Monday, June 7, 2010
Reviews of The Diary of a Lost Girl
In preparation for writing my introduction to Margarete Bohme's The Diary of a Lost Girl, I did a lot of research. However, there just isn't much in English about this German author and her now little known book. I was especially interested in finding reviews, or any kind of critical commentary. It was slim pickings to say the least.
Bohme's book was translated into English and published in Britain in 1907. There, it was praised by the writer and man of letters, Hall Caine. Though little known today, Caine was an immensely popular novelist and playwright during the Victorian and Edwardian eras. At one point, he was among the best-selling writers in England. For example, his 1897 novel, The Christian, was the first in Britain to sell over a million copies. Caine had also been secretary to Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and friendly with Robert Browning, Matthew Arnold, and George Bernard Shaw. Caine's good friend, Bram Stoker, dedicated Dracula to him under the nickname "Hommy-Beg."
English editions carried Caine's endorsement. “It is years since I read anything of the kind that moved me to so much sympathy and admiration. More reality, more truth, more sincerity, I have rarely met with. . . . I know it to be true because I know the life it depicts. . . . It is difficult for me to believe that a grown man or woman with a straight mind and a clean heart can find anything that is not of good influence in this most moving, most convincing, most poignant story of a great-hearted girl who kept her soul alive amidst all the mire that surrounded her poor body.”
The Manchester Guardian review echoed Caine, “The moral justification of such a publication is to be found in the fact that it shrivels up sentimentality; the weak thing cannot stand and look at such stark degradation.”
In the United States, where the book was published in 1908, the book received little attention and few notices. It did manage, however, to find at least a few readers. The Anglo-American writer and aesthete Percival Pollard (a good friend of H.L. Mencken) praised it lavishly on more than one occasion. And the novelist Henry Miller included it on his list of the books which influenced him the most. Miller’s list of essential books was included in Raymond Queneau’s Pour une Bibliothèque Idéale (Gallimard, 1956).
I managed to find a few other critical bits & pieces here and there, but that's about it. My favorite English-language blurb comes from the Nelson Evening Mail, a New Zealand newspaper. They referred to The Diary of a Lost Girl as “The saddest of modern books.”
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