Wedgwood , refers to the burning of heretics by the Inquisition. The book manuscript was finished in , and the book was published in , by Herbert Reichner in Vienna Canetti's hometown at that time. It is Canetti's first publication. In Canetti got an offer to publish the book in English with Jonathan Cape , but it was decided to delay publication until after the war.
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When Elias Canetti, Nobel Prize winner, died in August at 89, he stipulated in his will that his papers could not be seen for 30 years. Whether this was to protect the living from embarrassment or from an old-fashioned sense of decorum, so suspicious to our kiss-and-tell age, we shall have to wait and see.
A biography is due to appear on his centenary in But this most elusive of 20th-century writers certainly had a reputation for secretiveness.
He used to boast that his diaries were written in code and acquaintances from his London days remember how he would pretend to be a Chinese cook or an upper-class Englishwoman when answering the phone. Close friends knew they had to ring a certain number of times, replace the receiver and phone again for him to answer as himself.
Despite the interdicts in his will, Johanna Canetti, his heir and daughter from his second marriage, has decided that his London diary "From England", as he called it could after all be released before It has been published in Germany under the title Party im Blitz.
He wrote it in the early s, working presumably from contemporary notes now under lock and key in the Zurich Zentralbibliothek, largely dictating to his year-old daughter. In its occasional candour it is like nothing he published in his lifetime.
He chronicles his encounters with literary and public figures with the intention of giving a picture of England "in the middle years of the century". Canetti's chapter on his lover for three years from challenges recent portraits of both of them. After the battle for the memory of "Iris" began when her husband John Bayley published his first memoir five years ago, Canetti's own reputation in this country has suffered.
All because Bayley had disclosed how Canetti's wife Veza would be "sometimes present in the flat when 'the Dichter' made love to Iris, possessing her as if he were a god", which is hardly a reason to take against the Dichter's books. Bayley himself calls his immediate predecessor for his wife's affections "the primal power figure. Iris's one-time lover, tyrant, dominator and master. Teacher too, and inspiration.
The great all-knowing Dichter. His name was the last Murdoch recognised two months before she died. According to her biographer, Peter Conradi, the "god-monster of Hampstead" "represented the artist-as-manipulative-and-sadistic-mythomaniac" in her imagination and was a cruel and controlling lover, who dominated a coterie of enthralled "disciples" and mistresses, which is a role he re-enacts in several of Murdoch's early novels - she dedicated her second, The Flight from the Enchanter , to him.
But what neither Bayley nor Conradi could have known was that Canetti had taken steps to get his retaliation in first: his account of their affair was written before Murdoch was stricken with Alzheimer's. On first reading, the chapter "Iris Murdoch" appears acerbic, catty even. Jeremy Adler, who supplies excellent notes and an afterword to this posthumous volume, will not convince everyone that Canetti really respected Murdoch still and that this great diatribe is necessary for the book's moral and aesthetic coherence as autobiographical satire.
Canetti expresses revulsion at what Murdoch became as a philosopher and novelist, for her narrow range of Oxford-educated characters, though he concedes that her writing could be amusing. Once they had become lovers Murdoch would precisely time her visits from Oxford, fitting in Canetti as if for a tutorial. The sex could hardly be more different from her own accounts of power and dominance.
Perhaps I would have been more likely to have sensed something if she had moved a little in response. Yet it seems that for all his alleged attempts at control, she used him just as much.
She needed ideas and characters for her novels and she gets this "booty" from her many and varied lovers "each one a specialist in his field She exchanged sex for one-sided conversation: for whatever her other shortcomings, Canetti testifies that Murdoch was a passionate listener.
He both liked and attracted listeners and he listened with passion to others himself. After they first made love Murdoch confided that she had imagined him to be an Oriental pirate who held her captive in a cave before ravishing her: "She wanted to see me as a robber who forced her brutally to make love, she did not become excited until she could imagine this Oriental pirate to herself.
But his amusement is short-lived and he finds "every way to love was blocked for me by her dream". Soon he sees her as a pirate who robs each of her lovers not of his heart, but of his mind. This casts in a new light those controlling and sexually alluring Magi-figures who stand at the centre of some of Murdoch's novels and who Canetti is said to have inspired. Is not the point about Mischa Fox in The Flight from the Enchanter that he is what those enthralled by him want to make him in their minds?
Honor Klein in A Severed Head is ultimately a pathetic figure, the repeated descriptions of her Jewish features, complete with "tawny" breasts, close to caricature, which is perhaps why Canetti recalls with such distaste at the way in which Murdoch exoticised him.
Canetti, as everyone called him, and his wife Veza lived in proud and not-so-genteel poverty after arriving from Nazi-run Vienna in the aftermath of the Kristallnacht in January Even offering them a cooked meal in the days of war-time austerity could cause him to take offence.
Yet the British were not always the most accommodating hosts and the Canettis not always willing to be grateful.
One of Veza's stories, finally published after 60 years in , is about a country vicar and his wife who take in a poor London refugee couple during the Blitz. Each morning the Reverend and Mrs Toogood carry their excrement to the garden on newspaper to make compost.
While they continue to eat well, their houseguests are given half-rotten vegetables cooked in nothing but water, a culinary failing which seems to offend the story's narrator nearly as much as the black worms she finds sharing her meal one day. Both Canettis were Sephardic Jews, one half of her family from Sarajevo, both of his from Bulgaria, where he spent his first six years speaking Ladino, the medieval Spanish the Jews had taken to the Ottoman empire after expulsion from Spain.
Leaving Vienna broke Veza's heart and she never returned. After her literary career had been cut short by the right-wing coup in February , when the Arbeiter-Zeitung which had printed her stories was closed down, she tried in vain to interest British publishers in her work. He vowed also not to publish a word until he had completed his book-length essay Crowds and Power , which was to be his reckoning with the forces that had driven him from the continent.
One reason he lived in obscurity was that he wanted his work to last. Like fellow refugee, Norbert Elias, the great cultural historian who was almost un-known until his 70s, Canetti wrote in German, the language of culture for anyone born within the orbit of the Habsburgs. Only slowly, and after Veza's death in , did he begin to make his name in either the German- or English-speaking worlds.
There was one very obvious drawback to Canetti's purist approach to the written word: nobody in the London literary circles he penetrated with such apparent ease had heard of him. The only Englishman who had read Die Blendung was the Sinologist Arthur Waley: "Imagine what it means in a large country, which for me was the country of Shakespeare and Dickens, to have one single reader.
Being a nobody at social gatherings irked him, but he, the great listener and observer, sometimes unwittingly reciprocated others' ignorance of him. He seems unaware that his Hampstead neighbour, Sheffield English professor William Empson, with whom he would have loved to talk about mass crowds in China, had been famously cold-shouldered by Cambridge, which was why he taught in such outlandish places as China and Sheffield in the first place.
Canetti ultimately created an oeuvre that is more individualist, more eccentric perhaps, in some ways more original, than that of any of the other great 20th-century modernists from central Europe.
It is a monstrous but brutally funny book, which holds up the mirror to the hateful set of mentalities that were to breed National Socialism and does so with a ruthless single-mindedness some find difficult to bear.
John Bayley recalls how Canetti, rarely given to false modesty, compared its effect on readers to that of King Lear. The novel's hatefulness was not within its author, as readers to this day sometimes assume, but in the world out there whose folly he diagnosed. He then turned to other genres. The switch from the novel and the reasons for it were to inspire another exile to these shores, who insisted on calling his writings "prose fiction", which sometimes baffled the non-conceptual British.
WG Sebald, though nearly 40 years younger, was captivated by some of Canetti's mid-century themes. The class system itself and the elite who ran it are subjects of unceasing fascination to this connoisseur of power. Only rarely did he feel unwanted on account of being a foreigner; never, more amazingly, did he personally experience a hint of anti-semitic feelings.
The renown of these men in the Anglo-Saxon world is not properly recognised by anyone. They are thought of as cultural heroes, benefactors of humanity. Be that as it may, Canetti hated TS Eliot, whose poetry and reputation were indicative of all that had become wrong with England since the centuries of its cultural glory: "I was witness to the fame of someone like Eliot.
Will they ever be ashamed enough of themselves for that? On the other hand, left-winger though Canetti was, he professes a liking for an ambitious young Tory MP, who had already been made a professor at the age of Only Enoch Powell quoted Nietzsche in fluent German or showed emotion in public. When asked for his views on Indian independence, Powell stopped demonstratively in the street and, beating his fist against his heart, cried: "I feel it here, here.
Canetti was also amazed at how even in the darkest days of the war Aneurin Bevan lambasted the prime minister in Parliament. Parliament is one British institution that earned his unreserved respect, Hyde Park Corner one of his first and regular ports of call. He recognises in Crowds and Power how parliamentary rituals were civilised forms of power play, which in continental Europe were being performed in their original and bloody form.
He loved other aspects of English life, like upper-class women, who, he observed, were often extremely beautiful: they needed to be as their function was to enhance the power displays of famous men.
With stunned admiration Canetti observes at a Mayfair reception how the octogenarian Bertrand Russell walks off with one such beauty a quarter of his age moments after he had finished a public conversation and, laughing with joy, clapped eyes on her for the first time: "As if they had arranged to meet, the year-old and the year-old, he left the party with her as if it were the most natural thing to do. He carried on laughing as he made his departure and she seemed more beautiful with every step.
Apart from Iris Murdoch, Canetti had other girlfriends, often concurrently it would seem, and he clearly enjoyed female company. He seems to have been loyal to them, though clearly not faithful, and the creative influences are by no means all one way. Marie-Louise Motesiczky, an Expressionist painter and pupil of Max Beckmann, was intimate with him for half a century, painting several personally telling portraits, just as Murdoch and Veza put him into their fiction.
Yet some comments in Party im Blitz will do little to dispel Canetti's reputation for high-handed treatment of women. He is condescending about Kathleen Raine who was kind about him in her memoirs, though without remotely getting his measure, which is perhaps what irritated him. His excoriation of Britain's first woman prime minister, die Gouvernante the governess , who sealed the nation's decline from greatness, is not free from old-fashioned sexism.
Yet if Brecht, whom he met and disliked in Berlin in the late s, surrounded himself with female co-workers who were also his lovers, Canetti courted women who were fellow writers or artists. If he recognised too much of himself in the domineering young Brecht, his portrait of him in The Torch in my Ear could be a form of self-caricature. Canetti's most unusual relationship was probably with Friedl Benedikt, who published three novels in English as Anna Sebastian before her death from Hodgkins disease at As she lay dying, Murdoch took over Benedikt's role as mistress-novelist, just as Canetti replaced Steiner for her.
His "pupil" from the age of 19, Benedikt was from a rich and distinguished Viennese family. In The Play of the Eyes Canetti recalls how she followed him like a love-struck teenager once she had identified her new neighbour in Grinzing, Vienna, as the author of Die Blendung. She wanted him to teach her to write and when Veza persuaded him to read 50 pages she had passed to her, he thought she had copied it from an unknown novel by Dostoyevsky - a hint maybe that as a more mature writer she would never emerge from his shadow.
She followed the Canettis to London, where a wealthy cousin lived on Hampstead's Downshire Hill, and is portrayed in Veza's autobiographical novel, The Tortoises She kept a diary for her teacher and let him impress other men with the "absoluteness of her devotion". Yet whatever he privately thought of her talent, it was Benedikt who found herself a publisher and she too who introduced him to Wedgwood, who made sure his own novel got published in English.
Canetti claims all three of Benedikt's novels were dedicated to him, but only two mention him by name, the other The Monster is "to Orion", the giant hunter from classical mythology who was slain by Diana, goddess of hunting and chastity. The women artists Canetti knew seem to have given as good as they got, either in life or in their work.
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The God-monster's version
When Elias Canetti, Nobel Prize winner, died in August at 89, he stipulated in his will that his papers could not be seen for 30 years. Whether this was to protect the living from embarrassment or from an old-fashioned sense of decorum, so suspicious to our kiss-and-tell age, we shall have to wait and see. A biography is due to appear on his centenary in But this most elusive of 20th-century writers certainly had a reputation for secretiveness. He used to boast that his diaries were written in code and acquaintances from his London days remember how he would pretend to be a Chinese cook or an upper-class Englishwoman when answering the phone.
1001 Book Review: Auto da Fe by Elias Canetti
It was also published in English as The Tower of Babel. Originally planned as the first in a series of eight novels examining mad visionaries, the book deals with the dangers inherent in believing that rigid, dissociated intellectualism and detached, dogmatic scholarship can prevail over evil, chaos , and destruction. Set in Vienna and Paris, the novel tells the story of Peter Kien, an internationally respected scholar of Chinese studies who maintains a personal library of 25, volumes. After dreaming that the books are burned, Kien marries his housekeeper Therese, believing that she will preserve his beloved library should disaster befall him.
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