Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Saturday, November 5, 2011

German Literature Month--Plus a Wonderful Short Story by Friedrich Gerstacker

"Germelshausen" by Friedrich Gerstacker (1845, 19 pages)

Where the plot of Brigadoon originated!

When I saw that and Lizzy's Literary Life was having a November event  devoted to reading and posting on German literature I knew I wanted to participate.   In September I read and loved The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann.   I have an e-book of his Death in Venice and seven of his short stories so I knew I could happily read more of his work.    

Yesterday I read "Germelshausen" by Friedrich Gerstacker (1816 to 1872-Hamburg, Germany).  It is  a very interesting fun to read short story from which the plot  of Brigadoon was lifted.

Gerstacker is a minor literary figure, dwarfed by the giants of German literature.   In my quick research, I found no other book blog posts on him.   He was the son of two opera singers and he and his family traveled all over Germany and nearby countries as his parents found work.  A very adventurous young man, at a twenty one he left for America and for six years traveled all over the then frontier regions making his living from what ever work he could find.   He spent a lot of time as hunter in Arkansas.   When he return to Germany he began to publish stories about his travels in America.  From the success of this he was able to become a full time writer.  He ended up producing forty volumes.  (There is a good background article on him here.)

As I was reading "Germelshausen" I kept thinking "this plot sure sounds familiar".   It is very much a story in the romantic tradition.   As it opens a traveling painter of portraits meets a beautiful young woman.  At first she says she is waiting for a man.   Some conversation ensues and the woman invites the painter back to parents house for dinner.  (For sure this is a man's fantasy story!)    The father really likes him and he and the woman really hit it off so compressing the family invites him to stay permanently.   He agrees but says he needs to leave and return tomorrow.   The next day he attempts to go back to the village of "Germelshausen" but it is totally gone.   At first he figures he is just lost so he asks an older man who has lived there all life for directions to the village.   The older man is shocked.   It turns out the village only appears every 100 years.    The rest of the time it is in some sort of nether world.  The producers of the musical and then movie Brigadoon took this plot and just changed the location to Scotland.   

You can read the story in English here.   The story I read was translated by George Harrap.

This is a fun story.    Modern readers may find the central male character a bit chauvinistic in his treatment of the woman but this is a male fantasy story for sure.  

I am glad I read this story and I think most readers will enjoy it.   If you read it and think "Oh this plot is so obvious" it is just because the author produced a work that has slipped almost unnoticed into the popular consciousness.   

Mel u


@parridhlantern said...

this is a fun sounding tale from an author I was totally unaware of.

Caroline said...

Thanks for mentioning our event and the post.
I think I have read it years ago in a short story collection. Interesting. This shows clearly that it is worth digging for lesser known authors.
I'd love to read it again.

Mel u said...

Parrish Lantern-it is a fun story-thanks as always for your comment

Caroline-thanks for hosting German Literature Month and for your comment and visit