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This review is taken from PN Review 40, Volume 11 Number 2, November - December 1984.

A FINAL INTRODUCTION? Joachim Maass, Kleist. A Biography, translated by Ralph Manheim (Secker & Warburg ) £12.95

In the English-speaking world, Heinrich von Kleist's works and reputation have been dogged by a calamitousness not unlike that which distinguished his life. From time to time a play is put on or a collection of stories published, as in his lifetime, but there is no continuity, no general recognition, no acceptance or understanding of what this egregious writer was about. Only the other day D. J. Enright opened a review of Maass's biography as follows:


In an essay in his collection A Proliferation of Prophets Michael Hamburger takes issue with Thomas Mann and Kathleen Nott over their maladroitness in the face of Heinrich von Kleist. In fact Mann has written about Kleist's play Amphytrion in a fashion quite flowery. And Miss Nott can be forgiven for finding his stories 'frenzied, as if far too many characters were all shouting their heads off at once', for they are less like stories than compressed novels crying out for elbow room.


My references to Thomas Mann and Kathleen Nott were made in the early 1960s, when Kleist was once again being 'discovered' for and 'introduced' to English readers, a century and a half after his death. Neither then nor in the reprinting of those references was I taking issue with those two writers, but quoted Kathleen Nott's review of Kleist's Collected Stories as an instance of a belated response that allowed her to voice the same objections to Kleist's work that all but ...


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