Tuesday, August 12, 2014

A Translation of Thomas Bernhard's Correspondence with his Publisher, Siegfried Unseld. Part II: 1964.

Letter No. 2

[Address: Vienna1]

Frankfurt am Main
October 7, 1964

Dear Mr. Bernhard,

Dr. Botond has briefed me on her conversation with you. I hope very much that after this conversation you were reassured on that one specific point and that you are lending no credence to any of the rumors that are circulating but rather placing a modicum of  trust in what we intend to undertake in a new and, I hope, intensive fashion at our firm. It is most important to me to set out on this new path in concert with you. 2

Dr. Botond also informed me that you would be sojourning for a substantial interval in Yugoslavia.3  I propose that we should meet as soon as you return; I presume that this will be possible in November or December.

I wish you a pleasant sojourn and have high hopes for our conversation.

Siegfried Unseld

1. Unless otherwise noted, Unseld’s letters to Bernhard from before 1969 were written on Insel Editions stationery.  In handling letters that survive only as carbon copies (which are indicated by the placement of Unseld’s signature within square brackets [as, for example, in the yet-to-be-translated Letter No. 25 of this edition (DR)]), the editors have inferred the provenance of the stationery from the strict separation of the business affairs of Insel from those of Suhrkamp.  [The translator hopes that the liberties he has taken with the wording of this footnote have enabled him both to capture the hyper-pedantic tone of its original and to spare the reader some of the trauma occasioned by the pedantry itself.  (DR).]

2. Effective January 1, 1963, Unseld, Balthasar Reinhart, and Peter Reinhart (the three owners of Suhrkamp Editions), together with Rudolph Hirsch, acquired Insel editions from Jutta von Hesler, the daughter of the firm’s founder, Anton Kippenberg.  Hirsch and Unseld became joint chief executives of the firm.  This change of ownership was of interest to Bernhard because his fifth book and first novel, Frost, had been published by Insel, and his Amras was scheduled to be published by the firm in the autumn of 1964.  Upon Hirsch’s 1964 withdrawal from Insel both as an editor and as a part-owner, his reader, Anneliese Botond, wrote to Bernhard on August 13 of that year from her home address in Frankfurt: “On the one hand I am sworn to secrecy; on the other hand, I wouldn’t want you to hear about this from anybody else, and in any case it is important for you to know what is going on at the offices of your publisher.  The news is this: Hirsch is leaving the firm.  It is impossible for me to explain to you here how this came about; the story is labyrinthine and complicated and basically quite simple.  Plenty of people saw the breach between Unseld and Hirsch coming: now it has happened.  I don’t wish to tell you about the suppositions, hypotheses, and speculations that came in the immediate wake of this event either.  At the moment one thing is certain: Hirsch will remain at his post through the end of the year, and the firm will survive—i.e., it won’t be swallowed up by Suhrkamp, as we feared at the very beginning. […]  My advice is this: don’t try to do anything, and don’t get worried.  Amras will be coming out in September […] as if nothing had happened.  What matters most is that we’ll be able to talk things over in peace at the book fair—in five weeks.”  Amras was delivered to the bookstores on September 24, 1964.  In connection with its publication, Bernhard was in Frankfurt during the city’s book fair (September 17-22).

3. Thomas Bernhard stayed in Lovran with Hedwig Stavianicek from October 12 to 28, 1964.

Letter No. 3

Lovran, Yugoslavia
[Villa] Belvedere
October 16, 1964

Dear Mr. Unseld,

I don’t believe any rumors and I’m not signing anything and at the moment I personally don’t see any reason for spontaneously jilting Insel Editions.1

It’s only the Frankfurt climate that has prevented a discussion between you and
me from taking place.

It turns out I shan’t be coming to Frankfurt for some time yet.

Sincere thanks for your lines from

Your loyal
Thomas Bernhard

1In the same vein Bernhard wrote on November 24, 1964 to Rudolph Hirsch: “It has been some time since I last worked on the novel [Verstörung (Gargoyles)], which is progressing very slowly.  How long this work on the book will take I cannot say, nor could I care less.  Until this book is ready or in such a state that I believe it has to be finished, I shan’t be trying to do anything publisher-wise.  I’m letting everything stay as it is.  […] It’s too bad you’re now so far away from me again when I was so happy being under the same roof as you.  But my luck with everyone always takes this sort of nasty turn.  It’s fortunate that Ms. Botond will be staying with the house.  There would of course be absolutely no point, apart from that of making me unnecessarily more pointlessly tense, in my jumping ship from Insel; in any case, it would be a jump into ice-cold water.”  He was at least initially planning such a change, for on September 29, 1964, Janko von Musulin, the chief executive of Fischer Editions sent him the rough draft of a contract (in which “everything is accurately set forth as promised to you”), which provided for the publication of a novel in 1965 as well as of all further prose works written within two years of the finalization of the contract.  Bernhard did not endorse the draft.

Letter No. 4

[Address: St. Veit im Pongau1]

Frankfurt am Main
December 11, 1964

Dear Mr. Bernhard,

I have just heard that you are receiving the Bremen Literary Prize.  For this I would like to give you my warm congratulations—you deserve this prize along with the public recognition associated with it.2   Our firm will endeavor to take adequate advantage of this.

From Mrs. Botond I have learned that you are back from Yugoslavia.  What kind of travel plans do you have?  It seems to me a good idea for us to make things clear to each other in a peaceful setting sometime.  It is most important to me to have your works in the catalogue of Insel Editions, and I am even ready and willing to give proof of our interest by issuing you a lump payment deductible from the forthcoming royalties from the new book, or even a monthly stipend.  Ideally we will come to an understanding about this viva voce, but I wanted to communicate to you my readiness for such an agreement right away.

I assume you will be traveling to Bremen for the award ceremony.  I myself already have an un-postponable appointment in Paris scheduled for January 28 and 29.  But if your trip to Bremen is to take place during that interval we could meet and talk before or after it.

Once again: warm congratulations!
Siegfried Unseld

  1. In the fifties and sixties, Bernhard and Hedwig Stavianicek often stayed at the Donauerhof, a boardinghouse in St. Veit im Pongau—the town in the Salzburg district where Bernhard resided for several months between 1949 and 1951 (from July 27, 1949 to February 26, 1950, as well as from July 13, 1950 to January 11, 1951) as a patient at the Grafenhof Lung Institute.

  1. The 10,000-deutschmark Rudolf-Alexander-Schröder-Foundation Prize / Literary Prize of the Free and Hanseatic City of Bremen  (first awarded in 1954) for the year 1965 was awarded to Bernhard for Frost.

  1. In a handwritten note Anneliese Botond, writing on the same day to the same St. Veit address, reported to Bernhard: “Dear Mr. Bernhard, Unseld had come to the office especially to talk to us about you […] after barely five minutes the news about the prize came!  Could it have come at a better time?  […]  One might almost think that Unseld made you an offer on account of the prize.  But it’s really got nothing to do with it.  It’s a pure coincidence.”  

Annaliese Botond at her desk
and on the bank of the Seine in Paris in 1954

Translation unauthorized but Copyright ©2014 by Douglas Robertson

Source: Thomas Bernhard.  Siegfried Unseld.  Der Briefwechsel, Herausgegeben von Raimund Fellinger, Martin Huber und Julia Ketterer.  [Thomas Bernhard.  Siegfried Unseld.  The Correspondence, edited by ….] (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 2011), pp. 11-15.