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Havel’s Castle

J.P. Stern, 22 February 1990

... The social memory of small countries is punctuated by dates which recall national defeats. When the students of Prague assembled in the late afternoon of Friday 17 November 1989 in the city’s main thorough-fare, the Narodni Street, the purpose of their officially-sanctioned demonstration was to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the death of one of their comrades, Jan Opletal, murdered by the Germans on 17 November 1939; at the same time they were remembering the death of Jan Palach, the student who, on 16 January 1969, burned himself to death at the foot of the statue of the country’s patron saint, the good King Wenceslas, in protest against the invasion of Czechoslovakia by the armies of the Soviet Union and three other countries of the Communist bloc ...

Günter Grass’s Uniqueness

J.P. Stern, 5 February 1981

... With the deaths of Thomas Mann in 1955 and of Bertolt Brecht and Gottfried Benn in 1956, a major era in the history of German literature comes to an end. These three are not only the greatest writers of their age, they are also its witnesses. Each of them worked in a different genre: Thomas Mann in the convoluted, partly essayistic prose of his novels, Bert Brecht in the drama and narrative poetry of social dialectics, Benn in the lyrical poetry of radical Modernism ...

One blushes to admit it

D.J. Enright, 11 June 1992

The Heart of Europe: Essays on Literature and Ideology 
by J.P. Stern.
Blackwell, 415 pp., £45, April 1992, 0 631 15849 9
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... Kellers and Hellers.) In the company of a few other British Germanists and translators, J.P. Stern, who died in November of last year, did much to make these writers more accessible to us, thanks to his persuasion that literature, no matter how exalted, is not the preserve of scholars, and that what has wide implications should be known widely. And ...

It wasn’t him, it was her

Jenny Diski: Nietzsche’s Bad Sister, 25 September 2003

Nietzsche’s Sister and the Will to Power: A Biography of Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche 
by Carol Diethe.
Illinois, 214 pp., £26, July 2003, 0 252 02826 0
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... fill out her omissions and even to make sense of the overall narrative I read Ronald Hayman, J.P. Stern, Michael Tanner, Rüdiger Bittner, Walter Kaufmann, Leslie Chamberlain and, yes, even Nietzsche on Nietzsche, Ben MacIntyre on Elisabeth’s Paraguayan adventure, and H.F. Peters on Lou Andreas-Salomé (some of the detail below is from these books rather ...


Daniel Johnson, 20 June 1996

The Dear Purchase: A Theme in German Modernism 
by J.P. Stern.
Cambridge, 445 pp., £40, February 1995, 0 521 43330 4
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... Cambridge only woke up to the great achievements of Peter Stern when he died there aged 70 in 1991. Stern’s adoptive university, to which he found himself evacuated from the LSE after arriving from Prague as a refugee from Nazi anti-Semitism, became his home for half a century; but although he taught there for many years and remained devoted to his college, St John’s, Cambridge failed adequately to recognise his stature during his lifetime ...

Nietzsche’s Centaur

Bernard Williams, 4 June 1981

Nietzsche on Tragedy 
by M.S. Silk and J.P. Stern.
Cambridge, 441 pp., £27.50, March 1981, 0 521 23262 7
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Nietzsche: A Critical Life 
by Ronald Hayman.
Weidenfeld, 424 pp., £18.50, March 1980, 0 297 77636 3
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Nietzsche. Vol. 1: The Will to Power as Art 
by Martin Heidegger, translated by David Farrell Krell.
Routledge, 263 pp., £11.50, March 1981, 0 7100 0744 2
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... These elements, the Dionysiac and the Apollonian (a term surely preferable to Silk and Stern’s ‘Apolline’), by no means merely represent, as they are often taken to do, a dichotomy of passion and reason, or of emotion and form. The basic element of the Dionysiac is indeed Rausch – ‘rapture’ in Krell’s translation of ...

A Human Kafka

Gabriel Josipovici, 5 March 1981

The World of Franz Kafka 
edited by J.P. Stern.
Weidenfeld, 263 pp., £9.95, January 1981, 0 297 77845 5
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... of the best and worst in English letters. There is a perfect example of what I mean in Professor Stern’s own admirable introduction. He says: ‘There is about the man Franz Kafka a charm, a good-natured resignation, an uncommon kindness and thoughtfulness for others, which come across in his letters and in the testimonies of friends ... There is, every ...


Gordon A. Craig, 17 July 1997

Ernst Jünger and Germany: Into the Abyss, 1914-45 
by Thomas Nevin.
Constable, 280 pp., £20, January 1997, 0 09 474560 9
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... inflammatory effect on his critics than anything else he wrote. In a distinguished study, J.P. Stern, while admitting Jünger’s importance as a writer, attacked his style and his much discussed ‘preoccupation with the existential moment’ as being devoid of feeling and little more than the triumph of the voyeur. Of the Paris diaries, ...

Orpheus in his Underwear

Harold James, 1 November 1984

My Life 
by Richard Wagner, translated by Andrew Gray, edited by Mary Whittall.
Cambridge, 786 pp., £22.50, November 1983, 0 521 22929 4
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Untimely Meditations 
by Friedrich Nietzsche, translated by R.J. Hollingdale, introduced by J.P. Stern.
Cambridge, 256 pp., £15, December 1983, 0 521 24740 3
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Wagner: A Case-History 
by Martin von Amerongen.
Dent, 169 pp., £8.95, September 1983, 0 460 04618 7
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... theatres. Yet even when he wrote this essay, he had doubts about Wagner and Bayreuth. In J.P. Stern’s Introduction Nietzsche’s diary is quoted: Wagner had nothing more, Nietzsche said there, than a synthetic ‘actor’s nature’. Nietzsche came to suspect that the prophet of Bayreuth was merely the final – essentially unchanged – version of the ...

Hitler at Heathrow

E.S. Shaffer, 7 August 1980

The Memoirs of Bridget Hitler 
edited by Michael Unger.
Duckworth, 192 pp., £4.95, March 1979, 0 7156 1356 1
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The Portage to San Cristobal of A.H. 
by George Steiner.
Granta, 66 pp., £1.50
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Young Adolf 
by Beryl Bainbridge.
Duckworth, 174 pp., £6.95, November 1978, 0 7156 1323 5
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... peddling Social Darwinist racialism and imperialism to the doss-houses of Vienna, who, as J.P. Stern has pointed out, appears never to have read a line of the Nietzsche he pretended to quote, who as Reich Chancellor read and reread the adventure stories of Karl May which had occupied his boyhood, who locked himself into his nightly showings of Hollywood ...

A Lot of Travail

Michael Wood: T.S. Eliot’s Letters, 3 December 2009

The Letters of T.S. Eliot, Vol. II: 1923-25 
edited by Valerie Eliot and Hugh Haughton.
Faber, 878 pp., £35, November 2009, 978 0 571 14081 7
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... all those other modern writers and thinkers who adopted or at least were tempted by what J.P. Stern in another context calls the ‘dear purchase’, the notion that sacrifice is worth nothing if it doesn’t cost too much. When he discovered that his theologian friend Paul Elmer More didn’t believe in hell, he was indignant and wrote: ‘Is your God ...

Impossible Wishes

Michael Wood: Thomas Mann, 6 February 2003

The Cambridge Companion to Thomas Mann 
edited by Ritchie Robertson.
Cambridge, 257 pp., £45.50, November 2001, 9780521653107
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Thomas Mann: A Biography 
by Hermann Kurzke, translated by Leslie Willson.
Allen Lane, 582 pp., £30, January 2002, 0 7139 9500 9
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... to the difficulties of being a novelist. In his last book, The Dear Purchase (1995), J.P. Stern magisterially explores the ubiquitous theme of difficulty in modern German literature, carefully explicating the lures and dangers of an ‘idea of salvation through extraordinary effort’, and I wouldn’t have thought of this particular connection ...

Kafka at Las Vegas

Alan Bennett, 23 July 1987

... is given credit for, not least by Kafka himself – and so he slips away from Prague in time. J.P. Stern imagines him fighting with the Partisans; Philip Roth finds him a poor teacher of Hebrew in Newark, New Jersey. Whatever his future when he leaves Prague, he becomes what he has always been, a refugee. Maybe (for there is no harm in dreams) he even lives ...

God’s Iceberg

Mary-Kay Wilmers, 4 December 1986

The ‘Titanic’: The Full Story of a Tragedy 
by Michael Davie.
Bodley Head, 244 pp., £12.95, October 1986, 9780370307640
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The IT Girls: Elinor Glyn and Lucy, Lady Duff Gordon 
by Meredith Etherington-Smith and Jeremy Pilcher.
Hamish Hamilton, 258 pp., £14.95, September 1986, 0 241 11950 2
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... the great crowd of people that remained on board edging further and further back towards the stern. He was sucked down again, and as he came up the second time, was pulled onto an upturned lifeboat. Meanwhile the crowd aboard the Titanic had moved back as far as it could go and was clinging together ‘in clusters or bunches, like swarming bees’. As ...

Why name a ship after a defeated race?

Thomas Laqueur: New Lives of the ‘Titanic’, 24 January 2013

The Wreck of the ‘Titan’ 
by Morgan Robertson.
Hesperus, 85 pp., £8, March 2012, 978 1 84391 359 7
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Shadow of the ‘Titanic’ 
by Andrew Wilson.
Simon and Schuster, 392 pp., £8.99, March 2012, 978 1 84739 882 6
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‘Titanic’ 100th Anniversary Edition: A Night Remembered 
by Stephanie Barczewski.
Continuum, 350 pp., £15.99, December 2011, 978 1 4411 6169 7
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The Story of the Unsinkable ‘Titanic’: Day by Day Facsimile Reports 
by Michael Wilkinson and Robert Hamilton.
Transatlantic, 127 pp., £16.99, November 2011, 978 1 907176 83 8
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‘Titanic’ Lives: Migrants and Millionaires, Conmen and Crew 
by Richard Davenport-Hines.
Harper, 404 pp., £9.99, September 2012, 978 0 00 732166 7
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Gilded Lives, Fatal Voyage 
by Hugh Brewster.
Robson, 338 pp., £20, March 2012, 978 1 84954 179 4
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‘Titanic’ Calling 
edited by Michael Hughes and Katherine Bosworth.
Bodleian, 163 pp., £14.99, April 2012, 978 1 85124 377 8
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... was quite fairylike,’ a survivor told the New York Times. The ship, ‘illuminated from stem to stern, was perfectly stationary like some fantastic piece of stage scenery … For three hours cries of anguish were heard like some vast choir singing a death song.’ Joseph Conrad wrote with a ‘certain bitterness’ shortly after the night of 14-15 April ...

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