“The Convict-Bourgeois”: My Hans Fallada Rediscovery Piece, Which I Want You All to Read

“The Convict-Bourgeois”: My Hans Fallada Rediscovery Piece, Which I Want You All to Read May 23, 2016

The two biggest things I left out here (mostly due to space constraints): Fallada always gives you a laugh. He has the satirist’s eye for absurdity. His humor is pretty much always also horror (you can make a case that Expressionism influenced him, & horror fans will find a lot of scenes that use genre techniques like “the things that should not be“) and so it turns up even in his Nazi prison diary. The whole vignette he opens the diary with, about the night of the Reichstag fire, is a perfectly-tuned cafe absurdity story–except that it’s also the story of how he and his country descended into Hell. The late wartime image of the modest man in his wife’s bathing suit, waiting to be certified fit for military service by doctors so unchoosy they’ve been nicknamed “the heroes’ review board,” is more typical of Fallada’s taste for horror-satire.

And also, he did not just roam about using opium and shooting off guns (though he sure did do those things). He did actual farm work, both labor and iirc management, and was a working journalist, and both of those experiences of hard daily service influenced his work as much as his asylum and prison experiences. He really was both halves of my title really intensely. Anyway, here you go, Why You Should Read Hans Fallada:

There’s a four-page passage early on in Hans Fallada’s masterful 1937 novel Wolf Among Wolves in which we meet a policeman. At first Leo Gubalke is a pure stereotype: He’s introduced washing himself in the bath, the correct way. (Top to bottom, if you were wondering, and Gubalke will explain exactly why if you can’t guess.) The word “order” and its variants are used six times in one paragraph. But then the cartoon peels off, and underneath, there’s this:

“He sighed. If one considered the matter closely, the world was surprisingly full of obstacles for a man who believed in order. Hundreds of things which the less scrupulous did every day were out of the question for him. On the other hand, he had the pleasurable feeling, without which a man could not live, that he was not only keeping the world in order, but was in harmony with it himself.”

And then Gubalke goes out the door and runs across a woman dressed only in an overcoat. She’s lightheaded from pregnancy, and her baby’s father has pawned her clothes in order to afford their wedding license. Gubalke arrests her because if he doesn’t bring somebody in he has no excuse for being late to work. And Fallada adds the stinger: “(Order often brings the paradoxical in its wake.)”

Page one: the ridiculousness of order. Page two: its sublimity. Pages three to four: the cruelty and chaos with which order is imposed. Lots of writers can give you the first thing, a few the second, but nobody except Fallada will give you all three.


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