“The Blood of the Walsungs”
In this novella, a Prussian entrepreneur of Jewish descent (always a little dicey in German literature) starts a family and has children. His youngest children are the twins, Siegmund and Sieglinde. We meet this family as the twins are in their early adulthood near the marriage of Sieglinde and a businessman. As we move our way forward in the story we are slowly made to understand that the twins’ connection is much stronger and stranger than mere brother and sister, and even twins. You can guess, right.
The idea of twins or even just siblings leading toward incest played a weird role in my reading one day this weekend as this was not the only story that led us in that direction. In the other story, a hidden parentage led to a horrible mistake, but there is no mistake here.
The twins here, whose names clearly circulate party around the Nibelungenlied as you can imagine, feel lost to a mythic time. I am trying to think about how weird twins turning toward incest play out in literature and while plenty of examples are consigned to the likes of VC Andrews novels and the like, the concept obviously goes back thousands of years in literature over all. In this case, the dreariness of the setting, the Teutonic sturm and drang of Mann’s fiction in general are completely in synch as far as topic and style go together.
Tristan takes place within a sanitarium. The worst of cases are handled by the world-renowned famous doctor while the slighter and less tragic cases are handled by his lesser. In our story we meet a man with a serious but relatively moderate case of tuberculosis. There’s a life to lived here. He is a bit of a weirdo and the staff and other patients treat him as such. He slowly becomes more and more obsessed with a woman who comes in. He convinces himself that her husband is an oaf, that she is beautiful in her tragic circumstances, virtuous because she is afflicted. It’s obviously not the first time or the last time Mann will associate tuberculosis with a kind of innocence and virtue. He makes no moves toward the woman, but when her husband is called quickly to the country estate and he arrives a little miffed, thinking the summons is more mundane than it is, the character confronts the husband and tells him his many sins and transgressions. The husband sardonically laughs and tells the man he is nothing, knows nothing, and amounts to nothing. He is right. In a subsequent scene, the wife taking a turn, the husband is called to be with her, possibly for her final moments. Our character is left out in the cold.
This is a nice little story (ha!) about telling an incel to fuck right off, and it’s nice to have that.