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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Castle Gripsholm

Kurt Tucholsky

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To purchase Castle Gripsholm

Title: Castle Gripsholm
Author: Kurt Tucholsky
Genre: Novel
Written: 1931 (Eng. 1985)
Length: 127 pages
Original in: German
Availability: Castle Gripsholm - US
Castle Gripsholm - UK
Castle Gripsholm - Canada
Un été en Suède - France
Schloß Gripsholm - Deutschland
Il castello di Gripsholm - Italia
El castillo de Gripsholm - España
  • German title: Schloß Gripsholm
  • Translated and with an Introduction by Michael Hofmann
  • Schloß Gripsholm has been filmed twice, as The Gripsholm Castle (1963), directed by Kurt Hoffmann, and Gripsholm (2000), directed by Xavier Koller

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Our Assessment:

B : sharp and melancholy summer-tale

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Daily Telegraph A 3/1/1986 Martyn Goff
The NY Times Book Rev. . C. da Fonseca-Wollheim 14/7/2019
TLS . 13/12/1985 D.J.Enright

  From the Reviews:
  • "One of the extraordinary features of this book is its modernity. Without its printing history at the front, it would be easy to believe that it had been written recently. (...) Like all important creative works, this novel operates at various levels. But even taking the story as it stands, it has a deftness of touch that earns the epithet a little gem with no fear of hyperbole." - Martyn Goff, Daily Telegraph

  • "Not much happens in Castle Gripsholm, which New York Review Books has just reissued in a sympathetic translation by Michael Hofmann, though there is enough witty banter, fresh air and sex to propel the story along. The lingering power of this deceptively slight novel comes from the shiver of foreboding that courses through it." - Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Michael Hofmann was wise not to look for some "corresponding" but hardly comparable English dialect to represent the Pricness's Plattdeutsch (...) Perhaps also symbolic, yearningly so, is the gently ecstatic depiction of a loving threesome, an achievement even rarer in literature than in life. (...) A pathetic sense of wishfulness, bereft of much hope, pervades the book." - D.J.Enright, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Castle Gripsholm begins with a back and forth of correspondence between author Tucholsky and his publisher, Ernst Rowohlt -- the publisher looking to shake up his list a bit after so many political books and hoping for: "A short love story". Tucholsky has his doubts:

     A love story, ... but, my dear master, how could I possibly ? Love in the present climate ? Are you in love ? Is anyone in love these days ?
     I'd rather write a little summer story.
       After some more back and forth -- complaints about money and royalties -- Tucholsky begins his summer story proper, narrated -- for the most part -- by stand-in Peter ("Among other things, we had settled on the name Peter -- God only know why"), who recounts his summer vacation trip to Sweden with 'the Princess', his girlfriend, free-spirited Lydia. They traveled to lakeside Castle Gripsholm, and found rooms to let in the castle-annexe and settled in there for a few weeks.
       They have casual summer fun -- bathing, giving tourists a scare in the castle, watching the Northern Lights. First one friend, Karlchen, comes and joins them for a while, then another, Billie -- whereby: "Billie wasn't a man, but a young woman by the name of Sibylle". There are petty jealousies -- including Peter's concern about the Princess' employer -- but for the most part the characters can and do live for the moment, immersing themselves in enjoying the fleeting summer weeks, without too great a concern of what might come after of their loose relationship(s).
       They also run into a troop of girls from Läggesta, a local children's home run by the cruel and tyrannical Frau Adriani. It's specifically desperate and sad nine-year-old Ada Collin whose life in this awful place: "consisted of nothing but fear" that catches their eyes. Peter and the Princess (and Karlchen) encounter the girl again as she bolts the institution, hoping to flee, and though they are unable to save her at this first go -- Frau Adriani has soon caught up with her -- they can't help but get involved and try to assist the poor inmate. Contacting her mother, they eventually secure her release and take her away with them when they return to the mainland.
       All in all, it's a rather wistful, melancholy novel, despite all the joys of the moments: they have fun, and a positive outlook, and, where necessary -- as in rescuing the sad young girl from her terrible fate --, a determined and effective sense of purpose, but it still feels like a cloud hovers all too obviously near, summer's end -- and with it the end of all this -- always looming.
       It is indeed a summer- rather than love-story; Peter and the Princess are a happy couple, but their commitment remains loose and free -- with Billie's presence adding considerable frisson to the mix -- and of an uncertain future. The Princess calls Peter 'Poppa' ('Daddy' in the original German), and there's something of that generational divide and different kind of relationship to theirs.
       The book closes with a series of toasts, to their holidays and each other and those who figured in their story, and finally with the Princess taking up the words and voice of Thirty Years' War figure Martje Flor:
     'Here's to long life and happiness !' she said.
       It's appropriate for her to channel such a distant, historical figure -- with similar strength and independence as Peter sees in the Princess, but obviously other, as also demonstrated by the (more obvious in the original ...) Platt- (rather than High German) speech she falls back onto, in which the quote also isn't quite as spirited: "Up dat et uns wohl ga up unse olen Dage — !" (along the lines of: 'Here's to us doing well in our old days'). For all their fun times and small adventures together, Peter and the Princess remain at some remove, with her a character that appeals to him and that he can admire, and a partner, sexual and otherwise, but not a truly romantic love-interest.
       Language features prominently in Castle Gripsholm, beginning with the Princess' 'Platt German', the dialect she likes to fall back on -- "a mixture of everything: rough and tender, funny and sincere, clear, sober and, above all, it can be beautifully drunk". Translator Hofmann doesn't render Lydia's Platt-speech -- which she frequently reverts to (fortunately: "but not all the time ! That would have been intolerable") --, explaining in his Introduction:
It seems to me that Tucholsky's Platt is so integral to the book, so firmly and repeatedly and deliberately described and celebrate that to search for a 'corresponding' dialect in English (the constantly referred to as 'Platt') would be mistaken.
       Focusing instead on meaning, and catching the Princess: "by the spirit, pace, and tone of her speech, its qualities of parody and irreverence" instead does work quite adequately -- yet there's no question that a layer of the text is lost in such a rendering. As Tucholsky tries to convey, as she banters and argues with Karlchen, who speaks a similar lower German dialect:
they both understood what lower German was about. Unfortunately, the German language hasn't taken up its style: how much more expressive it is, more colourful, simpler and clearer -- the best love-poetry in German has been written in it.
       Tellingly, however, Peter doesn't try his hand at it, beyond reproducing snatches of the Princess' speech ..... If there are hints of the love-poetry in her bursts of Platt, their exchanges -- like everything about their relationship -- remains more prosaic.
       Platt isn't the only shift away from linguistic norms that Tucholsky notes. Castle lady Frau Anderson speaks good German, but errors creep into her speech -- with Hofmann forced to ignore the nicest of her slips, when she points to the institution behind Läggesta:
»Was ist denn das da hinten?« fragte ich. »Das ist eine Irrtums-Anstalt«, sagte Frau Andersson. »So – und die Irren haben es besser als diese Kinder da?« – »Ja«, sagte Frau Andersson.
       Hofmann translates this as:
     'What is that building ?' I asked.
     'That is a mental asylum,' said Frau Andersson.
     'And so the mental patients are better off than those children ?'
     'Yes,' said Frau Andersson.
       Frau Andersson does indeed mean 'mental asylum', but instead of using the proper German word ('Irrenanstalt') muddles it and calls it an 'Irrtums-Anstalt' -- literally, a 'mistake-institution'; this is just one of the forms of wordplay that Tucholsky is fond of and that, as often as not, can't be captured in the English.
       There's an interpreter, too, who helps Peter and the Princess when they arrive:
He could speak Spanish and very good English, as well as German. Or rather: I listened once, I listened twice ... he must have learned German in America, because he had the brightest, loveliest and funniest American accent. He spoke German like a circus clown, but he was what Berliners call 'proper'.
       The emphasis on language and sound is also explained by the fact that Peter admits:
There are visual types and aural types; I can only hear. A variation of an eighth of a tone in a conversation will still be with me four years later, but a painting is just something colourful.
       The sound-effect even carries over to the rare (after the opening letters) directly political allusion, an amusingly abrupt cutting aside by Peter, upon overhearing an Austrian, that Hofmann translates as:
and I heard him mutter, 'Sound fellow – rather mediocre ...' I'm not in favour of the Anschluss.
       In Tucholsky's original, the point -- and antipathy -- is much more obviously tied to speech and sound, the Austrian dialect (and attitude) right at the fore, the pronunciation of the words and everything behind them what riles Peter:
Und dann hörte ich ihn murmeln: »Ein g'schäiter Buuursch (mit drei langen u) – aber etwas medioker . . . « Ich bin gegen den Anschluß.

[And then I heard him mutter: 'A clever laaaad (with three long a's) but somewhat mediocre ...'. I'm against the Anschluss.]
       Much of the feel and fun of the novel is found in these varieties of language play, and while Hofmann's translation doesn't feel like a dulled version -- the characters and action remain near as lively as Tucholsky has them --, it is a significant lost added dimension to the story.
       A sharply observed but deeply melancholy tale, Castle Gripsholm is an odd little summer story, full of odds and ends that make for a vivid, atmospheric tale, though without the satisfactions of much (and, in some cases, sufficient) deeper probing of the characters and situations.

- M.A.Orthofer, 12 May 2019

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About the Author:

       German author Kurt Tucholsky lived 1890 to 1935.

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© 2019-2021 the complete review

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