Elias Canetti: Auto da Fé (1935)
Someone has stolen my copy of Auto da Fé, by Elias Canetti.
They did it in quite an ingenious way. I had it in a bookcase arranged with double rows of books on each shelf. The idea is that a quick scan of the books in front will enable you to guess what's concealed behind.
In this case, there were two Penguin paperbacks by Canetti - Crowds and Power and Auto da Fé - in the front row, and a group of his other books (including his four-volume autobiography) hidden behind.
What the thief did was to move one of the books from the back row to fill the gap in the front row, and thus conceal the fact that anything was missing from that shelf at all.
There's a certain irony in the fact that they chose that particular book to run off with. It's a novel about an obsessive scholar, Dr Peter Kien, who lives entirely in, and for, his library of rare books.
When I say he lives in his library, I mean just that. He moves his little portable bed and washstand from room to room, depending on what he happens to be working on at the time.
Elias Canetti: Die Blendung (1935)
The original German title of the book, Die Blendung, translates literally as 'the blinding.' His English translator, the well-known historian C. V. Wedgwood, chose to change this to Auto da Fé ['Act of Faith' - the name for the mass burnings of heretics conducted by the Spanish Inquisition], presumably because she thought that this might better convey the book's claustrophobic sense of entrapment and sacrifice.
Elias Canetti: Party in the Blitz: The English Years (2003)
The book my thief chose to move forward was a hardback edition of one of Canetti's last works: Party in the Blitz (2003). Once again, there's a certain irony in that, as the novel concludes with the protagonist's self-immolation on a heap of his own books (they've been stolen and sold on by his unscrupulous housekeeper-turned-wife and her louche accomplices, but then recovered and brought back to him by his rather saintly brother).
I imagine I'll succeed in finding another copy of Auto da Fé to fill the gap. That isn't really the point, though.
Any collector of anything has to face the paradox that the more things you have, the less control you have over each part of your collection. While you're gleefully filling gaps in your holdings of some particular author, the most precious volume of all may just have disappeared into somebody's pocket.
Nor do we all have similar ethical standards in such matters. I know plenty of people who regard it as quite unnecessary to return books they've borrowed, and in fact react most indignantly to anyone who tries to recover their own property - they seem to envisage some wondrous freemasonry of books, passing from hand to hand like lightning rods: albeit with the slight, disquieting, detail that it's generally someone else providing the raw material.
And certainly getting too obsessed with ownership can become a bit excessive. At one point, to combat my own tendencies in that direction, I formulated a theory that the only books which would available to one in the afterlife would be those which had been given away. I accordingly began a programme of donations which would guarantee my own future reading pleasure - on the offchance I don't end up in the burning place instead, that is.
The burning place. Elias Canetti's novel is certainly not meant as an endorsement of bibliomaniacs such as his Peter Kien - on the contrary, in fact - but his success in portraying one would certainly seem to show certain tendencies in that direction on his own part.
Perhaps the thief meant to do me a favour by running off with the book. Perhaps they thought it would be unhealthy for me to brood too much over the dark material included in it. And it's probably true that it will be a long time before I feel it necessary to read it again - though Canetti's autobiography, in particular, is a delight.
Franz Kafka: Der Bau (1924)
The other thing it made me think of, I'm afraid, was Kafka's great short story 'Der Bau' [The Burrow]. Written six months before his death, and published posthumously in 1931, it describes a large burrowing animal who has built a most marvellous underground structure which he is engaged in constantly improving.
Gradually he becomes aware of little piles of loose dirt, betokening the presence of some alien invader, which he tidies as best he can, but which continue to appear, threatening to undermine all the - illusory - grandeur of the dwelling he's built for himself. It's the rift within the lute, the maggot in his brain, the ideé fixe which will end up by destroying him.
Donald A. Mackenzie: Teutonic Myth and Legend (1912)
I remember once, in a university class on the Old English epic Beowulf, suggesting that the dragon whose horde is invaded by the hero Beowulf towards the end of the poem might feel similarly about his own treasure chamber - that he might feel a deep sense of repulsion at the mere fact that an intruder has succeeded in invading his sanctuary.
I remember one of my classmates laughing at this: "I don't think he feels like the creature in Kafka, Jack."
'Why not?' I asked at the time. Why shouldn't he feel like that? The poet gives few clues to his feelings.
At present (Der Bau-like), I'm engaged in a large-scale project to map every one of the books in our house, and - in the process - adding protective covers to all the vulnerable hardbacks. I've also decided to write my name in each and every one of them, rather than reserving that for the more interesting acquisitions.
From now on there will be a small sign on the shelves in our guest space:
Feel free to read the books, but please be careful of them if you do.So if that bookthief was sending me a message about the perils of getting too attached to my collection, I'm afraid that I've chosen to ignore it.
Don't take anything away without asking. That will be regarded as theft.
Elias Canetti: Auto da Fé (English translation, 1946)
And, to show how thoroughly I've missed the point, here are my holdings of Elias Canetti, Franz Kafka, and - the Beowulf poet.
The Southwick Codex (c.1000)
(c.8th-early 11th century)
- Klaeber, Franz, ed. Beowulf and The Fight at Finnsburg. 1922. Third Edition with First and Second Supplements. Boston: D. C. Heath and Company, 1950.
- Swanton, Michael, ed. Beowulf: A Glossed Text. Manchester Medieval Classics. Ed. G. L. Brook. Manchester: Manchester University Press / New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1978.
- Alexander, Michael, ed. Beowulf: A Glossed Text. 1995. Penguin Classics. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 2000.
- Wright, David, trans. Beowulf: A Prose Translation. 1957. Penguin Classics. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1961.
- Alexander, Michael, trans. Beowulf: A Verse Translation. Penguin Classics. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1973.
- Heaney, Seamus. Beowulf: A Verse Translation. 2000. Norton Critical Edition. Ed. Daniel Donghue. New York: W. W. Norton, 2002.
- Tolkien, J. R. R. Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary, together with Sellic Spell. Ed. Christopher Tolkien. Boston & New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2014.
- Garmonsway, G. N., & Jacqueline Simpson, trans. Beowulf and Its Analogues. Including Archaeology and Beowulf, by Hilda Ellis Davidson. 1968. A Dutton Paperback. New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., Inc., 1971.
- Tolkien, J. R. R. Finn and Hengest: The Fragment and the Episode. Ed. Alan Bliss. London: George Allen & Unwin, 1982.
- Tolkien, J. R. R. The Monsters and the Critics and Other Essays. Ed. Christopher Tolkien . London: George Allen & Unwin, 1983.
- Wilson, R. M. The Lost Literature of Medieval England. 1952. London: Methuen & Co. Ltd., 1970.
Elias Canetti (1981)
- Auto da Fé. 1935. Trans. C. V. Wedgwood. 1946. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1965.
- Crowds and Power. 1960. Trans. Carol Stewart. 1962. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1973.
- Kafka’s Other Trial. 1969. Trans. Christopher Middleton. 1974. In Kafka, Franz. Letters to Felice. Ed. Erich Heller & Jürgen Born. Trans. James Stern & Elizabeth Duckworth. 1973. Penguin Modern Classics. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1978.
- The Human Province. 1973. Trans. Joachim Neugroschel. 1978. London: Picador, 1986.
- The Conscience of Words / Earwitness. 1976 & 1979. Trans. Joachim Neugroschel. 1986 & 1979. London: Picador, 1987.
- The Tongue Set Free: Remembrance of a European Childhood. 1977. Trans. Joachim Neugroschel. 1979. London: Picador, 1989.
- The Torch in My Ear. 1980. Trans. Joachim Neugroschel. 1982. London: Picador, 1990.
- The Play of the Eyes. 1985. Trans. Joachim Neugroschel. 1986. London: Picador, 1991.
- Party in the Blitz: The English Years. 2003. Trans. Michael Hofmann. Introduction by Jeremy Adler. London: Harvill Press, 2005.
- The Voices of Marrakesh: A Record of a Visit. 1967. Trans. J. A. Underwood. 1978. London: Marion Boyars Publishers Ltd., 1982.
Franz Kafka (1923)
- The Trial / America / The Castle / Metamorphosis / In the Penal Settlement / The Great Wall of China / Investigations of a Dog / Letter to His Father / The Diaries 1910-1923. Trans. Willa & Edwin Muir et al. London: Secker & Warburg / Octopus, 1976.
- The Trial: Definitive Edition. 1925. Trans. Willa & Edwin Muir. 1935. Rev. E. M. Butler. 1956. London: Secker & Warburg, 1963.
- The Trial. 1925. Trans. Douglas Scott & Chris Waller. Introduction by J. P. Stern. 1977. London: Picador, 1980.
- The Castle: Definitive Edition. 1926. Trans. Willa & Edwin Muir. 1930. Rev. Eithne Wilkins & Ernst Kaiser. 1953. London: Secker & Warburg, 1961.
- Amerika: Roman. 1935. Frankfurt am Main: Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, 1985.
- America: Definitive Edition. 1927. Trans. Willa & Edwin Muir. 1938. Rev. ed. London: Secker & Warburg, 1949.
- The Man Who Disappeared (Amerika). 1927. Trans. Michael Hofmann. Penguin Twentieth-Century Classics. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1996.
- Sämtliche Erzählungen. Ed. Paul Raabe. 1970. Hamburg: Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, 1983.
- The Great Wall of China and Other Pieces. Trans. Willa & Edwin Muir. 1933. Rev. ed. London: Secker & Warburg, 1946.
- The Metamorphosis / Die Verwandlung. 1935. Trans. Willa & Edwin Muir. 1968. New York: Schocken Books, 1974.
- Der Heizer / In der Strafkolonie / Der Bau. 1935. Ed. J. M. S. Pasley. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1966.
- Metamorphosis and Other Stories. Trans. Willa & Edwin Muir. 1933 & 1958. Penguin Modern Classics. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1974.
- In the Penal Settlement: Tales and Short Prose Works. Definitive Edition. 1935. Trans. Willa & Edwin Muir. London: Secker & Warburg, 1949.
- Wedding Preparations in the Country and Other Posthumous Prose Writings: Definitive Edition. 1953. Trans. Ernst Kaiser & Eithne Wilkins. London: Secker & Warburg, 1954.
- Wedding Preparations in the Country and Other Stories. Trans. Ernst Kaiser & Eithne Wilkins. 1953. Penguin Modern Classics. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1978.
- Description of a Struggle and The Great Wall of China: Definitive Edition. 1933. Trans. Willa & Edwin Muir and Tania & James Stern. 1958. London: Secker & Warburg, 1960.
- Description of a Struggle and Other Stories. Trans. Willa & Edwin Muir, Malcolm Pasley, Tania & James Stern. 1973. Penguin Modern Classics. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1979.
- The Complete Stories. Ed. Nahum N. Glatzer. 1971. New York: Schocken Books, 1976.
- Stories 1904-1924. Trans. J. A. Underwood. Foreword by Jorge Luis Borges. 1981. A Futura Book. London: Macdonald & Co, 1983.
- The Diaries of Franz Kafka. Ed. Max Brod. Trans. Joseph Kresh and Martin Greenberg with Hannah Arendt. 1948 & 1949. Peregrine Books. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1964.
- Letters to Milena. Ed. Willy Haas. Trans. Tania & James Stern. 1953. London: Corgi Books, 1967.
- Letters to Felice. Ed. Erich Heller & Jürgen Born. Trans. James Stern & Elizabeth Duckworth. 1973. With Elias Canetti: Kafka’s Other Trial. 1969. Trans. Christopher Middleton. 1974. Penguin Modern Classics. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1978.
- Letters to Friends, Family and Editors. Trans. Richard & Clara Winston. 1977. Richmond, Surrey: Alma Classics Ltd., 2014.
- Brod, Max. Franz Kafka: A Biography. 1937. Trans. G. Humphreys Roberts. 1947. Rev. Richard Winston. 1960. New York: Schocken Books, 1973.
- Calasso, Roberto. K. 2002. Trans. Geoffrey Brock. Jonathan Cape. London: Random House, 2005.
- Hayman, Ronald. K: A Biography Of Kafka. 1981. An Abacus Book. London: Sphere Books, 1983.
- Janousch, Gustav. Conversations with Kafka. 1953. Rev. ed. 1968. Trans. Goronwy Rees. New York: New Directions, 1971.
- Pawel, Ernst. The Nightmare of Reason: A Life of Franz Kafka. 1984. London: Collins Harvill, 1988.
Letters & Diaries: