The worst part of one of this year’s best pieces

I loved the Michael Hofmann review of Stephen Parker’s Bertolt Brecht: A Literary Life in the 15 August 2014 Times Literary Supplement.  Every paragraph of that review is a gem and Hofmann calls the book perhaps the greatest literary biography he has read.  I’ve ordered my copy.

Here is one part of that review, toward the end, which caught my eye:

I’m not really sure what the case against Brecht is.  That he treated women and co-workers badly?  That he played fast and loose with the intellectual property of others, but was litigiously possessive of his own?  That he wrote no more hit shows after The Threepenny Opera?  That he failed to crack America?  That he wouldn’t denounce the Soviet Union?  That he was drab and a killjoy?  That he had it cushy after settling back in East Germany in 1949?  That he was consumed with his own importance?

Perhaps the Parker book will change my mind, but for now file under “All of the Above.”

Addendum: Here is another superb Michael Hofmann review.


A classic line: "Perhaps if we had had Brecht, we wouldn’t have needed Thomas Piketty."

Get a sense of proportion, Mr Cowen. Who cares about bloody Brecht in a week when the news arrived that the puffins are thriving on Lundy?

Buying a book based on a review is I guess how it is supposed to work, but this seems somehow...different.

in what sense?

Buying a book almost just to see how it measures up to the review.

It is indeed a bit of an extreme situation, but I think Tyler's conclusion is correct: it's a brilliantly written review, which almost compels one to read the book. The excerpts on amazon suggest that it is indeed quite readable, with frequent quotes from Brecht's writings to buttress the observations. OTOH at 700 pages, it might be too much of a good thing; more facts and analysis of Brecht than I really want to have.

Brecht might not have cracked America, but recently I was with some friends and one of them referenced "Mack the Knife" and I asked "Dreigroschenoper?" and he gave me a blank look and said no, Bobby Darin. So perhaps he does have some influence here and there, but, ironically, credited to someone else.

Bobby Darin? I thought it was Satchmo?

I'm no big fan of Brecht's work, but the quote containing the litany of things that purportedly make "the case against Brecht" don't have a lot to do with the actual works that he created or his contributions (or not) to theater. So, what, exactly, is the point? That someone who, for example, treats women and co-workers badly can't write good plays or poetry? I think it is perhaps a good thing we don't know much about Shakespeare's personal life.

And let's not mention Wagner.

Has Brecht really not made it in the English-speaking world? Compared to whom? His works are readily available and he's staged quite regularly. Writers using any language other than English have a tough position in the Anglo-sphere. It's not like he's someone like Tucholsky who is truly unknown outside the German-speaking world (and probably rightly so).

'someone like Tucholsky who is truly unknown outside the German-speaking world'

Because in the English speaking world, calling soldiers murderers has never been a reason to be charged with a crime.

Either in the past, or by someone merely quoting Tucholsky's 'Soldaten sind Mörder' and then being charging with insulting the honor of those serving in the Bundeswehr -örder

I am eager to get this. I just want to comment -- for those who mainly know Brecht through his plays -- that his poetry is superb.
And, fwiw, he was obviously a very nasty person. I understand that, in addition to all of the above, his hygiene made him particularly unpleasant to be around.

Hahahaha, yes, my thoughts exactly - Hofman is a genius, it's a brilliant review, I will certainly read the book - BUT.....

Also - as an eighteenth-centuryist, I feel the need to say that though Threepenny Opera is an amazing piece of work, it is about 90% derivative of Gay's even more amazing Beggar's Opera - especially if you take away the Weill music, there is much less new to admire than you might think....

Bretcht's poetry is real good:

out of print though

“he would never again allow his audience to enjoy themselves in such an unfettered way”

More in common with the Scotsman with a grievance than a ray of sunshine, then.

"I’m not really sure what the case against Brecht is"

That he was a miserable blighter.

Tyler, I'd love to read your thoughts on this Hofmann review of a book you've said to admire, Stefan Zweig's 'The World of Yesterday'. This is one choice quote from the review: "The World of Yesterday is orderly, often bland, sometimes honest, sometimes disingenuous, occasionally unintentionally funny, from time to time downright stupid." He's definitely not a fan.

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