Last week, a friend of mine emailed me and said if I did an article on little-known European authors, he would give it a bump on the Red Lemon Twitter feed. Drive some traffic my way, spread the word about writers most people have never heard of. I thought this was the definition of a win-win. Because, if it’s one thing I know, it’s European Modernist writers.
When I went back to College of Charleston, I took Ancient Greek because that was the start of the Western Literary Tradition. Slowly over the years, I have been reading my way from that time to ours. Not everything, of course, there is never enough time for all the books (that will be my epitaph). When I got to the modernists, I got stuck. Yes, given my degree in English Literature, I am very familiar with the British and American writers of the time. But then I went across the channel.
What I have found has consumed my time for the last five years. Italy, Germany, France, Norway, Czechoslovakia, Spain, Austria, Russia, dozens and dozens of writers spanning decades inventing, adopting, discarding different styles of writing. A true feast of the literary arts.
So when B. said ‘give me the ten best,’ I thought. This is going to be a snap! That’s what I get for thinking. Two days later, I started looking through my books. I have a whole shelf of literary criticism that covers the Modernists (in my book the Modernist Period runs between 1885-1940(-45) [all depending on the writer and where they were writing]). Another two shelves were filled with novels from that time, this didn’t count the three boxes of books still unpacked. So I started thinking about which ones I would include.
There were some I could exclude right away: Proust, Kafka, Hesse, Mann, these guys are the heavy hitters, they don’t need more publicity. But how was I to narrow down the others. I decided immediately, not able to decide, that this article would need a part two and three. Given that, then I could just pick at random for the first ten, some of the more important ones, but also the little gems that few people know of.
Then tonight I sat down to start writing the article. That’s where I hit the wall. The average blog post is under a couple of hundred words, easily consumed. I would not, dear reader, imagine to impugn your attention span, but this is almost 400 words now. So how am I to write about these men and women who are the very best in Europe writing at what was certainly the high water mark of fiction? A select bibliography? A short synopsis of their life and work? Critics thoughts about their work? My own reactions to certain works? The ideas of how to address the problem kept piling up in my head and I saw this endless page upon which I type rolling on and on into the infinite. I could work on these ten authors and never finish.
These writers have created oceans of language and ideas both broad and deep that I have immersed myself in for years, spawning my own notions in reaction to theirs. They have honed my reading skills to a razor’s edge and have taught me the difference between writing and art. Their characters are just as real to me as the people I see walking down the sidewalk: their quirks and psychology, the way they respond to lassitude and adversity. From the fin de siecle to the inter-war period, symbolism to surrealism, stream of consciousness to the heights of decadence. How can I sum this up in fifteen words per author?
I can’t. That is what this post is really about. And after I figure out how to distill the elixir of an author and their works into fifteen words, I will then have to expand each one, their lives and their books and their ideas and their influences, give them their due in separate posts. You see? It’s not really so hard. From one impossible post to the potential for hundreds of posts. Simple.