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The Sufferings of Prince Sternenhoch: A Grotesque Tale of Horror Paperback – Apr 1 2008

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 244 pages
  • Publisher: Twisted Spoon Pr (April 1 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 8086264335
  • ISBN-13: 978-8086264332
  • Product Dimensions: 19.7 x 15.3 x 2.1 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 272 g
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #940,079 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

Despite the subtitle, this first English-language publication by Klima (1878-1928), a noted Czech philosopher, has little to offer readers of Stephen King. It is more screed than story, ostensibly the tale of a mad German prince who marries a completely appalling woman, who murders her father and infant before trysting with a filthy peasant who flogs her bloody while enduring her windy rants about her own abused, abusive and completely anti-social upbringing. Thus stimulated, the prince's "romance" continues well after his wife's apparent death. There's much of the whip in all this, a great fascination with all things perverse, but nothing that makes any of the characters more than bizarre caricatures. Much scabrous wit and the hallucinatory nature of events leave the reader uncertain about taking anything seriously. Appended is the author's autobiography, in which he turns out to be as pathological as any of his characters, a genuine transgressive in the manner of de Sade. Either our legs are being pulled, or this a fine example of the Ambrose Bierce dictum that the philosopher specializes in giving advice to people who are happier than he is.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4 reviews
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
A Grotesque Romanetto, Full of Black Humor with Helga the Hellcat Aug. 14 2011
By G. Charles Steiner - Published on
Format: Paperback
Before I encountered Klima's work, which is subtitled, "a grotesque romanetto," I did not know that a romanetto is a specifically Czech genre, a lyrical work meant to be shorter than a novel but which is to include the paranormal and with a scientific explanation at the end, more or less like science-fiction. Czech writer, Jakub Arbes, whose works have never been translated into English, was a contemporary of Ladislav Klima for a brief time, having been born much earlier than Klima, and Arbes was the originator of this genre.

Well, Klima's work here fits the definition perfectly since it definitely deals with the paranormal or supernatural and there is a fictional scientific explanation at the conclusion of the work; it is also only 173 pages long and contains many passages of some of the most beautiful lyrical flights imaginable, but it also includes gritty droppings of the grotesque that include gothic horror and elements of De Sade in regard to mutilation and excrement, which perhaps makes this romanetto Klima's own.

While the description of the main elements thus far may preclude some or average readers from a strong interest in the work, I must say that this work is immensely entertaining in its humor, wit, plot, and -- here's the point -- it's a fantasy, folks! The most grotesque aspects of the work -- and there are only a few, however notable or shocking -- recede into the background while the humor and the plot stay in the foreground.

Ladislav Klima regarded himself as a philosopher much in the style of Diogenes who dressed himself in a barrel and went without clothes. Klima wrote 30 novels in addition to works in philosophy, and this work is the first of Klima's fiction to be translated into English. I think some of the lyrical flights expressed in the work were inspired by Klima's philosophy and philosophical outlook; the beauty of many passages -- yes, despite the grotesque elements -- holds the reader's attention not simply because of the style or the syntactical structure of the passages but because Klima's philosophy penetrates the poetic language and the mind becomes aware of an inner logic that entices with metaphysical possibilities.

This translation is particularly gorgeous and astounding because Klima's language runs from the vulgar to the sublime and Prince Sternenhoch, the main focal point for the work, is someone who, in one moment, seems to live in the gutter while, in another moment, expresses the most super-celestial thoughts imaginable. Klima's character also writes and speaks in Latin, using profoundly eccentric phrases in order to express himself. I felt Carleton Bulkin translated Klima perfectly -- into the most contemporary, idiomatic and lyrical English the modern reader can only fully appreciate.

While at the back of the book there are four pages of Notes that help clarify the Latin expressions used by the Prince, I felt the book as a whole could have used even further Notes as this book contains not only Klima's first English translation of his fiction but as well a profoundly interesting and captivating "Autobiography" (which this reader read twice with uninterrupted enthusiasm: Klima would eat mice whole, bones and fur and all!) that contains many German phrases but there is a concluding essay by Josef Zumr, and it would have been equally interesting to have had further Notes about Zumr as well as Klima here.

In the grotesque romanetto, the reader will find this sentence, riddled with black humor, as the Prince proceeds to talk with Helga, his wife, who now, ostensibly, is a ghost: "I killed you once, girl, what's to prevent me from killing you again?" In another passage, Klima describes the Prince's perception of ghostly wife who has seemingly returned to life, saying she looked "like a water goblin suffering from jaundice."

The Prince lives in madness, hallucinations and in radiant and gorgeous reality over and over again oscillating in and out of duality such that what's muddied cannot be distinguished from what's transcendental. Apparently, Klima used the character of the Prince to demonstrate -- undogmatically -- that the whole of waking life is born of "Omni-idiocy," the state of humanity or the average man or woman. In this sense, Ladislav Klima resembles G. I. Gurdjieff in his contempt for the average "machine," but which Klima calls "chiropteran humanity."

For such a short and slight tale of the paranormal or the supernatural, it carries quite a punch -- a diverting, compelling and memorable one.

Besides owing its existence to the Gothic horror story or to early elements of Surrealism, I think this work also owes a tribute to Emily Bronte's "Wuthering Heights."
Poe meets De Sade Oct. 9 2012
By Stingo - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition
I picked up a copy of this book in Prague and could not put it down. At places grotesque, at others funny and yet at others preachy. Yet never boring. You always want to know where poor Sternenhoch is going to end up in his gradually increasing degradation. Great book.
Satirical story of degeneration March 1 2011
By Steven Davis - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The Sufferings of Prince Sternenhoch is a gothic tale of horror used as a vehicle for the author's philosophical views along with a bit of satire.

The story is narrated, mostly in diary form, by Prince Helmut Sternenhoch, a wealthy German nobleman who is both friend and advisor to Kaiser Wilhelm II. Sternenhoch is timid, insipid and stodgy. His only flash of spontaneity is to ask for the hand in marriage of 17-year-old Helga on the basis of a single glance from her at a social gathering. "Take the bitch!," Helga's father later tells Sternenhoch, "...who knows how she'll turn out; perhaps she'll be a mythical dragon, or a walking corpse..." Initially more of the latter, Helga soon undergoes a remarkable internal transformation. She begins to live in Dionysian excess, sporting naked with wild carnivores, indulging wild destructive whims, and heaping contempt upon poor Sternenhoch.

At this point, as the conflict between the Prince and his wife becomes too bitter for him to bear, Sternenhoch begins a descent into madness. He begins to doubt the reality of what he sees and does, and Helga becomes, in his mind, a spectre turning up to torment him at the most unlikely places and times. As he is the one telling the tale, we are likewise unsure what is real and what is hallucination. Perhaps Helga never existed at all!

Ladislav Klima was heavily influenced by the writings of George Berkeley, Arthur Schopenhauer, and Friedrich Nietzsche. Based on his autobiographical sketch at the end of the volume, it is apparent that Helga was Klima's mirror image. She is dismissive of physical suffering, detests conventionality, and eventually seeks to make a god of herself through a sheer act of will. She is part philosopher, part wild animal, mercurial in temperament, and, like Klima himself, comes to subsist largely on alcohol and tobacco.

Sternenhoch's degeneration becomes increasingly debasing, with occasional comic interludes that bring out the author's contempt for Prussian aristocracy. At one point the Kaiser himself even comes onto the scene and is made to look almost as ridiculous a figure as Sternenhoch himself. The two of them spend hours together, for example, looking at the Kaiser's collection of photographs of rats.

The Sufferings of Prince Sternenhoch is an entertaining, thoughtful and unique underground novel. The English translation by Carleton Bulkin is marvelous, and in the edition by Twisted Spoon Press there are excellent supporting notes and essays.
5 of 9 people found the following review helpful
well executed Dec 4 2006
By ginsu - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Yes the plot is very poe, and theres some nietzsche preachiness, but the novel is hilarious absurdist romp: like maldorer, and the ubu plays mixed with diary of my nervous illness and nervals more schizo musings. highly recommended.

skip Moravagine and read this instead.