn’t understand money. That’s a quality we share. He is the most courtly man I know. So am I. He got it from me. He loses money on my books. So do I. He believes in me. So do I. He waits for my success. So do I. He is certain of posterity. So am I.

Letter 113, emphasizing the mounting toll (in addition to the monetary cost) of taking care of his wife—to Jenny Reichler (his mother-in-law):

I don’t think there’s anything to be done about my sadness. I’m through with life, for good. I can’t wait around any more for miracles. I have become an old man, and have gotten used to the absence of joy. In my own life, that is. If Friedl pulls through, I will be far older than she is.

Letter 114, to Stefan Zweig (23 October 1930), highlighting his sensitivity to politics. Also interesting because it is a month before his first mention of The Radetzky March:

Europe is killing itself, and in a peculiarly slow and horrible way, because it is a corpse already. This ending is devilishly like a psychosis. It’s a psychotic’s suicide. The devil really is in the saddle. But it’s the two extremes I don’t understand, for that I’m too much the contemporary of Franz Joseph, I hate extremism; it’s the most fiery and disgusting tongue of the flame.

From Letter 118 to Stefan Zweig (31 January 1931):

There is nothing more important than being a private person, than loving your wife, taking your children on your lap as you did when we came for you. Public affairs are only and ever shit, whether it’s the nation, politics, the newspaper, the swastika, or the future of democracy.
From Letter 128 to Stefan Zweig (13 May 1931), after his affair with the 20-year old has ended:
Life is so much finer than literature! I feel sorry for literature! It is a SWINDLE!
Letter 143 to Freidrich Traugott Gubler (8 October 1931):
[S]ometimes I’m egocentric enough to suppose that it’s me and my success that have sparked off the world financial crisis. Certainly, every one of the laws of this horrible world had to be overturned for me to have a success.

Letter 150 to Freidrich Traugott Gubler (Spring 1932):

I am unhappy, confused, wholly unable to leave the four walls I’ve thrown up around me and the book [The Radetzky March], though it feels more like a mountain range in which I wander about in terror. One day, everything comes off, the next day it’s all shit.

From Letter 154 to Stefan Zweig (7 August 1932):

National Socialism will strike at the core of my existence—apart from the fact that the booksellers are terrorized, inasmuch as they’re not Nationalists themselves, and want nothing to do with writing that strikes them as “cosmopolitan” or western European, and so on and so forth. I’m convinced nothing will befall the cheeky chutzpah-Jews, but the conservatives will suffer—never has it been as true as now: dog will not eat dog. … It’s meaningless, everything’s become meaningless! I have the strong sense that for me personally there is no future.

Michael Hofmann’s note to Letter 156 to Ernst Křenek (10 September 1932), the composer:

Professor Brecht, with whom Roth studied in Vienna before World War I, believed in and advanced an idea of Austria not as a corrupt and negligible appendage ripe for a tacit or explicit Anschluss, … but as an older, better form of Germany, “the land of the older form of German culture, a culture that has preserved many ancient German traits…a land of the soul and the spirit, full of tolerance, protean, rich and colorful, eluding definition, yes, opposed to definition, like the Middle Ages, like the life of the Catholic Church.” … Without this Austrocentric, in excelsis Austria creed in mind, it is difficult to make sense not just of JR’s tone to Křenek here, but of his overall faith in Austria, his opposition to Germany, perhaps even his late upsurge of Royalism.
Letter 157 to Stefan Zweig (18 September 1932), just after The Radetzky March was released in book form. In the next letter, dated the same day, Roth credits Zweig with shaping or providing scenes in the novel:
Any friendship with me is ruinous. I myself am a wailing wall, if not a heap of rubble. You have no idea how dark it is inside me.

Letter 164 to Blanche Gidon, French translator (11 October 1932):

Where the Radetzky March is concerned, I’ve never doubted that publishers of all nationalities are businessmen. What annoys me is that they’re bad businessmen, and that, particularly in France, foreign books are badly paid for, badly translated, and badly sold. I care too much about words for me to be able to look on while my words are twisted and mutilated—merely because a publisher won’t give up the false vanity of continuing to bring out foreign books, nor admit that he doesn’t have deep enough pockets to do it with dignity. When I look at the revolting literary “scene”: … these snobberies and cliques, prepared to genuflect before each “novelty”, the incomprehensible Joyce, the latest postwar epsilon out of Germany, well” it makes me shudder!

From Letter 165 to Hans Natonek, journalist and novelist (14 October 1932):

And a few personal eizes [Yiddish for tips]:
a. Read more of the greats and the immortals: Shakespeare, Balzac, Flaubert!
b. No Gide! No Proust! Nor anything of the sort!
c. The Bible. Homer
d. Don’t distrust the “reader” too much!
e. Try to keep yourself clear of journalism.
f. Try to keep yourself clear of journalism at heart.
g. No interest in day-to-day politics. They distort. They distort the human.
h. You have sufficient means—thank God—that there’s really no need for you to write para-feuilletons! Fuck them. All they’re good for is a hat for the wife and a dress for the girlfriend.

Letter 168 to Otto Forst-Battaglia (28 October 1932):

The most powerful experience of my life was the war and the end of my fatherland, the only one I have every had: the Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary. To this date I am a patriotic Austrian and love what is left of my homeland as a sort of relic.

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