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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Julia, oder die Gemälde

Arno Schmidt

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To purchase Julia, oder die Gemälde

Title: Julia, oder die Gemälde
Author: Arno Schmidt
Genre: Novel
Written: (1983)
Length: 143 pages
Original in: German
Availability: Julia, oder die Gemälde - Deutschland
  • Scenen aus dem Novecento
  • Unfinished at the time of Schmidt's death, Julia, oder die Gemälde was first published in 1983
  • Includes facsimile of two pages (first and last) from the manuscript
  • Julia, oder die Gemälde has not been translated into English

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Our Assessment:

(--) : considerable promise as well as some cringe; very much incomplete

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung . 7/5/1983 Gert Ueding
Frankfurter Rundschau . 23/4/1983 Wolfram Schütte
Der Spiegel . 13/3/1983 Gunar Ortlepp
Süddeutsche Zeitung . 16/4/1983 Jörg Drews

  From the Reviews:
  • "Einmal noch hat er in diesen finalen »Scenen aus dem Novecento« (Untertitel) auf den riesigen gelben Seiten seine üppige Wörterwelt entfaltet, zweispaltig oft, mit komplementären Zitaten und abschweifenden Texten, auch schrulligem Bildwerk am Rand - Irrgärten der Typographie fürs Laien-Auge (.....) Zumeist aber, was sonst, wird Literatur herbeibeschworen, viel Exotisches und Gespenstisches diesmal, Berichte von Entdeckungsreisen und christlicher Mission, Horrorfabeln vor allem und die Märchen aus »Tausendundeiner Nacht« -- lauter phantastisches Garn, das trefflich hineinspinnt ins Gewebe von Spuk und Zauber, wie es Jhering schon beim ersten Besichtigungsgang durchs Schloß umstrickt." - Gunar Ortlepp, Der Spiegel

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:

       Julia, oder die Gemälde ('Julia, or the Paintings') was to be the fourth of Arno Schmidt's oversized 'typoscript'-novels but remained unfinished, the one-hundred-page fragment then first published in 1983, four years after the author's death. An outline from March, 1977, included in the appendix to this volume, suggests that Schmidt had planned the action in the novel to take place over the course of three days (with a final scene a decade on), presented in eighteen chapters (scenes), but Schmidt only got as far as early into the second day in the actual text.
       (Somewhat confusingly, the outline has the seven chapters of the first day as 'scenes' ('Scene' and 'Szene'), while the chapters from days two and three are each referred to as a 'Bild' ('picture'); in the actual text, there are numbered Scenenfolgen ('scene sequences'), within which there are numbered Bilder. The first Scenenfolge, for example, includes Bilder 1 through 3; the first day has a total of eight Scenenfolgen (one more than in the outline) and seventeen numbered Bilder -- whereby, for example Bild 8 straddles both the ii. Scenenfolge and the iii. Scenenfolge. Note also that some Bilder include several different scenes and locales -- i.e. are not, strictly speaking, simple 'pictures' (e.g. Bild 13, which, in its subsections a) through e) moves from one room and character to the next). In its unfinished form, the book reaches Bild 24.)
       As is typical for Schmidt's typoscript-novels, Julia, oder die Gemälde brings together a small diverse and multi-generational cast of characters in a somewhat out-of-the way locale. Here we find six guests vacationing at the Fürstenhof -- not least Leonhard Jhering, clearly a Schmidt stand-in, with the cast of characters-listing at the beginning of the novel noting that the name is likely pseudonymous, and the character the same age as Schmidt (65 when the novel is set, in the summer of 1979) and described as an author (Schriftsteller). Other significant figures include the local Schloss- (palace-) inhabitants -- in particular the Julia of the title. She is, in fact, found in several paintings on the walls of the palace -- including in Jan Mytens' (also: Mijtens') The Four Sisters of the House of Orange-Nassau, out of which she steps, into the action (or at least Jhering's action -- she remains a mostly ethereal figure, though very taken by Jhering). In the character-list she is still presented very much as child -- "zuerst 10 ?" ('at first ten ?', Schmidt suggests), though in his notes for the novel -- see Susanne Fischer on Arno Schmidts Zettelkasten zu Julia, oder die Gemälde, »Julia, laß das!« -- there is a second draft of the character-list that describes her as: "ca. 13 (bzw. 200)" ('around 13 (or rather, 200)'); there she is also described as a: "lustig + verliebtes Gespenst/lein" ('fun and in love little ghost'), emphasizing her other-worldly nature (i.e. that's she's not really real), though in the published text she is merely a "lustiger Backfisch" ('fun lass').
       There is also another preternatural teen (who Schmidt allows is a good fifteen, at least ...) -- called '1001' (yes, in very clear Arabian Nights-allusion -- as also then one chapter (Bild 23) includes a typically Schmidtian debate, complete with a text-comparison of translations of One Thousand and One Nights, versions by Enno Littmann, Richard Burton, and '1001 and her student' (with Edward Lane dismissed as 'way over-rated', his approach described (in English) as: "letter=wise and sense=foolish")). (Among the novel's inside-jokes is also 1001 suggesting about Eugène Sue's massive Les mystères du peuple: "das müßte 2001 mal druck'n" ('that's something that [publisher] Zweitausendeins should print'), as Zweitausendeins ('2001') were well-known for publishing many of the long and forgotten novels that Schmidt championed (as well as a successful paperback edition of his own (also massive) study of Fouqué und einige seiner Zeitgenossen.)
       As noted, the action is set in the summer of 1979-- with the promise of a 'finale then in late-fall 1990 (weather permitting)' which Schmidt was not able to keep (or get to). The cast of characters-list also includes groupings of other characters, not all of which Schmidt was able to include either; quite a few schoolgirls do scurry about, but the promised pirates don't get their full turn (though a boat expedition is prepared, suggesting at least where they would come into play); there's also a sect (as in cult) -- one of many subjects in the air at the time, as Schmidt did include some timely references, such as to the Jonestown massacre of November 1978 (and "Jene Guayana=Sekte").
       Much of the novel is presented in dialogue -- and that, as is also typical for these late works by Schmidt, often in multilayered form: the narrative is often presented in two columns on the large pages, parallel texts that allow for, for example, simultaneous conversations as well as other forms of layering. At times the text expands even more -- a third column, or a piece of text placed near the margins presenting a supporting quote or information. There are also a small number of illustrations or cut-outs included along the way, including one -full-page mathematical table and, amusingly, a newspaper-clipping of the TV-listings for the East German television programs of October 8, 1977, with the evening film highlighted: Rainer Bär's Die Julia von nebenan ('Julia from next door') -- a film that also features in the background in the final scene of the unfinished novel, apparently playing on the radio. There's also a small picture of a Commodore 1540 Advanced Scientific Calculator, as Schmidt also devotes at least part of the story to one of his longtime preöccupations: among the guests is the Kühne family -- father Karl, mother Hedwig, and nineteen-year-old son Nino -- and Nino spends much of his time fiddling with the calculator and going over logarithms.
       Much of the discussion features and refers to literature, with many familiar Schmidt-favorites -- Burton, Bulwer-Lytton ("Dessen Gesamtleistung weit höher anzuschlagen ist, als man (selbst in England) gemeinhin tut" ('Whose overall achievement should be rated much higher than it generally (even in England) is')), James Fenimore Cooper, Karl May -- getting attention. There are also some that he had not previously occupied himself with as much, with H.P.Lovecraft, in particular, standing out, with considerable mention and discussion of him and his work -- Schmidt clearly also drawn to some of Lovecraft's crude bluntness, a crotchety conservatism that Schmidt often displayed becoming more (and more unpleasantly) prominent here, both sexist and racist.
       Schmidt continuously makes connections, too -- for all the seemingly random tangents and titbits, he is always weaving a large, intricate web --, from observations such as: "HAGGARD's ›favourite author‹ war übrigens BULWER=LYTTON" ('[H. Rider] Haggard's favorite author was, by the way, Bulwer-Lytton') to Jhering having translated two of Bulwer-Lytton's fat novels (as Schmidt, in fact, had). The critical commentary on writers is, as usual often very sharp and cutting -- not least in the humorous one which includes an actual author-name-drop (where Jhering wouldn't suffice):

STIFTER's ›Nachsommer‹ liest sich, zumal im Dialog der ›Gestalten‹, so steiff, als sei das Buch von einem schlechten Übersetzer, um 1850, nach einem nicht guten Original übertragen [...]. (Tja, man müßte ihn tatsächlich übersetzen. Stell’n Sie sich ma vor: ›STIFTER, ›Nachsommer‹, Deutsch von Arno Schmidt‹ – capitaler Einfall; ich lach’ jetz schon!)

[[Adalbert] Stifter's Indian Summer reads, certainly in the dialogues of the 'figures', so stiffly as if the book had been translated by a bad translator, around 1850, from a not very good original [...]. (Well, one would actually have to translate it. Just imagine: 'Stifter, Indian Summer, German by Arno Schmidt' -- a capital idea; I'm laughing already !)]
       Passion -- notably Julia's for Jhering -- and sex seem even more of an obsession than in earlier Schmidt texts -- all summed up perhaps best, along with some of Schmidt's other foci, in his adaptation of a quote from another favorite, the wonderful Thomas Love Peacock, the original, from Crotchet Castle reading:
But where the Greeks had modesty, we have cant; where they had poetry, we have cant; where they had patriotism, we have cant; where they had anything that exalts, delights, or adorns humanity, we have nothing but cant, cant, cant.
       Schmidt's side-bar has the quote essentially in full, substituting 'the ancients' for the Greeks -- and a 'u' for every 'a' in the cants .....
       Like Peacock's Crotchet, Schmidt embraces the classic and is leery of the contemporary-modern -- society and technology, in particular, hence also the suspicion of the electronic calculator. As he has his stand-in Jhering admit: "Ich hänge an der Kultur alten Stils. [...] Ich will die ›Technik‹ und die Maschinen=›Kultur‹ nicht" ('I'm attached to old-style culture. [...] I don't want the 'culture' of technology and machines').
       In its half-finished state, Julia, oder die Gemälde remains somewhat shapeless. The outline suggests the third day would have found the characters shipwrecked, after a fashion -- cut off from the mainland, the community briefly even more self-contained (a not uncommon situation in Schmidt's fiction). Appropriately, too, then Jhering was to disappear near the end; the finale, set a decade later, finds him again -- now, like Julia, in a painting, a nice final image and fate to round off an author's final work. (Schmidt didn't get that far, of course, but it is nice to find that hint of him in the final scene of the fragment, where Jhering: "liest ein riesiges Buch – (?) – ›Abend mit ... ‹? (kann's nich lesen; hand-geschrieben)" ('reads a gigantic book -- (?) -- Evening with ... ? (can't make it out; hand-written)') -- referring, of course, to Schmidt's previous novel, Evening Edged in Gold.
       There are enough of Schmidt's typical literary debates and allusions, as well as the connections he makes and commentary he offers, to please the dedicated Schmidt-enthusiast, with several of the chapters, focused more or less on a single topic (to the extent that Schmidt can ever stay on-topic), that even read well as stand-alones. The love-story between Julia and Jhering is, like most of the story, only partially developed -- and her youth (even as she is timeless) is, of course, problematic -- though less so than the other schoolgirls flitting about, as well as the much more mature (even as still underage) 1001. There's also the embrace of Lovecraft that, in its enthusiasm for much of his less palatable side, sits uncomfortably. Schmidt liked to be provocative and had no problem being 'poltically incorrect', but here arguably goes too far in a very ugly direction; it certainly leaves a sour aftertaste.
       If many of the pieces are worthwhile, Julia, oder die Gemälde, in its unfinished form, can't satisfy as a work of fiction; it doesn't get anywhere near far enough. While certainly still of interest to any Schmidt fan -- and offering a fair share of the usual rewards, clever bits and ways of presenting a story -- it also exposes more of Schmidt's uglier side, complicating the reading-experience. There's much here to appreciate, but perhaps a little less to like than in most of his work.

- M.A.Orthofer, 27 June 2023

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Julia, oder die Gemälde: Reviews: Arno Schmidt: Other books by Arno Schmidt under review: Books about Arno Schmidt under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of German literature at the complete review

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About the Author:

       German author Arno Schmidt lived 1914-1979. In addition to his ground-breaking fiction, he wrote extensively on literature and authors and worked as a translator.

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© 2023 the complete review

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