The whole novel consists of the dying Virgil discussing his life work with himself. The novel is divided into four parts, named for the four elements. The second part, Fire, shows the poet in a fevered state during his final night and the images that come back from the past. Earth, the third part, has Virgil, the man, arguing against the Emperor, representative of the state, that he has a right to destroy his own work. The final section is called Ether and brings us the death of the poet.

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Translated by Jean Starr Untermeyer. New York, Pantheon Books, Broch, the author of The Sleepwalkers, is one of the few modern writers from whom a great thing is to be expected.

Now here is this endless and arduous monologue of the dying Virgil, the work of many years and long awaited by serious readers. It is a book shot through with the troubles and personal revaluations of one who, like many others, was shaken by the persecutions of the last years.

After a single reading, I cannot fairly judge of the importance of The Death of Virgil. If this failing really exists, we have here a very dull book; and yet it is possible that a better reading might reveal a deeper system of meaning, and then much that now seems to me dormant would spring to life. First, an enormous simplicity of outline. The dying poet repents of his self-defensive dedication to art, understands that it is necessary to give oneself in love, wants to bum the Aeneid as a sacrifice toward our salvation, is dissuaded, and hears at last the saving Word.

The many thoughts, images, and passions, the endless sentences and plenty of verbiage, never blur this simple plot. At the same time, like several other important modem works, the book is a dialectical lyric. Its plot is polyphonically expanded in many voices: as a physiology of the dissolving body; a cosmology of the animals, plants, and rocks; a psychoanalysis of the kinds of eros; a politics and a theology.

Most important—and usually defining a major work—the book has a persistent characteristic narrative method. The story moves in a continuum of three kinds of events: an outward physical action, the fantasies associated with the action, and an objective introspection of the fantasies.

These three are presented all as one scene, so that we do not have, for instance, an external event giving rise to certain reflections or dreams, but the figures of dream or the insights of reflection act also in the apparently external event. The transformation which had taken place was the transformation of outside to inside, the merging of the outer with the inner face, always striven for, never attained, but now fully achieved by this final exchange.

The imagery, like the dialectic, is carried systematically through the lyric. The Ship of the beginning is the bed of the middle, is the ferry to the Isles of the end; and so the Goblet, the Ring, the Star, etc. The inevitable comparison that one must make is to the Wagnerian motifs. To my sensibility, however, Broch does not succeed in doing the one thing that Wagner does beyond any artist: create an homogeneous space.

For the most part, to repeat, I do not yet find that in all this admirable, unified complexity and over-all simplicity there is much new thought or exciting perception. An exception is the particularity of the objective introspection of certain states of semi-consciousness, e. Anyone who has done hypnoid introspection will see that the author is faithfully exploring a new field.

The theme of the book is of course universal and Broch is justified in reading it into the life of Virgil. But I must say that his Virgil, though akin to the medieval magician and prophet of Jesus, is not the melancholy and compassionate Virgil that I read, who is crying when he tells how the peasant ruined by the weather must live on acorns—crying although that is, because the hexameters smoothly roll.


The Death of Virgil, by Hermann Broch

Shelves: dream-like , do-you-take-me-for-an-idiot , So, I finished. What I want to know is, where is my prize? This is definitely a book that needs to come with a merit certificate at the finish line. A purportedly stream of consciousness serving as Virgils swan song in Brundisium, it is a tax on consciousness and a stream of strum. Which apparently reads as a poem in German, and a labour of, well, labour in English. As is my wont, I approached with no background ammo: let the text speak, hear, hear. Right at the beginning I floundered: an So, I finished.


Death of Virgil

In he converted to Roman Catholicism and married Franziska von Rothermann, the daughter of a knighted manufacturer. His marriage ended in divorce in In he sold the textile factory and decided to study mathematics , philosophy and psychology at the University of Vienna. He embarked on a full-time literary career only around the age of With the annexation of Austria by the Nazis , Broch was arrested in the small Alpine town of Bad Aussee for possession of a socialist magazine but was soon released. Shortly thereafter, a movement organized by friends — including James Joyce , Thornton Wilder , and his translators Edwin and Willa Muir — managed to help him emigrate; first to Britain and then to the United States , where he published his novel The Death of Virgil and his collection of short stories The Guiltless. While in exile, he also continued to write on politics and work on mass psychology, similar to Elias Canetti and Hannah Arendt.


Hermann Broch



The Modern Novel


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