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Category Archive for 'Switzerland'

Swiss author Peter Stamm has accomplished a remarkable feat. He has written a fascinating story in which marriage is less the result of true love than it is of logic, the resulting union resembling a merger more than a deep human relationship. Passion here has more to do with self-gratification than with true feeling. And Alex, the main character, is so ego-centric that it is difficult to imagine any thoughtful, sensitive woman wanting to have anything at all to do with him. But that is part of the point. None of the three main characters here—one man and his two lovers–are emotionally mature, and none of them grow much during the almost twenty years that pass in the course of this novel. Still, by the end of the novel, the reader will have a fine picture of what true love is, however negatively the characters behave in their own lives and however much damage they may do to the other people in their lives. The negative emphasis actually accentuates the wonder of the positive for the reader. Tightly organized and unusual in its focus on characters who are insensitive and self-involved, the novel has more intellectual than emotional appeal (again, appropriate to the characters), and it is up to the reader to decide to what extent each will be able to understand and feel real love—or become fully human.

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In this brutally satiric little novella, the “downstairs” servants of the aristocratic Klopstocks, living in Switzerland, have their lives all planned out for the immediate future. They will not be spending another day with the Klopstocks—at least not a day in which the Klopstocks are alive, and they are breathless with anticipation. Lister, who manages the household, knows that both the Baron and the Baroness will be meeting in the library that evening with Victor Passerat, “Mister Fairlocks,” someone with whom the Baroness is passionately in love but who is himself passionately in love with the Baron. Posting a “Not to Disturb” sign on the door, the triangle of lovers meets, determined to settle their issues, but these can be settled only one way—with gunshots. “The eternal triangle has come full circle,” one servant observes.

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One of Henry James’s earliest novellas, Daisy Miller (1878) follows the activities of a wealthy, and brashly confident, young American woman as she audaciously challenges European society in Vevey, Switzerland, and in Rome, having fun, doing what pleases her, and leaving staid European society gasping in her wake. Daisy Miller, whose father is in the US and whose mother is her ineffectual “chaperone,” is a free spirit in a society bound by unstated but rigid “rules,” determined to do whatever she wants, whenever she wants, with whomever she chooses. Frederick Winterbourne, an expatriate who has spent most of his life in Geneva, is attracted to Daisy, but his bonds with his stuffy aunt, Mrs. Cosgrove, and her friend, Mrs. Walker, both of whom govern ex-patriot society in Europe, leave him ill-equipped to deal with Daisy’s flouting of society’s conventions. When she is obviously attracted to Mr. Giovanelli, a singer/musician of no social standing, and when she is seen with him publicly in places that a “nice” girl would not grace at night, her reputation is threatened, and anyone associated with her is tainted. (To see the full review, click on the title at the top of this excerpt.)

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