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Journey to the Abyss: The Diaries of Count Harry Kessler, 1880-1918 Hardcover – 15 Dec 2011

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 976 pages
  • Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf (15 Dec. 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 030726582X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307265821
  • Product Dimensions: 17 x 4.6 x 24.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 500,346 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful By P. Scrivener on 27 Sept. 2012
Format: Hardcover
Having never read a diary before but having an interest in the period I had some nervous hopes as to whether both the content and the translation would live up to them.

Kessler it seems was a fairly unique figure. Educated in both England and Germany. He missed Churchill at school by one term. And coming from a german (father) and anglo-irish (mother)he spiritually straddled the artistic and intellectual milieu of high european culture, while remaining german both by inclination and emotional attachment.

The structure is as you would expect with a diary (edited considerably even at nearly 900 pages) episodic. But both the period he describes and his relationships are highly rewarding. His friendships often longlasting with the sculptors Maillol and Rodin; with the impressionists Monet and Degas; his sojourns in London with Shaw, Gill, William Morris and Gordon Craig as well as his trips to Whitechapel to watch lithe young men box in the east end give a flavour of his interests and tastes. His depth of involvement with the arts, both physical, musical and literary are as astonishing as they are wide-ranging. The names listed in the index are a virtual who's who of the period, but there was nothing superficial about his knowledge, opinions or his relations with artists, writers, actors, actresses, dancers, architects.

His brief but poignant relationship with Nietzsche, he with two others made his death mask, and his difficult relationship with Nietzsche's sister over the literary estate and memorial, are further evidence of the depth of his cultural and personal attachments. He was also the last person to interview Verlaine in a rundown garret in Paris for the magazine Pan, a journal he helped establish.
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By jeannie camm on 11 April 2015
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
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0 of 7 people found the following review helpful By E WILSON on 9 July 2014
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 18 reviews
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
An Epic Life in European Art and Politics 24 Dec. 2011
By Christian Schlect - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
An astonishing number of important people and events intersected with the life of Count Harry Kessler. The diary entries presented in this lengthy book cover the transformational years in modern art and European politics between 1880 to 1918. A ton of vivid thumbnail character sketches are scattered throughout its pages.

Kessler embodied the highest culture of Europe. He was at Nietzsche's home shortly after the philosopher's death; admired Gorky; hobnobbed with the dancer Nijinsky, was friends with Degas and Rodin in Paris; help spark Max Beckmann's artistic career; and, enjoyed the company of George Bernard Shaw in London.

Then the war with England, France and Russia came and, as a German patriot, Kessler first participated directly in Berlin's military effort and was then an international political operative of sorts for the remainder of that brutal conflict. (His comments on how the Bolsheviks were handled near the end of World War I by Germany were of special interest to me.)

Professor Laird M. Easton has performed a great service in the clear editing of this valuable historical material. I now hope the good professor will continue serving both scholarship and a grateful reading public by providing an English translation of Kessler's journal covering the Count's four month tour of America in the 1920s.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
The man who met everyone and went everywhere 17 Mar. 2012
By othoniaboys - Published on
Format: Hardcover
At almost 1,000 pages and covering almost forty years, this book is quite overwhelming. Kessler was a magnificent writer and had the uncanny ability to meet everyone worth meeting, and go everywhere worth going, not to mention being in the audience for Cyrano, Peter Pan and Nijinsky. He managed to get to Verlaine and Nietzsche before they died. The mere list of people that he met is astonishing, and the fact that he knew many of them intimately is all the more impressive. He was at the very center of the action. We are given a tour of the world early on -- the Alamo, the Taj Mahal, the pyramids -- and he describes the crowds in New York, in Paris, in Berlin, in London, in Constantinople, the world of the Belle Epoque, of Proust, of Wilhelmine Germany, all the French artists, the Austrian and German and British cultural worlds, it just goes on and on -- until the Archduke is shot and Europe is drenched in blood. His description of battlefields littered with ghastly corpses is Dantesque in its power. There is also homosexuality here, for Kessler was gay, although he only speaks of others and not of himself. I get the impression that Maillol was a repressed bisexual. I was surprised to learn that Verlaine claimed that his liaison with Rimbaud was platonic. Was this in the same category with Whitman's denial to Symonds? There was another volume of the diary that appeared in English forty years ago, but it failed to make a splash. Hopefully this volume will place Kessler where he belongs -- among the greatest German writers.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
A Significant Read 21 Jan. 2012
By Marcia B. Worden - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As a diarist, Kessler commands our attention since events he describes give a sense of immediacy. Along with The Proud Tower,Barbara Tuchman, and Proust's novels, Kessler's Journey to the Abyss contributes to our understanding of European civilization before and during the Great War.

Caviat: skip lightly over Kessler's trip round tne world and delve into his descriptions of German society.
Fascinating Diaries by a Early 20th Century Zelig 13 Dec. 2013
By Anne Mills - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
One of the most interesting commentaries ever on the beaux monde during the last decades of the nineteenth and first years of the twentieth century. Kessler was an artist and loved art, but that didn't stop him from killing Belgians at the start of WWl. He knew everybody and went everywhere. This book, which covers the earlier part of his career, 1880-1918, only came to light in the early 1980's. It was discovered when a safe in Majorca, where he died, was opened when its 50-year lease expired. Its companion volume, "Berlin in Lights", was published in England in the 1970's.

This is a remarkable book. Harry knew everyone, from the Kaiser to Neitzsche, dancers and dramatists, artists and businessmen and politicians -- there are said to be over 40,000 names in the entire diary. He was also a perceptive observer, and sometimes a perceptive analyst. His diaries are treasure trove for historians, but are also -- in this edited form -- of great interest to the lay reader with an interest in the period.

Update: last week I started reading Margaret MacMillan's excellent new book on the run-up to World War I. She starts off one of her chapters with a brief review of Harry, his life and times, and comments on his uncanny ubiquity. She cites him often as a source.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Amasing Character well written book 8 Aug. 2012
By WPT - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If you have never heard of Kessler, and that is most of us, you will find this book very hard to believe. The facts are true and continously interesting amazing & enjoyable.
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