lørdag den 20. januar 2024

Life of a Good-For-Nothing - Joseph Von Eichendorff (1826)


Memoirs of a Good-for-Nothing

Lately, the books on the List have been having a dark streak with the possible exception of “Tomcat Murr”, though even that had some sinister sides. “Memoirs of a Good-for-Nothing” (“Memoirs…”) is the direct opposite. It is light and easy in every sense.

A (very?) young man leaves his village carrying only the cloth he wears and his fiddle. He gets a ride with two ladies and plays for them so nicely that they offer him a job in the palace gardens. Soon he is even promoted to be a tollkeeper. The young man, whose name we never learn is hopelessly in love with one of the ladies, whom he keeps referring to a “my lovely lady”, but as he assumes she is a countess, he never approaches her. Instead, he plays his fiddle and put flowers for her wherever he can.

One night he discovers that the other lady is the one looking for him and that his own “lovely lady” is together with another man and his hope shatters. He immediately embarks on a journey to Italy, gets kidnapped by bandits, are taken to a castle in the mountains, where he is treated as a lord, barely escapes and hang out in Rome. In Rome he thinks he has found his girl again and indeed he is told she is looking for him, only to find out she already left for Austria, so now he needs to get back home and find her there.

The conclusion, which I shall not reveal here, includes so many revelations and mistaken identities that I am entirely confused myself, but, happy ending, the end.

This is super light and super short, 120 easy pages, and anything that resembles a crisis is resolved within a page or two. Our hero is never really in any danger, or rather, no danger he cannot easily escape from, and he usually gets by simply by playing some music. People are really nice to him and those that are not, are just pretending. Meanwhile, the sun is always shining, people are happy and well-fed and dancing is only just one song away. It actually sounds very much like a Hollywood golden age musical.

It is so brief, rushed and light that I cannot really say it made a lot of impression on me. It is like a piece of candy, nice and sweet and gone in minutes. It is difficult to be upset with it because it is so harmless, but at the same time, the novel feels more like a synopsis of a much larger and deeper book. My guess is that I will have forgotten about it in a few weeks.

Yet, this tiny novel is praised as a masterpiece of late German Romanticism and apparently it presents a lot of elements hailed as typical of this movement. Classless love, the freedom, the appreciation of beauty, both natural and human made such as music and painting. Eichendorff was a celebrated poet, and a lot of his poems are included in the book, though I am not qualified to tell if the appreciation is deserved.

I suppose it is nice to also get some lighter and happier fare than the gloomy stuff of late but there is simply not enough meat on this for me to truly recommend it.

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