HomeGroupsTalkZeitgeist
This site uses cookies to deliver our services, improve performance, for analytics, and (if not signed in) for advertising. By using LibraryThing you acknowledge that you have read and understand our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your use of the site and services is subject to these policies and terms.
Hide this

Results from Google Books

Click on a thumbnail to go to Google Books.

Auto-da-Fé by Elias Canetti
Loading...

Auto-da-Fé (original 1935; edition 1984)

by Elias Canetti (Author), C. V. Wedgwood (Translator)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,817265,672 (4)77
Member:mysticskeptic
Title:Auto-da-Fé
Authors:Elias Canetti (Author)
Other authors:C. V. Wedgwood (Translator)
Info:Farrar, Straus and Giroux, NY (1984), Paperback, 464 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:****1/2
Tags:German literature, novel, obsession, surrealism

Work details

Auto-da-Fé by Elias Canetti (1935)

Loading...

Sign up for LibraryThing to find out whether you'll like this book.

No current Talk conversations about this book.

» See also 77 mentions

English (20)  Dutch (2)  Spanish (2)  Danish (1)  Italian (1)  All languages (26)
Showing 1-5 of 20 (next | show all)
Elias Canetti was a philosopher whose non-fiction work won him the Nobel Prize for literature in 1981; auto-da-fe is in fact his only work of fiction. I decided to read it out of curiosity following a visit to Ruse in Bulgaria, where Canetti was born, and reading about him in Claudio Magris’ Danube, in which he describes auto-da-fe as “one of the great books of the century, his only truly great book.” It was written – and is set - in Vienna during the inter-war years, but that is irrelevant; it is both timeless and universal.

Canetti’s novel deals with the world that we all create in our minds, and how everything that happens – or should happen – is filtered through this world view. Taking this to its logical – and extreme – conclusion, Canetti’s protagonists are the central figures and righteous heroes of their worlds, in which all their actions are totally justifiable and moral, irrespective of the consequences of those actions, whether – as in the case of the central character, Peter Kien - they are self-destructive, or whether destructive of other people.

Peter Kien is an obsessive misanthrope who lives with and for books – primarily his own library of books on ancient Chinese literature, a subject on which - the reader is led to believe - he is the most eminent and acclaimed authority in the world. He loves books more than anything else, and - to the extent that other people impinge at all on him - he judges them purely on the basis of their relationship to books. Thus it is that, mistakenly interpreting the behavior of his housekeeper as evidence of a love and reverence for books – she wears gloves to dust them in order to keep her hands clean – he impulsively decides to marry her; this is the beginning of his downfall.

The housekeeper, Therese, is equally obsessed, but her obsession is money – her lack of it throughout the whole of her life. In her own eyes, she is a women of extraordinary virtue, which makes her lack of financial security even more unjustifiable. The symbol of her virtue is the long starched blue skirt that she always wears; for her new husband the skirt will become the symbol of all that is evil. The lack of affection shown to her by Kien – he expects nothing at all to change in their relationship; he had married her purely as a reward for her imagined esteem for books – soon leads Therese to see him as the major obstacle to her security. She begins to demand changes in their living arrangements – in the rooms that are “her’s” and in the furnishing of the apartment – which Kien, in order to escape her intrusions into his inner world, accedes to. Her goal in life becomes getting hold of his money; she skims the housekeeping money all the time and banks it, but that is not enough; she makes sure that she is named in his will, but – waiting for him to die is too remote a consummation - eventually resorts to physical violence in order to gain access to his bank account – all totally justifiable in her eyes.

Kien escapes from Therese physically – although, by this time, she has become an indelible part of his mental furniture – when she throws him out of his apartment. He starts living in hotel rooms, having taken his beloved library with him – in his head. Each night, he carefully “unloads” each volume and stacks it carefully with all the others on the floor on paper that he carries with him in his valise. He spends his days visiting book shops where he enquires about books that he already owns and which we – and the bookshop owners – understand that he is never going to buy. He had finally understood that Therese was after his money, and – in order to thwart her – he has emptied his bank account and carries the cash around with him.

Kien encounters a humpbacked dwarf, Fischerle, who lives on the fringes of the criminal underworld and who becomes his living companion and “servant”. Fischerle is obsessed with chess – he plays it all the time in his head against himself – and knows that – if only he can get to America – he will become the world chess champion. He sees in Kien his ticket to America, and devises a scam to exploit Kien’s obsession with books in order to get hold of his money. The dwarf had his hands on Kien’s money a number of times, and could have just stolen it, but – whether out of a warped sense of integrity or fear of getting entangled with the law – he has to do it “legitimately”. He recruits three of his acquaintances in order help him with his scheme. Thus we meet another group of characters each with their own obsessions; the newspaper seller who for some reason adores Fischerle and will do anything for him, even though he despises her; the beggar who poses as a blind man - and who hates buttons, because he has to maintain his disguise and thank people even when they put buttons instead of coins in his bowl - and who dreams of nothing but a world of women whom he can possess; the insomniac salesman who becomes convinced that Fischerle and Kien are dealing in drugs that will give him the sleep he craves. There are many other characters, whose inner worlds - and how these shape their actions - we get a glimpse of. We also see the joint delusions that groups of people and mobs can create, and how easily group think and group action can result from and be justified by very diverse individual delusions.

When Fischerle’s scheme – and Fischerle himself – comes to an end, Kien becomes convinced that Therese has starved to death, as a result of him locking her up in the apartment, but knows that at his trial for her murder he will be totally vindicated and found innocent. Even when she shows up, he refuses to believe that she is more than a figment of his imagination. Kien ends up in the custody of the caretaker of his apartment – a vile character for whom physical violence is both and end and a means – and who involves him in his obsession with spying on people.

Eventually, Peter’s brother George, who is a very successful gynacologist- turned-psychologist in Paris, gets to hears of his brother’s plight and comes to Vienna to help him. George too has his own obsessions; he admires the minds of insane people so much that he feels guilty when he successfully treats them. He rescues his brother from the clutches of the caretaker and via his skill at communicating with the insane, gets to understand that Therese is the root of Peter’s problems. George charms Therese - he became a psychologist to escape the attentions of women, who find him irresistible - out of his brother’s apartment; he reinstalls him there, arranges to support him financially, and returns to Paris, with a sense of satisfaction at having – for the first time in their lives – communicated with his brother, who is by now totally detached from reality.

The totality of the obsession of each protagonist leaves no room for any insight into the minds of others, making each of them vulnerable to becoming instruments of the others’ obsessions; Kien – serially - to Therese, the dwarf, the caretaker, and ultimately his brother; after throwing out her husband, Therese soon succumbs to the violence of the caretaker; the dwarf can only influence the world by the deviousness of his chessboard-honed wits, and eventually becomes a victim of the type of direct action that he is too small and weak to even think of using. Even George, who knows only how to be charming – whether it be with women or the insane – is a slave to both.

There is nothing redeeming in this novel; in vain you keep hoping for a “happy ending” or someone who seems to live in this world, rather than the one inside their head. It is a caricature – but not an unrealistic one - of what it is to be human. It is also a remarkable work of imagination. ( )
3 vote maimonedes | Oct 16, 2018 |
Per leggere questo libro di Canetti occorre uno stomaco forte.
Niente sangue a fiumi intendiamoci, ma una discesa nell'orrore del reale.
Non c'è astio, critica, lacrime o disperazione per quel avrebbe potuto essere: c'è solo quello che è.
Molti scrittori parlano del male del mondo ma lo fanno con amarezza, con dolore, con rimpianto per una umanità impossibile. Canetti sembra un entomologo che senza pathos descrive una realtà fisica ineluttabile.

Per leggere questo libro occorre avere nervi saldi: quando l’autore insiste e insiste e insiste nello spingerti da dietro verso il fondo del pozzo ti viene voglia di girarti di scatto e dirgli, “ma vai al diavolo, Elías, datemi un Dumas!”

Vorrei non avere letto questo libro: così potrei ancora buttarmici sopra e – angoscia o non angoscia - avrei ancora una magnifica esperienza da fare.
( )
1 vote icaro. | Aug 31, 2017 |
I managed 200 pages before admitting defeat.
This is an extremely strange work, and though I was intrigued by the storyline and the writing, by the time we start part 2 it's moving beyond strange to Kafkaesque.
Peter Kien is obsessed with his vast book collection and the pursuit of knowledge. An eminent sinologist, he eschews the world of academia and lives alone, poring over his tomes. His books are constantly dusted and even addressed as if they're people. The only person who shares his world is housekeeper Therese. Ugly, poor, money-hungry and small-minded, but Kien sees some imaginary quality in her - a carer for his books - and marries her.

I liked how Canetti brings her alive by describing her thoughts in the trite, repetitive, meaningless phrases that characterize her:

"If she sees anything she knows how to make use of it. She doesn't see many things. She hasn't ever been outside the town, She's not one for excursions, a waste of good money. You don't catch her going bathing, it's not respectable. She doesn't care for travelling, you never know where you are. If she didn't have to go shopping, she'd prefer to stay in all day. They all try to do you down. Prices going up all the time, things aren't the same any more."

But as married life becomes monstrous and Kien is forced to consort with a hunch-backed chess expert at a lowly hostelry, it all got a bit too surreal and I gave up... ( )
  starbox | Jun 15, 2017 |
This was Canetti's first novel and his best-known work. It was written around 1931, set in Vienna and with many references to the political violence of the late 20s, especially the burning of the Justizpalast in October 1927, which Canetti witnessed. However, it was obviously also strongly influenced by Canetti's stays in Weimar Republic Berlin. Canetti particularly mentions Grosz, Brecht and Isaac Babel as friends from his time in Berlin; in Vienna, the only writer who really grabbed his attention at this period was the satirist Karl Kraus.

Dr Peter Kien, leading the quiet, settled life of a bachelor bibliophile and amateur scholar of Asian languages, unwisely decides to prevent his reliable housekeeper Therese from leaving by marrying her, and as a result finds himself dragged down into a nightmareish low-life world that could have come straight out of Otto Dix or George Grosz. It's a savagely funny book, but also an incredibly bleak one, in which civilised, humanist values and selfish ambitions are trampled indiscriminately into the dirt by the brutish forces of human nature. The only person who seems to be able to pass through the global shitstorm unscathed is Kien's brother, a clinical psychiatrist who is so insulated from reality in his lunatic asylum that he never really perceives the full horror of what is going on around him.

When people finally started to take notice of this book, thirty or forty years after it was written, it's obvious why it caught their attention: Canetti's view of Europe in the early thirties leaves us in no doubt that there is something seriously bad on the way, and with hindsight we can only see it as prescient. But it seems to be more than a book about one particular historical mooment: despite the bleakness, despite the folly of both Kien brothers' attempts to escape from the world into their intellectual pursuits, Canetti is evidently writing from a humanist perspective - rather like Kafka, he wants to show us the importance of our values by showing us what happens when we lose them.

Worth reading, but a very emotionally draining book - especially for those of us who happen to own large libraries. Canetti meant it to be "merciless towards both the writer and the reader", and I think he achieved that... ( )
2 vote thorold | Nov 23, 2016 |
one as to remenber the book was written in 1935 in the time of "the beast"...As I understand it humans seems all mad, some less, some more, their relation and communication difficult if not impossible. Cannetti built a powerfull story, violent, where reason is in danger... ( )
1 vote Gerardlionel | Apr 2, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 20 (next | show all)
no reviews | add a review

» Add other authors (22 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Elias Canettiprimary authorall editionscalculated
Hamelink, JacquesTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wedgwood, C.V.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Zagari, BiancaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Zagari, LucianoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
You must log in to edit Common Knowledge data.
For more help see the Common Knowledge help page.
Series (with order)
Canonical title
Original title
Alternative titles
Original publication date
People/Characters
Important places
Important events
Related movies
Awards and honors
Epigraph
Dedication
To Veza
First words
‘What are you doing here, my little man?’
Quotations
You draw closer to truth by shutting yourself off from mankind. Daily life is a superficial clatter of lies. Every passer-by is a liar.
No mind ever grew fat on a diet of novels. The pleasure which they occasionally offer is all too heavily paid for: they undermine the finest characters. They teach us to think ourselves into other men's places. Thus we acquire a taste for change. The personality becomes dissolved in pleasing figments of imagination. The reader learns to understand every point of view. Willingly he yields himself to the pursuit of other people's goals and loses sight of his own. Novels are so many wedges which the novelist, an actor with his pen, inserts into the closed personality of the reader. The better he calculates the size of the wedge and the strength of the resistance, so much the more completely does he crack open the personality of his victim.
Novels should be prohibited by the State.
Almost Kien was tempted to believe in happiness, that contemptible life-goal of illiterates.
Without corporal punishment no one ever got anywhere. The English are a tremendous people.
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
First American edition was published as The Tower of Babel.
Publisher's editors
Blurbers
Publisher series
Original language
Canonical DDC/MDS

References to this work on external resources.

Wikipedia in English

None

Book description
Haiku summary

Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0374518793, Paperback)

Auto-da-Fé, Elias Canetti's only work of fiction, is a staggering achievement that puts him squarely in the ranks of major European writers such as Robert Musil and Hermann Broch. It is the story of Peter Kien, a scholarly recluse who lives among and for his great library. The destruction of Kien through the instrument of the illiterate, brutish housekeeper he marries constitutes the plot of the book. The best writers of our time have been concerned with the horror of the modern world--one thinks of Kafka, to whom Canetti has often been compared. But Auto-de-Fé stands as a completely original, unforgettable treatment of the modern predicament.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:17:10 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

Peter Kien lives secluded in his library until he marries his housekeeper, who pushes him into the harshness of the outside world

(summary from another edition)

» see all 2 descriptions

Quick Links

Popular covers

Rating

Average: (4)
0.5 1
1 6
1.5 2
2 12
2.5 5
3 46
3.5 24
4 100
4.5 18
5 106

Is this you?

Become a LibraryThing Author.

 

About | Contact | Privacy/Terms | Help/FAQs | Blog | Store | APIs | TinyCat | Legacy Libraries | Early Reviewers | Common Knowledge | 131,652,785 books! | Top bar: Always visible