Tag: Very Short Classics

Childless – Ignát Herrmann

Childless is another Very Short Classic, reissued alongside The Four Devils which I reviewed at the start of the month. Ignát Herrmann (1854-1935) was a Czech writer who, as far as I can tell, has had only a few works translated into English. I haven’t been able to track down the original publication year of Childless, but this translation (by Marie Busch and Otto Pick) dates from 1925.

We are introduced to Ivan Hron, who was disinherited by his father but then worked his way back up to become the general manager of a bank. For ten years, he has been married to Magdalena, the daughter of an businessman. Hron’s marriage proposal was initially refused by Magda’s father, but later accepted when her family fell on hard times.

Personal wealth, a successful career, a loving marriage… Hron would seem to have been very fortunate in life. However, he feels one lack deeply – the lack of children:

In spite of all the glamour of his brilliant, exciting life, Hron did not get rid of the old-fashioned feeling that life is perfect only when it is blessed with children. What point, what aim was there in his whole successful career? Why had he worked himself up to the highest position which was open to him, why did he save, to whom would he leave his fortune when, old and frail, he would end his days? What would rejoice his heart in old age?

One day, when Magda has gone away to visit her parents, Hron chances upon some of her personal correspondence – and what he reads there changes everything…

I’d really love to know how Childless was received in its time, because the way it turns out is… well, interesting in comparison the image I have of the period. Although Herrmann gives time to both Hron and Magda, we tend to see her through Hron’s perspective, and I find it hard not to wish to hear more from Magda in her own right (outside of her letters). Having said that, Childless is an affecting piece, and I’m really glad to have read it.

Book details

Childless by Ignát Hermann, tr. Marie Busch and Otto Pick (1925), Very Short Classics, 45 pages, ebook (source: personal copy).

Childless is available on Kindle and Kobo for 99p. Read another review by Grant at 1streading’s Blog.

The Four Devils – Herman Bang

Today’s book is one of the launch titles in Very Short Classics, an occasional ebook series from the people behind Abandoned Bookshop. Herman Bang (1857-1912) is a renowned name in Danish literature, but not widely translated into English. The Four Devils was originally published in 1890; this translation, by Marie Ottilie Heyl, dates from 1927.

As children, the brothers Fritz and Adolf were taken in by the circus; along with sisters Aimée and Louise, they became the Four Devils, talented trapeze artists. Aimée is in love with Fritz, but he has eyes for a rich married woman in the audience. Fritz waits for her after the performance each night; eventually, the woman notices and speaks to him, and everything unravels from there…

What makes The Four Devils such a pleasure to read is the intensity of Bang’s prose. As befits a story about trapeze artists, everything is refracted through the lens of movement and the body; here, for example, is Fritz regarding the rich woman in the circus’s stables, where he works as groom:

It was all for his benefit – ah, he knew it well; through 1000 little gestures – the straightening of her back, the movement of her arm, the glance of her eye, she showed that they were destined for one another. They seemed actually to touch, though each took care to keep the distance that separated them. In spite of it, they felt close to each other; it was as if some indescribable impulse had caught them in a double coil that held them both bound.

I found The Four Devils a fine introduction to the work of Herman Bang, and I’ll be looking out for more.

Book details

The Four Devils (1890) by Herman Bang, tr. Marie Ottilie Heyl (1927), Very Short Classics, 53 pages, ebook (source: personal copy).

The Four Devils is available on Kindle and Kobo for 99p. Read another review by Grant at 1streading’s Blog.

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