Heinrich von Kleist: The Duel – Der Zweikampf (1811)

Today is the bicentennial of Kleist’s death. I had a few different ideas for this post but finally, after having read The Duel – Der Zweikampf, one of the very few of his novellas I hadn’t read before, I decided on focusing on that. The initial idea was to write about his death. Since his death and the novella The Duel have elements in common, it’s only fair, to at least mention it.

Kleist shot himself on November 21 1811, near the Kleiner Wannsee, after having shot his friend Henriette Vogel. This suicide was premeditated and even announced. He wrote letters to different people mentioning it and so did Henriette. It has been argued that one of the reasons why his grave is hard to find and almost hidden isn’t that he was a suicide but that he was also a murderer. I don’t think we can call him that, what he did was assisted suicide. Henriette wanted to die with him and, as was found out later, had reasons. The autopsy showed that she suffered from terminal cancer. In any case, what is striking, is the violence of their deaths which leads me back to The Duel. One of the most striking features of Kleist’s prose, apart from being very unique, and at times challenging to read, is the omnipresence of violence. Rape, abuse, murder, fights, duels, you name, it’s there. The novella The Duel is no exception. The story that is set in the 14th century starts with a murder. From the beginning there is a suspect only he seems to have an alibi. He indicates to have spent the night with a noble woman, a widow. In order to save himself, he reveals her name which has severe consequences. Upon hearing what their sister has done, her brothers beat her up and chase her from their home. She seeks refuge at the castle of another noble man, one who had asked her to marry him before. Convinced of her innocence he wants to duel with the man who has brought shame upon her and in doing so prove that she is not guilty. Since he is convinced she is innoncent, he is convinced the other one will die.

For those who will still read this novella I’m not going to reveal the outcome of the fight. What struck me is that it is believed that a duel equals a judgment of God and that the outcome isn’t only a means to get satisfaction but will show the irrevocable truth. The duel should help clarify who is lying. It’s aim is not a payback for an inflicted injustice or a libel but it will, through God, reveal the truth.

The story felt very archaic, and as I already said, I was, as always with Kleist, amazed how violent the story is. I’m far less familiar with his plays. I think some of them are even comedies. Kleist is a fascinating writer because there is something mysterious in what he writes. His characters react in a very intense way and one of the predominant themes is always sexuality which is linked to violence. The aggression between men is intense but it’s far more intense between men and women.

The Duel is one of Kleist’s shorter novellas and not a bad starting point if you have never read him. My favourite is The Marquise of O. An incredible story of a woman who doesn’t know how she got pregnant and is looking for the father of her child.

The Duel is part of The Art of the Novella series by Melvillehouse Publishing and in this series part of The Duel set of five novellas with the same title from different authors.

Have you read any of them and which one did you like? How do you think Kleist’s book compares to other duel stories?

For those who read German, I attached this link where you can find his letters. Alle Briefe

The review is part of German Literature Month – Week 4 Kleist and other Classics

Kleist Novellas Giveaway – The Winner

It’s finally Sunday and I’m glad to be able to announce the winner of the giveaway of the following two novellas by Kleist, courtesy of Melville House Press.

The giveaway is part of Lizzy and my German Literature Month in November.

The winner of this week’s giveaway – drawn by random.org number generator – is Vishy from Vishy’s Blog.

Please send me your contact details via beautyisasleepingcat at gmail dot com.

We hope you will be able to read and review at least one of them during Kleist week in November.

Happy reading, Vishy.

The next giveaway will take place next Wednesday.

Wednesdays are wunderbar – Kleist Novellas Giveaway

As Lizzy already announced last week, you should get used to our “Wednesdays are wunderbar” series that will take place on a fairly regular basis until the end of November. They are an integral part of our German Literature Month in November.

This week’s giveaway has been kindly provided by Melville House Press. We have two of Heinrich von Kleist’s novellas to give away, The Duel (aka Der Zweikapmpf) and Michael Kholhaas (Michael Kohlhaas deutsch).

Heinrich von Kleist died 200 years ago, on November 21 1811. Kleist was 34 years old when he died or – to be more precise – killed himself together with his friend, Henriette Vogel. As much as we appreciate his work now, that was not the case during his life. He got little recognition at the time. His plays and novellas that are considered to be among the finest in German literature had to wait until the 20th century to be discovered and treasured.

Like Jean Paul, or the equally tragic Friedrich Hölderlin, Kleist didn’t belong to any specific movement. He was neither a classic nor a romantic, but somewhere in between and quite unique. He certainly was a troubled man who was too sensitive for his time. Not being understood and the fear of losing his livelihood made matters worse.

He may be more famous for his plays but he has written some extremely impressive novellas. The stories are often violent and somewhat stretching believability but the accuracy of the descriptions and his use of language are what make him one of the very great German writers. He has a voice entirely his own.

Below you can see the two novellas we are giving away. As I haven’t read these two, I added the blurbs.

Based on actual historic events, this thrilling saga of violence and retribution bridged the gap between medieval and modern literature, and speaks so profoundly to the contemporary spirit that it has been the basis of numerous plays, movies, and novels. It has become, in fact, a classic tale: that of the honorable man forced to take the law into his own hands. In this incendiary prototype, a minor tax dispute intensifies explosively, until the eponymous hero finds the forces of an entire kingdom, and even the great Martin Luther, gathered against him.

One of the few novellas written by the master German playwright, The Duel was considered by Thomas Mann and others to be one of the great works of German literature. The story of a virtuous woman slandered by a nobleman, it is a precise study of a subject that fascinated von Kleist: that people are sometimes seemingly punished for their very innocence. This new translation reinvigorates a key work by this revolutionary German writer

If you are interested in reading these two novellas, please leave a comment. The only condition is that you read and review them during the Kleist and Other German Classics week of our German Literature Month in November (week 4).

The giveaway is open internationally, the books will be shipped by the editor. The winner will be announced on Sunday 16 October 20.00 – European – (Zürich) time.