"Dearest Georg": Love, Literature, and Power in Dark Times: The Letters of Elias, Veza, and Georges Canetti, 1933-1948by Vesa & Elias Canetti
In 1934, Veza Taubner and Elias Canetti were married in Vienna. Elias describes the arrangement to his brother Georges as a “functional” marriage. Meanwhile, an intense intellectual love affair develops between Veza and Georges, a young doctor suffering fromtuberculosis. Four years later, Veza and Elias flee Nazi-ruled Vienna to London, where they… See more details below
In 1934, Veza Taubner and Elias Canetti were married in Vienna. Elias describes the arrangement to his brother Georges as a “functional” marriage. Meanwhile, an intense intellectual love affair develops between Veza and Georges, a young doctor suffering fromtuberculosis. Four years later, Veza and Elias flee Nazi-ruled Vienna to London, where they lead an impoverished and extremely complicated marital life in exile.
Spanning the major part of Elias’s struggle for literary recognition, from 1933, before the publication of his novel, Auto-da-Fé, to 1959, when he finished his monumental Crowds and Power, the Canetti letters provide an intimate look at these formative years through the prism of a veritable love triangle: the newly married Elias has a string of lovers; his wife, Veza, is hopelessly in love with an idealized image of his youngest brother, Georges; and Georges is drawn to good looking men as well as to his motherly sister-in-law. Independently and often secretly, the couple communicates with Georges, who lives in Paris: Veza tells of Elias’s amorous escapades and bouts of madness, Elias complains about Veza’s poor nerves and depression. Each of them worries about Georges’s health–if she could, Veza would kiss away the germs. Georges is an infrequent correspondent, but he diligently stores away the letters from his brother and sister-in-law. In 2003, long after his death, they were accidentally discovered in a Paris basement and comprise not only a moving and insightful document, but real literature.
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February 10, 1934
My dear Elias,
Today I would finally have begun writing you a “real” letter–a long one–if I hadn’t been interrupted by a piece of news that forces me to write as quickly as possible. So this will be a short letter. I’ve heard that you plan to marry Veza, that the banns have been posted in the Temple, already proclaimed once, and that it will all be over after the third proclamation. I cannot believe that anyone could be so ill-disposed to you as to invent and spread such a blatant lie. Consequently, I must regard the news as true, just as I have until now always refused to take at all seriously anything on this topic that could be interpreted as a silly rumor.
I don’t have the slightest intention of influencing your course of action and in any case, I don’t even know if it’s still possible. Don’t think I’m being a hypocrite when I say I don’t want to interfere, because it’s obvious that you already know everything you will read here. Thus, it would be possible for you to judge on your own whether there’s the slightest connection between what you know and what you’re about to do. So let me just refresh your memory. I have the right to, for you know how highly I regard Veza, how much I like her, and on the other hand, as an honest–if uncommunicative–person, how much I wish only the best for her precisely because I regard and like her. Thus, I’m writing this only for you and not against her. You are about to do the stupidest thing you could possibly do. However one looks at it, there is no other conclusion.
Meet the Author
Elias Canetti (1905—1994), Bulgarian-born author of the novel Auto-da-Fé, the sociological study Crowds and Power, and three volumes of memoirs (The Tongue Set Free, The Torch in My Ear, and The Play of the Eyes), won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1981. Canetti most recently made headlines with the posthumously published autobiographical notes on his years in England, Party in the Blitz: The English Years (New Directions, 2005).
Veza Canetti (1897—1963), playwright, novelist, and short-story writer, was born in Vienna. After the annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany in 1938, she and her husband, Elias Canetti, fled Vienna for London. She gained literary recognition only posthumously. She is the author of the novels Yellow Street and The Tortoises (New Directions, 2005).
David Dollenmayer is Professor of German at Worcester Polytechnic Institute and the author of The Berlin Novels of Alfred Döblin. He has translated works by Peter Stephan Jungk, Michael Kleeberg, Anna Mitgutsch, Perikles Monioudis, Mietek Pemper, and Moses Rosenkranz. He lives in Hopkinton, Massachusetts.
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