October 18, 2012

Celebrating Heinrich von Kleist’s birthday with a classic deal on two classic books


The ever-youthful Heinrich von Kleist

TODAY ONLY: buy The Duel and Michael Kohlhaas for just $5 each.


German writer Heinrich von Kleist was born in Frankfurt on this day in 1777. His life was brief and frenetic, with wanderings leading him across much of Europe — Dresden, Prague, Switzerland, Paris, and, ultimately, Potsdam, where he shot himself alongside Henriette Vogel, a terminally ill pianist and artist with whom he had a suicide pact, on the shores of Kleiner Wannsee. He was 34.

Kleist wrote a variety of poems, dramas, essays, novels and short stories. He came to prominence during the Romantic period, but his work largely eschewed the longing, innocence, and ironic themes indicative of that period. Instead, his writing is marked with passages of deep emotion and characters enduring crises of the soul, heart, and mind, often with comic and/or tragic outcomes. Following his death, Kleist’s body of work had a large impact on Realist and Existentialist writers.

Today, Kleist is widely regarded as one of Germany’s greatest authors, and The Kleist Prize, awarded annually for literary merit, is named in his honor. But his life was largely tragic, a detail worth noting as it no doubt greatly influenced his writing. Indeed, insight into the author’s thinking can be found in the following letter, written in 1801 to his fiancee Wilhelmine.

“Truly, considering that we need a lifetime to learn how we ought to live, that even in death we still have no idea what heaven wants with us, if nobody knows the purpose of his existence nor what he is intended for, if human reason is not adequate to comprehend us, our souls, our lives, the things around us, if even after thousands of years we are still doubtful whether there is any such thing as right — can God ask of such creatures that they be responsible? Let nobody tell me there is a voice in us that whispers clearly what is right. [. . .] And then what does it mean, to do something evil, judging by its effect? What is evilAbsolute evil? The things of the world are connected and intertwined in a myriad ways, every act is the mother of a million more and often the worst begets the best — Tell me who on this earth has ever done anything evil?”

In honor of his birthday, we’re offering discounts on Kleist’s The Duel (a Hybrid book) and Michael Kohlhaas, two titles released as part of our Art of the Novella series, and each of which displays his masterful storytelling and powerful prose.

The Duel, considered by Thomas Mann to be one of the greatest German works, tells the story of a virtuous woman slandered by a nobleman. It is a precise study of a subject that fascinated von Kleist: That people are sometimes seemingly punished for their very innocence.

Michael Kohlhaas, meanwhile, is a classic tale about an honorable man forced to take the law into his own hands, and whose impending doom rouses one of literature’s most pointed lines: “You can send me to the scaffold, but I can make you suffer, and I mean to.”

Buy Michael Kohlhaas and The Duel for only $5 each.


Kevin Murphy is the digital media marketing manager of Melville House.