The Black Tulip – Alexandre Dumas

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Zweimal im Jahr erscheint mein heißgeliebter „Happy Reader“ aus dem Penguin Classics Verlag und als virtueller Bookclub wird gemeinsam ein Roman gelesen, der im folgenden Heft dann ausführlich besprochen wird. Das Buch für den Sommer 2018 war Dumas‘ „The Black Tulip“, der gelegentlich sein letzter großer Roman genannt wird und der stets im Schatten der deutlich berühmteren „Die drei Musketiere“ und „Der Graf von Monte Christo“ steht.

Wer das erste Kapitel übersteht, das etwas hölzern mit Einblicken in die niederländische Politik beginnt, wird mit einem verwegenen, spannenden Pageturner belohnt. Die Geschichte bietet einen ganzen Fächer an Themen, die Dumas wunderbar miteinander verbindet: Liebe, Mut, Ehrlichkeit und Neid.

Die Brüder Cornelius und Johann de Witt (hochrangige Politiker im damaligen Holland) werden des Hochverrats beschuldigt und des Landes verwiesen. Cornelius wurde gefoltert in der Hoffnung, er würde zugeben mit dem französischen König gemeinsam eine Verschwörung gestartet zu haben.

Was Cornelius weder getan hat, noch unter Folter gestand.

Er hat mit dem französischen König zwar korrespondiert, die Briefe waren aber harmloser Natur und Cornelius hinterlegte diese bei seinem Neffen Cornelius Baerle aus Angst, diese Briefe würden Anlass genug sein, ihn und seinen Bruder Johann aufs Schafott zu bringen.

Im Rückblick muss man sagen, wären sie doch nur so glücklich gewesen auf dem Schafott zu landen. Stattdessen wurden sie auf dem Weg ins Exil vom Mob auf der Straße aufgehalten. Dieser Mob, also die sogenannten braven Bürger von denen man das Obst, Gemüse und Brot kauft, bei denen man sich Kleider anfertigen lässt oder Schränke herstellen, die waren mit dem Urteil Exil nicht happy. Die wollten Blut und Köpfe rollen sehen. Durch finstere Machenschaften des William von Orange bekommt der Mob die Chance, die beiden Brüder in die Finger zu bekommen.

”And everyone wanted to strike a blow with a hammer, a sword or a knife, everyone wanted to have his drop of blood and tear off his scrap of clothing.
When the two bodies were thoroughly beaten, thoroughly dismembered, and thoroughly stripped, the mob dragged them naked and bleeding, to an improvised gibbet, where amateur executioners hung them up by the feet.”

Der gleichnamige ahnungslose Neffe Cornelius kümmert sich in der Zeit nichtsahnend um seine geliebten Tulpen, während ein böser neidischer Nachbar, der selbst kein Glück mit seinen Tulpen hat, ihm die Zuchterfolge nicht gönnt und ihn hinterrücks bei der Obrigkeit als Mitverschwörer verpfeift. Der arme Cornelius landet lebenslang hinter Gittern, gerade als er begonnen hatte, sich an einem Wettbewerb zu beteiligen, der einen großen Preis auslobte für den, dem es zuerst gelang, eine schwarze Tulpe zu züchten.

Die Geschichte dreht sich um den unglaublichen Mut und das Durchhaltevermögen des Cornelius van den Baerle bei der Verwirklichung seines Traums, eine schwarze Tulpe zu züchten. Er wird dabei von der mutigen und cleveren Rosa Gryphus unterstützt, der Tochter seines Kerkermeisters, in die sich Cornelius verliebt.

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Man mag nicht glauben, wie spannend das Schicksal von drei Tulpenablegern sein kann und wie sehr man mitfiebert in der Hoffnung, eine davon möge es schaffen und nicht dem neidischen Schurken Boxtel in die Finger geraten. Rosa gerät in einen Mahlstrom an Tulpen-Obsession, die man so seit dem Zerplatzen der Tulpenblase im Jahr 1637 nicht mehr gesehen hat. Sie liebt Cornelius und hilft ihm, wo sie kann, kann sich aber nie ganz sicher sein, ob sie nicht immer erst an zweiter Stelle nach seiner Liebe zu den Tulpen kommen wird.

“Sometimes one has suffered enough to have the right to never say: I am too happy.” 

Mir hat dieser dunkle, floristische, etwas blutige Thriller durchaus Spaß gemacht. Der schon zu Lebzeiten unglaublich berühmte Alexandre Dumas hat im Übrigen satte 650 Bücher geschrieben in jedem nur vorstellbaren Genre: Belletristik, historische Romane, Reisebeschreibungen, „True Crime“ und Kochbücher. Ich bin schwer beeindruckt…

Auf deutsch ist der Roman unter dem Titel „Die schwarze Tulpe“ im Belle Epoque Verlag erschienen.

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Day 15 – The perfect Winter Read

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For today’s challenge „The perfect winter read“ I chose Anna Karenina. It has been years ago that I read it but it was the perfect setting. Travelling from Moskau to then Leningrad by train through the most wonderful winter landscape.

I remember the wonderful language, the hopelessness of the situation and Anna Karenina’s despair.The psychological finesse of Tolstoi is unique and it is impossible not to feel and often suffer with the characters.

Remember when Anna confesses to her husband that she is pregnant by her lover ?

Or when Anna realises her and Wronskis love is fading away:

„Die zwischen ihnen bestehende gereizte Stimmung hatte keine äußere Ursache, und alle Versuche einer gegenseitigen Aussprache dienten nicht zur Beseitigung dieser Stimmung, sondern im Gegenteil zu ihrer Verschärfung. Diese gereizte Stimmung kam von innen her und hatte bei Anna ihren Grund in dem Schwächerwerden seiner Liebe und bei Wronski in der Reue darüber, daß er sich um ihretwillen in eine so peinliche Lage gebracht habe, die sie ihm, statt sie ihm zu erleichtern, immer noch schwerer mache. Keiner von beiden sprach sich über den Grund seiner Gereiztheit aus; aber jeder von ihnen war überzeugt, daß der andere im Unrecht sei, und bemühte sich bei jedem Anlaß, es ihm zu beweisen. “

Should you ever travel to Russia don’t travel without Anna Karenina. It was a wonderful trip but incredibly cold –  I had to buy hand muffs and a hat which made me look quite Anna Karenina like. We walked over the the frozen Baltic Sea in St. Petersburg with Krim Sekt and I never felt more like being in the novel I’m currently reading than at that time.

What is your perfect Winter Read ?

Day 9 – Beautiful Cover

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Büchergilde is well known for having especially beautiful books and Katherine Mansfield’s „In einer deutschen Pension“ is no exception. I totally fell in love with the Jugendstil cover and the beautiful pictures inside.

However, the book is not just worthwhile buying because of the illustrations, Katherine Mansfield’s short stories are sharp ironic little pearls where she examines the typically german spa guests in her guesthouse.

Fotos: Büchergilde Gutenberg

These stories catapulted the New Zealand born Katherine Mansfield onto the literary stage and she became the absolute master of modern english short stories. The stories in this collections were written by her in 1909 when the 21 year old Mansfield lived in Wörishofen in Bavaria for a few months.

Mansfield was pregnant at the time and had left her husband after just a few months of being married. She mocks the stuffy guests and ironically puts to test the biases, prejudices and clichés of the german and english mentality.

Mansfield describes day-to-day situation ins a german spa in 1909. The guests have discussions about their digestion and other health issues and preferably discuss the life of the aristocracy.

Fotos: Büchergilde Gutenberg

The stories are not plot-driven but they are amusing and quite interesting little sketches of the German mindeset at that time.

„Ich werde ohnmächtig, jetzt sofort!“
Ich erschrak. „Das geht nicht“, sagte ich und schüttelte sie. „Kommen Sie mit in die Pension, dort können sie ohnmächtig werden, so viel Sie wollen! Aber hier können Sie nicht ohnmächtig werden! Alle Geschäfte sind geschlossen. Kein Mensch ist in der Nähe. Bitte seien Sie nicht so töricht!“
„Hier – und nur hier!“ Sie zeigte auf die genaue Stelle, ließ sich wunderschön fallen und blieb reglos liegen.
„Also meinetwegen werden Sie ohnmächtig“, sagte ich, „aber bitte, machen Sie schnell!“

The combination of text and illustration adds to an amazing synthesis consisting of stuffiness, trash and irony. The colour pink is quite dominating and the art nouveau style is very fitting and it’s pure pleasure to see fat babies, girdles and aristocracy being mixed togehter into a pulp that provided the base for the upcoming society shake-up due to Freud, the womens lib movement and the end of the Kaiser power.

What is your favorite cover at the moment?

Day 7 – Never finished

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Well what shall I say? Never made it to the top of the Magic Mountain and I really really did try hard, I promise. But in the end I didn’t have enough energy and after a short break, panting heavily and very tired I descended. Maybe I’ll try again some time, but I’m not 100% sure.

There were definitely beautiful sentences here, the atmosphere is quite magic, but I had problems with the lethargic sleepy mood in the book, I felt I needed to check into a sanatorium myself quite soon, I was sure I could observe the first signs of tuberculosis and mentally prepared to join the guys in their resting cure to never leave again …

Did anybody else think of the song „Hotel California“ while reading it? I’m sure there are a lot of very indignant people who feel I should be ashamed for not finishing one of Germany’s literary masterpieces and I do feel ashamed but hey there is still a chance for Mr. Mann & I – I’ve got „Die Buddenbrooks“ waiting here, so maybe I can still celebrate conquering mount Mann at some stage in my life 😉

Even though I didn’t finish „The Magic Mountain“ I really enjoyed the wonderful exhibition that was at Literaturhaus at the time I was reading it and I’ve written about it here, if you wanna check it out:

https://bingereader.org/2016/04/19/der-zauberberg-thomas-mann/

Which literary mountain did you have to give up on and will you try again?

Day 4 – Quintessentially British

Wilkie Collins

 

“My hour for tea is half-past five, and my buttered toast waits for nobody.”

Day 4 and we are still on the classics, not sure what to do about that. „The Women in White“ is so quintessentially british and on top of that it was the book that hooked me into the Gothic Novel Genre that I’m still a huge fan of. The book was published in 1860 in serial form in Charles Dickens‘ magazine „All year round“ and in „Harper’s Weekly“ in the US and at it’s time caused as much furore as Netflix‘ series like Orange is the New Black, Stranger Things etc nowadays.

Serialized fiction was enormously popular in the Victorian era and most novels at the time first appeared as installments in weekly or monthly magazine. Charles Dickens wildy successful „The Pickwick Papers“ in 1836 is considered to have been the founding stone of the serialized format. During that time there was basically no real distinction between „quality“ and „commercial“ literature. The Sherlock Holmes stories also famously appeared first in serialization in „The Strand“ magazine.

But let’s go back to the famous „The Woman in White“. On the evening before his trip to Cumberland where the art teacher Walter Harthright plans to teach the half sisters Marian Halcombe and Laura Fairlie at Limmeridge House, he bumps into a scared women clothed completely in white on his way home to his lodgings in London around midgnight.

He accompanies her to the city centre and she leaves him there without telling him her name. But she does mention that she spent her childhood in Limmeridge House. After her disappearance he overhears a conversation that makes him assume she escaped from a lunatic asylum.

Hartright is still shaken from his encounter the evening before. He tells Marian Halcombe about his encounter and the try together to solve the mystery of the Woman in White. They identify her as a previous pupil of Marian’s and Laura’s mother.

Walter of course falls in love with the pretty Laura Fairly who seems to reciprocate his feelings, but the is already engaged with the shady Sir Percival Glyde. This is why the honorable Hartight reminds Laura of her obligations and leaves Limmeridge House to go on an expedition to Honduras without confessing his love to Laura.

 

Shortly before his departure Laura receives an anonomys letter which warns her to marry Sir Percival. It turns out the letter was written by the Woman in White who looks astonishingly similar to Laura. Walter meets the mysterious woman and she confesses to him that Percival Glyde has a terrible mystery that could destroy him, but she vanishes before she can let the secret out ….

There are more twists and turns to come and telling you everything would totally rotten the experience for you to read it. This is a book you will find yourself totally wrapped up in unable to stop without finishing one more chapter and another one and maybe just one more…

I recently listened to it as an Audiobook in a dramatized version and I loved it like the first time when I read it years ago, when I lived in London and was sitting on Hampstead Heath reading the book and having to escape to a nearby pub from a surprise thunderstorm – so fitting for this novel.

So I hope you will enjoy the novel, be it in London, in a pub on Hampstead Heath or just on your sofa at home.

You can get the book in German as „Die Frau in Weiß“ at dtv.

What would be your quintessentially British novel that you would recommend to read?

 

Day 3 – For chilly nights

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Day 3 and we have another classic. Carson McCuller’s „The heart is a lonely hunter“ was the choice for the bookclub in November and it was a very cold night when we discussed it but in general I feel exactly the heat that is constantly described in this city of the south can warm you during a chilly winter night.

Carson McCullers published the book in 1940, it tells the story of the mute John Singer in a small town in Georgia at the end of the 1930s. It starts with his somewhat at least one sided homoerotic relationship with his also deaf-mute buddy Spiros Antonapoulos until Spiros lands himself in an asylum. It continues with John Singers relationships with Mick Kelly, the owner of the local pub, the marxist Jake Blount, the black doctor Benedict Copeland and a little girl called

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It was completely beyond my comprehension how this could have been a first time novel let alone by somebody who was barely in her mid-twenties when she wrote the book. McCullers was never a very happy person in her life but wow she was a damn good writer.

“Next to music, beer was best.” 

She was probably not the most likeable character in real life but enormously talented with powerful observation skills. I was quite stunned to read about her prediction of what would later be known as the Selma Marches with Dr. Martin Luther King a whopping 25 years before the actually took place.

“Maybe when people longed for a thing that bad the longing made them trust in anything that might give it to them.”

And let me repeat myself: all this aged 23 – in a first novel. These are the moments when I asked myself, what the hell has gone wrong with my life 😉

1968 the book was made into a movie by Robert Ellis Miller and managed to get two Oscars for main and supporting actress:

The perfect book for a chilly winter night, so read it if you haven’t done so yet or re-read, there is no better time for it than now.

The book has been published in German as „Das Herz ist ein einsamer Jäger“ in Diogenes Verlag.

Which book would you recommend for chilly nights?

 

 

 

Book-a-Day x-mas Challenge

Never change a running system- it’s time for the x-mas challenge, so come here to open 24 doors and unveil some great books that you know you want to read 🙂

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1 – Iconic first line

So for today’s challenge I picked one of my all-time favorites, the good old „Rebecca“ by Daphne Du Maurier. A little while ago I found the Hitchcock DVD in a give-away-box and the movie is really good. It reminded me to go and hunt for the book on my shelves and yes there it was:

„Last Night I dream I went to Manderley again“

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„Rebecca“ by Daphne du Maurier was published in 1938 and was immediately a huge sucess- much to du Mauriers surprise. It was so successful that Alfred Hitchcock turned it into – in my opinion – one of his best movies.

I love a good Gothic Novel and Rebecca is in that sense as good as they come. The book is about a naive young woman who works as a companion for a rich woman, who meets the rich good looking and significantly older Maxim de Winter in Monte Carlo. He is a bit distanced in the beginning but when the old lady wants to return to New York with her companion he asks the young girl to marry her.

The return to his mansion „Manderley“ in Cornwall after their honeymoon where the protagonist meets the housekeeper Mrs Danvers. We actually never learn the name of the protagonist she is only ever referred to as Mrs de Winter or „the second Mrs de Winter“. The Housekeeper is quite creepy and fosters a pretty unhealthy obsession with the deceased first Mrs de Winter, Rebecca, who died a year ago during a sailing trip.

Our naive second Mrs de Winter tries everything to settle in Manderley but she feels increasingly disquiet and Mrs Danvers hostility and constant comparision between herself and Rebecca, the first Mrs de Winter makes her uncomfortable and she is afraid of the Housekeeper.

The climax occurs during the annual costume ball. Mrs de Winter decides to surprise her husband with a special costume she plans on designing herself. Mrs Danvers sneakily suggests to copy the dress shown on one of the protraits in the galery, not disclosing that this was the dress Rebecca had worn at the last costume ball. When she joins the ball everybody is appalled and Maxim asks her to get changed. His sister explains to her that she is wearing an exact copy of Rebeccas dress.

When she tries to confront the housekeeper Mrs Danver tries to make her jump out of the window. Only the information about a ship in distress rescues her in that instance and when Mrs de Winter arrives at the beach she learns that Rebeccas boat has been retrieved with a corpse on board …

Daphne du Mauriers novel pays tribute to Jane Eyre or the works of Shirley Jackson. It’s full of atmosphere and a perfect example of my beloved „Gothic Novel“ genre.

du Maurier’s denial of her bisexuality unveiled a „homophobic“ fear of her true nature and she seems to have put a lot of these fears into the character of Mrs Danver. Nevertheless this is the perfect read for a chilly snowy weekend. Make sure you bundle up with a blanket a hot beverage or maybe even better a whisky to calm down your nerves.

So, what is your favorite/iconic first line?