By Adalbert Stifter
Translated by Isabel Fargo Cole
"More and more I admired this simple spirit that gazes out so purely at the world’s phenomena. Things, often very strange things, often very perilous, enter [Stifter’s] awareness as though it were the light of a lamp and are calmed for a while, as though hearing music."—Rainer Maria Rilke
"As you finish one of these stories you might have the sensation that you’ve awakened abruptly in unfamiliar territory, far afield from where you thought you were headed, and that while you were busy reading, something was done to you—that, for instance, you were implanted with some device that resonates to the frequencies of the cosmos. . . The word that comes irrepressibly to mind regarding Motley Stones is ‘sublime,’ in its now rather archaic sense that encompasses vastness and violence as well as extreme beauty." —Deborah Eisenberg, The New York Review of Books
For Kafka he was “my fat brother”; Thomas Mann called him “one of the most peculiar, enigmatic, secretly audacious and strangely gripping storytellers in world literature.” Often misunderstood as an idyllic poet of “beetles and buttercups,” the nineteenth-century Austrian writer Adalbert Stifter can now be seen as a radical experimenter with narrative and a forerunner of nature writing’s darker currents. One of his best-known works, the novella cycle Motley Stones now appears in its first complete English translation, a rendition that respects the bracing strangeness of the original. In six thematically linked novellas, including the beloved classic “Rock Crystal,” human dramas play out amid the natural cycles of the Alps or the urban rhythms of Vienna—environments so keenly observed that they emerge as the tales’ most indomitable protagonists. Stifter’s human characters are equally haunting—children braving perils, eccentrics and loners harboring enigmatic torments. “We seek to glimpse the gentle law that guides the human race,” Stifter famously wrote. What he glimpsed, more often than not, was the abyss that lies behind the idyll. The tension between his humane sensitivity and his dark visions is what lends his writing its heartbreaking power.
NYRB Classics, 2021
5 x 8 inches
Literature, Short Stories