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The End and the Beginning

Hermynia Zur Mühlen

Translators Introductory Note

Lionel Gossman

Texte intégral

Hermynia Zur Mühlen in the garden of the estate at Eigstfer; Estonia, c. 1910

1This edition of Hermynia Zur Mühlens 1929 autobiographical memoir, Ende und Anfang. Ein Lebensbild, is a revised and extensively corrected version of Frank Barnes translation of 1930 (New York: Jonathan Cape and Harrison Smith), which, though readable enough, contains many errors. A surprisingly large number of words and phrases in the 1930 translation were simply misunderstood (e.g. ochrana [okhrana in the usual English transcription] – the Russian secret police – translated as the Ukraine), and on more than one occasion Zur Mühlen was made to say quite the opposite in English of what she wrote in German. In addition, the original title has been restored in the present edition, as has the original lay-out of the text. The title of the 1930 translation, The Runaway Countess, was doubtless designed to attract a particular class of readers, probably readers of the popular romances of the time. As the present edition is directed rather toward readers interested in the social and cultural history of the period covered by the narrative and, in particular, in womens writing and womens history, it seemed appropriate to restore Zur Mühlens own title, which has a political rather than romantic resonance. The original German title was intended to evoke the end of one social and political order and, with the Russian Revolution of 1917, the beginning of another, in the authors eyes far better one, and at the same time, in her own personal life, the end of dependency and the beginning of a new existence as a free woman, capable of determining her own identity and her own destiny instead of having to submit to those imposed on her by history and tradition. Zur Mühlen also gave titles to the 77 sections of varying length into which she divided her narrative. These were dropped from the 1930 translation, which was divided instead into 24 untitled sections. There seemed to be no reason to prefer this arrangement of the text to the authors own. The latter has therefore been reinstated.

2A supplementary chapter, written by Zur Mühlen in 1950 for a post-World War II re-publication of the 1929 German text in the Socialist magazine Die Frau, has been translated and placed at the end of Zur Mühlens original text, immediately after the final section, Zdravstvui Revolyutsia.

3It was not always possible to reproduce certain characteristic features of Zur Mühlens literary style in English translation – notably the effect of impressionistic immediacy achieved by means of punctuation and the elision of co-ordinates like and – and it was virtually impossible to convey the Viennese flavor of her language. Translation is inevitably subject in considerable measure to conditions imposed by the target language. Every effort was made, however, to stay as close to the original as possible.

4The attraction of Zur Mühlens memoir lies not only in the charming freshness with which it narrates a young womans struggle to be a full, free, and independent human being, in defiance of the conventions and expectations of her time and social class, but in its sharply observed and often humorous portrayal of a bygone world from the unusual angle of the headstrong, rebellious daughter of an Austrian aristocrat and minor diplomat. The numerous individuals and events referred to in the memoir, some quite prominent and well known, many obscure or now forgotten, serve as a reminder that the world that disappeared in the fires of the First World War was full of colourful characters whose often surprising careers can be unexpectedly revealing. In addition, the memoir touches lightly and naively on major issues of the time, such as the interconnected Balkan and Moroccan crises and the climate of revolution in czarist Russia. In the hope of restoring some sense of the authors world, a fair number of the individuals and events mentioned in the narrative have been identified and described, most often quite briefly, sometimes at considerable length. In a few especially interesting cases, these notices take the form of little essays. As much information as could be accommodated in the book without expanding it unduly has been provided, in particular, about Zur Mühlens family members and about figures little known in the English-speaking world, such as the poets Freiligrath and Anastasius Grün. Where information about those figures was hard to come by, the editor has listed some of his sources for the convenience of the reader. Thumbnail images accompany some of the descriptive notices.

5In order not to disrupt Zur Mühlens own text, the notices are not given as footnotes or endnotes but follow the main text and are listed under the page number on which the relevant name or word appears. An asterisk next to the name or word in the text indicates the existence of such an identifying note. A short essay on Zur Mühlens life and literary career by the translator and editor closes the volume.

6An online-only supplement contains a small sampling of the hundreds of feuilletons or short narratives that Zur Mühlen wrote for the newspapers. These were selected and translated for this edition because of the light they shed on Zur Mühlens principles and practice as a politically committed writer, who also earned her living by writing and translating. In addition, translations of two of her socialist fairy tales for children have been included in order to give the reader an idea of the work for which she won an international reputation in left-wing circles in the 1920s and 1930s. These short tales and feuilletons are followed in the online supplement by the editors synopsis of the 1934 political novel Unsere Töchter die Nazinen [Our Daughters, the Nazi Girls]; by a short extract from the Memoirs of Sándor Márai, in which the celebrated Hungarian novelist gives a vivid, highly personal, and funny account of his association with Zur Mühlen and her partner Stefan Klein in Frankfurt in 1919-20; by a study of Zur Mühlens relation to the aristocracy and to her own past by the historian Patrik von zur Mühlen; by two short essays by the editor – one on Zur Mühlen as the translator of Upton Sinclair into German, the other on the background of Zur Mühlens widely read socialist fairy tales; and by a portfolio of images, including George Groszs illustrations and John Heartfields cover designs for Zur Mühlens translations of Sinclair.

7The English translations of three of Zur Mühlens novels, which are no longer covered by copyright – We Poor Shadows, Came the Stranger, and Guests in the House – have been posted on a womens literature website and may be read at​women/​_generate/​authors-Z.html[accessed 23/3/2010].

8October 2010

Advertisement by Samuel Vischer Verlag, Berlin, for the newly published Ende und Anfang.

Table des illustrations

Légende Hermynia Zur Mühlen in the garden of the estate at Eigstfer; Estonia, c. 1910
Fichier image/jpeg, 72k
Légende Advertisement by Samuel Vischer Verlag, Berlin, for the newly published Ende und Anfang.
Fichier image/jpeg, 32k