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Green Henry: (Calder Collection) Paperback – 1 Mar 2010


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Product details

  • Paperback: 714 pages
  • Publisher: Calder Publications (1 Mar. 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0714502650
  • ISBN-13: 978-0714502656
  • Product Dimensions: 12.8 x 4.1 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 858,264 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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About the Author

Reaching the height of his fame for the semi-autobiographical novel Green Henry, Gottfried Keller (1819-90) is widely considered to be one of the greatest Swiss-German writers.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Oglach on 24 Nov. 2013
Format: Paperback
What an incredible hidden gem this is. A lovely, sweet book full of humanity and rich appreciation for life. This is one of the best books I have read, and sure I have read a lot.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By peter j on 9 Dec. 2011
Format: Paperback
I really loved this book - it is beautifully written and shows such honesty and taste.I would highly recommend it.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 5 reviews
17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
Green as Money, Green as Moss 27 Nov. 2009
By Giordano Bruno - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Henry Lee, the narrator-hero of this translated German classic, got his nickname as a child in school because of his clothing, made by his widowed mother from the green cloth of his dead father's old uniforms. But "Grüner Heinrich" is green in more ways than one. Green is explicitly the color of Hope in this novel by the Swiss writer Gottfried Keller, and Hope is often all that Green Henry has to live on. Green is also symbolic of Nature, of the trees and alpine meadows that sustain Henry's will-to-live; Keller's verbal evocations of evergreen Nature in his native Switzerland are truly magnificent in German, and they are well rendered by translator A.M. Holt into English. Foremost, nevertheless, is the 'popular' connotation of the color green as symbolic of naive inexperience, the meaning expressed by the slang word "greenhorn". And 'ach du lieber!', is our Henry ever a greenhorn! He's green as a boy raised by a doting mother - and as a city boy sent to develop among his sturdier country cousins - and green as a youth who tries to make himself popular by joining in mischief despite feeling guilty, thereby getting himself unfairly expelled from school - green again in his aspiration to become a great artist more or less merely by declaring himself one - and greenest of all in Love. Four, count 'em four!, beautiful and fascinating girl-women are the idols of Henry's worship in the course of this novel. All four are in fact realistically depicted as worthy of some idolization; author Keller should be credited with creating some of the most impressively plausible heroines of 19th C literature. Meanwhile, something in our Green Henry attracts the devotion of each of the four women to him, and yet the relationships are never consummated, either emotionally or physically. Green symbolizes virginity for the young man, also, despite a good deal of understated debauchery in Henry's years as a student in old Nuremburg.

"Grüner Heinrich" is regarded as one of the master works of German fiction. It's included by the redoubtable critic harold Bloom in the "canon of Western classics." If you take this recommendation and read it, assuming you enjoy it, you'll have at least a month to nurture your gratitude toward me; that is, it will take you a month or more to read it. It's very long - 700 pages of small type - and discursive, with as many interpolated tales and fables as Don Quixote. Several lengthy chapters are devoted to Henry's fantastic dreams, surreal and symbolic but not precisely crafted to advance the narrative. The largest part of Henry's narrative of his years in Nuremburg is devoted to the romances of his two closets friends there, misadventures in which Henry himself is only a bumbling sidekick. Honestly, I fear that most 21st C readers will be patience-challenged by Keller's placid, philosophical, parenthetical discourse. And yet, this is a great book. It's precisely "the still water that runs deep." It has integrity above all. Though Henry is a greenhorn and a bit of a fool throughout, his constant introspection sculpts as complete a portrayal of a human personality as any in literature.

The events of author Gottfried Keller's early life coincide with Henry Lee's in many particulars, but 'Green Henry" is not merely an autobiographical novel. Keller was a quirky fellow - frail, depressive, withdrawn, not much liked, with a weakness for prolonged drinking bouts. His character Henry shows the optimistic resilience of green willow. One could speculate that Keller portrayed himself more as he wished to be than as he knew he was. In any case, he chose to shape his character's 'autobiography' as fiction and as the embodiment of his philosophical meditations about religion, duty, morality, and civil society. Keller was himself a disciple of the German philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach, whose influence in the mid-19th C was enormous. Feuerbach was a Hegelian; he's considered the most important transmitter of Hegelian though to Karl Marx, but very little of his thought was related to economics. Feuerbach scandalized his contemporaries by dismissing the idea of human immortality. In the novel Grüner Heinrich, the fourth of Henry's feminine idols becomes the spokeswoman for Feuerbach's ideas about religion and mortality, ideas that Henry adopts with his usual equivocating innocence.

A good reason to read this vast novel is that it depicts the 'intellectual grid' of European (specifically German) culture during the first half of the 19th C, an era that clung to ancient myths and to Enlightenment ideals equally, without noting how irreconcilable they were. Henry's Nuremburg was still the Goliardic medieval world of 'The Student Prince". Henry himself blunders into a duel. The folk festivals of Switzerland and Germany that Keller describes were still vividly part of the life of real communities, and not anachronistic recreations for tourists. There were no tourists! Let me tell you, an absence of tourists has by now become a rare pleasure of life in Europe. Keller's descriptions of now-extinguished festivals and folkways are lively and colorful, enjoyable enough to pay the reader for any impatience with Henry's philosophical digressions.

Grüner Heinrich is a 'Bildungsroman' in structure -- a 'novel of education' of the genre launched by Goethe in his masterpiece "Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre". There are enough similarities between Green Henry and Wilhelm Meister to make it clear that Keller intended his novel as a philosophical sequel to Goethe's. The first third or so of Green Henry was drafted as a complete novel, ending with Henry's suicide in imitation of Goethe's hero Young Werther. That draft was not well received by anyone, but some five or six years later, Keller rewrote and expanded his book into the current epic tale. The division is still obvious; the story leaps unapologetically from Henry's adolescence in Switzerland to his futile and frustrating career as a would-be artist in Germany. The suicide was cancelled, thank you! Henry does emerge from his bewildered youth - his greenery - as a full-formed human being with realistic goals in life.

My earlier mention of Don Quixote was not completely gratuitous. The 'Bildungsroman' was the literary heir of the Picaresque novel, and our greenhorn knight errant Henry tilts at windmills aplenty in the course of his education.

The "worldview" portrayed in this novel is gone. Extinct. Utterly supplanted. Pre-Darwinian. The religious doubts that Henry experiences are not the same as "we moderns" experience. Henry's world is stable, unchanging, sempiternal, self-maintaining as a Swiss clockwork. Evolution and contingency have no place in it. This may well amount to the best of all reasons for reading Grüner Heinrich, that it richly presents the archaic worldview of Romantic Europe, and thus exposes what a shock, what an earthquake of perception, such a culture must have experienced with the arrival of modernity.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Between the chairs: growing up without a father 30 Sept. 2011
By H. Schneider - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Fathers are sometimes overrated. I had one, like most other people, but I learned to respect him only when I had reached my own half centennial. Before that, I was more inclined to criticize him for his lack of effort at helping me with the challenge of growing up.
Some people nearly get away with murder nowadays in German courts, just because they can claim that their fathers didn't talk to them enough. (see the recent case of a middle class boy of 19 who nearly kicked a stranger to death in a subway station in Berlin).

The hero in this 19th century classic has a tendency to whine about his lack of fatherly advice. His mother, a young widow, was weak and didn't impose her will. The boy fails at his own devices and puts the blame on her, until he realizes that he had forced impossible sacrifices on her.

This fat novel is one of the literary lone stars in the German language. First published by Swiss writer Gottfried Keller around 1850, in 4 volumes, of which the first two can be called autobiographical (minus the love stories), its second half has been largely re-written in the 1870s and provided with a new ending.
My review of this English edition is only the second review that has been posted. The first one is by my friend Bruno, and it is brilliant, one of the best reviews that he has written. I don't know what to add. So: go and read what Mr.Bruno has to say on Green Henry.

If you plan to read the book, as you should, allow some time. It is a big chunk, and though never really boring, it does require some concentration to stay on the text. It is not a plain autobiography, nor just another Bildungsroman. It is a narration of a childhood and young adulthood, interspersed with stories of different kinds. There are also lengthy description of folk practices. I could have done without the Swiss and Frankonian carnival chapters.

The general theme of the `memories' of fictional author Heinrich Lee is his own ineptness. He is good at creating the most awful mess and at failing in nearly everything that he does. But don't think that this is meant to be a comedy. Failure and the feeling of guilt are not amusing. They come with a sense of betrayal towards the mother (and the reverse of the coin: mother's remorse at having failed her son) who has to do her best, as a widow with modest means, to bring up her talentless and frivolous son.
Young Henry has all kinds of vices. He lives above his means, he makes debts, he takes money from his mother's savings box for his own future, he becomes a leader in a bullying spree against an inept teacher. But he has the merit of post facto honesty. He does not hide his ugly role in some episodes, e.g. his satisfaction when an enemy comes to grief.
He is quite open about his lack of talent and his incompetence in his quest for art. Much of the book is about the attempts to become an artist. Much else is about his encounters with youthful erotic adventures, generally drowned in ineptitude. He tends to get stuck between choices, like Buridan's donkey.
Henry is also a freethinker. He tries to find his own way somewhere between official church line and atheism, not accepting either. As a young man he puzzles much about the word `belief'. Quite rightly so, if I may add. It is a puzzling word.
What a doorstopper of a book!
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Keller needs a support group 26 Aug. 2012
By Claude Lambert - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
The book is perfectly described by Bruno: read his review. I just wanted to add my 5 stars to a great and neglected author. Keller suffers fom being discursive, people nowadays want action, especially here in the US. He also suffers from being Swiss. The literary Swiss population is too small to get its voice widely heard on the web. One of my favorite Swiss humorists Henri Roorda is nowadays almost impossible to find. I think that people who want good books are just submerged.
For younger people:
Keller is like Proust, somebody to enjoy on a sick leave, or in winter when it rains. You won't regret it. I used to like Keller enough that I went to visit his tomb in Zurich, and no, I am not Swiss.
Five Stars 2 Feb. 2015
By Katrina Swihart - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
One of the best books I have EVER read!!
Five Stars 24 July 2014
By Kalinsky Nestor - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
magnificent!
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