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Modernism reissued

November 30, 2009

Readers continue to be fascinated with the art and literature that emerged during the tumult of the early twentieth century. Check out the following books to get better acquainted with the period yourself.

A figure stands next to a stack of books
Take a look at these German classics in EnglishImage: AP

The Inner Sky: Poems, Notes, Dreams

by Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by Damion Searls

David R Godine Publisher (November 15, 2009)

Rilke's poetry has long been popular and available in English translation, but "The Inner Sky" offers a new perspective on the poet's output. Publisher David Godine includes over a dozen works that were previously unavailable in English in a volume containing both prose and poetry.

The cover of Rainer Maria Rilke's "The Inner Sky"
The Inner Sky contains writings never before translated into EnglishImage: David R Godine

Many readers may associate Rilke with the mystical, incantatory tone of his masterpieces like the "Sonnets to Orpheus" or the "Duino Elegies." But for "The Inner Sky," Godine selected works that focus on several more concrete themes like working and writing, childhood, and nature.

The new edition could enrich readers' understanding of a poet whose prolific and diverse writings reflect their author's restlessness. Rilke (1875-1926) grew up in Prague in the 1870s and 1880s before embarking on a nomadic existence that included stints in Munich, an artists' colony in Worpswede, Paris and several regions in Switzerland.

Rilke's time in Paris proved important for his work, since he spent time there with friend and sculptor Auguste Rodin (1840-1917). Rodin's influence may be seen in the "New Poems" volume that Rilke completed in Paris. The "New Poems" reveal an objective, concrete approach to poetry similar to what Godine highlights with "The Inner Sky."

From a Good Family

by Gabriele Reuter, translated by Lynne Tatlock

Camden House (December 1, 2009)

Perhaps due to the intellectual and social upheaval of the early 20th century, German literature underwent something of a renaissance. Rilke, Kafka, Hesse, Thomas Mann, and Musil are just some of the major figures associated with this period whose works are still widely read.

The cover of Gabriele Reuter's "From a Good Family"
Reuter was a much discussed figure in feminist circlesImage: Boydell & Brewer Inc

Gabriele Reuter (1859-1941) stands in contrast to those authors for at least two reasons. First, unlike most of the period's most prominent writers, she is a woman. Second, her work's realism and naturalism share little in common with the modernist approach that informed contemporaries like Kafka.

However, "From a Good Family" remains an important document of its time. The novel was widely read and became part of feminist discourse in the early 20th century. Reuter's tale examines a Prussian bureaucrat's daughter, who struggles to reconcile her independent temperament with the social and gender conventions she encounters.

Now, English speaking readers can gain insight into the pressures facing women during the period of German unification with this new paperback edition of "From a Good Family."

Siddhartha / The Dhammapada

by Hermann Hesse and The Buddha, translated by Hilda Rosner and Irving Babbitt

New Directions (September 28, 2009)

Hesse's "Siddhartha" has been widely available and read in English-speaking countries for years. The novel traces the life of a young man who grapples with the teachings of the Buddha. Now, New Directions offers a fresh take on the novel by publishing it together with the Dhammapada - the collection of verses attributed to the Buddha.

Hermann Hesse, reclining and smoking
Hesse is well-known among English-speaking readersImage: AP

Due to Hesse's simple language and straightforward narrative style in "Siddhartha," the work resembles a historical account. The new edition blurs the lines between history and imagination further by packaging the two texts together.

Combining the Dhammapada with "Siddhartha" reflects some of Hermann Hesse's (1877-1962) own concerns. The author engaged in intensive study of Eastern cultures and religion throughout much of his life and spent time traveling in Asia before publishing "Siddhartha." Spiritual and mythological themes run throughout Hesse's work, including in "The Glass Bead Game," for which he won the Nobel Prize in 1946.

Author: Greg Wiser

Editor: Kate Bowen