There are a number of titles in the Art of the Novella series that I expect to enjoy, that are by authors I like, that I’m sure I will be happy to have read. But there are a few I’ve been specifically looking forward to, and Heinrich von Kleist’s The Duel was one of these. Really, I look forward to reading anything by Kleist (good thing his Michael Kohlhaas is in this set too!); ever since I first encountered him I knew I would probably want to read all his work someday. The desire, of course, to do so in German has done nothing but make me procrastinate, so I sucked it up and read The Duel in Annie Janusch’s able translation.
The Duel was originally published in 1810 and fits well among Kleist’s other strange, dark, cold Romantic fairy tales, at least the ones that I’ve read. I always find Kleist a little bit eerie. That’s not quite the right adjective, but I’ve been having an awful time in the days since I read this pinpointing the right one. I think it’s something about the violence and almost blank darkness I find in his stories, but I think it’s wonderful.
Here, Kleist has a very nice Kunstmärchen for us. He sets the scene in one very long sentence that I may as well repeat; paraphrasing things would not help much:
Toward the end of the fourteenth century, as night was falling on the feastday of St. Remigius, Duke Wilhelm von Breysach—who had been living in enmity with his half-brother, Count Jakob Rotbart, ever since the Duke’s clandestine marriage to a countess reputedly below his social rank, Katharina von Heersbruck of the family Alt-Hüningen—returned from a meeting with the German Kaiser in Worms, at which the Duke had persuaded
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