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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Sufferings of
Prince Sternenhoch

Ladislav Klíma

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To purchase The Sufferings of Prince Sternenhoch

Title: The Sufferings of Prince Sternenhoch
Author: Ladislav Klíma
Genre: Novel
Written: (1928)
Length: 207 pages
Original in: Czech
Availability: The Sufferings of Prince Sternenhoch - US
The Sufferings of Prince Sternenhoch - UK
The Sufferings of Prince Sternenhoch - Canada
The Sufferings of Prince Sternenhoch - India
Souffrances du prince Sternenhoch - France
Die Leiden des Fürsten Sternenhoch - Deutschland
I dolori del principe Sternenhoch - Italia
  • A Grotesque Romanetto
  • Czech title: Utrpení knízete Sternenhocha
  • Largely written 1906-1909, revised in the late 1920s, first published posthumously in 1928
  • Also includes Klíma's "My Autobiography" (translation of Vlastní zivotopis)
  • Translated by Carleton Bulkin
  • With an Afterword by Josef Zumr (translated by Howard Sidenberg)
  • With illustrations by Michal Vavrecka
  • Jan Nemec made a film adaptation of The Sufferings of Prince Sternenhoch, V záru královské lásky, in 1990

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Our Assessment:

B+ : dark, occasionally overwrought tale of inflamed passions

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       The diminutive Prince Sternenhoch, who relates most of his own tale here, is a grand aristocrat, worth 500 million marks, a favourite at the imperial court. The tale of his sufferings begins when he is 33, when he sets his sights on the daemonic Helga. Despite his wealth and title -- and his name (literally "star-high") -- the good prince isn't necessarily such a prize-catch. He insists:

I am a beau, in spite of certain faults, for example, that I am only 150 centimeters tall and weigh 45 kilograms, that I am almost toothless, hairless, and whiskerless, also a little squint-eyed and hobble markedly; but even the sun has spots.
       (For American audiences: that puts him a shade under five feet in height, and tipping the scales at just under 100 pounds.)
       Sternenhoch is, however, an important man, and what he sets his sights on he can get. Unfortunately, for almost all involved, he is irresistibly attracted to Helga. It's not pure, sweet love that draws him to her. No, Helga isn't some raving beauty; in fact he admits "she looked like a corpse animated by some motor". But Sternenhoch can't leave be, and almost despite himself he asks for her hand. Her father consents, though not without first warning the prince of what he might be getting himself into and relating the unusual upbringing the girl had.
       Marriage doesn't do much for her either initially. She bears the prince a son, and then, unfortunately, the sleeping beast within awakes. Helga shows her true nature, and a not very nice nature it is.
       The couple comes to a sort of ... arrangement, with Helga administering the prince's property (and doing a good job of it -- by scaring the hell out everyone) and the prince just keeps his distance. It's not your usual married life -- though not quite as unusual as one might believe either:
Twice I presumed to address her and each time, first drawing on a glove, she answered me with a slap in the face that sent me reeling. The worst thing was that, as time went on, I liked her more and more.
       The prince's infatuation -- and her loathing -- grow ever more passionate. It does not bode well, and finally the prince does the unthinkable. It is an act that haunts him, as he can not escape the Daemoness or what he has done. It drives him close to madness; certainly, it drives him beyond that rational world as he stumbles around flailing for his beloved.
       It's a bit confusing, but it's not the worst life:
I had a dream today -- or was it a vision ? or reality ? It was all that and still more.
       Klíma moves easily between vision and reality, imagined and tangible. It's an old (and, honestly, pretty tired) literary game (and it was even way back when he wrote the book), but Klíma plays it well, with enough humour and brio and, more significantly, without taking it deathly seriously. Sternenhoch's passion (and confusion) are well-presented, and fairly convincing. Klíma is known as a philosopher and there are metaphysical musings and speculations here, but none of this is too much of a burden on the story. One can make of the philosophy surrounding it as much or (almost) as little as one will.
       Klíma does show a wicked sense of humour, and quite a number of horrible things happen in the novel. From Helga's unorthodox upbringing to the fate of the child she bears the prince to Sternenhoch's own humiliations this is not one happy family to whom good things happen. The novel is subtitled "a grotesque romanetto", and it certainly offers its share of the grotesque.
       A dark, diverting entertainment, certainly out of the ordinary.

       The very attractive Twisted Spoon edition is enhanced not only by the addition of colourful illustrations by Michal Vavrecka but also by the inclusion of Klíma's brief piece, My Autobiography. This text, written in 1924 (only a few years before his death), gives a nice summary of Klíma's very unusual life, attitudes, and philosophy. He was a decidedly odd bloke, a real character. But he was not a stupid man, and he could write. It's a fascinating little summa and well worth reading.

       This volume is apparently the first book of Klíma's to appear in English. Certainly he is an author deserving wider recognition in the English-speaking world. This volume should help to attract at least some notice, and one hopes that some of his influential other work will also become available.

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The Sufferings of Prince Sternenhoch: Reviews: V záru královské lásky -- the 1990 Jan Nemec film adaptation: Other books by Ladislav Klíma under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Ladislav Klíma (1878-1928) was an influential Czech author and philosopher.

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