Your last chance, Herr von Dorsday. If he’s there, I’ll summon him with my eyes and say to him: I’ll be with you at midnight, you beast… no, I won’t call him a beast. But I will afterwards… Somebody’s following me. I won’t turn round. No, no.
Oh no, Aunt Emma! Straight on!
I can’t help it, I must turn round…
“Oh, good evening, Aunt Emma.”
“Oh, Else, What’s the matter with you? I was just coming up to see you. Paul told me—oh, how dreadful you look!”
“How do I look, Aunt Emma? I’m feeling quite well again. I’ve just had some food.”… She’s noticed something! She’s noticed something!
“Else – you’ve – no stockings on!”
“What did you say, Aunt Emma? My goodness, I have not stockings on! No—“
“Aren’t you well, Else? You’re eyes – you’re feverish.”
“Feverish? I don’t think so. I’ve only had the most fearful headache I ever had in my life.”
“You must go to bed at once, child. You’re as white as a sheet.”
“It’s the light, Aunt Emma. Everybody look white in this lounge.”…
She looks down at me so strangely. She can’t notice anything? I must keep my self-control. Father is lost if I don’t keep my self-control. I must say something…
“Do you know, Aunt Emma, what happened to me in Vienna one day this year? I went out in the street with one yellow shoe on and one black one.”…
There’s not a word of truth in that. I must keep on talking. Only what shall I say?
“Do you know, Aunt Emma, I sometimes have fits of absent-mindedness like that. Mother used to have them too.”…
There’s not a word of truth in that.
“I’ll send for the doctor.”
“But, Aunt Emma, there isn’t one in the hotel. They’ll have to send for one from somewhere else. He’d think it a fine joke, being sent for because I have no stockings on. Ah! Ah!”
I oughtn’t laugh so loud. My aunt’s face is distorted with fear. My behaviour seems uncanny to her. Her eyes are starting out of her head.
This is the first story from 1920s Germany I read. It belongs to the Expressionist experience, and I was expecting something very strange, possibly very difficult to follow and understand and written in a unique way.
Well, it is very strange. And it is written in a unique way (don’t look at the English translation above. I don’t have any idea why they completely changed the formatting like that). But it’s also very absorbing and very relatable, and I really really liked it.
Now, I should probably have a better preparation to do justice to this remarkable novella, but I want to give you my honest, uneducated reaction to it.
The format of the story is what impressed me the most. It isn’t just first person. It’s a very long monologue that we follow from inside Else’s mind. Everything we read is filtered through her mind, her feelings, her expectations and fears. There is absolutely nothing objective in this story.
And this was what scared me at first. I thought this was going to be a very convoluted stream-of-consciousness and I don’t agree well with that kind of writing. Well, you could say it is some kind of stream-of-consciousness. Else describes everything happening to her, in her own very personal words, but it isn’t as if she wanted to communicate it to us, the readers. It’s more as if we just happened to find ourselves inside her mind, and neither she or we knew why and how. She just goes about her life as she has always done. She filters reality through her personality. She thinks and ponders to herself, just like everyone does. We readers are Else. We are her. There is no difference between her thoughts and our thoughts as we read.
And this is the trick. Because we are her, because we see reality as she sees it, we accept it as we receive it. She’s doing crazy things, but we take it as plausible because they are plausible to her.
I’ll admit that now and then I thought, would I really do anything such? Is that really what a person would do? But then I would think that, given the circumstance, Else had very little choice and her chosen path is probably the only one she could take.
But toward the end of the story, as Else hears other people talking, we realise that the reality we have been reading and accepting might not be all that plausible. We learn that Else has had episodes in the past, to the point that her aunt wants her to enter a clinic as soon as possible. We realise then that the mind that has accompanied us through this story might not be a straight mind. Even as we keep following Else, because we can’t do anything else at this point, the idea that something is very wrong enters our mind.
I see, now, how this story lives the expressionist experience. It’s full of distortions and subjectivity, and as we slowly realise it, we glimpse something of the reality we too live. We see things in the story in a very different way and we are invited to do the same with our own reality. And we become slightly upset, because we had been deceived.
But I loved it. I loved it because it deceived me.
The deception is created so to bring us from one perception to the other, and it gives meaning especially to the shifting.
The way it’s written is genius. It reproduces the actual way we think things out and the way our mind perceives reality. It doesn’t follow any accepted rules of fiction, because the story follows its own aspiration to be Else. Sentence follows sentence in a jumbled way, not arranged according to logic, but rather in an emotional way. Dialogues gather together as if following the sound of voices in Else’s mind rather than the actual logic of conversation and fiction formatting. You’d think this would create confusion. It actually doesn’t and this is something that alone should make us think.
It could have been a total mess, instead it’s a fantastic ride with a gripping plot and a lovable heroine.
I will delve into this story further soon, because I know there is a lot more to it than I can see now. But even as an independent read is just fantastic.
Letzte Möglichkeit, Herr von Dorsday. Wenn er dort ist, winke ich ihn mit den Augen zu mir her und sage ihm, um Mitternacht werde ich bei Ihnen sein, Sie Schuft. – Nein, Schuft sage ich ihm nicht. Aber nachher sage ich es ihm . . . Irgendwer geht mir nach. Ich wende mich nicht um. Nein, nein. –
»Else!« – Um Gottes willen die Tante. Weiter, weiter! »Else!« – Ich muß mich umdrehen, es hilft mir nichts. »O, guten Abend, Tante.« – »Ja, Else, was ist denn mit dir? Grad wollte ich zu dir hinaufschauen. Paul hat mir gesagt – – Ja, wie schaust du denn aus?« – »Wie schau ich denn aus, Tante? Es geht mir schon ganz gut. Ich habe auch eine Kleinigkeit gegessen.« Sie merkt was, sie merkt was. – »Else – du hast ja – keine Strümpfe an!« – »Was sagst du da, Tante? Meiner Seel, ich habe keine Strümpfe an. Nein –!« – »Ist dir nicht wohl, Else? Deine Augen – du hast Fieber.« – »Fieber? Ich glaub nicht. Ich hab’ nur so furchtbare Kopfschmerzen gehabt, wie nie in meinem Leben noch.« – »Du mußt sofort zu Bett, Kind, du bist totenblaß.« – »Das kommt von der Beleuchtung, Tante. Alle Leute sehen hier blaß aus in der Halle.« Sie schaut so sonderbar an mir herab. Sie kann doch nichts merken? Jetzt nur die Fassung bewahren. Papa ist verloren, wenn ich nicht die Fassung bewahre. Ich muß etwas reden. »Weißt du, Tante, was mir heuer in Wien passiert ist? Da bin ich einmal mit einem gelben und einem schwarzen Schuh auf die Straße gegangen.« Kein Wort ist wahr. Ich muß weiterreden. Was sag’ ich nur? »Weißt du, Tante, nach Migräneanfällen habe ich manchmal solche Anfälle von Zerstreutheit. Die Mama hat das auch früher gehabt.« Nicht ein Wort ist wahr. – »Ich werde jedenfalls um den Doktor schicken.« – »Aber ich bitte dich, Tante, es ist ja gar keiner im Hotel. Man müßt einen aus einer anderen Ortschaft holen. Der würde schön lachen, daß man ihn holen läßt, weil ich keine Strümpfe anhabe. Haha.« Ich sollte nicht so laut lachen. Das Gesicht von der Tante ist angstverzerrt. Die Sache ist ihr unheimlich. Die Augen fallen ihr heraus.
In post is part of the Thursday Quotables meme. If you want to discover more about this meme and maybe take part in it, head over to Bookshelf Fantasies