The Swiss writer Friedrich Dürrenmatt (1921–90) was one of the most important literary figures of the second half of the twentieth century. During the years of the cold war, arguably only Beckett, Camus, Sartre, and Brecht rivaled him as a presence in European letters. Yet outside Europe, this prolific author is primarily known for only one work, The Visit. With these long-awaited translations of his plays, fictions, and essays, Dürrenmatt becomes available again in all his brilliance to the English-speaking world.
Dürrenmatt’s concerns are timeless, but they are also the product of his Swiss vantage during the cold war: his key plays, gathered in the first volume of Selected Writings, explore such themes as guilt by passivity, the refusal of responsibility, greed and political decay, and the tension between justice and freedom. In The Visit, for instance, an old lady who becomes the wealthiest person in the world returns to the village that cast her out as a young woman and offers riches to the town in exchange for the life of the man, now its mayor, who once disgraced her. Joel Agee’s crystalline translation gives a fresh lease to this play, as well as four others: The Physicists, Romulus the Great, Hercules and the Augean Stables, and The Marriage of Mr. Mississippi.
Dürrenmatt has long been considered a great writer—but one unfairly neglected in the modern world of letters. With these elegantly conceived and expertly translated volumes, a new generation of readers will rediscover his greatest works.
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About the Author
Friedrich Dürrenmatt was born in 1921 in the village of Konolfingen, near Berne, Switzerland, and was the son of a Protestant minister. During World War II he studied philosophy and literature at the Universities of Berne and Zurich. He wrote prolifically and traveled widely in the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s, taking particular interest in human rights and the preservation of Israel. Joel Agee has translated numerous German authors into English, including Heinrich von Kleist, Rainer Maria Rilke, and Elias Canetti. He is also the author of two memoirs: Twelve Years: An American Boyhood in East Germany and In the House of My Fear. In 2005 he received the Modern Language Association’s Lois Roth Award for his translation of Hans Erich Nossack’s The End: Hamburg 1943. Kenneth J. Northcott is professor emeritus of German at the University of Chicago. He has translated a number of books for the University of Chicago Press. Theodore Ziolkowski is the Class of 1900 Professor Emeritus of German and Comparative Literature at Princeton University. He is the author of many books, including The Mirror of Justice: Literary Reflections of Legal Crises. Brian Evenson is the author of numerous works of fiction, including Altmann’s Tongue, Dark Property, Father of Lies, and The Wavering Knife. He is also director of the Literary Arts Program at Brown University.
Table of ContentsIntroduction by Kenneth J. Northcott
The Physicists A Comedy in Two Acts
Romulus the Great An Ahistorical Historical Comedy in Four Acts
Hercules and the Augean Stables A Comedy
The Marriage of Mr. Mississippi