12 April 2009

Robert Walser: The Tanners and other new releases

In honour of the imminent publication of Susan Bernofsky's translation of Robert Walser's Geschwister Tanner (The Tanners), which until now had been inédit in the English-speaking world (although it has been available in French here in Canada since 1985), I've put together a roundup of some recent events in the world of Walser.

Firstly, Robert Walser's 1907 novel The Tanners is finally coming out in English translation for the first time, published by New Directions (distributed in Canada by Penguin and in the US by W.W. Norton) and scheduled for release on 28 April 2009. From the publisher:

The Tanners is the last major novel by the great Robert Walser to finally make it into English.

The Tanners, Robert Walser’s amazing 1907 novel, is now presented in English for the very first time, by the award-winning translator Susan Bernofsky. Four brothers and a sister comprise the Tanner family: their wanderings, meetings, separations, quarrels, romances, employment and lack of employment over the course of a year or two are the threads with which Walser weaves his airy, strange and brightly gorgeous fabric.

Translated from the German, with an Afterword, by Susan Bernofsky
Introduction by W. G. Sebald (translated by Jo Catling)

“A clairvoyant of the small,” W. G. Sebald calls Walser, one of his favorite writers, in his acutely beautiful, and personal long introduction, studded with his signature use of photographs.




Exciting stuff, indeed. British readers should note that the last major Bernofsky/Walser event — New Directions' June 2007 North American publication of the first ever English edition of The Assistant — was followed by a gorgeous Penguin Modern Classics edition of the same, published in March 2008 and exclusive to the British market. Something tells me that there will be a similar transatlantic arrangement between New Directions and Penguin UK for the publication of The Tanners...

In other news, although nothing is ever likely to equal the monumental Robert Walser Week that aired on France Culture in January 2007, there have nonetheless recently been a few noteworthy radio programmes about Walser:

Speaking of momumental undertakings, this past fall Suhrkamp published the massive, 511 page Robert Walser: Sein Leben in Bildern und Texten (Robert Walser: His Life in Pictures and Texts), edited by noted Walser scholar Bernhard Echte. My German isn't strong enough to be able to grasp the exact nature of the project, but it looks amazing. With any luck, one of Walser's French-language publishers (I'm talking to you Zoe and Gallimard!) will decide to translate it one day (I don't think there's any hope of this ever coming out in English). I've managed to glean a few sample pages to whet your appetite:

Granted, I already have the Walser biographies written by Catherine Sauvat, Peter Utz and Marie-Louise Audiberti, but can you ever really have enough? Thankfully, Susan Bernofsky is working on And No One Ever Knew: A Biography of Robert Walser, which to my knowledge will be the first ever English language biography of Walser.

To wrap up this extended post devoted to what is clearly an obsession of mine, this past fall Geneva-based publisher Zoe issued two new volumes of Walser's works, plus a brief study of his work:

With translations of lesser-known texts, as well as studies and biographies, including two splendid volumes on the famous Walser microgrammes, Zoe really is doing more to get Walser's work out there than any other French-language publisher. Kudos to them.


Stephen Rowntree said...

Its refreshing to find another Walser enthusiast, and writing from Montreal (the city of birth)...

I first discovered Walser while working on my MA thesis in philosophy (and of course I took a hiatus)...since then I've read whatever I could find translated into English; most recently 'The Assistant'.

Along with Walser I discovered Bruno Schulz, the one writer other than Joyce who makes me stop, catch my breath, and sit enrapt..

Thank you, thanks

Stephen Rowntree - Ottawa

Thomas said...

Hi Stephen,

Thanks for the comment.

There are lots of Walser enthusiasts here in Montreal, but very few are anglophone. We are something of a rare breed...

After posting yesterday, I stumbled upon a Robert Walser translators' roundtable that seems rather interesting...