Brecht and Company

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Fuegi repeats many of the charges previously drawn against the man who is generally considered one of the twentieth century’s foremost dramatists: that Brecht was sly, cunning, guileful, opportunistic, and thoroughly selfish. He also goes much further, painting a horrifying portrait of an ogre who played, all his life, cruel and treacherous games with love, friendship and ideological evil. Fuegi does credit his subject with enormous talent as a poet and a director, but asserts that Brecht was unable to finish any of his plays without vital assistance from other, which he rarely acknowledged.

These indispensable helpers were usually gifted but submissive women who, Fuegi claims, were enthralled by Brecht’s erotic hold on them. The most important of these were Elisabeth Hauptmann, Margarete Steffin, and Ruth Berlau. Hauptmann, Fuegi insists, wrote at least 80 percent of THE THREEPENNY OPERA, most of A MAN’S A MAN, and much of his other drama until 1933. The sacrificial Steffin provided invaluable writing assistance until her death from tuberculosis in 1941. Moreover, the beautiful, vibrant Berlau gave him texts as well as sex until his death in 1956. Furthermore, according to Fuegi, Brecht usually cheated his coworkers of their share of income from the plays.

The accuracy of Fuegi’s harsh accusations will be a matter of dispute for many years. What will offend many readers is Fuegi’s bitterly assaultive tone as he often compares Brecht’s conduct to that of Soviet commissars and capitalistic exploiters.