Literary roundup: Prince of Darkness and unbearable lightness

The Franz Kafka Society’s publication of the first Czech translation of the correspondence of Erika Mitterer with Rainer Maria Rilke alerted me to the existence of a fascinating sounding writer. She was still a teenager when she corresponded with the great poet, published her own poetry collection at 24 and went on to write a novel titled The Prince of Darkness (and no, it’s not connected in any way to the late conservative commentator Robert Novak – hint: a little further to the political right – nor to any of the seemingly thousands of books with the same title). She lived to the age of 95.

Her novel was published in 1940 and, according to her German publisher Seifert Verlag, “escaped Nazi censorship by its being misinterpreted as an account of an average, everyday community invaded by evil – mistakenly seen as an attack upon the Catholic Church and not for its actual attack on conditions under the Third Reich.”

The good news is that her novel was translated into English by Catherine Hutterin 2007. The bad news is that it costs $65.00 on Amazon (though Amazon notes that a new copy can be had for the low price of $64.95). Prince of darkness, indeed. The novel is 676 pages so if you calculate by price per page maybe it’s not so bad.

Mitterer’s correspondence with Rilke just now appearing in Czech was available in English back in 1953 by the Hogarth Press, that being the publisher founded by Virginia and Leonard Woolf. The book was titled Correspondence in Verse with Erïka Mitterer, which is either a clever, poetic-sounding title or an indication that their correspondence was rhymed – Dear Rainer Maria, it would be so nice to see you . . .

Plaudits for Kundera

Milan Kundera was already the only living writer to have his collected works published in the prestigious Bibliothèque de La Pléiade edition during his lifetime. Now, or rather, Monday June 11, Kundera was awarded the Prize of the Bibliothèque nationale de France (I suppose I could write the Prize of the French National Library but it sounds much more hallowed in French).

This is the fifth year the prizes history. Previous winners include Philippe Sollers (2009), Pierre Guyotat (2010) and Patrick Modiano (2011). The prize comes with €10,000 and the strict stipulation not to spend it all in one place. The prize is given for the writer’s whole body of work with the condition that he or she has published a book in the past three years.

BnF president Bruno Racine said that the prize was granted not only for his considerable body of work but for “the love of our language in its universal dimension.” (Does that mean that he thinks aliens from all over the universe speak French?). The prize also comes with €8,000 for the study of the winning author’s work. The only jury member I’ve heard of is Julia Kristeva, though there is also a guy named Jean-Claude Casanova, which seems fitting somehow.

The Czech press have also reported that with an agreement signed between French publishers such as  Gallimard with Google to digitize their books, Milan Kundera is among the authors who have refused to allow their books to be digitized. (Insert joke about e-books + unbearable lightness).

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