06 November 2008

Bertolt Brecht Collected Short Stories

Bertolt Brecht has also written short fiction. Not much is written about this (after all Brecht is mostly known as a playwright and a poet), but this facet of Brecht’s talent came to my attention when, a week ago, I picked up a copy of his Collected Short Stories. Brecht’s collection contains 37 short stories in the main section of the book, plus a ‘fragment’ of a novel in the Appendix. The short stories are grouped in three sections, in a linear fashion, pertaining to critical literary periods in Brecht’s life.

The first group, called The Bavarian stories (1920-24), contains 11 stories and represents his early writings. The second group, called The Berlin stories (1924-33), contains 14 stories and probably represents Brecht’s most productive years in Germany before WW2 – thanks mainly to Elisabeth Hauptmann, whom Brecht’s publishers had sent to help him complete a book of poems. The third group, called Stories Written in Exile, contains 12 stories and mainly represents the period of his fight against Fascism (which dominated Germany at the time) from the outside.

I loved the stories for their purity and non-political nature. For, it seems to me that, while Brecht was establishing himself as a playwright and a poet, he used his short stories to experiment with the plots and the parables he used so effectively later in his plays. Brecht’s stories, particularly those from his years spent in exile (when he fled Germany during Nazi rule and moved from one country to another before returning to East Germany after the War), some of them with their remote historical settings, are perhaps his most accomplished.

What is common in all these stories, and what makes them good reads, is Brecht’s story-telling ability. He uses a straight-forward narrative prose, telling the story as it is, without adding any undue artifice to stimulate the reader’s attention. It’s as if Brecht is trying to say, “this is what happened and that is exactly what I’ve reported here.” Hence, the stories are crisp and to the point. There are no overt political messages as there are in his plays. Yet, the stories are engaging, and a few, quite entertaining.

[Citation: Bertolt Brecht Collected Short Stories, edited by John Willett and Ralph Manheim, translated by Yvonne Kapp, Hugh Rorrison and Antony Tatlow; Methuen 1999 paperback edition.]

2 comments:

d gypsy! said...

I saw the collection the other day...

but i ignored ...

though I havnt read ny of his stories yet...

runawaysun said...

Brecht's short stories are good. But he is best known for his plays. If you get the opportunity, do try and read and/or watch his plays. Brecht's works have strong leftist leanings and are popular across the world.