How could this vivid novel be forgotten in Germany? – On the reviews of the new translation into German of Maurice Guest

Dr. Irmgard Heidler

The small Leipzig publishing house Connewitzer Verlagsbuchhandlung Peter Hinke celebrated its 30th anniversary with a new German edition of Maurice Guest – fulfilling a goal already in existence at the time of the company’s founding, and finally made financially possible in great part by receiving the Saxon Publishing House Award in 2019.

The new translation by Fabian Dellemann and Stefan Welz is based on the critical edition by Clive Probyn and Bruce Steele (The University of Queensland Press) from 1998.

The blurb points draw attention to the beautiful book design – and, indeed, it is beautiful: a two-volume-edition (each volume comprising 431 pages), bound in a creamcoloured cover, the title on the back in dark red, with a bright red head- and tail band, the book jacket in light green (volume 1) and bright red (volume II), with the ornate frame initials “M” (I) and “G” (II) in the decorative Hobeaux Rococeaux. Each of the three parts of the novel, as well as each of the chapters, is introduced by decorative initials. The typeface is Bara, “narrow and elegant”, very pleasant to read in the narrow print space. The book end papers show maps from Leipzig in 1891.

The advertising surrounding this publication puts focus on the quote by Doris Lessing praising the novel as a great one – “unputdownable, unforgettable” (a quote also featured on the back of volume 1’s book cover) – as well as quotes from the preface of the book’s English editions published between 1921 and 1950 by Hugh Walpole, featured on the back of volume II, stressing the deep and enduring influence on the literature of the younger generation and describing the work as “one of the most truthful novels that have ever been written”.

The short but thorough afterword by Welz, “Spuren von Gold (“Traces of Gold”): Die australische Schriftstellerin Henry Handel Richardson”, displays a solid understanding of the background, of multiperspectivity, and also of actuality and modernity of the novel. The blurb describes the work as a tragic love story, a music and art novel that pays homage to Leipzig around 1900.

The new release is currently selling well, despite bookshops transitioning online just as the novel was published. The reviews consistently agree that it is a significant, great novel, and describe the translation as being one of superb quality, in accordance with the original tone in terms of style, syntax and expressivity. There is a general sense of appreciation at having the luxury of being able to read this translated novel in its entirety for the very first time.

The reviews from Leipzig, in particular, highlight the work as a “Leipzig novel”, portraying their city and its society. (Janina Fleischer’s short but prominent review in the Leipziger Volkszeitung on December 12th/13th , 2020, for example, under the title “Welt und Zeit verstehen” – “Understanding the World and Time”.) The Leipzig focus is especially highlighted in online reviews:

“Ein Leipziger Projekt durch und durch” (“a Leipzig project through and through”) is the title of a report on the creation and content of “Maurice Guest”, wherein the journalist claims that it is, without a doubt, a Leipzig novel.

The “Leipziger Internet Zeitung” published an essay in two parts by Ralf Julke, on December 10 and 14, 2020. Julke expresses his fascination with this authentic and lively “Leipzig-Roman”. “Man kann es regelrecht riechen und fühlen und sich vorstellen, wie man mit Maurice am ersten Tag durch diese neue, völlig unbekannte Stadt spaziert”. (“You can smell and feel and imagine walking through this unknown city together with Maurice.”) He included an image of the Richardsons’ Leipzig address book entry in his article.

Also, he researched weather reports in the years 1890-92 – frozen rivers in winter, perfect for ice-skating, but no record cold temperatures. Against a background of gas lamps and horse carriages, Julke recognizes HHR’s character traits within three of her protagonists, and points out her familiarity with contemporary German authors and cultural modernity, be it in the field of philosophy (Nietzsche) or music (Wagner, especially the performance of “Die Walküre”). Especially in regard to gender roles, the novel is seen as completely modern.

In a podcast broadcast by several radio stations (SWR2 Literatur, 7 minutes, MDR Kultur, 4’23 minutes, 13. 1. 2021), the literary critic Tino Dallmann expresses his disbelief at this vivid novel having been forgotten in Germany. For him, this edition is both a convincing psychological character study, as well as a genre picture of its time. Stefan Welz is interviewed, and reflects on the modernity of the novel – its expressiveness underlining the emotional states of the protagonists. For Dallmann, the novel is a time capsule – the music tradition, the debates, the every-day thoughts – but equally, he acknowledges that there is a familiar, contemporary connection to our present world in the portrayal of strong, complex figures whose love tilts into a toxic relationship.

The ultimate accolade was granted by Andreas Platthaus, head of the literature and literary life departments of one of Germany’s leading newspapers, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, in a central review (December 17, 2020, No. 294, p. 12; links in and, which also displays a photo showing skaters in Johannapark in 1890 (Platthaus raises the question whether the author might have been captured on the photograph).

He declines to call Maurice Guest a Leipzig novel. Instead, he feels it is a caustic love story with breathtaking psychological consequences, set against a music-historical background. He warns the reader of the emotional abyss caused by the book’s process of disillusionment that unfolds in a musical fin-de-siècle world. The beauty of the language, the empathy with selfinflicted love misfortune, the knowledge of the thin ice of our existence all culminate to form Platthaus’ final conclusion: that Maurice Guest is a grand novel (with comparisons drawn to Proust) that will remain within the reader’s mind long after finishing it.

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