November 3, 2014

This week in 1913: Rilke thinks about his lovers, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away” is coined, and Hitler paints a picture



1913 is now available in paperback. 

Just before one of its darkest moments came the twentieth century’s most exciting year . . .

It was the year Henry Ford first put a conveyer belt in his car factory, and the year Louis Armstrong first picked up a trumpet. It was the year Charlie Chaplin signed his first movie contract, and Coco Chanel and Pradaopened their first dress shops. It was the year Proust began his opus, Stravinsky wrote The Rite of Spring, and the first Armory Show in New York introduced the world to Picasso and the world of abstract art. It was the year the recreational drug now known as ecstasy was invented.

It was 1913, the year before the world plunged into the catastrophic darkness of World War I.

November 1: Rilke sits in Paris, thinking distractedly about summer and autumn in Germany. As he traveled uneasily back and forth between all his wives and über-mothers, between Clara, still his wife, his ex-lovers Sidonie and Lou, his summer love Ellen Delp, his mother, his helpless admirers Cassirer, von Nostitz and von Thurn und Taxis. Keep everything open, don’t go down any one path, wherever it may lead: that is what Rainer Maria Rilke is thinking on 1 November. As an attitude to life it’s disastrous. As poetry it’s a revelation:

Paths, open

That this no more before me lies,
failing, I rein myself back:
paths, open, heavens, pure hills,
leading past no dear faces.

Oh, the pain of love’s possibilities
I have felt day and day after night:
to flee to one another, slip from one another’s grasp,
nothing has led to joy.

On 1 November, King Otto of Bavaria is officially declared insane. The doctors diagnose the “final stage of a long-lasting psychical illness.” This makes the accession to the throne of the Prince Regent Ludwig as Ludwig III a legal possibility.

Date unknown: The phrase “An apple a day keeps the doctor away” appears in England for the first time in 1913. It comes from the book Rustic Speech and Folklore, by Elizabeth M. Wright.

November 7: Albert Camus is born. He will later write the play The Possessed.

The lead magazine of the year: in Vienna—what a coincidence—on 7 November the first issue of the magazine The Possessed is published. On the front page: a self-portrait of Egon Schiele. Subtitle of the magazine: “A journal of passions.”

Adolf Hitler paints a watercolor of the Theatinerkirche in Munich and sells it to a junk dealer in the Viktualienmarkt.


Alex Shephard is the director of digital media for Melville House, and a former bookseller.