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the Complete Review
the complete review - memoir

Dear Mrs. Strigl /
Liebe Frau Strigl

H. F. Broch de Rothermann

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Title: Dear Mrs. Strigl / Liebe Frau Strigl
Author: H. F. Broch de Rothermann
Genre: Memoir
Written: 1953 (Eng. 2001)
Length: 151 pages
Original in: German
Availability: Dear Mrs. Strigl/Liebe Frau Strigl - US
  • A Memoir of Hermann Broch by His Son
  • Translated and with a Preface by John Hargraves
  • Includes thirteen photographs
  • Both the original German text and the English translation are included in this volume

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Our Assessment:

B : interesting small portrait of Hermann Broch by his son

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       H. F. Broch de Rothermann was Hermann Broch's only child. (The "de Rothermann" was added to his name in 1933 when he was adopted by his maternal uncle for inheritance purposes.) Dear Mrs. Strigl is a short memoir of his family and his father, written in response to an inquiry by a Mrs. Strigl in 1953.
       In Dear Mrs. Strigl Broch de Rothermann focusses on the personal rather than on Broch's writing, providing background and biographical detail, as well as many family anecdotes. Usefully he also describes the other significant family members in some detail (as well as the relationships among them all): Broch's parents, brother Fritz, as well as some of the women in Broch's life.
       The background about Broch's family and that of the Rothermann's (the family of Broch's first wife) is of particular interest. There are amusing anecdotes, such as the Rothermann's odd pedagogical ideas:

(F)ears of any kind, whether of pain or animals, were frowned on in the family (...) if a child had a fear of dogs, they set the wolfhounds on him; fear of guns was cured by waking the child up every morning by firing off a flintlock rifle next to his bed; a favorite joke of my mother's brothers was shooting the high heels off girls' shoes
       Most of the focus is, however, on Broch's immediate family. His father, a self-made man with great ambition, was an assimilated Jew with little interest in culture or learning, devoted only to building up his business -- and expecting his sons to follow in his footsteps. Hermann Broch's interests were always far broader, but his father would not even allow him to attend the Gymnasium as a teenager, rejecting: "classical education as impractical and pointless for a future industrialist" and sending both his sons to the more commercially oriented Realschule. Upon graduating Broch wanted to study maths and physics at the university, but this too wasn't permitted.
       Broch de Rothermann is open in his portraits, not making any excuses for the weaknesses and quirks of these family members, from the too-strong-willed father to weasely Fritz. He emphasises from the beginning that Broch had: "grown up in a milieu steeped in neurosis" and became "himself a profoundly neurotic person". It's even clear to him that Broch's marriage to Franziska von Rothermann "was doomed to failure from the start".
       Broch de Rothermann also gives a good impression of the family pressures on Broch. He did go into the family business (as did the less gifted brother favoured by the parents), but was long kept on a very short financial leash; later there would be complicated inheritance issues to contend with. All the while there was also the tug of the intellectual and cultural life he wanted to lead -- leading, eventually, to his becoming more active in the Viennese intellectual circles (so very foreign to his father's world) and pursuing some sort of philosophical and mathematical studies, as well as beginning to write creatively.
       Broch de Rothermann's account skirts over much detail -- the books barely get more than passing mention -- and is not anywhere near as comprehensive as, for example, Paul Michael Lützeler's biography (still the definitive one). Nevertheless, it offers a variety of glimpses into the personal side that are revealing. A variety of scenes -- the mother left behind when Broch goes into exile, snapshots of the women he was attracted to, a mountain-hike outing -- all shed a bit more light on the complex industrialist turned novelist.
       Broch de Rothermann is also very good on Broch's years in American exile, and his unfortunate end (on the verge of setting out for Europe once again, to live with the woman he had secretly married). The sense that: "his whole life was overshadowed and defined by a frantic race with time", as Broch de Rothermann suggests early on, is also clearly demonstrated: Broch comes across as constantly harried (though one is also impressed by how much he accomplished, first in helping to run a business and then as an artist). (Broch de Rothermann writes of Broch's: "gequältes 'Gehtzt, gehetzt, gehetzt !' ", which Hargraves can only translate as saying "in a tortured voice, 'No time, no time, no time !' ")
       For a sense of the man and his difficult life, Dear Mrs. Strigl is a valuable little work. There isn't much about Broch's fiction or other creative work (except for some mention of passages or characters that mirror real-life occurrences or people), but the odd family and difficult life also make for a compelling tale all by itself. An unusual little work, but certainly of some interest.

       This small volume is also commendable for two more reasons: First of all, it's a very attractive little book -- small, cloth-bound, and a great value for the price. More importantly, however, it also presents Broch de Rothermann's text in both the German original and John Hargraves (solid) translation. What a thrill that is !

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H. F. Broch de Rothermann: Hermann Broch: Books by Hermann Broch under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Hermann Friedrich Broch de Rothermann, born in 1910, was the son of Austrian author Hermann Broch.

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© 2003-2021 the complete review

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