Writer, researcher, translator, critic



Eduard von Keyserling, Tides [Berlin; 1911]

In trying to source all the greatest novels of the 1910s (that I can read), I have had to turn to the magnificent Interlibrary Loan system for translations into English that have fallen so far out of print that Amazon is no help. The first ILL book that arrived was Eduard von Keyserling's 1911 Wellen, which the 1929 translation I read rendered Tides but which would be literally (and more thematically appropriately) translated Waves.

Eduard von Keyserling was a member of the decaying Baltic German aristocracy: his family held land in what was then the Russian Empire and is now Estonia, and Tides is set in a community on the Baltic Sea, where a wealthy German estate overlooks the humble fishing cottages of the local peasantry. I have no spoilers to give -- it's the kind of book that should be experienced exactly as written: like a tone poem, the minute distinctions of coloration fading into each other as the melody gradually unfolds -- but the fact that the book is not principally about the aristocracy (although the aristocracy, its power and judgment, hangs over practically every glance and gesture) was rather a relief to me.

In fact, the whole thing was a pleasant surprise; I am given to reading contemporary reviews when I can get my hands on them, and the American literary journals of the twenties rather scolded Keyserling (who died in 1918) for being so bleak and pessimistic. But I didn't find Tides bleak at all: it's full of vibrancy and color, and if it grinds rather fatalistically toward an obvious death at the end, that just seems European rather than depressing. Several other of Keyserling's novels and novellas were translated in the same period, and all are just as thoroughly out of print, but I'm interested in reading them all now; and curious too about those that never made it into English at all.

April 14, 2017