‘Maurice Guest in German: It’s Arrived’

Stefan Welz

Co-translator with Fabien Dellemann of Maurice Guest

‘Nu grade!’ said Peter Hinke, owner of the bookshop and publishing house – Connewitzer Verlagsbuchhhandlung in Leipzig – when he was taken by surprise by the rigid measures against the Covid-19 pandemic in March. Only two months before, he was able to assure the financing of the most costly publication in the history of his little enterprise. All of a sudden, the project of re-publishing the newly translated novel Maurice Guest by Henry Handel Richardson, a project Hinke has followed up for years, and which had been almost completed, was at stake in face of a severe lockdown and general uncertainty. The publication was meant to be a present the passionate bookseller and publisher wanted to make his customers and himself on occasion of the 30 years jubilee of his bookshop in the heart of the city of Leipzig. But to cut a long story short, he finally surmounted this unexpected obstacle too and brought his project to a fine ending.

Peter Hinke has entertained the idea of re-editing the voluminous novel début of the Australian author since he founded his Verlagsbuchhandlung at the beginning of the 1990s. He set up his first bookstore in Connewitz, a part of the city with a lively cultural scene and alternative lifestyles. Soon the improvised rooms became a legendary meeting point for mainly East-German readers hungry for literature during the first years after the Berlin Wall had come down. Hinke’s engagement as a citizen goes beyond publishing, providing and selling sophisticated literary products. He is always looking for new, interesting publications and promotes young authors in giving them an opportunity to publish their first lines and verses. Repeatedly, he made and makes his voice heard in the debates on communal and political issues – a voice of reason and democratic principles. Renowned German authors, such as Christa Wolf, Martin Walser and Hans Mayer, installed themselves on the worn but comfy sofa of the bookstore to read from their works during the Leipzig Book Fair. Over the years, a community of dedicated readers and book-lovers has formed a loyal circle around this book hub, and annual literary or sports events bring them even closer together.

Although Maurice Guest could be claimed as one of the most important and most extensive novels with a Leipzig setting, it had to eke out a rather unknown existence in Leipzig, Saxony and Germany. After a first warm reception, it was largely forgotten due to the Great War and a chaotic aftermath. Its perusal became a true insider tip among a few. Nowadays, the first German edition, which is based on the Heinemann edition from 1908, and which was published at Fischer Verlag Berlin in 1912, is hardly available.

However, the publisher opted for a new translation instead of a mere re-edition of the old translation with its numerous shortenings and an air of Nietzschean language. Such an ambitious project required help from several sides in the course of some years: a crew of translators, academics, actors, archivists, book designers and other interested people invested to bring it, step by step, to life. It was more than just riding a hobbyhorse, and most of the time without any financial remuneration. More than once, there were severe doubts whether the endeavour would come to a good end at all.

There were not only those of the ‘inner circle’ who came together over the work on Maurice Guest. A broader audience could enjoy some of Henry Handel Richardson’s musical compositions and extracts from the new translation of her Leipzig novel at two musical-literary evenings.

The deeper study of Richardson’s work and biography allowed connections between likeminded and interested readers from all over Germany and beyond. The fruitful exchange with Australian and English friends of the Henry Handel Richardson Society was always encouraging and provided an appreciated impulse. Eventually, a bond was re-established, which had hitherto been torn apart by wars and ideological separation of the 20th century. All this bestows something idealistic on the project and makes it collective in the best sense of the word. What better thing could happen to a work of literature?

Last week, the printer delivered the two volumes. The team at the bookstore is now busy sending out all of the almost eighty subscriptions before Christmas.

Promotion has started, first reviews have come out, and even the Australian embassy in Berlin showed interest in the event. Alas, the photoshooting and a glass of champagne for the proof -reader Sabine Franke, the book designer André Göhlich, the two translators Fabian Dellemann and Stefan Welz, and Peter Hinke must be postponed. From Monday onwards, another rigid Covid 19 lockdown is imposed on Saxony.

‘Now we‘re doing it!’ – This is the title of a poem by Lene Voigt (1891-1962), a popular Leipzig poet of the 1920s and 30s who wrote her mostly humorous texts in Saxon dialect. The meaning of this title is an encouragement to overcome difficulties in one’s life in spite of everything. Her work is published in the Connewitzer Verlagsbuchhandlung.


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