Criticism about FPG & FrL
(Greve/Grove & Else von Freytag-Loringhoven)


English and French Decadents in Germany:
Felix Paul Greve's Translations of Wilde, Gide & Wells, 1902-1909

A paper presented at the 2nd Midlands Conference on Language & Literature
at Creighton University, April 29, 1989
by
Gaby Divay, University of Manitoba


         The origins of the decadent movement are associated with French poets of the post-romantic period. Best known early representatives are the Parnassians (Leconte de Lisle, Mendès, Sully-Prudhomme, Hérédia: 1860-1880,W.E.), and the symbolists Baudelaire (1821-67), Verlaine (1844-96), and Rimbaud (1854-91). Perhaps most influential for the generation flourishing around the turn of the century is Mallarmé (1842-98; Baudelaire revelation in 2.1861; Poe transl., like Baudelaire) whose famous weekly Tuesday meetings (ca.1885-98;WE,580) served as a focus for symbolist aesthetics and reached far beyond the French literary scene. Notable French authors of the younger generation are André Gide (1869-1951) and Paul Valéry (1871-1945,WE,580) who became regular participants of the Tuesday meetings in 1892, but already in the late 1880's, several young Germans had found access to the Mallarmé group.

         The ever seismatic Viennese propagator of European literary trends, Hermann Bahr (1863-1934), started broadcasting Mallarmé's l'art-pour-l'art poetics in German speaking circles around 1890. Stefan George (1868-1933), of Alsacian family background and for some time undecided about his national and linguistic preferences, also adhered closely to Mallarmé's principles in the illustrious and exclusive literary journal "Blätter für die Kunst" which he directed with a group of young disciples he had gathered around him.

         Two Belgian authors, Huysmans (1848-1907; imitator of Baudelaire, Flaubert) and Maeterlinck (1862-1949; Serres chaudes (poems), 1889) also had great influence on the European literary scene. Huysman's novel A rebours (Against the grain; 1884) is considered a sort of decadent manifesto. Its hero, Des Esseintes, propagates Mallarmé's poetry, and otherwise exemplifies decadent ideals which were imitated by Gabriele D'Annunzio (1889; French, Lenfant de la volupté) and by Oscar Wilde (1856-1900; Pre-Raphaelites & Walter Pater's art for art's sake) in his The picture of Dorian Gray (1891;WE,51).

         Both English (RE) and German (WE) reference sources acknowledge Wagner's (1813-1883) "Gesamtkunstwerk" as a decisive element in decadent aesthetics. Schopenhauer (1788-1860) and especially Nietzsche (1844-1900) are considered philosophers of decadence par excellence. Consequently, deep-rooted pessimism and a sense of maladjustment to societal norms are characteristic of the  decadent authors' world-views, just as their emphasis on form and their almost desparate clinging to art for art's sake are dominating their aesthetic ideals.

         So much for the general picture of one of the major literary movements in Europe around the turn of the century. The following will mainly dwell on the German reception of two representative decadent authors, namely Oscar Wilde and André Gide, and the translations of their works by a minor literary figure who was originally in the orbit of the George-Circle.

         Felix Paul Greve (1879-1948) would be entirely unknown today if it weren't for the discovery a professor of Canadian literature chanced upon in 1971. Searching for the origins of the well known Canadian pioneer novelist Frederick Philip Grove who appeared in Manitoba in 1912 and claimed in his two fictional biographical accounts A Search of America  (1927) and In Search of Myself (1946) to be of Swedish descent, Douglas Spettigue convincingly identified him with Felix Paul Greve who, staging a suicide, had disappeared from Berlin in September 1909. The three years between his sudden disappearance from Germany and his well documented existence as a Canadian author are shrouded in darkness, but there may be some truth to Grove's pseudo-biographical claims that they were spent in the United States in a hobo-like existence.

         Even though there is no documentary proof for Grove's and Greve's identity, indirect evidence abounds. Apart from the prominent use of names using the initials FPG in Grove's writings, the most striking of which is a confessional novel with the tentative title Felix Powell's Career composed around 1940 and unfortunately destroyed by Grove's wife Catherine (Stobie, p.176), there are six German manuscript poems by Grove in the University of Manitoba Archives. All of them are both in theme and technique reminiscent of the output by the George-Circle, and of a collection of poetry entitled Wanderungen which Greve published privately in 1902 when he was trying to become part of the George-Group. One of these German Grove-poems, untitled in the manuscript, has been identified as having been published by Greve in the German literary journal Die Schaubühne as "Erster Sturm" in 1907.

         Particularly interesting are the English translations Grove provided for this particular item and one other of his six German poems. Grove's largely unpublished English poetry does not share any of the decadent characteristics dominate his German manuscript poems. Grove's poetry is rather realistic, that is: descriptive, detached, sober in nature. While he uses an almost literal translation for the two German poems in question, there is a subtle and very artful shift achieved by the use of general rather than personal pronouns, and by the substitution of neo-romantic ghost-like elements with more neutral ones. For instance, the threat of death symbolized by an apocalyptic white horse one individual experiences in the magic setting of a marshy wood becomes in the English version a much more powerful reference to death any man faces when confronted with a murderous winter climate.

         So while it may seem at first glance that there is little connection between the decadent German poet Greve and the Canadian realist poet Grove, these two translations demonstrate how a middle-aged artist reflects his maturity and a fundamental change in attitude towards life by manipulating his own youthful poetic attempts. A similar shift in FPG's outlook onlife is already documented in André Gide's diary entries concerning his first encounter with Greve in June 1904.

         One possible reason for a significant change in values and attitudes can be found in Greve's sketchy early biography. In May 1903, he was sentenced to one year in prison for the fraudulent extraction of a considerable sum of money from his friend Herman Kilian, to whom he had dedicated his first poems Wanderungen a year earlier. Upon his release from prison in Bonn, he had to repay this sum, and Greve's frantic translation activities from then on are motivated in part by this obligation. The heavy and constant burden is also the likely cause for his decision to disappear and start a new life in America in 1909, though the fact that he had double-sold one of his translations no doubt provided the most compelling motive.

         The range and quantity of Greve's translations are truly amazing for a time frame of less than seven years: Lesage's Gil Blas, Dumas' Count of Monte Christo, Murger's La Bohème, a fair amount of Balzac, Flaubert and Gide, along with Cervantes' Novellas and Don Quichote, and possibly also some of Dante's Vita Nuava from the Romance languages; most decadent English authors like Browning, De Quincey, Dowson, Meredith, Pater, Swinburne, Whistler, and most of all, Oscar Wilde from the English, not to mention much of H.G. Wells, the anonymous Letters of Junius, Dicken's David Copperfield, Swift's satirical prose works, and all of Sir Richard Burton's monumental translation of the Arabian Nights (10 & 6 v. 1885-88; Insel, 1907-8, 12 v. ed.). Quite a few of these can still be found in German imprint-tools today. Greve's only involvement with German literature is a meagre edition of the seventeenth century poet Hofmann von Hofmannswaldau in 1907. Of immediate interest here, however, is Greve's preoccupation with Gide and Wilde, and his propagation of Wells, because it indicates a change in emphasis similar to the one demonstrated in Grove's German and English poetry outlined above.

         In a biographical account of himself, which he submitted in 1907 to Brümmer's literary dictionary Lexikon der deutschen Dichter und Prosaisten des 19. Jahrhunderts bis zur Gegenwart, Greve mentions that he acquired a background in classical philology at the universities of Bonn and Munich, and that he started writing poetry and translating "by mere coincidence" while living in Munich (Spettigue, 1973, 63, quoting Brümmer-submission). Apart from two reviews in 1901, one of Nietzsche's posthumous works, v. 11 & 12, in Munich's Allgemeine Zeitung, the other of Stendhal's fragmentary novel Lucien Leuwen (1834;WE,881) in Die Christliche Welt, all of Greve's critical efforts and earliest translations are concentrated on Oscar Wilde.

         Already in August of 1902, Greve claims in his initial letter to the publishing house Die Insel that he has translated "the major works of Oscar Wilde" as well as several related English authors. Of these, he offers Dowson's Dilemmas as the first ready for publication. The only known translation at that time is his version of Wilde's Intentions (orig.1892;RE,1210) published as Fingerzeige by Bruns in Minden in 1902 (268 p.). He also had announced as forthcoming a critical study entitled Dekadenz: ein Dialog über Wilde, Beardsley, Dowson (Letter to Gundolf, 23.9.1902, Insel) which possibly never appeared in print.

         Greve's translation of the anonymous Apologia pro Oscar Wilde (34p.) and a fifty page critical essay entitled Randarabesken zu Oscar Wilde were both published by Bruns in 1903, while another critical account, 47 pages long and simply entitled Oscar Wilde, appeared the same year with the imprint of Gose &Tetzlaff.

         In a letter to George's-disciple Gundolf dated September 23, 1902, Greve signals that the Kleine Theater in Berlin will start staging no less than four plays by Oscar Wilde in his translation, the first of which he expects to open in October. While it is quite possible that he provided the text for these theatre productions, only two plays in Greve's translations have been identified, and they are A Woman without Importance as Eine Frau ohne Bedeutung, and The Importance of Being Earnest as Bunbury. Both were published as stage texts, and became later part of a ten volume edition by the Wiener-Verlag in Vienna and Leipzig between (1906-1908), along with Greve's fairly substantial critical study called Oscar Wilde und das Drama (95p.).

         In 1903, Bruns brought out Wilde's only novel The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890) in Greve's rendering entitled first Das Bildnis Dorian Grays, then Dorian Gray's Bildnis. This was followed a year later by translations of the essay Portrait of Mr. W.H. and the novella Lord Arthur Savile's Crime (136p.) in one volume, and an adaptation of the lengthy poem The Sphinx. The Insel published concurrently the stories of A House of Pomegranates as Greve's Das Granatapfelhaus (ca. 100p.), with illustrations by the famous artist and Rilke friend, Heinrich Vogeler of Worpswede.

         Most of the publication dates of the above Wilde-translations coincide with or post-date Greve's stay in prison. It is more than likely, though, that their actual realisation was done before this traumatic biographical event. It appears that Greve, while in prison and ever since, abandoned Wilde, even though he still pursued the translations of works by other English decadents, some of which appeared in print concurrently with the Wilde-translations. Others were not published until 1908, like Pater's Marius der Epikuräer. In his correspondence with the Insel-Publishers alone, his efforts concerning Browning, Dowson, and Pater are documented as in progress during early 1903, and several novels by Meredith and H. G. Wells see the light of day as early as 1904 with Bruns' imprint.

         In the leading literary journal Das litterarische Echo, the critic and self-proclaimed specialist of contemporary English literature, Max Meyerfeld, a Wilde-translator himself and rightfully feared for his acerbic comments, complains in late 1902 about the lack of attention paid to Oscar Wilde in Germany until then (LE V, 458 ff). He reports however that "now the German translators have latched on to him with a vengeance". He mentions Greve among others such as Gaulke, Pavia, and von Teschenberg. Also, Salome and Bunbury (The Importance of Being Earnest) have just been successfully staged at the Kleine Theater in Berlin.

         A year later (LE VI, 1903, 541ff.), Meyerfeld  has opportunity to further comment on the extraordinary flood of publications concerning Wilde: he reviews eight titles, five of which are by Greve. While he compliments Greve for the elegance of his German style, he severely attacks several mistakes and questions not only Greve's knowledge of the English language, but also his ability to make intelligent use of a dictionary. Yet Meyerfeld considers Greve one of the lesser evils in the scandalously mediocre German translation industry.

         In May 1905 (LE VII, 985ff), Meyerfeld again comments on ten recent publications by and about Oscar Wilde, and judges the frantic preoccupation with him truly alarming. This time, three of Greve's efforts are addressed and judged inadequate except for the quality of his German style. But then nobody else satisfies Meyerfeld's standards either, and only Hedwig Lachmann's translations, including Salome which was used for Richard Strauss' famous opera, are accepted with but a few mild reprobations.

         In June 1904, shortly after being released from prison, Greve goes to meet André Gide in Paris and tells him, that during the previous year he has not only translated two of Gide's works, but also "all of Flaubert's correspondence, Bouvard et Pécuchet, all of Wells, four volumes of Meredith, three of de Quincey". This is recorded in a letter by Greve attached to Gide's Conversation avec un Allemand, in Claude Martin's 1976 edition (though the "Conversation" was not published until 1919, it was based on notes taken one day after Gide's encounter with Greve in June 1904, where Greve's identity is not camouflaged by the initials B.R.)

         Greve seemingly boastful assertions during this meeting that he is an incredibly hard worker are proven true by his subsequent publications to a fair extent. Many, if not all of the titles he mentions eventually do appear in print. The two works by Gide he refers to are most likely L'Immoraliste (1902) and Paludes (1895). Both of them were published by Bruns in 1905 as Der Immoralist and Die Sümpfe. As to Gide's Nourritures terrestre (1897) which Greve declares ready for publication in a letter to Franz Blei in March 1905, none of the known German translations with titles like Uns nährt die Erde or Früchte der Erde - the latter ironically or significantly, as the case may be, coincides with the title Grove chose for his novel, Fruits of the Earth in 1933 - feature Greve as translator.

         Long after Greve stopped working on Wilde, he continued to translate works by Gide right up to the time of his disappearance in late July 1909. His correspondence has surfaced from the private archives of Gide's daughter Catherine in the 1980s and, since 1995, it can be consulted in the University of Manitoba FPG (Greve/Grove) Collections. In one of his last extant letters addressed to Gide, dated June 22, 1908, Greve reports that he has not been well, that he is going to Norway in July, and that he will be divorced soon. Gide's Saul (orig.1903) will be in print shortly, and should be staged during the winter season of 1908/1909. Greve himself counts on having his own comedy produced. This plan probably alludes to Der heimliche Adel for which neither publication nor stage production has been ascertained so far. Then there is an enigmatic statement which indicates that Greve already has plans to exit from his present existence as he eventually does a year later: "Ça court sa routine. Mais il y aura une grande lacune dans quelques mois" - "Things go on in their usual way. But there will be a great gap in a few months time." Greve's translation of La porte étroite, originally published from February to April 1909 in the NRF, appeared also in 1909, not half-a-year later, as Die enge Pforte with E. Reiss' imprint, as had the play Saul. It was one of Greve's last German ventures. Apparently, the translation was incomplete, since a review by Moritz Heimann in Die Neue Rundschau (20,1909, 1370ff.) notes that the final chapter of the original is lacking in the German version.

         The critical reception of Gide in German literary journals of the time is minor in comparison to Wilde's. Greve's 1904 translation of the Immoraliste, for instance, is reviewed by Julie Speyer two years after its release in Die neue Rundschau (17, 1906, 637ff.), but the critic concentrates on work-immanent aspects of Gide's novel, and abstains from mentioning any saliant characteristics of Greve's German version.

         Outspoken criticism about Greve's French translations can, however, be found in relation to the massive publishing ventures of Balzac's writings by the Insel, and the similarly ambitious edition of Flaubert's works by Bruns, both of which were started in 1906 (LE XI, '08/09, Servaes, Schaukal, 994ff.;999 "der unermüdliche Greve...Klappert, ihr Schreibmaschinen, der rührige Verleger wartet", usw.). Rather uncharitable comments about the quality of translation specifically include and even dwell on Greve's contributions. He is called "a notorious Speed- and Mass-translator", and considered responsible for an unacceptably sloppy German rendering of great French literature (LE XI, Harry Kahn, 1330ff).

Greve had many competitors who were translating Oscar Wilde and André Gide during the first decade of the century. Franz Blei, Rudolph Kassner, and Rainer Maria Rilke are among the most noteworthy for Gide's works, Gisela Etzel, Max Meyerfeld, Franz Blei again, and most of all Hedwig Lachmann for Wilde's. As seen earlier, Lachmann's work was even approved of by the formidable Max Meyerfeld, and is still important today because of Richard Strauss' musical adaptation. In a recent, highly acclaimed performance of this famous opera in Winnipeg, Lachmann's contribution was dutyfully acknowledged.

         Browning, Dowson, Meredith and Pater are another matter, and Greve can be credited with introducing their works to the German public in a timely manner, although at least for Meredith, Julie von Sotteck and the Samuel Fischer's publishing house were rivalling with Greve and the Insel and Bruns publishing enterprises.

         As far as H. G. Well's novels are concerned, Greve, again in collaboration with Bruns, must be commended for discovering him for the German literary public. He translated, in quick successsion, six works by this author between 1904 and 1906, and a seventh, attriuted to Gertrud Klett, appeared with Axel Juncker's imprint after he left. H. G. Wells (1866-1946) is of particular interest, because many of his social and technological concerns are similar to those Grove later reflects upon in his Canadian years. Greve's translation of the Anticipations of the reactions of mechanical and scientific progress upon human life and thought (1902; also Tauchnitz, Leipzig, 1902, in English!) appeared in 1905 as an authorized translation, and the Library of Congress catalog Mansell lists a copy of it, held by the University of Tennessee Library in Knoxville with the following note: "Translator's presentation copy to the author." This matches the presence of all six Wells titles extant in the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, several of which are also autographed presentation copies. A fair amount of Greve's letters to Wells can be found in the university's extensive Wells collection, and when Greve & Else von Freytag-Loringhoven resided in Paris-Plage on the Channel Coast in 1905, they actually did cross the waters from Etaples to Sandhurst where Wells and Jane lived at the time on at least one occasion. The Greves most likely had personal, if fleeting, contacts with prominent neighbours such as Joseph Conrad, Shaw, and Ford Maddox Ford (Hueffer).

         In conclusion, Greve's lack of interest in Wilde during and after his prison term, his continued attachment to Gide who after all had ceased to be a decadent by the turn of the century, and his gradual expansion into more traditional manifestations of French and English literature clearly indicate that he did not continue to adhere to decadent aesthetics or values after his 1903/4 prison term. His own two novels about Else's life, which were published in 1905 and 1906 respectively, are clearly realistic in nature, with perhaps a touch of social criticism, far too mild to link them to the trendy  naturalism.

         A change in outlook is already apparent in his conversation with Gide in 1904. When Gide compliments Greve on his early essay on Oscar Wilde, and in particular on his pertinent views concerning the schism between "art" and "life", Greve bluntly retorts that he does not any longer identify with the ideal of "art", and that "life" is resolutely taking precedence over his artistic preoccupations. With reference to his financial situation he states rather cynically: "C'est le besoin qui maintenant me fait écrire. L'oeuvre d'art n'est pour moi qu'un pis-aller. Je préfère la vie." - "I write because of necessity now. Art is nothing but a way out for me, I prefer life." It is also clear that Flaubert has replaced Wilde as Greve's model in art and in life.

         While it seems almost incongruous to establish a plausible link between the young Greve with his decadent aesthetic ideals and his correspondingly extravagant, dandy-like behaviour, and the sober, somewhat embittered Grove, it can be acknowledged with relative ease that the hard-working, down-to-earth, Flaubert-emulating Greve from 1904 onward is quite compatible with his later Canadian alter ego.


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