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The Marquise of O - And Other Stories Paperback – 25 Nov 1978

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Product details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; 1st edition (25 Nov. 1978)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140443592
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140443592
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 2 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 146,987 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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About the Author

Heinrich von Kleist, born in 1777, came of an old Prussian military family, but disliked military life and resigned his commission in 1799 to devote himself to studious pursuits. He turned to creative writing in 1801, and during the next ten years created some of the most remarkable plays in German literature. Kleist had an unstable and almost schizophrenic personality and his works relect his passionately uncompromising nature and his periodic fits of wild enthusiasm and morose melancholia. He committed suicide in 1811.

David Luke is an Emeritus Fellow of Christ Church, Oxford, where he was Tutor in German until 1988. He has published articles and essays on German literature. His translation of Faust Part One was awarded the European Poetry Translation Prize in 1989.

Nigel Reeves was Alexander von Humbolt Fellow at the University of Tubingen and from 1975 to 1990 was Professor of German at the University of Surrey. He is currently Professor of German at Aston University.

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IN Santiago, the capital of the kingdom of Chile, at the moment of the great earthquake of 1647 in which many thousands lost their lives, a young Spaniard called Jeronimo Rugera was standing beside one of the pillars in the prison to which he had been committed on a criminal charge, and was about to hang himself . Read the first page
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By schumann_bg TOP 50 REVIEWER on 8 Sept. 2012
Format: Paperback
Having reread these stories this summer I feel they are quite neglected in the English-speaking world, even though they are in Penguin classics - there are no other stories quite as exciting as these, quite as mystifying in a way that compels you. They are very varied in length and theme, yet certain preoccupations emerge, among them extreme situations and the psychology arising out of them, doppelgangers, sexuality, reversals of fortune ... and the nature of justice. They also vary in time and location, but the style is unmistakeable with its sense of strength in the sentence structures, carving meaning out of a world where appearance and reality never seem entirely defined even to the sharpest observer. In a story like The Marquise von O. there's just no getting to the bottom of the moral ramifications of the story, or what it says about sexuality, but you do feel there is a daemonic power in the writing and the themes it touches on even while being largely located in elegant drawing rooms after the initial siege. This unfathomable aspect is what gives them their hold on you after you have read them; in the case of Michael Kohlhaas the complexity of the story itself is dizzying and becomes part of the meaning in itself - it is the medium of the story as air is to life. Some of the stories are as gripping as thrillers: I found it quite impossible, at a certain point, not to read right to the end of The Engagement In Santo Domingo and The Duel, they are so intensely involving, and there's no guessing how things will turn out, but in the end you feel moved to the core ... and galvanised into a new awareness, at least until the effect wears off. Even so I think some of it remains and that reading Kleist is in a sense a life-changing experience. David Luke's introduction sheds much light on each of the tales.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By an amateur fan on 11 April 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The Wikipedia entry on Kleist describes Kleist's philosophy as "the ironic rebuff of all theories of human perfection". Michael Kolhaas shows its eponymous hero having to resort to criminality in his attempts to achieve 'justice'. A thesis as absurd as it is pertinent. While Kleist's tales are intentionally disturbing they manage also (speaking personally) to be hilarious - a reminder of how closely comedy feeds off of disaster, fear, paradox and chaos. His fiction - which is far from inaccessible - deserves to be far better known.
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6 of 11 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 17 Feb. 2006
Format: Paperback
"The world of all these stories is an unpridictable one, a world of dislocated casuality on which inexplicable factors intrude and in which sanity is poised on the brink of destruction. They are the work of a rationalist tormented by his loss of faith in Reason and desparately searching for certainity, for an order which is not 'gebrechlich'. In Kliest's life this search could only fail; the only imposable order was that of his art, an order of words, the strange patterns of his three or four dramatic masterpieces, the electrifiying articulated structures of his narrative prose.."
You can tell from reading these stories that they have been translated to english as best as is possible ( although the translators say it still doest do it absolute justice ) and from reading the dense introduction that the translators know what there talking about. Although they are all written to the same incredible standard, my personal favorite has to be The Power of Music, although i cant properly put into words why, such is its subtility of context ( maybe when im more experienced il beable to do justice to it ) but put bluntly its to show the Christian's lack of understanding of the term 'natural causes', and it does this amazingly to the extent that it could be interpreted either way almost equally. A close second would be The Founderling and the Betrothal of Santo Domingo, then Micheal Kohlass.
The only problem i have with the book is its title and cover, they should have published this collection of stories under the title in which Kliest published them, 'The Tales'; it could then have a much nice look. All in all i highly recomend it, theres probably no story writer as intense and masterly as Kliest.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 16 reviews
20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
From the Dark Horse of German Literature 24 Jan. 2008
By Flippy - Published on
Format: Paperback
Kleist is the great, dark shadow of the German literary world. Born into a military Prussian family, he chose a literary career over the glory, order and ritual of his ancestors. He became a poet instead of an officer. He wandered from city to city, in search of a home, of solitude, a place to cultivate himself and his literary talents. He worried his friends with his demonic thoughts on suicide. He had a morose character and yet he was equally passionate. Stefan Zweig suggested he suffered from being continually extreme in everything he did, "always the superlative".

This collection of stories is not to be dismissed. "Michael Kohlhaas" is perhaps the quintessential piece; a tale of revenge and the price of vengeance, it is a universal story, appealing to our earthly desire for an "eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth". Kleist creates a world of corruption of conflict. The reader wants revenge for the protagonist but how far can one man go to attain justice? What does he lose, what does he gain?

"The Earthquake in Chile" is another disturbing tale. In the wake of a natural disaster, we learn nothing changes the minds and mindsets of people. The earth shakes but the evil of humankind remains deeply rooted.

"The Betrothal in Santo Domingo" - One could see it as the companion piece to the above. In a world of war and rebellion, who can one trust?

"The Beggarwoman of Locarno" is perhaps the most subtle and haunting of ghost stories. Not only does it revel in the mysterious but it is a morality tale revealing the foibles and flaws of a darkened human spirit.

Kleist never became a high ranking officer in the Prussian military but he saw the world falling apart all around him. His stories are a reflection of the dark times he witnessed within his time and within his psyche.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Reluctant officer and suicidal gentleman 13 Mar. 2009
By H. Schneider - Published on
Format: Paperback
As a playwright, German classic Kleist sits on top of the Olymp, right up there with Goethe and Schiller. He also left a relatively small prose oeuvre behind when he died at 34 (in a suicide pact). An unpublished 2 volume novel is said to have disappeared. What we have is this bunch of stories and some journalism, and letters. He is a classic, but he was no classicist (hence no boredom like eg Goethe's Elective Affinities), and also no romantic. He belonged to no school but his own.

His stories take us into worlds of madness. Passions and restrictive social norms collide and cause endless havoc. A frequent motive is what we would call 'honor killings' nowadays: people, usually women, subjected to the extreme punishment for inappropriate relations.
The title story itself (set in Napoleonic times in Italy) is not quite as extreme in this regard: the Marquise 'only' gets expelled from her parents' home and ostracized, because she does not know how she got pregnant. Hard to believe, admittedly. Hardship steels her character and she attacks: she publishes an ad asking for the father to step up, she would forgive him and marry him. When he turns up it is a man whom she had had a crush on, a Russian count and officer who had saved her from rapists during the war, and had found her fainted. Well, well. Since he had been her angel, now he becomes her devil. But all in all, this is a comparatively sane story, as far as the protagonists go.

There is Kohlhaas, the horse trader who becomes a rebel and outlaw in protest against some junkers mistreating his horses and his servant. In a very German solution, he finds justice for the horses, but also for his crimes. Blind justice with her scale works both ways.

Two cases of honor killings:
A young convent woman in Chile in the 17th century gets sentenced to death for being pregnant, gets saved on the way to the scaffold by a huge earthquake, survives, meets the father of her child, believes to be safe, and goes back to Santiago. A mistake.
A noble woman in the 14th century in Germany is subjected to a Gottesurteil (God's verdict?) by duel when an accused murderer, a knight, claims her as his alibi; her admirer challenges the bad guy. A duel is set up which is supposed to decide over truth. If her friend loses, her denial is considered a lie and she will be burned.(Hard to believe, isn't it? But as Kleist wrote somewhere, probability is not always on the side of truth.)

More violence and madness: A mulatta teenage girl in Haiti during the slave rebellion after the French revolution falls in love with a French officer from Switzerland, who is a captive in the black household where she lives. She tries to save him, which would be her end by her own people. The couple makes romantic promises, but he misunderstands her tactics for liberating him (Swiss have a reputation for being slow sometimes), and kills her.

Kleist was his own world in literary matters, did not belong to anybody's school; he was also not in any political camp, definitely not in his 'own' camp, the Prussian military aristocracy that he ran away from. But also not among the freedom singers. His take on the slave rebellion is entirely unsympathetic.

What a pity the novel got lost.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Some of the best short stories of all time - KLEISTIAN 12 Feb. 2008
By A. Rubenstein - Published on
Format: Paperback
These stories by Heinrich Von Kleist give great meaning to the adjective "Kleistian".

His prose is almost poetry and every sentence can be a roller coaster of intensity: from the Duke who in the matter of a line or two, goes from being on top of the world, to an arrow "pierc[ing] him just below the breastbone"; from Jeronimo Rugera who is a just about to hang himself in a Chilean prison until a whole city shakes in an earthquake and his fate changes forever. From the Justice of Michael Kohlhaas, to the thieves and miscreants who conspire against the church of St. Cecilia, who are brought to their knees by the power of the organ- these are stories of fate.

And that fate comes swiftly and blindsides the reader with confounding emotions and a new insight into a world turned upside down. This work was probably a product of Heinrich Von Kleist's own life of highs and lows, and the brilliance in between.

Buy the book, read these stories, you will come away spinning... but enlightened.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
By Roy Clark - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Because of the intricacy of speech in the days before our short-order transient/on-the- run culture, with all today's media distractions and clashes of civilizations, life in the 17- and 1800's was seen much closer. Little details were magnified, concepts got more-deeply probed; people made a big deal out of nuance. And abstracts like honor and integrity and reputation, too.

Kliest's more-complex and often really-long paragraphs dissect his subjects. So they grow vivid and more keenly felt. Of course moral values back in those times were strict and unyielding. Most everything in The Marquise of O- turns on manners
and mores. They contrast so sharply with ours today as to make us think of ours today.

In our time it's our appetites and ambitions. Suddenly reading about people driven by morality and tradition is quite a comparison to our times. Maybe we have it better, maybe not.

Even though the writing as well as the values are from centuries ago, Kleist's clarity and detailing bring it alive and make it relevant to our here and now. I was entertained and edified. Can't ask for more.

(Of interest, maybe: I got to this title via Francine Prose's READING LIKE A WRITER, which helpfully listed books to read to help make one a better writer. Ms. Prose is right to show us what once was. By contrasting writing styles 'back then to our media-influenced style of today, it helps us maybe understand our here and now. Another kibitz: read ATLANTIC Magazine's 'Is Google Making Us Stupid?' (July/August 2008). Whatever google does, reading Kleist does just the opposite.)
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Fascinating Read 5 Feb. 2009
By R. Lynne - Published on
Format: Paperback
Whether this book is read for pleasure or education it is amazing. There are so many dymaics played out in the relationships between the characters in each story. There is a lot of exploration into just and unjust violence. As well as an exploration into how language frames our actions towards ourselves and others. All of the stories are worth reading more than once. I especially liked "The earthquake in Chile" and "The Betrothal." I highly recommend putting this book on your must read list. Life will be different after reading Von Kleist. Many of the stories deal with something which is oddly familiar, yet mysterious at the same time (uncanny).
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