Publication Date: Aug 03, 2010
List Price US $12.95
List Price US $12.95
In a small town on the Baltic coast, in a community steeped in maritime industries and local mores, a teenager falls in love with his English professor. Christian looks older than his years, Stella younger than hers. The summer they spend together is filled with boat rides to Bird Island, secret walks on the beach, and furtive glances. The emotions that blossom between Christian and Stella are aflame with passion and innocence, and with an idealistic hope of a future. The two lovers manage to keep their mutual attraction concealed, but as the hot months comes to an end, their meetings become more difficult to conceal.
Stella begins at the end, at Stella Petersen’s memorial service, where Christian relives the memories he shared with his first love. There is nothing salacious about their relationship, nor is it just a case of a teenager’s crush on his teacher. Their affair changes both Christian and Stella, allows them to expand their views, and pushes them out of social and familial constraints. Theirs is a tender love story of a time, and yet speaks to any time; it is actually through death that their love is transformed.
The sparseness of Siegfried Lenz’s narrative is reminiscent of the existential stringency of Ernest Hemingway. Only a master stylist ofhis standing could compose such a story that is equally modest and powerful, a work that leaves a lasting authentic impression, and that strives to comply with W.H. Auden’s famous request, “Tell me the truth about love.”
Excerpt from Stella
I couldn’t, I just could not take my eyes off her picture; while the school orchestra
was playing I kept gazing at the photograph. It was as if we had made a date for
this hour of remembrance in the hall, meaning to say something we didn’t yet
know about each other. I had heard our orchestra rehearsing twice, the orchestra
and the choir, and now, in front of your picture, the Bach cantata unexpectedly
took a strong hold on me—that sense of abandonment, that desperate search,
the hope for an answer, for salvation, an appeal to the victorious power of the
Father and the Son. God’s time is the very best time, in the words of the cantata.
How your face suddenly shone, Stella, the face I’d kissed all over, on your
forehead,on your cheeks, on your mouth. Praise and glory unto the Lord, I call
upon Thy names, I am resigned, glory unto Thee. And then that Amen, taken up
like an echo by our orchestra, an echo dying away, growing quieter and quieter,
losing itself most wonderfully in a universe of consolation, the Actus Tragicus
overcome. I stared at your face, I had never before felt a loss so powerfully, which
was strange enough, because I had never before known what it was to have
possessed what was lost.
“Like W.G. Sebald at his best, Lenz solicits the reader’s grief through lexical restraint: the story’s sedate tone, combined with its nautical-rural setting, perfectly renders the texture of a daydream.” —The New Yorker
“We can thank heaven for a small—but exquisite—mercy in the shape of Siegfried Lenz’s [Stella]….a superbly crafted novella of first love, with a tenderly evocative sense of place, mood and era….Suggestively rich in overtones and undercurrents, Lenz’s beautiful miniature also stands alone as a masterclass in ‘the grammar of farewell’.” —The Independent
“This book expresses, with extreme subtlety . . . the torments of first love and the pain of parting . . . [It] stands poignantly beside the tales of such lovers as Tristan and Isolde, Romeo and Juliet.” —L’Express
“We have Siegfried Lenz to thank for a poetic book—perhaps his most beautiful.” —Marchel Reich-Ranicki, Frankfurter Allgemeine
1. What sparks Christian and Stella’s attraction to one another?
2. What kind of teacher is Stella? Discuss her persona in the classroom versus when she is alone with Christian.
3. Lenz tells the story of Stella in a very distinct way–having the narrator switch between second and third person, allowing for very few breaks in the narrative, and moving fluidly between the summer and school sections. How did these stylistic choices affect your reading of the novel?
4. Is Christian a boy or a man? What signs of maturity–or immaturity–did you see in him throughout the book?
5. Why do you think Lenz chose Animal Farm as the text so prominently referred to and analyzed throughout Stella?
6. Do you think anyone truly knew about Christian and Stella’s love affair? If so, who?
7. Discuss the minor characters who surround the lovers, including Sonja, the old radio operator, and Georg? What does their presence add to the novel?
8. Do you think Stella and Christian’s relationship is real love, first love, or just a schoolboy crush? In your opinion, what might have happened if Christian and Stella had had a chance at a future together?
9. Discuss the various regrets that follow the characters of Stella.