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Rock Crystal (New York Review Books Classics) Paperback – September 16, 2008
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"On one level it can appear as timeless and simple as a folktale. Yet Thomas Mann came closer to the true experience of reading Rock Crystal when he praised Stifter as 'one of the most extraordinary, the most enigmatic, the most secretly daring and the most strangely gripping narrators in world literature.' In Rock Crystal, as in a Mann story, plot and description are never 'innocent,' no matter how lovingly they are elaborated. Rather, as the novella unfolds, succinctly but without hurry, it evolves into a parable of frightening depth. It is no more than 25,000 words, if that, but in this short space Stifter transports the reader to the heart of the world's mystery, before returning him to a comfortable dailiness that henceforth cannot help but feel haunted." --The New York Sun
“A miracle of quiet beauty.” –The New Yorker
“W. H. Auden in The Times called this ingenuous, mystical tale ‘a quiet and beautiful parable about the relation of people to places, of man to nature.’ …Beyond its leisurely beginning lies a painstakingly polished and fashioned gem, an ageless, mystical folktale whose return deserves a 12 month celebration.” –The New York Times, 1965
“[Rock Crystal] has remained dear to the hearts of lovers of German literature. A beautiful new translation by Elizabeth Mayer and Marianne Moore…It’s account of the courage and faith of little children and its reverent feeling for the beauty of nature and for the sacred symbolism of Christmas have a value that has little to do with literature. It is one of pure feeling.” –The New York Times, 1945
“Adalbert Stifter is ranked by critics among the best prose writers of Austria. We do not think the praise is too high.” –The Christian Examiner
“The work of Adalbert Stifter, who was one of the very few great novelists in German literature, can be compared to no other writer of the nineteenth century in pure happiness, wisdom, and beauty… Stifter became the greatest landscape-painter in literature…someone who possesses the magic wand to transform all visible things into words and all visible movements–into sentences.” –Hannah Arendt
“Whereas romances are rarely fearsome, even when teeming with dragons, tales quite often are. The fear that must underlie even our most cordial relation with the elements has an established place in them. I think of Rock Crystal (Bergkristalle) in the wonderful collection Colored Stones (Bunte Steine, 1853) of the Austrian Adalbert Stifter; it tells of two children, brother and sister, lost in a mountain snowstorm at Christmas-time while returning from a custom-honored three-hour walk to their grandmother's house down the valley. The quite ordinary and familiar two-horned alp traversed by the shoemaker's children is a mountain more magic than any of Thomas Mann's imagining.” –Mary McCarthy, The New York Review of Books
About the Author
Fanny Howe, the author of more than twenty books of poetry and prose, was the recipient of the 2001 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize for her Selected Poems. She was short-listed for the Griffin Poetry Prize in 2001 and 2005.
Marianne Moore (1887–1972) is universally recognized as one of America’s finest poets.
Elizabeth Mayer (1884–1970) was a German-born American translator and editor.
Top Customer Reviews
I have, over the years, acquired about half of Stifter's works in out-of-print English translations. I want to direct people to these books. They can be found through Amazon and other online out-of-print book dealers.
First, some points about Rock Crystal. In the English speaking world, we get Goethean naturalism indirectly, through Wordsworth, then Ruskin. Stifter comes right on the heels of Goethe, and I see Stifter realizing some of Goethe's visions. Rock Crystal is very faithful to Goethe's naturalism. The children are nature-transformed on the glacier. I think of the falling star as an event that marks the conflation of the nature-transformation and the Christian transformation. Naturalized Christianity. The children's distance from the Christian festivities, far below them in the valleys, is a measure of the distance from Christianity that Goethean naturalism has taken us. Stifter is not quite post-Christian, as Goethe & Emerson were, but he is concerned with reconciling Christianity and Naturalism, as his conservative Biedermeier culture retrenched after Goethe's revolutionary forays into nature, which is beyond good & evil. This shadow side of nature leads to the dark side of Stifter's work, least of all in Rock Crystal, which maintains the tone of a simple children's tale. There is a new critical work on Stifter by Helena Ragg-Kirkby, who goes into this dark side of Stifter in great detail.Read more ›
That is what it is: an extraordinarily beautifully written ninety-nine page, 19th Century novella of two children who after visiting their Grandmother on Christmas eve, have to traverse through a high mountain pass in the Alps to return home. They get caught in a blinding, heavy snow storm, making their proceeding with ever increasing difficulty as the temperature falls to a bone chilling coldness. Not being able to see clearly, with tress and rocks indistinguishable in the snow and darkness, they make a wrong turn and get to a point from which they are only able to climb higher and higher. They finally realize that they are lost and in desperate need of finding shelter before they freeze to death as another traveler had some years earlier. The shelter that they eventually find is a combination of large boulders which nature caused to form into a hut, enclosed on all sides but one. There, huddled together, and drinking some very strong coffee their Grandmother was sending home to their parents, they struggled to keep awake so as not to freeze to death. As the snow storm dissipated, stars appear, slowly, one by one, transforming the dark night into a wondrous, magical world of glistening silent beauty. Outside their stone hut they see a glacial field glittering with ice crystal diamonds.Read more ›
It was a great relief for me to read this classic novella, recommended to me by my trans-Pacific amazonian book sharer. I had just read three long, grotesque novels of thorny Christian symbolism -- Wise Blood by Flannery O'Connor, Christ Versus Arizona by Camilo Cela, and Voss by Patrick White. All three 'celebrate' the contemptible insignificance of humanity except in abject submission to an angry God. What a relief to find Stifter celebrating humanism and the sublimity of human life, even in a remote cleft of traditional decency in a valley surrounded by titanic peaks and glacial eternities.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
This is the kind of Christmas story that tells the truth. Christmas is about life and living; not trees, decor, presents, but lifesaving love. Read morePublished 22 months ago by Arthur D. Shotts
This is a brief, absorbing account - a great story to be read to children - which is a classic effort from another age.Published on April 1, 2014 by R. Crippen
This 19th century prose poem is late-Romantic in its hypotaxical structure—a truly Goethian naturalist whose Rock Crystal is called one of the genuine jewels of late romantic... Read morePublished on December 24, 2013 by Steiner
ROCK CRYSTAL is a semi-precious specimen, indeed -- a throwback to a simpler time, an idyll set in the Alps, a Christmas tale unlike any other you'll read. Read morePublished on July 20, 2010 by Ken C.
Do not fear that you are buying a book that is too old. I gave it as a gift to a woman of faith and she was enthralled. Read morePublished on February 17, 2010 by Reader
Adalbert Stifter (1905-1868) didn't live an idyllic life. His father died when he was young, he became a tutor for the rich. Read morePublished on January 23, 2010 by Flippy
"Rock Crystal" is a simply amazing little book. Adalbert Stifter shows his narrative skill in starting with a description of the Austrian mountains, then moving to a description of... Read morePublished on September 30, 2009 by Jay Young