September 29, 2013
Pattern: Livingston by Nadia Crétin-Léchenne
Yarn: Knit Picks Wool of the Andes Sport [colour: Sapphire]
Buttons: Yellow Wooden Buttons 15mm via Great British Yarns
[More project details on Ravelry]
Here is the next one on the list, this time for a tiny baby boy, born on 30 August. This one was a very fast and enjoyable knit, perfect for those after-library hours when my brain was just confused and exhausted from reading, thinking and writing.
Making the photographs for this project also gave me a nice excuse to flicker through one of my favourite picture books again – if you happen to love children’s books or if you happen to be a knitter (or if you happen to be both, as yours truly), you should definitely have a look at Mac Barnett’s and Jon Klassen’s Extra Yarn (Walker Books, 2012):
Believe it or not, I finally wrote a post in our Lit Knit series which is NOT about Terry Pratchett! So, here goes…
The author: Joseph von Eichendorff (1788-1857) was one of the most important writers of German Romanticism. Having been born only 1788, however, meant that he wrote his earliest works at a time when the Romantic era was already drawing to an end, and he more or less spent the rest of his career hearkening back to a style of writing that was already out of date. Still, he produced a work of great renown, including prose and plays but also a history of German literature from the beginnings to the Romantic era, and translations from the Spanish (e.g. El Conde Lucanor or the works of Calderón de la Barca). What he’s really famous for, though, is his poetry. Indeed, his name has almost become synonymous with German Romantic verse, and many of his highly lyrical poems have been set to music by great composers such as Robert Schumann, Felix Mendelssohn or Hugo Wolf.
The book: First published in 1833, Dichter und ihre Gesellen [Poets and their Companions*] was Eichendorff’s second (and last) major novel and in many respects the sum of his previous prose work: On the whole, it almost seems like a more optimistic remake of first novel, 1815’s Ahnung und Gegenwart [Premonition and Presence**], but it also takes up elements of the author’s most famous novellas, Das Marmorbild [The Marble Statue, 1819] and Aus dem Leben eines Taugenichts [The Life of a Good-For-Nothing, 1826]. According to Eichendorff himself, Dichter und ihre Gesellen is supposed “to depict the different directions in the lives of poets”***, and that is, perhaps, the best possible summary of the book. Considering the novel’s about half a dozen main characters and at least a dozen almost equally important “minor” characters, it’s practically impossible to give an outline of the plot in less than five pages, so I’m not even going to try… What you may need to know about the plot in order to better understand the following is, however, that the events described in the novel take place in Eichendorff’s own time, i.e. around 1830, in different parts of Germany, Austria and Italy.
The knitting: Among the novel’s supporting cast, there’s a troupe of traveling actors. One of them is a pretty young girl called Kordelchen [a diminutive of Cordelia]. Now Kordelchen is lovely and charming but also the prototype of what you’d call a flirt, a butterfly flittering from flower to flower, leaving many a broken heart along the way. To put it less favourably, she’s a girl of easy virtue, ruthlessly crushing the hopes of those foolish enough to seriously fall in love with her. Then again, despite all her playfulness, Kordelchen herself is something of a broken character: She harbours an unrequited love for the mysterious Lothario, and she’s aware that – being a traveling actress from the lower stratas of society – her youth and beauty are her only capital and that she’s facing a dire future once these are spent.
Considering Kordelchen’s low status in society, it comes as no surprise that more than once the author shows her doing basic household work like darning underwear (p. 127).**** And, as you’ll have guessed by now, at one point of the story we find her knitting. One afternoon, she’s sitting together with her latest beau, a painter called Guido who’s so in love with her that he believes he’ll be able to “save” the “fallen girl” and lead her back to the path of virtue. So, one afternoon they’re sitting together and, Eichendorff goes on to say: “She was knitting a stocking, he was reading to her from Goethe’s Tasso” (p. 95). But Kordelchen soon grows tired of his edifying reading and gets distracted by the butterflies flittering around some nearby flower beds. Guido, on the other hand, is so immersed in his recital that he isn’t even aware of the girl’s lack of attention. Only when he looks up from the book does he realise that, in the meantime, Kordelchen has put away her knitting and has her lap full of flowers instead, plucking their petals and mumbling to herself “She loves him – she loves him not” (p. 96).
This passage, of course, leaves little to interpret. After all, this is the 19th century where moral standards – especially as regards female behaviour – are strict and unambiguous and where good girls are expected to keep to their needlework; a girl who puts aside her knitting, though, is considered to be doomed, and from this detail alone readers in Eichendorff’s own time would have known that Guido’s attempts at “saving” Kordelchen were inevitably bound to fail.
* For all I know, the novel has never been translated into English, so there’s no established English version of the title. The problem with translating the title is that, in German, “Gesellen” means not only “companions” but also “journeymen”, and it’s very likely that Eichendorff intended the title to be deliberately ambiguous. I opted for “companions” simply because, in my opinion, it sounds better.
** Hey, in English that almost sounds like a title by Jane Austen ;-)
*** Joseph von Eichendorff in a letter to Theodor von Schön, April 12, 1833.
**** All page references are to the following edition: Joseph von Eichendorff, Dichter und ihre Gesellen, ed. Wolfgang Nehring, Stuttgart (Reclam) 1987. As usual, the English translations are mine.