Rock Crystal by Adalbert Stifter

Chosen by Anna Wood
 
I first read Rock Crystal, by 19th-century Bohemian writer Adalbert Stifter, a few years ago after I learned it was an influence on Thomas Mann. Now I re-read it for pleasure and also to try to work out how he does it. (I still don’t know how he does it.) In my edition, the whole first page is a tender clear-eyed appreciation of midwinter festivals and steady community, lovely long sentences of snow-crusted boughs and low winter sun, a bit like Proust if he was more robust and cheerier (in the author picture of Stifter he looks a bit like Les Dawson). Then a neighbourly, very slightly gossipy tour of our home village, Gschaid, and surrounding ice, pines, paths, meadows and glaciers turns into a deeply felt adventure for a young brother and sister visiting their doting grandma in the next valley. And, it is Christmas Eve – Holy Night. The simple-as-snow plot emerges almost without you noticing, like a train setting off very very gently while you’re busy in a daydream. All this in an extremely beautiful 1945 translation by Elizabeth Mayer and Marianne Moore which, to drop another beloved name, is like having WG Sebald telling you a bedtime story. And when it ends, it echoes and the echo does not stop. 
 
(Now, if it’s not too crass and with zero vested interest, I’d like to point out that Pushkin Press have a gorgeous standalone edition for ten quid which has ‘perfect little Christmas present’ written all over it.)
 
First published in German as Bergkristall in 1845. First published in English by Lee M. Hollander in 1914. The translation by Elizabeth Mayer and Marianne Moore is available from Pushkin Press, 2001, and NYRB Classics, 2008. Anna Wood is author of the short story collection Yes Yes More More, Indigo Press, 2021.

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