The Artificial Silk Girl

Overview

Before Sex and the City there was Bridget Jones. And before Bridget Jones was The Artificial Silk Girl.

In 1931, a young woman writer living in Germany was inspired by Anita Loos's Gentlemen Prefer Blondes to describe pre-war Berlin and the age of cinematic glamour through the eyes of a woman. The resulting novel, The Artificial Silk Girl, became an acclaimed bestseller and a masterwork of German literature, in the tradition of Christopher Isherwood's Berlin Stories and Bertolt ...

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The Artificial Silk Girl

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Overview

Before Sex and the City there was Bridget Jones. And before Bridget Jones was The Artificial Silk Girl.

In 1931, a young woman writer living in Germany was inspired by Anita Loos's Gentlemen Prefer Blondes to describe pre-war Berlin and the age of cinematic glamour through the eyes of a woman. The resulting novel, The Artificial Silk Girl, became an acclaimed bestseller and a masterwork of German literature, in the tradition of Christopher Isherwood's Berlin Stories and Bertolt Brecht's Three Penny Opera. Like Isherwood and Brecht, Keun revealed the dark underside of Berlin's "golden twenties" with empathy and honesty. Unfortunately, a Nazi censorship board banned Keun's work in 1933 and destroyed all existing copies of The Artificial Silk Girl. Only one English translation was published, in Great Britain, before the book disappeared in the chaos of the ensuing war. Today, more than seven decades later, the story of this quintessential "material girl" remains as relevant as ever, as an accessible new translation brings this lost classic to light once more. Other Press is pleased to announce the republication of The Artificial Silk Girl, elegantly translated by noted Germanist Kathie von Ankum, and with a new introduction by Harvard professor Maria Tatar.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
A young girl navigates interwar German society and the expectations—or lack thereof—placed upon women, in this poignant, melancholy novel from the late Keun (1905–1982). Doris is experienced in the ways of pleasing men, but knows little of the world. She decides to keep a journal, not to chronicle her life but to create a story in which she is the star. She starts out vain, whiny, and materialistic, desiring only fame and wealth and seeking it tirelessly from rich if otherwise undesirable men. Doris, believing this is the best route to a comfortable future, even lauds herself for her "ambition." But the Berlin she comes to know is deeply troubled, riddled with unemployment and poverty, and she's unaware of still darker times to come. As political tensions flare up, Doris flirts with prostitution, hunger, and homelessness, emerging a wiser, if somewhat jaded, young woman. This, Keun's second novel, was originally published in 1932 to great acclaim but was banned one year later, and while not overtly political, the novel does take an unsparing look at gender and opportunity Germany just before the Nazis took control. Doris's heartbreaking story of dashed hopes is one that still has the power to affect and inspire. (June)
From the Publisher
“A young girl navigates interwar German society and the expectations—or lack thereof—placed upon women, in this poignant, melancholy novel from the late Keun… [This] heartbreaking story of dashed hopes is one that still has the power to affect and inspire.” —Publishers Weekly

“Damned by the Nazis, hailed by the feminists ... a truly charming window into a young woman’s life in the early 1930s” —Los Angeles Times
 
The Artificial Silk Girl follows Doris into the underbelly of a city that had once seemed all glamour and promise ... Kathie von Ankum’s English translation will bring this masterwork to the foreground once more, giving a new generation the chance to discover Keun for themselves.” —Elle.com

Publishers Weekly
First published in 1932, this unusual novel might well have been subtitled "Social Climbing Through Bed-Hopping in the Last Days of the Weimar Republic." Initially a commercial success, it was soon banned by the Nazis for the racy, irreverent musings of its narrator, Doris, an office worker who decides that her best chance of improving her lot is to exercise her considerable libido as she tries to find a rich Mr. Right. Her strategy succeeds for brief periods, but Doris also goes through several down-at-the-heels phases as her various affairs come apart; at a particularly perilous moment, she is almost forced into prostitution. Her most consistent candidate for true love is a man named Hubert, who wanders in and out of her life. When he disappears, Doris takes a stab at life in the theater before a problematic affair ends that venture. Doris's frank, outrageous comments on the foibles of her various suitors keep things entertaining until the one-note romantic plot begins to wear thin. Readers may be disappointed that Keun (1905-1982) has little to offer on the politics of the era, save for her portrayal of a brief date in which Doris gets rejected when she pretends to be Jewish. That lacuna aside, this is an illuminating look at the much-mythologized social and sexual mores of Weimar Germany. (July) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781590514542
  • Publisher: Other Press, LLC
  • Publication date: 6/14/2011
  • Pages: 216
  • Sales rank: 968,915
  • Product dimensions: 4.99 (w) x 7.99 (h) x 0.62 (d)

Meet the Author

Irmgard Keun was born in Berlin in 1905. She published her first novel, GilgióA Girl Just Like Us, in 1931. Her second novel, The Artificial Silk Girl, instantly became a bestseller. After the war, she resumed writing under the name of Charlotte Tralow, enjoying only modest success until her early works were rediscovered and reissued in the late 1970s. She died in 1982 in Cologne.

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Read an Excerpt

It was a dark morning and I saw his face in bed, and it made me feel angry and disgusted. Sleeping with a stranger you don’t care about makes a woman bad. You have to know what you’re doing it for. Money or love.
   So I left. It was five in the morning. The air was white and cold and wet like a sheet on the laundry line. Where was I to go? I had to wander around the park with the swans, who have small eyes and long necks that they use to dislike people. I can understand them but I don’t like them either, despite the fact that they are alive and that you should take pity on them. Everyone had left me. I spent several cold hours and felt like I had been buried in a cemetery on a rainy fall day. But it wasn’t raining or else I would have stayed under a roof, because of the fur coat.
   I look so elegant in that fur. It’s like an unusual man who makes me beautiful through his love for me. I’m sure it used to belong to a fat lady with a lot of money—unfairly. It smells from checks and Deutsche Bank. But my skin is stronger. It smells of me now and Chypre—which is me, since Käsemann gave me three bottles of it. The coat wants me and I want it. We have each other.
   And so I went to see Therese. She also realized that I have to flee, because flight is an erotic word for her. She gave me her savings. Dear God, I swear to you, I will return it to her with diamonds and all the good fortune in the world.

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