Alfred Neumann Criticism - Essay

Gilbert Gabriel (essay date 1928)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: An introduction to The Patriot: A Play in Three Acts, by Alfred Neumann, Boni & Liveright, 1928, pp. v-xiv.

[In the following essay, Gabriel provides an overview of Neumann's drama The Patriot.]

Neumann's drama [The Patriot] is of intrigue and assassination at the Russian Court, St. Petersburg, in the turbulent year of 1801. It is the tragedy of poor Tsar Paul I. and of his Judas, his minister and military governor, Count Pahlen.

These two are the chief tilting posts of The Patriot. Against them—especially against the enigmatic, ironclad, character of Peter Pahlen—the whole of Neumann's drama jousts. A very fiend this Pahlen is depicted, a spider of most intricate cunning, weaving coldly and expertly his plot of betrayal, sedition and regicide, dragging into its strands all admirals and officers, courtiers and whole garrisons, baiting for the emperor with the body of his own mistress, binding the agonized young Tsarievitch into the unyielding center of the web. A very fiend … and yet—the Neumann touch—a hero of heroes.

For, in the end, his bitter task done, the foolish, ineffectual Tsar a strangled corpse, young Alexander ascended safely to the throne, Count Pahlen waits only for the tolling of the dawn before he, too, grimly contrives his own death, uncovers his chest to the bullet of an impassive soldier. A terrible, heart-breaking finale, cold with the desolation of the sallow morning, smeared with the dregs of intrigue, when the blackened, stoic minister, whom you know at last for a savior of his country, a patriot who has flung away honor itself for the sake of the Russia of his Napoleonic day, orders his body servant to shoot, to repeat the suicides of Philippae:

“Look, Stepan, look at these hands of mine … they have been kissed by an emperor. And look at these lips of mine … they have kissed another emperor's hands. And both of them my emperors … my emperors … I am … But let us speak no more of that, Brother Stepan, no more of anything. Sing me a little song, Brother Stepan …”

The stolid soldier, pistols in hand, begins to croon a Russian peasant song. The church bells, the song ceases. The Tsar avenged, the nation rescued. Behind the slowly fallen curtain two shots ring out.


So colossal does this figure of Peter Pahlen loom, you begin to wonder why his name has managed to sift through the chinks of your knowledge of history hitherto. If you know of him at all, you know him as an icy old diplomat who has been given the benefit of no more than two or three lines in the usual encyclopaedias. Even in the Russian encyclopaedias. At any rate in those which were compiled in Russia's Tsarist days, and which are the only ones the New York public libraries can yet boast. The present Russian Government, of course, is publishing a set of its own which guarantees to be franker on the subject of crazy Tsars and successful assassinations.

Until then you must be content, for instance, with the reticence of such an official account as says merely that “On the 12th of March, 1801, Paul I. was found dead” in what is tactfully designated as his “dressing room.” And that “immediately thereafter Count...

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Clifton P. Fadiman (review date 1929)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Pseudo-Historical Fiction,” in The Nation, Vol. 129, No. 3349, September 11, 1929, p. 276.

[In the following mixed review of The Rebels, Fadiman deems the novel “a study of the conspiratorial temperament.”]

One of the reasons for Alfred Neumann's failure to gain an American audience commensurate with his merits is that he is touted as an historical novelist when he is not one at all. By turns he is mystery-story writer and metaphysician, a sorcerer whose effects vary from the awe-inspiring to the parlor-tricky. To read his works as historical novels is simply confusing. He is never really interested in creating a background or making vivid some...

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Pierre Loving (review date 1930)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “History as Fiction,” in The Nation, Vol. 130, No. 3388, June 11, 1930, p. 684.

[In the following brief review, Loving discusses Neumann's The Rebels as historical fiction.]

In The Devil, King Haber, and The Rebels Alfred Neumann showed with what success psychological values can be applied to historical characters and events. In each one of these books we note that the author has proceeded on the assumption—an anathema, I imagine, to most professional historians—that the arcanum of facts must not be too reverently searched or worshiped. To put it another way: history-writing and fiction meet at that focal point where both the historian and the novelist begin to revise and color the available data, which has been, of course, already tainted by the dust of time. Both go in quest, not of “ultimate truth,” but of sound values. In modern philosophy these values are called percepta; nor need we think that they are themselves apprehensions of pure reality; for there are, it is conceded, many veils between our ordinary perceptions and the thing we are seeking, commonly called the truth.

Alfred Neumann in the present book takes up the revolution of the Carbonari, as in The Rebels, and rewrites it for us from the viewpoint of Guerra, the leader. The story begins with Guerra's release from the island of Elba. It is both effective and plausible, and the dramatic crises—of which there are many—are not at all forced. They occur naturally in the flow of the tale, which is thick with intrigue, dark plots, the scheming of prelates and aristocrats, love and lust, the shedding of blood, and the half-finished talk and action of conspirators who scarcely dare trust one another.

Guerra is in love with the Princess Maria, who is the mistress of the Grand Duke, the enemy of United Italy. He is also sinisterly attached to his own sister, who marries the head of the Radical Party. In the end he is shot when about to address his faithful followers in the piazza at Rome. From a balcony a blind man exclaims: “Why—why isn't he speaking?” The novel is full of just such dramatic touches. And it is this sort of literary device that best gives us the clue to the difference between the ordinary kind of history and the historical novel that perhaps justifies itself by the urgency of its inner truth.

Mark Van Doren (review date 1935)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “All Too Historical,” in The Nation, Vol. 140, No. 3630, 1935, p. 133.

[In the following review, Van Doren offers a negative assessment of Another Caesar.]

Much of this novel [Another Caesar] sounds like the novels of Captain Mayne Reid, who never let any information escape his reader if he could help it. When Herr Neumann, for instance, has got Louis Napoleon to that point in his career at which Miss Howard, his English mistress, is about to enter it, he lets us have the following facts full in the face:

Howard is one of the great names of England. The head of the Howard family, the Duke of Norfolk, is the...

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Catherine Radziwill (review date 1937)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Second Empire,” in The Nation, Vol. 144, No. 23, June 5, 1937, pp. 655-56.

[In the following review, Radziwill offers a negative appraisal of The Gaudy Empire.]

First of all, this [The Gaudy Empire] is, I must hasten to say, a typical German book, with all the pathetic features which accompany every German attempt to understand foreign psychology. Once this essential fact has been grasped, it becomes easier to judge of the value of Herr Neumann's description of the brilliant days of the Second French Empire. In many points this description is an excellent one. But the book is too long; it is boring in its endless explanations of things...

(The entire section is 710 words.)

Gerhard F. Probst (essay date 1987)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Alfred Neumann's and Erwin Piscator's Dramatization of Tolstoy's War and Peace and the Role of Theater as a Contribution to America's War Efforts,” in Exile and Enlightenment, Uwe Faulhaber, Jerry Glenn, Edward P. Harris, Hans-Georg Richert eds., Wayne State University Press, 1987, pp. 265-272.

[In the following essay, Probst chronicles the collaboration of Neumann and Piscator on the dramatization of Tolstoy's novel War and Peace.]

It is generally known that Erwin Piscator came to the United States upon the invitation of Broadway producer Gilbert Miller to direct his and Alfred Neumann's dramatization of Tolstoy's War and Peace. When Miller,...

(The entire section is 3622 words.)