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

Monday, November 27, 2017

“Ernst in Civilian Clothes” - A Short Story by Mavis Gallant - 1963

Works I Have So Far Read for German Literature Month, November, 2017

  1. “You’d Have Larvae Too” by Nora Wagener, 2016
  2. Vertigo by W. G. Sebald, 1990
  3. The Last Weynfeldt by Martin Suter, 2006
  4. “An Earthquake in Chile” by Heinrich Von Kleist, 1809
  5. Who is Martha? by Marjana Gaponenko, 2012
  6. “The Legal Haziness of Marriage” by Olga Grjasnowa, 2015
  7. “Aladdin, COB” by Isabelle Lehn, 2015
  8. “The Last Bell” by Johannes Urzidil, 1968
  9. The Rings of Saturn by W. G. Sebald, 1995
  10. Late Fame by Arthur Schnitzler, written 1892, published 2016
  11. Blood Brothers by Ernst Haffner, 1933
  12. Berlin Alexanderplatz by Alfred Döblin, 1929
  13. Confessions of a Murderer by Joseph Roth, 1936
  14.   “Compulsion” by Stefan Zweig,  1929
  15. “Borderlands”by Johannes Urzidil, 1956 (no post)
  16. “A School Boy’s Diary” by Robert Walser, 1910 (no post
  17. Austerlitz by W. G. Sebald, 2001, Second Reading 
  18. “The Duchess of Albanera” by Johannes Urzidil, 1965
  19. Gigli by Irmgard Keun, 1931
  20. Gay Berlin -Birth of a Modern Identity by Robert Beachy, 2014 *
  21. “Ernst in Civilian Clothes” by Mavis Gallant, 1963 *
  22. “Germans at Meat” by Katherine Mansfield, 1908 *

Items with an * are my English language supplements to German Literature Month

I have been largely focusing on German Language Literature this month.  I have decided to supplement that by looking at a few works by favourite authors of mine that deal with Germany.  In “Germans at Meat” by Katherine Mansfield we sit in on conversations between a young English woman staying at a German guest house and the Germans there and we get a glimpse into how they saw each other.  

Today’s short story “Ernst in Civilian Clothes” focuses on two former German soldiers, members of the Hitler youth until they were old enough to join the army.  Ernst as a young man seems to have been placed in the Hitler Youth by his mother and step-father, who was in the SS, largely for the free uniforms and meals.  In a deeply ironic for the depths of ignorance behind it his friend Willie says of the Hitler Youth, ““What was wrong with the Hitler Youth? What was wrong with being told about Goethe Rilke Wagner Schiller Beethoven?”  The work of Rilke and Schiller were burned by the Nazis but this seems lost on Willie.  Willie and Ernst were taken as prisoners of war by the Americans in April of 1945, they met in the camp.  It is now 1963, they are in Paris where the Americans released them after the war, eighteen years ago.

Willie makes a living by translating, guiding Germans around Paris and playing SS officers in French movies.  Ernst doesn’t really work, he lives with and upon Willie.  He did fight for France in Vietnam as part of The French Foreign Legion, being on the losing side in two wars half forgotten now that nearly twenty years have passed.   Ernst has vague ideas about a pension due him but makes no real effort to file.  His fighting for the legion gives him the right to stay in France, other ex-legionaries have made a life for themselves but Ernst has not really adjusted to his Civilian status.  

Willie and Ernst were taken prisoners of war by the Americans in April 1945 and shipped to France where they stayed upon release after the war.  Ernst has no sense of identity that does not come from a uniform.  He talks fondly of his days as a “werewolf”, a Nazi elite boys group.  

This is a very beautifully done story.  We gradually learn in just ten pages what it felt like to be a former German soldier living in Paris, not really fitting in there and having no home left in Germany.  

There is bio data on Gallant in my prior posts upon her stories.

Buried in Print, see link above, is doing a read through of all two hundred or so of Gallant’s story, a great project.  I am following along.  

Mel u



Buried In Print said...

This idea of being pulled between two places/two times/two identites: it seems quintessential Gallant. Thanks for linking to the project, Mel. This story appears for me in "The Pegnitz Junction", which is one of the collections I've never read, but I'm looking forward to it!

Mel u said...

Buried in Print. I agree, this is very much a Gallant Story, huge amount of life in ten pages, so much unsaid, left to the reader