The Bachelors by Adalbert Stifter

Victor has been raised in the gentle and loving home of his foster mother and now that he has come of age,  he will travel far from home to take a post as a civil servant.  Stifter spends the first half of the book describing the tender relationship between foster mother and child and the arduous journey that Victor takes through scenic mountains and valleys.  The author’s language is fittingly simple for the sentimental departure scenes he describes between Victor and his family.

Victor’s first stop on his journey is to an island where his uncle, his father’s brother,  has lived in solitude for many years.  The uncle’s life has been the antithesis of Victor’s; he does not trust anyone and keeps his house and his island locked down like a fortress.  At first the two exchange very few words, but as these bachelors get used to one another’s company they slowly begin to talk.  Victor’s uncle has some very important and surprising advice for him: “The greatest and most important thing you have to do now is this: you must marry.”

Victor’s uncle goes on to explain his advice:

When an ancient old man stands on top of a hill made up of a whole welter of his life’s deeds, what good is that to him?  I have done many and various things and have nothing to show for them.  Everything falls apart in a moment if you haven’t created a life that lasts beyond the grave.  That man around whom, in his old age, sons, grandsons and great-grandsons stand will often live to be a thousand.  There is a diversity of life there but of the same stamp and when he is gone, then that same life continues—indeed you don’t even notice that a small part of that life has stepped to one side and is no longer there.  At my death everything that I have been, that I am, will perish….which is why you must marry, Victor, marry very young.

Stifter’s thoughts on marriage and leaving a legacy reminded me of the Greek concept of  kleos that is a central theme of the Iliad.  The heroes go to Troy and fight  bravely so that they will be remembered well after they are gone from this earth.  The uncle’s advice, to surround oneself with a wife, children and a loving family,  seems more practical to be remembered for those of us not living in the Bronze Age.

7 Comments

Filed under Classics, German Literature

7 responses to “The Bachelors by Adalbert Stifter

  1. I remember you reviewing Rock Crystal. A pity there doesn’t seem to be much more by Stifter in English apart from the Penguin Classic Brigitta and Other Tales.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Jonathan

    I loved this book nearly as much as Rock Crystal; I’m probably due a re-read. The final advice by the uncle is especially poignant when we know a little more about his personal life (see the Wikipedia entry if you’re interested).

    I’d also recommend the Brigitta collection and Indian Summer—luckily I got it from the library, although someone else kept requesting it as I was reading it and I had to read it in parts which actually worked out quite well. The library got rid of the book not long after I read it—I don’t know why. I’m not sure about Witiko though, it doesn’t look that promising but I shall probably succumb at some point.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. There is more Stifter in English! Scrounge through those German Library editions. There’s one, for example, in a book called “German Novellas of Realism II.” Is that not the worst title? “Don’t read me!” it screams.

    Perhaps Wuthering Expectations has more detail. I wrote about Indian Summer for something like three weeks! I have 25 posts tagged “STIFTER Adalbert”! That’s ridiculous!

    Liked by 2 people

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