A Posthumous Confession

Overview

Termeer, the narrator of A Posthumous Confession, is a twisted man and a troubled one. The emotionally stunted son of a cold, forbidding, and hypocritical father, Termeer has only succeeded in living up to his parents’ low expectations when, to his own and others’ astonishment, he finds himself wooing a beautiful and gifted woman—a woman whose love he wins. But instead of finding happiness in marriage, Termeer discovers it to be a new source of self-hatred, hatred that he turns upon his wife and child. And ...

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Overview

Termeer, the narrator of A Posthumous Confession, is a twisted man and a troubled one. The emotionally stunted son of a cold, forbidding, and hypocritical father, Termeer has only succeeded in living up to his parents’ low expectations when, to his own and others’ astonishment, he finds himself wooing a beautiful and gifted woman—a woman whose love he wins. But instead of finding happiness in marriage, Termeer discovers it to be a new source of self-hatred, hatred that he turns upon his wife and child. And when he becomes caught up in an affair with a woman as demanding as his own self-loathing, he is driven to murder.

What is the self, and how does it evade or come to terms with itself? What can make it go permanently, lethally wrong? Marcellus Emants’s grueling and gripping novel—a late-nineteenth-century tour de force of psychological penetration—is a lacerating exposition of the logic of identity that looks backward to Dostoyevsky, forward to Simenon, and beyond to the confessional literature, whether fiction or fact, of our own day.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Since the time of Rousseau we have seen the growth of the genre of the confessional novel, of which A Posthumous Confession is a singularly pure example. Termer [the narrator], claiming to to be unable to keep his dreadful secret, records his confession and leaves it behind as a monument to himself, thereby turning a worthless life into art.” -J. M. Coetzee
The Barnes & Noble Review

"My wife is dead and buried," begins A Posthumous Confession unsentimentally, but the opening lines may as well be "I am a sick man, I am a spiteful man." Like his translator J. M. Coetzee, Marcellus Emants owes a great debt to Dostoevsky. Willem Termeer, the narrator of this 1894 Dutch novel, is a familiar type: the fragile narcissist whose misanthropy masks a thwarted humanism. Termeer's compact, self-lacerating tale of how he came to murder his wife casts him, not her, as the victim.

Although Termeer's backstory tends toward the facile -- an aloof father, an angsty adolescence -- the absurdity of his endless self-analysis gives the novel a mordant humor, and rescues what risks becoming a pat psychological portrait. "In only two cases can I bear people who are like me: when they are inferior to me, and when they think they know themselves as well as I know myself and therefore think as little of themselves as I do of myself," Termeer proclaims without evident irony.

Termeer is prone to aphorizing, but like the Underground Man before him, is not secure enough in himself to let any statement stand without annotation. "Is everything not illusion, and is illusion not everything?" he wonders ridiculously, only to call out his own nonsense. "In fact, even the word 'illusion' here is too pretty. Illusions too pine and shrivel in a tainted atmosphere, like plants in a hothouse that is overheated." The depths of Termeer's self-doubt often yield Emants's finest prose.

While Emants is, as Coetzee notes in his introduction, "a lesser artist, a lesser psychologist" than his Russian forebear, his neurotic paroxysm of a novel is a worthy homage.

--Amelia Atlas

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781590173473
  • Publisher: New York Review Books
  • Publication date: 2/22/2011
  • Series: New York Review Books Classics Series
  • Pages: 208
  • Product dimensions: 5.28 (w) x 7.98 (h) x 0.45 (d)

Meet the Author

Marcellus Emants (1848–1923) was a Dutch poet, novelist, and playwright. After coming into a substantial inheritance at the age of twenty-three following the death of his father, he threw over his law studies and dedicated his life to travel and literature. Emants had little contact with his contemporaries, and published his first poems and plays in two literary magazines he co-founded while still at the University of Leiden. He also founded a theater company, where many of his plays—productions that he directed and acted in as well—were performed. In 1904 Emants married the German actress Jenny Kuhn, with whom he had a daughter, Eva Clara Jenny (she subsequently adopted the name Lilith, from the title of an early epic poem by her father). He took a special interest in psychical phenomena and participated, with the physiologist G. A. van Rijnberk, in experiments with the famous medium Eusapia Palladino. Emants died in the Grand Hôtel in Baden, Switzerland.

J.M. Coetzee, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2003, is currently a visiting professor of humanities at the University of Adelaide. His newest book,  Summertime, was published in 2009.

 

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