I’ve fittingly ended the year by reading another classic piece of German Literature, Rock Crystal by Adalbert Stifter. I have to, once again, thank literary Twitter for steering me towards this author. The NYRB Classics edition I read also includes a lovely introduction by W.H. Auden.
In Stifter’s Christmas Eve tale, two young children get caught on a mountain in a snowstorm on the way home from their grandmother’s. He begins his story by describing the warmth and charm of the holiday: “One of the most beautiful of Church festivals comes in midwinter when the nights are long and days are short, when the sun slants toward earth obliquely and snow mantles the fields: Christmas.” Stifter is a master at laying out a detailed landscape that captures the quiet beauty of the snowy, mountainous scene in which the brother and sister get lost (it is no wonder that he was a landscape painter):
They went steadily up the winding road now west to east, now east to west. The wind predicted by their grandmother had not come up; the air, on the contrary was so still not a twig or a branch stirred; in fact, it felt warmer in the woods, as is usual, in winter, among spaced objects like tree trunks, and the flakes kept falling thicker and thicker so the ground was already white, and the woods began to gray and take on a dusty look, with snow settling upon the garments and hats of both the boy and his sister.
This is truly a gem of a novella as Stifter describes the tender devotion of family, the coming together of an entire village during Christmas and the demonstration of rare emotion from what is an otherwise taciturn father. I highly recommend this short yet beautiful book; I look forward to exploring more of Stifter’s writing in the new year.
Merry Christmas to all!