Publication Date: Feb 02, 2010
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In 1934, Veza Taubner and Elias Canetti were married in Vienna. Elias describes the arrangement to his brother Georges as a “functional” marriage. Meanwhile, an intense intellectual love affair develops between Veza and Georges, a young doctor suffering fromtuberculosis. Four years later, Veza and Elias flee Nazi-ruled Vienna to London, where they lead an impoverished and extremely complicated marital life in exile.
Spanning the major part of Elias’s struggle for literary recognition, from 1933, before the publication of his novel, Auto-da-Fé, to 1959, when he finished his monumental Crowds and Power, the Canetti letters provide an intimate look at these formative years through the prism of a veritable love triangle: the newly married Elias has a string of lovers; his wife, Veza, is hopelessly in love with an idealized image of his youngest brother, Georges; and Georges is drawn to good looking men as well as to his motherly sister-in-law. Independently and often secretly, the couple communicates with Georges, who lives in Paris: Veza tells of Elias’s amorous escapades and bouts of madness, Elias complains about Veza’s poor nerves and depression. Each of them worries about Georges’s health–if she could, Veza would kiss away the germs. Georges is an infrequent correspondent, but he diligently stores away the letters from his brother and sister-in-law. In 2003, long after his death, they were accidentally discovered in a Paris basement and comprise not only a moving and insightful document, but real literature.
Excerpt from “Dearest Georg”: Love, Literature, and Power in Dark Times
February 10, 1934
My dear Elias,
Today I would finally have begun writing you a “real” letter–a long one–if I hadn’t been interrupted by a piece of news that forces me to write as quickly as possible. So this will be a short letter. I’ve heard that you plan to marry Veza, that the banns have been posted in the Temple, already proclaimed once, and that it will all be over after the third proclamation. I cannot believe that anyone could be so ill-disposed to you as to invent and spread such a blatant lie. Consequently, I must regard the news as true, just as I have until now always refused to take at all seriously anything on this topic that could be interpreted as a silly rumor.
I don’t have the slightest intention of influencing your course of action and in any case, I don’t even know if it’s still possible. Don’t think I’m being a hypocrite when I say I don’t want to interfere, because it’s obvious that you already know everything you will read here. Thus, it would be possible for you to judge on your own whether there’s the slightest connection between what you know and what you’re about to do. So let me just refresh your memory. I have the right to, for you know how highly I regard Veza, how much I like her, and on the other hand, as an honest–if uncommunicative–person, how much I wish only the best for her precisely because I regard and like her. Thus, I’m writing this only for you and not against her. You are about to do the stupidest thing you could possibly do. However one looks at it, there is no other conclusion.
“In 2003, a large packet of letters was discovered accidentally in a steamer trunk in a Paris basement: they were written to Georges Canetti from his brother, Elias (1981 winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature), and Elias’s wife, Veza, along with some of Georges’s letters to them. Appearing now for the first time in English in Dollenmayer’s splendid translation, the correspondence reveals a quite passionate relationship among the three…Although Elias has controlled his image through his memoirs, these letters offer a glaringly honest glimpse into this triangular relationship.” —Publishers Weekly