l i t e r a r y l i v e s the Nazi contagion from Germany to his beloved Austria. The danger of Anschluss led him to make common cause with the authoritarian regime of Engelbert Dollfuss, chancellor of Austria, who was murdered by the Nazis.
Later, after the failed Nazi coup d’état, Roth threw in his lot entirely with ‘His Majesty’, the imperial pretender Otto von Habsburg, and the quixotic machinations of his legitimist faction to persuade Dollfuss’s successor as chancellor, Kurt von Schuschnigg, to restore the monarchy. Just before the Anschluss in 1938, Roth even went on a mission to Vienna and had an audience with Schuschnigg, though the latter had no recollection of it later and does not mention Roth once in his memoirs. Yet an unrequited love of Austria kept Roth going to the end of his days.
Meanwhile, Roth sank into alcoholism. His wife succumbed to schizophrenia, was permanently institutionalised and never spoke to him again. (The Nazis later murdered her as part of their euthanasia of the mentally ill.) Astonishingly, he continued to write novels and other books every year, simply to scrape a living. His correspondence reflects his deteriorating circumstances: it consists of increasingly desperate begging letters and increasingly paranoid rants against publishers and other ‘gangsters’ including, of all people, Roosevelt. But Roth’s worst venom was reserved for his rivals, from Karl Kraus to Thomas Mann. He could be callous: the Leftist editor Carl von Ossietzky’s incarceration in a Nazi concentration camp, where he would later die, evoked only a sneer: ‘Think of the damage he would do, if he were still at large!’ His loathing of Jewish publishers who refused to publish his books knew no bounds, and he accused them of appeasement or worse.
When it came in May 1939, Roth’s death was sudden but not unexpected. Six months earlier he had been warned to stop drinking by ‘His Majesty’, but not even an imperial order could save him; nor could the invitation in January 1939 from his translator Dorothy Thompson to attend the World Congress of Writers in New York, which might have enabled him to open a new chapter in the New
“James Lieberman and Robert Kramer are among the most distinguished authorities on Otto Rank. Instead of producing a critical edition of the Freud-Rank letters, as would have been commonplace, they have used the letters to reconstruct the early ‘life’ of the psychoanalytic movement. A gem of a book.” —Robert A. Segal, author of Myth: A Very Short Introduction £18.00 hardcover
THE JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY PRESS Distributed by John Wiley • Tel: 01243 843291 • press.jhu.edu
World. Strapped to his pauper’s hospital bed in Paris with delirium tremens, having just finished his last book, The Legend of the Holy Drinker, Joseph Roth died a squalid death. At his graveside, they recited both Catholic and Jewish prayers for the dead. He was only forty-four.
It is a scandal that such an important correspondence should have waited more than four decades to be translated, and the English-speaking literary world owes the poet Michael Hofmann an incalculable debt for this task and for his many other translations of Roth’s works. Hofmann’s translations are free, on occasion too much so, but always fluent and idiomatic. His editorial work, however, is marred by identification with Roth so overwhelming that it leads him into partisanship. Hofmann is the son of a distinguished émigré writer, so it may be natural for him to feel passionately about the issues that once divided that desperate community, but it is no part of an editor’s role to pursue the literary disputes of exiles beyond the grave.
Hofmann makes disparaging comparisons between Roth and Stefan Zweig throughout. As these letters amply demonstrate, neither was above reproach, but Zweig does not deserve to be posthumously belittled and doing so does not elevate Roth. It won’t do for Hofmann to attribute to Roth disapproval of Zweig’s second marriage, when a few years earlier Roth had described in nauseating detail to Zweig his ‘hobby’ of ‘deflowering’ the twenty-year-old daughter of the house in Antibes where he was staying. No wonder that, on his return to Paris, Roth admitted to Zweig: ‘The confessional beckons.’
However, Roth’s all too human frailties and vices lend his letters even greater poignancy. Indeed, it is hard to think of another correspondence that evokes so well the atmosphere – febrile yet fertile, vertiginous yet vivacious – inhabited by the writers forced to flee by the Nazis. There may have been more important writers in exile than Roth, but there were none who embodied exile as he did, with a gravitas and grace that leap off the page. Michael Hofmann is to be congratulated on resurrecting Roth as the Everyman of the Emigration. To order this book for £20, see the Literary Review Bookshop on page 36
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