Monday, September 08, 2014

A Translation of Thomas Bernhard's Correspondence with his Publisher, Siegfried Unseld. Part III: 1965.

Letter No.  5


Dear Mr. Unseld,

I am looking forward to meeting you on my way back from Bremen and I am wishing myself a detailed discussion and an undisturbed conversation about my future at your firm, which I have no notion of leaving.1

Dr. Botond has surely already told you that I have taken up residence in and from the beginning of February will actually be living in the belly of an Upper-Austrian colossus from which I have no desire to emerge ever again, but which has still not been paid for.2  For all that, I am in the best of all possible moods and so I am setting off on my trip, from which I would like to return in an even better mood.

I shall be in Frankfurt from the night of the 28th and therefore available from the morning of the 29th.3

Yours very respectfully and sincerely,
Thomas Bernhard

1. The awarding of the Bremen Literary Prize took place on Thursday, January 26, 1965.  The presenter of the award, Gerd Kadelbach, comments: “The painter Strauch’s extreme sensitivity, which crowds out every other emotion in his life, and his mastery of this sensitivity through thought screaming into the void, constitute the great theme of his novel Frost […] The authorial ‘I’ has released from itself a Strauchian ‘I’ and, along with the ‘I’ of the medical student, is the observer of itself, and has become both researcher and the object of its own researches.”  (Gerd Kadelbach: “Thought Screaming into the Void” inThe Bremen Literary Prize, pp. 121f.).  Bernhard expressed his thanks for the prize in a short speech: “We are terrified, terrified, namely, in constituting such an enormous mass of raw materials for the new humankind—and for the new knowledge of nature and for the renewal of nature; for the past half-century we have collectively been nothing but a single, unique pain; this pain today is us; this pain is our spiritual condition.”  (First published under the title “Mit der Klarheit nimmt die Kälte zu” [“The Cold Increases with the Clarity,” in Jahresring 65/66, pp. 243-245); for an account of the circumstances in which the prize was awarded, see Bernhard’s My Prizes [specifically pp. 29-46 in Carol Brown Janeway’s translation; the translation of the preceding quotation from Bernhard’s speech is my own and diverges not unmarkedly from the corresponding passage on pp. 118f. of the Janeway version].  An appraisal of the awardee in the Weser-Kurier (Wilhelm Hermann, editor) for January 26, 1965 bears the headline Ein einziger Gesang in Moll [“A Single Song in the Minor Mode”].

Regarding the discussion with Unseld, Anneliese Botond advised in a letter from the beginning of January 1965: “I believe that a conversation would now be a good idea.  The moment is auspicious, your position is auspicious, and what is more, Unseld’s attitude to everything pertaining to Insel has been more relaxed and more favorable since his taking over the directorship of the firm.  I have agreed to be in Bremen on the 26th and am a bit frightened.”

2. On January 6, 1965, through the mediation of the estate agent Karl Ignaz Hennetmair, Bernhard purchased from Ruolf Asamer a farmhouse-cum-courtyard in the Upper-Austrian hamlet of Obernathal, in the township of Ohlsdorf, for 200,000 Austrian schillings (ca. 30,000 deutschmarks).  At the time of the purchase the house was a ruin, and Bernhard spent a great deal of time and money on its restoration.

3. In this sentence, “27th” and “28th” have been crossed out and replaced with “28th” and “29th” by a third party.  In addition the sentence is underlined in red
pencil and flagged “App[ointment].”  In the lower left margin of the letter the third party has also written and crossed through in pencil this remark: “Is this appointment planned for Paris? (as per letter to Mr. Breitbach)”.  In a December 8, 1964 letter to Joseph Breitbach, Unseld promised to come to Paris on the 28th and stay till the 29th.  Breitbach had arranged a meeting between Max Frisch and the publisher Antoine Gallimard on this date.  Unseld canceled his trip to Paris because of an illness.  The letter bears a further remark by Unseld: “Att[ention]: Botond.”

Bernhard and Unseld first met in person on January 28, 1965 at Unseld’s personal residence at 35 Klettenbergstraße in Frankfurt.  Bernhard later recorded his impressions of their interview.  “The beginning of my association with Unseld had been a demand, I would almost say an act of extortion, on my part.  Two years after the publication of Frost and two years before the appearance of Gargoyles, in January 1965, I demanded 40,000 (forty thousand) marks within twenty minutes, because I was in a hurry.  At the time, as I learned from his wife nineteen years later, Unseld had a fever of 40 degrees centigrade.  So it now occurs to me that I was asking the publisher for a thousand marks for every degree of his body temperature or every half-minute of his time.  After this deal, which gratified me immeasurably and was vital to the salvaging of my Upper-Austrian madhouse, I went to Giessen to give a talk, and the whole time I was thinking that doing business was at least as fine a thing as writing and that much to my misfortune I was really quite a shrewd businessman.”  (Thomas Bernhard, Unseld, p. 237f.)  Forty years later Anneliese Botond recalled the conversation thus: “The master of the house was ill; he had a fever; he made his appearance in a dressing gown.  The conversation might have lasted a good half-hour and was subject to a time limit (Bernhard and I had a train to catch).  For the best part of the available time the two gentlemen talked about this and that—travels, people, places.  The reason for the visit was broached only in the last minute of the interview, and the decision was made quickly: Bernhard wanted DM 40,000 in order to buy his farmhouse-cum-courtyard in Austria, and Unseld promised him the money. […] I shall never forget Bernhard’s frenzied joy, which he gave vent to only once we were on the train.”

Letter No. 6
[Address: Ohlsdorf]

Frankfurt am Main
March 19, 1965

Dear Mr. Bernhard,

It is high time the substance of our recent conversation, which took place under inauspicious circumstances, was formalized in writing.

We discussed the continued presence of your previous and future works at Insel Publications.  I shall reiterate here that I attach the greatest value to this presence.  In the modern literature section of the firm’s catalogue, which I intend to expand, you are the most important pillar.

I expressed my readiness to give you a large advance on your new prose works and to remit to you a sum of DM 15,000 deductible in regular installments from the royalties of your new novel.1  

You requested a loan in the amount of DM 25,000 for the purchase of a house.  We also intend to grant you this loan, specifically under the following terms:

The loan is interest-free;
The dates of repayment are:
        For the first DM 10,000—December 13, 1965,
        For the second 10,000—December 31, 1966,
        For……….       5,000—December 31, 1967.

The total sum in the amount of
        DM 40,000 (forty thousand deutschmarks)
will be remitted to you on March 31, 1965, at the post office in Freilassing, Bavaria.1a

I hope you find these stipulations to your liking, and I request that you indicate your assent to them by signing the attached copy of this letter, which will then have the status of a contractual agreement.2

with best wishes                 Agreed: signed, Thomas Bernhard
signed, Dr. Siegfried Unseld               Ohlsdorf, March 25, ’65

1. The novel Verstörung [Gargoyles] was published on March 15, 1967 by Insel (see also Letters Nos. 28, 29, and 31).

1a. Presumably because Freilassing was on the Austrian border, though in my ignorance of  pre-Euro Austrian and German finance law I cannot help wondering why the check or money order could not be delivered to a site even closer to Bernhard—e.g., an Austrian post office (or better still an Austrian bank where Bernhard had an account). (DR)

2. The letter bears the following typewritten copy notation: “1 Copy to / Accounting, 1 Copy to / sto, 1 Copy to / Str[itter].” (Stritter is evidently a person; perhaps, like Botond, a reader at Insel. Among other unguessed possibilities, "sto" may be somebody's initials or an abbreviation for "Steuerordnung," something to do with tax records.   I thank flowerville for help with this notation [DR])

Letter No. 7

March 25, ’65

Dear Dr. Unseld,

I am very happy about our agreement and about the fact that I shall be staying with Insel Publications.  I am in excellent shape and I plan to finish the novel by the end of the year, and to finish the play for the Europa Studio in Salzburg at around the same time.1

I look forward to a warm and better-coordinated continuation of our discussion on a date that must sort itself out on its own.2

Yours sincerely,
Thomas Bernhard

The signed copy of your letter of the 19th is enclosed.

  1. Along with Verstörung, Bernhard was writing a play that at the time of this letter bore the title Die Jause [The Tea Party] and was later renamed Ein Fest für Boris [A Party for Boris].  Thanks to the advocacy of Josef Kaut, who had employed Thomas Bernhard as a “journalist” in the 1950s and was now a member of the board of directors of the Salzburg Festival, the play had been scheduled to be performed in 1966 at the Europa-Studio, a subsidiary of the Festival established in 1964 as a forum for modern dramatists.  Plans for this performance came to nothing; see also Thomas Bernhard: Werke [Vol.] 15, pp. 449-453.

  1. The letter bears in its left margin a handwritten note from a third party “Express”—and another note in the lower-right corner—“Detached: Copies given to / Bo[tond].  Str[itter].”

Letter No. 8
Frankfurt am Main
May 26, 1965

[Address: Ohlsdorf]

Dear Mr. Bernhard,

During our conversation in Frankfurt we also briefly talked about how we should constantly be making an effort to find new readers for your works.  I see such a possibility in the publication of Amras at edition suhrkamp, which will impart an especially attractive appearance to your novella.  I would be very happy to add Amras to this series, and I assume this is something that would please you.  I shall presumably come to such an agreement with other Insel authors; this is the best form of cooperation between the two firms.

Suhrkamp Publications guarantees a print run of 10,000 copies.  The royalty fee, which is the same for all authors, is DM .20.  In conformity with our agreement it will be divided between you and Insel.

I hope you find this arrangement to your liking.

with best regards,
Siegfried Unseld

Letter No. 9

June 20, ’65

Dear Mr. Unseld,

My “Amras” will fit in well at Edition Suhrkamp, and I most joyfully give my consent.  It might also be worthwhile to issue a volume of short prose pieces (novellas, etc.), and another one bearing the title “Practice Plays for Drama Students”; it consists of theatrical scenes and plays that were written for the Mozarteum seminar.1

This year I am getting better and better at leading the life, the existence, of a writer, and for (and in) me this in itself has something enormously exciting about it at the moment.

After a sojourn in Slovakia a draft of fresh air is wafting through the manuscript of my novel.  I intend to be finished with the whole big “pain in the neck” by the end of the year.

Apart from a trip to Russia I am not going to undertake anything further this year.2

Yours sincerely,
Thomas Bernhard

  1. Practice Plays for Drama Students [Übungsstücke für Schauspielschüler] is Bernhard’s title for a 1958 collection of short plays furnished by him to the Mozarteum School for Music and Dramatic Art, which he attended between 1955 and 1957.  The plays in the collection are entitled Springtime,Minds, Conversations of Various Birds, Rosa, Epilogue to Rosa, The Feminine Fabrication, or, The Window, Circus, and The Scaffolds.  The manuscript initially bore an inscription from Charles Péguy reading, “The bad days that fall like autumn rain…,” but this was subsequently crossed out and post-scripted by the comment “Sentence from Artaud.”  Practice Plays for Drama Students remains unpublished (see Note. 1 to Letter No. 432).  The Feminine Fabrication, Rosa, and an early version of Springtime received premieres on July 22, 1960, under the direction of Herbert Wochinz, at the barn at the Tonhof, the estate of the couple Maja and Gerhard Lampersberg in the Carinthian town of Maria Saal.  The plays were printed in Bernhard’s Works (Vol. 15, pp. 61-88 [see also the history of the plays’ geneses and performances on pp. 437-446]).  This sentence is underlined in red pencil.

  1. Within its date-stamp the letter bears the following handwritten remark: “Dr. Bo[tond] seen,” [i.e., “Dr. Botond has seen this letter”? (DR)] as well as another handwritten remark by a third party: “Obernathal, Ohlsdorf OÖ [i.e., Oberösterreich: ‘Upper Austria’ (DR)].”         

Letter No. 10

[Address: Ohlsdorf]

Frankfurt am Main
June 28, 1965

Dear Mr. Bernhard,

Thank you very much for your letter of June 20.  I am delighted by our unanimity.  We shall endeavor to give a new echo to “Amras” at edition suhrkamp.  Naturally I am also interested in the other texts you have chosen.1  Perhaps a so-called suhrkamp text (a line of edition suhrkamp) could be made out of them.  These texts differ from the other volumes in edition suhrkamp in containing a detailed afterword, a biographical sketch, and a detailed bibliography.  They are volumes that have a pedagogical character and are meant to be used in schools.2  If you think your texts are suitable for this series, we will be happy to prepare such a volume.  Take your time; we are in no hurry.

Have you heard about our new plan for the insel collection?  I shall send you another prospectus.  We held a press conference that raised a bit of dust.3  If it interests you, we will be happy to send you a press kit.

with warmest regards,
Siegrfried Unseld

  1. In the publisher’s copy (but not the original) this sentence is underlined and marked with a red slash in the margin.

  1. The first volume of the suhrkamp texts (Günter Eich: Ausgewählte Gedichte [Selected Poems]) appeared in 1960.  Beginning in May 1963, with the publication of the first 20 volumes of edition suhrkamp, they were continued as a subseries of that line of paperbacks.

  1. At a June 14, 1965 press conference at Insel Publications’ headquarters at 38 Feldbergstraße in Frankfurt, Unseld introduced the first new series to appear under his directorship of the firm: the insel collection  [die sammlung insel].  The prospectus states the objectives of the series in the following sentences: “The ‘insel collection’ will bring out literary and scientific texts of the past selected because of their importance to us today […] The ‘insel collection’ seeks out the new in the old, seeks out the informative, the progressive, the propulsive, and zeroes in on what is current in history.”  The first six volumes were delivered to the bookstores on September 1, 1965; six further volumes appeared on October 15 of the same year.  With Volume I, Galileo Galilei’s Siderius Nuncius: Nachtricht von neuen Sternen [Tidings of New Stars], Insel seems to have wished to signal to the public that this series would have a similar mission to that of the successfully launched suhrkamp editions (whose first volume was Bertolt Brecht’s Life of Galileo).  The series was discontinued after Volume 46, in 1969.

Letter No. 11

[Address: Ohlsdorf]

Frankfurt am Main
August 23, 1965

Dear Mr. Bernhard,

Now that we have got the current year’s production queue set in stone, we can gaze at more distant prospects in peace.  How are things looking on your end?  Are you making good headway with your work?  It would be nice if you could send me a line or two from which I could get an idea of the nature and scope of the work and of its presumptive date of completion.

with best wishes and regards,
Siegfried Unseld

Letter No. 12

113 Viale Bruno Buozzi
September 9, 1965

Dear Dr. Unseld,

I have been staying for a while now in Rome, in the hope of finishing my novel here; the book will perhaps be thicker than Frost; it is provisionally entitled Repose.

At some point I shall also be sending you a short prose text bearing the title “Climatic Deterioration.”1

In two days I shall be traveling to my accustomed haunt, Lovran, Villa Eugenija, Yugoslavia, which I think will be a better spot in which to round off my work on these texts.  Rome is noisy, has a horrible climate at this time of year, and is expensive.

I would like to know what translations are still in the works, apart from the one for Garzanti, which is magnificent; I don’t know anything.  I’d like to enfranchise myself from the novel by the end of the year.  I am feeling more and more at home again in my old notion that the finest settled mode of existence must consist in not having a single possession to one’s name apart from an addled brain.  Consequently I am none too happy with my house, and so I am thinking of selling it.  It is the sort of possession everybody longs for, but I have come to find it quite a tiresome burden; thanks to it I have suddenly become an “Austrian citizen,” which is something I have no wish to be.

Here there are an astonishingly large number of German translations and the whole literary scene reminds me of a large covered food market; supply, demand, fresh and spoiled goods diffuse a smell that I find quite agreeable; in Germany this isn’t possible; I especially love French books, which aren’t clothbound; where we come from the intellect is clothbound, the lovely clothbound German intellect…

Alexander Blok’s Essays made last night’s mugginess bearable for me.

In my mind’s eye I’m constantly reviewing a scene from Wednesday before last, when two automobiles that had just passed me in the approach to Chiuso on the waterlogged Strada del sole were swept from left to right into the abyss by the storm surge; five corpses; lousy indeed is the comedy in which one repeatedly is obliged to make it to the final curtain alive, and soaked to the skin to boot.

Now I’m bound to be mulling over the question of what a publisher is all evening long.

Your loyal
Thomas Bernhard

  1. This sentence is marked with a red slash in the left margin.

  1. Thomas Bernhard and Hedwig Stavianicek shared lodgings in Rome from August 30 to September, 11, 1965; from September 14 to 27 they were together in Lovran.
  2. The first Italian translation of Frost, Gelo, a version by Magda Olivetti, was published by the firm of Einaudi in 1986.

  1. Alexander Blok, Selected Essays, selected and translated from the Russian by Alexander Kaempfe, was published in 1964 as Volume 71 of edition suhrkamp.  This publication is in Bernhard’s library at Ohlsdorf.  Presumably the book was a gift to Bernhard from Unseld.  The epigraph of the printed edition of Ein Fest für Boris (published in 1970 as Volume 440 of edition suhrkamp), “Granted: most premieres are unbearable ordeals and a mockery of art,” is taken from p. 20 of Suhrkamp’s Blok selection; its context is a review of the first Russian performance of Frank Wedekind’s Spring Awakening.

Letter No. 13

[Address: Villa Eugenija, Lovran, Yugoslavia]

Frankfurt am Main
September 13, 1965

Dear Mr. Bernhard,

A publisher is a man who is used to being surprised anew every day by the reflections, imaginations, and desires of his authors!  I read your letter from Rome with sympathy.  I can well imagine how you must be feeling after that incident on the Strada del sole.  The old proverb, media in vita…more apt than ever.

I have to say I am a little distraught that you are of a mind to give up the house that you once represented to me as an ideal domicile for work.  A publisher’s principal duty (as you yourself once hinted to me) is after all to make sure that his author always enjoys the best possible working conditions; I thought you were well situated in your house in Salzburg.  In your place I would have felt as little put out by my Austrian citizenship as by any other kind of citizenship, considering what a thing of little value citizenship is nowadays.  But who sold you the house?  Don’t you feel like a real dupe now?  And don’t forget that we lent you DM 25,000 for the purchase of this house.1

I am delighted to hear that you will be able to finish the new novel by the end of the year.  That means that we will be able to publish the book in the second half of 1966, and that seems to me like a good deadline to aim for.  I am also looking forward to receiving “Climatic Deterioration.”  Always send me everything as soon as you have finished it.

with best regards and wishes,
Siegfried Unseld

  1. In a letter of September 18, 1965, Bernhard informed Karl Ignaz Hennetmair of his “firm resolution to sell Nathal, my wish to dispossess myself of it,” and granted Hennetmair full power to act as his proxy.  His rationale: “My ties to the landscape, etc. remain strong, but I have come to realize that it is still too early for me to settle down; I have all of a sudden become horribly immovable; I am debarring myself from all sorts of possibilities, e.g., accepting fellowships to study abroad, in America, Italy, etc.”  By October 12, 1965 he was writing to Hennetmair that he was “by no means ‘in a mad rush’ to jettison the house and farm […] I have reached a point where I’m no longer harried by exclusively unpleasant thoughts of Nathal as I’m falling asleep and before I wake up.” (Thomas Bernhard-Karl Ignaz Hennetmair, pp. 24 and 42).

Letter No. 14

[Address: Villa Eugenija, Lovran/Yugoslavia1]

Frankfurt am Main
October 18, 1965

Dear Mr. Bernhard,

The Austrian Association for Literature has scheduled a twofold function for November 3 in Vienna: a reading by [Franz] Tumler from his new book Notes from Trieste and a conversation with me about Insel.  I would very much like you to be present at this function, which begins at 11:00 a.m., as well as at a dinner with some retail booksellers on the evening of the same day.  I would be glad to cover the cost of your travelling to Vienna and staying at a hotel there.  It would really mean a lot to me to have you on hand at this gathering.

Please write to me—or, even better—send me a telegram, letting me know if you can come.

with best wishes
Siegfried Unseld

(for Dr. Unseld, who had to leave for the book fair before the transcription of the dictation)1a

  1. According to a typewritten comment on the carbon copy, a copy of the letter was sent to the Obkierchergasse in Vienna [i.e., presumably, to Stavianicek’s Vienna residence (DR)]

1a. Presumably Unseld’s absence precluded his conforming to some preferred       epistolary routine (e.g., dictating the letter in person rather than via tape and reviewing the transcription on the spot) (DR).     

Letter No. 15


October 25, 1965

looking forward to november 3 vienna  = bernhard

Letter No. 16

Frankfurt am Main
October 25, 1965

Dear Mr. Bernhard,

Thank you very much for your telegram.  I shall be coming to Vienna late in the afternoon on November 2.  Could we meet in the evening at the Hotel Royal, at 3 Singergasse? From there we could leave for a supper together somewhere.1

with warm wishes until our meeting
(for Dr. Unseld, who had to leave the office before the transcription of the dictation) 1a.

  1. Unseld writes of his conversation with Thomas Bernhard in his Viennese Travel Journal:November 2-4, 1965 thus: “I had several successful meetings with him; these now gradually dispelled the shadow of our first meeting. [see Letter No. 5, n. 3].  He is going to submit the manuscript of his novel to Insel at the end of January.  By now he has written about 400 pages; a hundred more are yet to come; I assume the whole thing will have a length of 300 pages.  The current title, Repose, is hardly likely to stick.  His play The Tea Party is finished and in the hands of the directors of the Salzburg festival, by whom the play was commissioned.  Bernhard has ceded all performance rights to Suhrkamp Theatrical Publications; he has already informed Salzburg of this and asked them if they could come to an agreement with us in the light of his contractual obligation.  From what I know of the Salzburg people, I hardly think them likely to do this.  […] We ourselves will also be receiving the manuscript by the end of November.  At that point we plan to read it right away in order to come to a decision on the question of duplication and eventual publication.
On the function hosted by the Austrian Association for Literature Die Presse reported on November 4, 1965 under the headline “Book Launch for Tumler”:  “On Wednesday, under the auspices of a press reception and book launch, the Association for Literature succeeded in doing something it had been trying in vain to do for years: not only luring the Austrian writer Franz Tumler to Vienna, but also getting him to give a reading.  Before the reading, Siegfried Unseld, who as a publisher looks after not only Tumler’s output but also that of many other writers, including the outstanding young Austrian Thomas Bernhard, talked about the work of his publishing firms, Suhrkamp and Insel.”  The dinner with the two firms’ Austrian distributors and the Viennese bookstore owners was attended not only by Bernhard but also by Peter Handke, Zbigniew Herbert, and Franz Tumler.    

1a.   Cf. n.1a. to Letter No. 16 above (DR).

Letter No. 17

Frankfurt am Main
December 3, 1965

Dear Mr. Bernhard,

I am highly delighted to have Amras in the edition suhrkamp series!  The book has just come out. 1

We printed a run of 7,500 copies.  Suhrkamp Publications will split the royalty fee with Insel Publications.  We are sending you five complimentary copies; the 15 additional copies are available to you on demand.

with warm regards,
Siegfried Unseld

  1. On December 6, 1965, Amras, Volume 142 of the edition suhrkamp series, was delivered to the bookstores.

Letter No. 18


Dear Dr. Unseld,

The new reissue of Amras in your edition makes the book look even clearer, more distinct, and more beautiful, and I wish all my books could be published in this format.  Not once has this reissue awakened my innate pleasure in taking things to task for their hyper-excessive aesthetic crudeness.  And so I must thank you for the idea of publishing the book in edition surkhamp with such celerity.  The delightful thing about stars is that although they all shine with varying luminosities, they are nonetheless all stars, and I look upon the volumes of your edition as I do the stars above my head.  And if I still have one wish left it is for one of my books to be published for the first time under the auspices of my beloved Bibliothek Suhrkamp.  This double (and indirect) compliment causes me no strain, because it is an entirely natural one to make; it is self-evident.  I am working intensively on bringing the novel to a finish.  It is possible that I shan’t even interrupt work on it for a yuletide sports break, for at the moment it seems to me that a renunciation of skiing, one of my oldest passions, would do me a world of good.  Official holidays I am always happy to skip over; I have always found them tedious.  Less and less often do I succumb to the temptation to flee, to interrupt, my work for the sake of a superior amusement, because in my own face I now see with appalling clarity the features of the born egoist; such that my work is already my sole recreation, my sole joy, my all-consuming vice.

The time when I shall stop inconveniencing you with financial diving stunts is approaching with great speed and certainty;1 subsequently our relationship will perhaps be able to forgo completely that quite marvelous tension that I am unsurprised to find suiting me so well.  It is only fitting to mix a bit of economy into poetry; of reality into fantasy; of ugliness, hideousness, horribleness into beauty.

Right after the novel I shall be bestowing some time on the play for a change.2

As I pretty much never get around to reading anything at all, let alone perusing any actual printed books, I have nothing to say about the items from the insel collection that were sent to me.3  May the people nearest to you and your (like it or not) unrelentingly trenchant temperament allow you to have a merry Christmas and make it back to Frankfurt without a single broken bone or sprained muscle.

My wishes and greetings are coming to you from a gloomy fox’s den; the slyness of the fox consists in his never leaving his den under any circumstances.


P.S. Please send me the 10 Amrases.

  1. Anneliese Botond informed Bernhard by telegram that he would be receiving the requested DM 3,000 in December from Insel Publications.
  2. In mid-November 1965 Bernhard sent Insel the manuscript of the play The Tea Party.  In a letter dated November 25,  1965, Anneliese Botond imparted some critical remarks on the play to Bernhard.  On November 25, 1965, Karlheinz Braun, director of Suhrkamp Theatrical Publications, composed a four-page letter to Bernhard: “First of all: the subject, characters, and large-scale structure of the play are interesting, are well-developed, are all sound. The play is convincing, is logical in its stylistic and dramaturgical technique  […] The grandeur of the subject and of its large-scale structure does not  quite match up with the reality depicted in the play.  Moreover, the play’s style gets in your way; it inhibits you; you need to introduce more reality into the play.  How must this sense of actuality be effected?  I believe you must be concrete and yet “high-flown,” in order to avoid using words symbolically, which tends to push you either too far in the direction of “realism” or too far in the direction of “symbolism.”   For example: the good woman asks for her newspaper.  The people are on strike.  The dialogue that follows “the printers are on strike” (p. 6), is pure awkwardness (everywhere is being stricken, everybody is striking), owing to your growing and precise awareness that you are not allowed to explain why, for what reason, you are not allowed to become more realistic.  So the passage ends in mindless chatter.  […]  I believe, dear Mr. Bernhard, that the play is worth your putting more work into it; it will not be all that much more work, but it will be worthwhile—for the play.  And I firmly believe we should put out the play, i.e., publish it at Suhrkamp Theatrical Publications and print it as part of our series in edition surhkamp.”
On November 30, Bernhard replied from Ohlsdorf thus: “Dear Mr. Braun, when I get the time I shall take a fresh look at The Tea Party and try to make it into a more acceptable play; having by then had done with prose, had my fill of prose, I shall preoccupy myself with drama; I shall work on the latter only once I have finally grown sick of the former.  Your thoughts on my Tea Party have been preoccupying my mind in a peculiar fashion.  Yesterday I asked for the play to be sent back from Salzburg because I had not heard from anybody there in six weeks; also because I need a copy of it if I am to revise it.  But right now I am too much infatuated with prose to be able to tackle The Tea Party on the spur of the moment, and I really don’t wish to do so either.  But in my world everything is always changing from one day to the next, and all of a sudden one night I may rewrite the play, I may overhaul it and change everything, as I am always happy to make sudden changes; I am familiar with this way of working from my prose-writing routine.  The more drafts the better.  But two more months might not be enough for the novel; I keep running into one new and decisive crux after another; why, I ask myself, am I making so much work for myself, if I’m always going to be exasperated with the results no matter what?  But the opposite state of affairs on all fronts would assuredly be much more lethal to me.  But if you wish to put out, bring out, print The Tea Party, I certainly see this as grounds for rejoicing, or at any rate for treating myself to a momentary thrill of delighted anticipation of that publication.  I thank you; yours sincerely, Thomas Bernhard.  On December 10, 1965, Bernhard received from Josef Kaut a formal written rejection of the play for performance as part of the Salzburg Festival on the grounds that “its subject-matter seems too lugubrious for a summer festival performance.”  (See The Correspondence between Thomas Bernhard and Josef Kaut, p. 232.)

  1. Annaliese Botond sent Bernhard the first six volumes of the insel collection (Galileo Galilei: Sidereus Nuncius, Bertolt Brecht: Über Klassiker, Georg Büchner/Ludwig Weidig: Der Hessische Landbote, Denis Diderot: Nachtrag zu »Bougainvilles Reise«, Jonathan Swift: Satiren, and Der Berliner Antisemitismusstreit).

  1. The letter is unsigned.


Letter No. 19

[Address: (Ohlsdorf); on Suhrkamp Publications stationery]

Frankfurt am Main
December 16, 1965

Dear Mr. Bernhard,

To be sure, one would have to be a fox to have a fox’s den, and be able to write such letters and novellas, and hopefully also a good novel; enough said…at Christmastime, when my mind turns to ski trips, I think of yours—and I assure you this is no mere pleasantry.

The ten copies of Amras are on their way to you.

All the best

Siegfried Unseld


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. 16-35.

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