Philip Hensher on Joseph Roth

13/02/2012 § Leave a comment

There’s a lovely review of Joseph Roth’s Letters (recently published in English and translated by the brilliant Michael Hofmann) at the Spectator:

It is sometimes difficult, enjoying the sophisticated, detached gaze of the best of the novels, to remember the extraordinarily difficult circumstances in which most of them were written. Roth saw immediately the threat of Hitler — he is mentioned by name in his very first novel, The Spider’s Web in 1923, before the Beer Hall putsch took place. Roth, as a Jew and a congenitally critical spirit, would always have a career of awkwardness and dissent. In the years of his active writing, 1923 to his death in 1939, his life was wrecked by the lack of support from newspapers, principally the Frankfurter Zeitung, political oppression —The Radetzky March was finished, as Michael Hofmann observes, just in time to be burnt in the Bebelplatz — and personal difficulties.

And on Stefan Zweig:

The relationship with Zweig is summed up by a brutal anecdote that Hofmann brings to our attention. Zweig ordered a pair of trousers for Roth, since he only had one pair, unfit for the sort of restaurants Zweig liked. Roth insisted that they be cut in an Austrian cavalry style, making them immensely expensive. The next day, Roth, sitting in a bar in Ostend with his cronies, ordered a vividly coloured liqueur, which he proceeded to pour all over his jacket. He was ‘punishing Stefan Zweig’, he explained, and he was going to embarrass him by turning up for dinner in a stained and stinking jacket: ‘Millionaires are like that! They take us to the tailor and buy us a new pair of trousers, but they forget to buy us a jacket to go with them.’

(Incidentally if you haven’t read Michael Hofmann’s somewhat robust views on Zweig in the LRB you really should.)

Roth’s letters are the first book for ages I’m actually going to buy new and in hardback.


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