Tuesday, October 10, 2017

the last book I ever read (The Radetzky March by Joseph Roth, excerpt nine)

from The Radetzky March by Joseph Roth:

Frau von Taussig was beautiful and no longer young. The daughter of a stationmaster, the widow of a rittmaster named Eichberg who had died young, she had married the freshly ennobled Herr von Taussig several years ago. A rich and sick manufacturer, he had a light case of so-called circular insanity. His attacks recurred every six months. For weeks ahead of time, he would feel one coming. And so he went to that institution on Lake Constance where spoiled, wealthy madmen underwent careful and expensive treatments, and the attendants were as nurturing as midwives. Shortly before an attack and at the advice of one of those mundane and feather-brained physicians who prescribed “spiritual emotions” just as frivolously as old-fashioned family doctors prescribed rhubarb and castor oil. Herr von Taussig had married the widow of his friend Eichberg. Taussig did experience a “spiritual emotion,” but his attacks also came faster and more violently.

During her brief marriage to Herr von Eichberg, his wife had made many friends, and after his death she had rejected a few ardent marriage proposals. Out of pure esteem, people ignored her adulteries. That was a stern time, as we know. But it recognized exceptions and even liked them. It was one of the rare aristocratic principles, such as that mere commoners were second-class human beings yet certain middle-class officers became personal adjutants to the Kaiser; that Jews could claim no higher distinctions yet certain Jews were knighted and became friends with archdukes; that women had to observe a traditional morality yet certain women could philander like a cavalry officer. (Those were principles that would be labeled “hypocritical” today because we are so much more relentless: relentless, honest and humorless.)

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