Leo Perutz Criticism - Essay

The Times Literary Supplement (essay date 1926)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of The Marquis de Bolibar, in The Times Literary Supplement, No. 1284, September 9, 1926, p. 594.

[In the following excerpt, the critic questions Perutz's handling of magic in The Marquis de Bolibar while offering a generally favorable review of the novel.]

The Marquis De Bolibar by Leo Perutz has considerable distinction; at its weakest one is conscious that there is a superior and original mind behind it. The plot is good enough, the characterization excellent, the air of a memoir well simulated. Where it fails is in the treatment of the magical events upon which the story mainly hinges. These are sometimes trivial and sometimes clumsy, and the fashion in which the tone changes from the ironical to the rhetorical when they are dealt with is unsatisfactory. It is, nevertheless, a novel quite out of the ordinary.

Its theme is an imaginary episode of the Peninsular War, the destruction by Spanish irregulars of two regiments of the Rhenish Confederation in the French service; and it is supposed to be an abridgment of the papers of Edward von Jochberg, the sole survivor. Jochberg tells us how the officers of one of these regiments, the Nassau Dragoons, brought the disaster upon themselves, almost of set purpose, in the grip of fate and of two guilty secrets shared by them: that they had all been lovers of the Colonel's dead wife, the beautiful Françoise-Marie, and that they had killed the Marquis de Bolibar because he had discovered the fact. As Bolibar was a spy, whom they would in any case have executed, as they were all soldiers of fortune far from squeamish in moral affairs, it does not appear why the second should have troubled them. Here the magic makes its appearance, in a form which it would be unfair—to readers as well as writer—to reveal. It is also represented in the figure of Captain de Salignac, the Wandering Jew in person, who is quite unnecessary to the plot save in so far as he brings ill-luck on those with whom he is associated. These blemishes apart, it is an excellent romance, high-coloured and swift in action, but at the same time intelligent.…

L. P. Hartley (essay date 1926)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of The Marquis de Bolibar, in The Saturday Review, London, Vol. 142, No. 3698, September 11, 1926, pp. 292-93.

[In the following excerpt, Hartley offers a generally enthusiastic appraisal of The Marquis de Bolivar.]

Romantic, heroic, symbolic, fantastic, obscure, occult—epithets that fit some aspect of The Marquis de Bolibar, suggest themselves readily enough. But it is much less easy to catch the author's whole intention and condense it in a word. Here is what purports to be an incident in the Peninsular War. The preface, a monument of Teutonic thoroughness, short but solid, introduces us to the memoirs of Edward von Jochberg who was,...

(The entire section is 634 words.)

L. P. Hartley (essay date 1927)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of From Nine to Nine, in The Saturday Review, London, Vol. 143, No. 3727, April 2, 1927, pp. 527-28.

[In the following excerpt, Hartley reviews From Nine to Nine and suggests that readers who enjoyed The Marquis of Bolivar may be disappointed by the comparative plot and character limitation of this harsh psychological drama.]

Imagine a nightmare beset by two kinds of misery—first, the misery of having to do a thing against time, and secondly, of being always thwarted when success is in sight—and you have the theme of From Nine to Nine. Stanislaus Demba wanted some money to take him and the girl he loved for a trip...

(The entire section is 630 words.)

Francis Lloyd (essay date 1930)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of The Master of the Day of Judgment, in The London Mercury, Vol. XXI, No. 123, January, 1930, pp. 272-73.

[In the following excerpt, Lloyd reviews The Master of the Day of Judgment, asserting that the quality of the English translation preserves the tone, style, and atmosphere of Perutz's carefully crafted prose.]

We are grateful for the translation that allows us to read the Master of the Day of Judgment: and we are particularly grateful to Mr. Hedrig Singer who has so well converted the original German of Herr Leo Perutz that it is possible for us to feel the force of atmosphere so powerfully. The obliquities of translation scarcely intrude themselves. For an atmosphere of real growing tension and horror it would be hard to find many equals in similar books of recent years. The use of the graphic present, which so often sounds unreal in a translation from the German, here is carefully controlled to heighten the vividness of the presentation. A haze of supernatural horrors clouds the book with increasing density, and the explanation which might easily, in the hands of a less distinguished writer, fall into the banal and commonplace, here takes on the correct tone of unearthly reality. It is decidedly not a book for the bedside: the strings of naked pagan fear are so well played on that an uncomfortable chill sensation must be left on even the midday reader. Those who like sensation will certainly not be disappointed. We all know the contrasts of the real and unreal which are so striking and forcible when the mind is in a hypersensitive state, and we must applaud the art which handles these delicate sensations, so that we are never oppressed, but feel a heightened absorption in the mind which is their focus. Too much has been made of this kind of technique in modern German literature and cinematograph films: the insignificant movements of other people and things that bore down into the memory when the mind has been unhinged by a terrific shock are so easy for an author to invent, but so hard to make significant and impressive. Herr Perutz has done this difficult feat with consummate art. The rapid stream of the plot is never impeded by its excursions through the caverns of mental psychology. It is a book not easy to forget.

Rose C. Feld (essay date 1930)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "A Macabre Tale of Murder in Vienna," in The New York Times Book Review, April 20, 1930, p. 7.

[In the following review, Feld lauds the storytelling technique Perutz employs in The Master of the Day of Judgment.]

Leo Perutz, author of The Master of the Day of Judgment, was born in Prague and later emigrated to Vienna. According to Dr. Fritz Wittels, who has written an illuminating introduction to the book, the literature of Perutz is saturated with the "curiously somber and mysterious character" of this strangely fascinating metropolis of present-day Czechoslovakia built by Germans in the midst of a Slav population. Tales of adventure and horror, he...

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The Times Literary Supplement (essay date 1934)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of The Virgin's Brand, in The Times Literary Supplement, No. 1698, August 16, 1934, p. 564.

[In the following essay, the critic describes The Virgin's Brand as a mirror of Europe's troubled political milieu in the mid-193Os.]

The publishers describe The Virgin's Brad … as "a story of great dramatic tension, of adventure and mystery and withal a love story of moving intensity." Up to a point this is a just description (except that the love story, however moving and intense, is a somewhat irrelevant intrusion presumably introduced as a sop to public demand). The author, whose reputation on the Continent is considerable, is a very...

(The entire section is 436 words.)

Claudio G. Segrè (essay date 1989)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Revenge Before Love," in The New York Times Book Review, September 10, 1989, p. 37.

[In the following review, Segrè suggests that the characters, plot, and setting of Leonardo's Judas constitute prime operatic material.]

Attention, opera composers and librettists: [Leonardo's Judas] may provide wonderful material. Consider the premise of this last work by the Czechoslovak novelist, mathematician and classical scholar Leo Perutz.…: Leonardo—the Leonardo, of course—is having trouble completing The Last Supper. He can't find a suitable model for Judas, a contemporary face that will convey the mystery and anguish of the betrayal.

Enter Joachim Behaim, a proud German merchant who has sworn to recover a debt from a usurer named Boccetta. While conniving against Boccetta, Behaim falls hopelessly in love—with Boccetta's daughter Niccola. And in observing Behaim's decision to sacrifice love for vengeance, Leonardo finds the inspiration to complete his masterpiece.

Reminds you of Kafka? Hardly, though the publisher claims that Perutz has "sometimes been compared" to his brooding countryman. Rather, in Eric Mosbacher's smooth translation from the German, the charm of Leonardo's Judas lies in its color, its old-fashioned melodrama and morality. Real characters mix with imaginary ones on Perutz's historical sets. And those sets themselves seem made for opera: the ducal court in Milan; the rustic inn where Behaim carouses with artists and craftsmen; the wretched hovel that is Boccetta's home; the churches and inns where the lovers tryst; the hospital where the mysterious poet Mancino dies and the denouement takes place.

But although this scenery is beguiling, I had some trouble with the novel's ironies and its twists of plot. I don't quite believe, for example, that Mancino climbed in the window of Boccetta's house to return the money that Niccola, out of love for Behaim, stole from her father. Or that Behaim turned away from his true love so easily. Or that Niccola would really say she would never have loved Behaim "if I had known he had Judas's face." But in an opera, I'd believe—and I might even cry a little.

Amy Clyde (essay date 1990)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of By Night Under the Stone Bridge, in The New York Times Book Review, May 27, 1990, p. 16.

[In the following review, Clyde praises By Night Under a Stone Bridge as imaginative and pleasant to read.]

In Prague at the end of the 16th century, the court of the mad Emperor Rudolf II bulges with flatterers, opportunists and spies, while the city itself swarms with pestilence, destitution and crime. Corrupt from top to bottom, the remains of the Holy Roman Empire teeter on the verge of economic and moral collapse. But in this charming fable by Leo Perutz,… moments of connection, both earthly and surreal, draw the community together. Rudolf...

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Dwight Garner (essay date 1992)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Little Apple, in VLS, No. 106, June, 1992, p. 6.

[In the following essay, Garner discusses characteristic themes and stylistic traits of Perutz's fiction and reviews Little Apple.]

"Every writer," Jorge Luis Borges wrote, "creates his own precursors." Small wonder that Borges, who had not yet composed his ficciones when the Prague-born novelist Leo Perutz published the bulk of his eleven novels in the late 1920s and early '30s, was charmed by Perutz's work. Perutz so knowingly inventoried the characteristics that streak Borges's prose—the metaphysical dream logic, the attention to senseless truths, a penchant for the fantastic—that...

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