Rock Crystal (Pushkin Collection) Paperback – 15 Oct 2012
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A tale of almost unendurable suspense (The New York Review of Books)
About the Author
Adalbert Stifter (1805-1868) was an Austrian writer, painter and tutor to the Viennese aristocracy. Informally part of the so-called Biedermeier movement in German-language literature, he has been celebrated by both German and English writers, including Rilke, von Hofmannsthal, Mann, Hesse, Auden and Sebald, and is particularly famed for his vivid descriptions of natural landscapes in his literary work.
Adalbert Stifter’s The Bachelors is also published by Pushkin Press.
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Top Customer Reviews
The simplicity of the book almost hides how well written it is. The scenery and community in which the story is set are described so well that they leap off the page and inhabit your mind for the duration of the book.
I love lots of books by the publisher NYRB Classics. That's partly why I picked this one up.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
I have, over the years, acquired about half of Stifter's works in out-of-print English translations. I want to direct people to these books. They can be found through Amazon and other online out-of-print book dealers.
First, some points about Rock Crystal. In the English speaking world, we get Goethean naturalism indirectly, through Wordsworth, then Ruskin. Stifter comes right on the heels of Goethe, and I see Stifter realizing some of Goethe's visions. Rock Crystal is very faithful to Goethe's naturalism. The children are nature-transformed on the glacier. I think of the falling star as an event that marks the conflation of the nature-transformation and the Christian transformation. Naturalized Christianity. The children's distance from the Christian festivities, far below them in the valleys, is a measure of the distance from Christianity that Goethean naturalism has taken us. Stifter is not quite post-Christian, as Goethe & Emerson were, but he is concerned with reconciling Christianity and Naturalism, as his conservative Biedermeier culture retrenched after Goethe's revolutionary forays into nature, which is beyond good & evil. This shadow side of nature leads to the dark side of Stifter's work, least of all in Rock Crystal, which maintains the tone of a simple children's tale. There is a new critical work on Stifter by Helena Ragg-Kirkby, who goes into this dark side of Stifter in great detail. She argues that Stifter was a modernist, far ahead of his time, anticipating kafka. I agree.
One needs to know how the German titles are translated.
This early story is translated, clumsily as, "Crazy Castle"
It's available by download now, together with *Maroshely*, which is usually entitled, *Brigitta* (there are many out-of-print publications of *Brigitta*)
*Die Mappe Des Meine Urgrossvaters*
The 1851 translation is available through print-on-demand under the title
*Pictures of Rural Life in Austria and Hungary, Volume I*
translated as *Indian Summer*
the masterpiece, published by Peter Lang (out of print), trans Wendell Frye--god bless him.
the other masterpiece, an amazing historical novel. Learn what democrats and republicans were like in 1200. The republicans (upper nobles) hunted, partied, and were not too nice to their serfs.
also published by Peter Lang, trans. Wendell Frye
These are translated by Helen Watanabe-O'Kelly, (out of print--Angel/Dufour)
*Abdias* (amazing, important work)
*Kalkstein* -- trans. *Limestone*
*Waldsteig* translated as *The Forest Path*
In The German Library series #37 German Novellas of Realism, vol. 1, can be found *Granit* (Granite), *Brigitta*, and Stifter's famous Preface to Many Colored Stones (Bunte Steine)
These are translated by David Luke, published (out of print)Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc.--->
*Der Hegestoltz* (here translated, *The Recluse*, sometimes translated as *The Bachelors*)
*The Recluse* is also avaiilable (out of print) from Cape Publications
That's all I have. I desperately need the rest, but it may not be translated.
That is what it is: an extraordinarily beautifully written ninety-nine page, 19th Century novella of two children who after visiting their Grandmother on Christmas eve, have to traverse through a high mountain pass in the Alps to return home. They get caught in a blinding, heavy snow storm, making their proceeding with ever increasing difficulty as the temperature falls to a bone chilling coldness. Not being able to see clearly, with tress and rocks indistinguishable in the snow and darkness, they make a wrong turn and get to a point from which they are only able to climb higher and higher. They finally realize that they are lost and in desperate need of finding shelter before they freeze to death as another traveler had some years earlier. The shelter that they eventually find is a combination of large boulders which nature caused to form into a hut, enclosed on all sides but one. There, huddled together, and drinking some very strong coffee their Grandmother was sending home to their parents, they struggled to keep awake so as not to freeze to death. As the snow storm dissipated, stars appear, slowly, one by one, transforming the dark night into a wondrous, magical world of glistening silent beauty. Outside their stone hut they see a glacial field glittering with ice crystal diamonds. After spending a starry night on the glacier's edge, filled with mystery, magic and splendor, they attempt with great difficulty to descend the mountain, resigning eventually to emerge at any point, and then finding their way back to their home village. Although they were able to ascend the night before, descending proved to be almost impossible. They had to constantly turn, ascend again, and then descend only to find again that they had to find another path. The children eventually see a red flag and hear the Alpine horns of their rescuers. They are rescued by their fellow Villagers on Christmas day who assist them to traverse the difficult terrain and descend to a log cabin where they are able to get warm, have food to eat and something to drink, and rest before they continue down the mountain to their home.
What rescues this story from being another typical, banal, overly melodramatic Christmas story is the simplicity of the writing style (it has a grade reading level of 7.8 years, and a readability index of 74.6) and that every sentence, every paragraph is a jewel of exquisite writing, seamlessly interweaving a very realistic, compelling tale of surprising complexity and numerous relationships: that of Conrad and his trusting little sister Sanna; the close family's relationship with their Mother's family; and their family's relationship with their fellow Villagers who treat them with aloofness, as outsiders until fear of the loss of the two children unite all of them in an heroic effort to save them. That is the true gift that the Christ Child has brought to all of them that Christmas.
Some may object to the catholic themes in the book, the descriptions of Christmas as a religious, holy event, others its portrayal of a far simpler way of life than what we experience today in the modern world. Nevertheless, it takes a tale such as "Rock Crystal" to put the reader back in touch with the real fundamentals of life, those most important basic values. I find the book to be a wonderful, refreshing change of pace and an especially fine for Middleschoolers to read, discuss, and enjoy the story; and for them to experience the beauty of an extraordinary writing skill.
Submitted by Richard P. Caro
It was a great relief for me to read this classic novella, recommended to me by my trans-Pacific amazonian book sharer. I had just read three long, grotesque novels of thorny Christian symbolism -- Wise Blood by Flannery O'Connor, Christ Versus Arizona by Camilo Cela, and Voss by Patrick White. All three 'celebrate' the contemptible insignificance of humanity except in abject submission to an angry God. What a relief to find Stifter celebrating humanism and the sublimity of human life, even in a remote cleft of traditional decency in a valley surrounded by titanic peaks and glacial eternities. Stifter is often lumped with German Romanticism, but on the basis of "Rock Crystal", he seems to me to belong with his predecessors of the Aufklärung, the Enlightenment. Read this book when you need a lift, a burst of adrenalin, a glimpse of starlight and a sense of your own worth,
One thing that I particularly enjoyed about "Rock Crystal" is how it illustrates that human life can be fragile in the face of nature. Stifter's portrayal of the unforgiving mountains and snowstorm reminds me of the scenery in Jack London's work. Another enjoyable aspect of the book is that, despite the limited space, Stifter builds significant tension and makes the reader feel concerned for the characters; he never pulls any "cheap tricks" to do this, though. Finally, though religious references abound in the book, specifically Catholic liturgical ones, the story does not depend on any particular religious doctrine, and can be enjoyed simply as a story about how lucky we are to be alive.
The story is simple, much like a folk tale. However underlying the tale are two themes; the theme of what makes a person an outsider or insider to a social grouping and the theme of the power, beauty, grandeur, and threat of the natural world to humanity.
The book is beautifully written. It is masterful with not a word out of place or ill chosen. The descriptions of all characters were sufficient and belabored. The descriptions of the mountains, glaciers, snow storms, and northern lights are firmly grounded in the realistic style with no fantasy or over-statement. Thus the simple story, the simple characters, the threat of nature's unexpected turns, all come together to produce a tiny miniature jewel of a short novel. Only the most skillful of writers could produce so much with so little. Stifter certainly produced a small diamond in his short novel Rock Crystal.