Thursday, March 5, 2015

Broch and Saki

In Chapter LXIV of "The Realist", the third book of The Sleepwalkers, Hermann Broch writes
"Ah," says the romantic, drawing on the cloak of an alien belief system, "ah, now I am one of you and am no longer lonely." "Ah," says the aesthete, drawing on the same cloak, "I am still lonely, but this is a lovely cloak." The aesthete is the serpent in the romantic Garden of Eden.
In "Reginald at the Theatre" by Saki, I find
"And equally of course you are quite irreligious?"
"Oh, by no means. The fashion just now is a Roman Catholic frame of mind with an Agnostic conscience: you get the mediaeval picturesqueness of the one with the modern conveniences of the other."
Saki's young men often enough are aesthetes, and seem adequately serpentine, but in Saki's stories romanticism tends to be a self-conscious imitation, and the romantics chumps. On the other hand, under his civilian name of H.H. Munro, Saki enlisted in 1914 and died in late 1916 as an NCO, though he could have had a commission for the asking; that suggests an element of romanticism.

In the "The Romantic", the first book of The Sleepwalkers, the ex-officer Eduard von Bertrand seems to be the serpent in a couple of the romantic Joachim von Pasenow's relationships. He brings, that is, the knowledge of good and evil to Pasenow's dalliance with the actress Ruzena; Ruzena perceives presently via Bertrand that her relationship with Pasenow is doomed.  Bertrand makes a declaration of love to Pasenow's fiancee Elizabeth von Baddensen, but  one carefully crippled with irony. Is he an aesthete? His ironic view of his military service and of his present business suggests so. Yet he is, in this book and the next, a sound businessman.

It is not clear that Pasenow, the romantic of the title, recognizes that the belief system in which he works is alien. He does appear to find the rules of his caste awkward, though without an ability to question them in any articulate way. He does not take up the military career without wondering whether he should be happy, yet he is reluctant to leave it for the life of a landowner. He cannot keep a lower-class mistress with good or no conscience. He cannot marry for land and children without uncomfortable self-consciousness. Yet he carries on, and turns up in the third book, "The Realist" as a town commandant in the Moselle valley, a major, father of a family, but still confused.

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