Lilly and Her Slave

Lilly and Her Slave is a collection of short stories by Hans Fallada “based on the manuscripts found in the evaluation reports of forensic psychiatrist Ernst Zeimke” and now translated by Alexandra Roesch. In some cases, the stories were known from previously discovered manuscripts, though two here represent revised versions, and a further two are entirely new. Despite this, there is a certain amount of thematic unity to the collections as in most of them the central character is a woman, and the subject is love.

‘The Machinery of Love’ is the longest of the stories at over a hundred pages. The narrator, Marie, tells us that she is “someone who has decided to write in the following pages about her marital and extramarital experiences with various men.” Her attitude is undramatic – she has no intention of leaving her husband as “such a goodbye would require a very firm belief in life,” and this is a faith she no longer has. In fact, she goes on to describe her initial aversion to love as being rooted in the experience of her older sister, Violet, who is raped one night on her way home, and immediately breaks off her engagement, telling no-one what has happened. Eventually she confesses to Marie but forbids her to tell anyone else. Violet never recovers, and Marie tells us that for many years:

“…I felt a loathing and disgust for love… to me this word was intertwined with the idea of a cruel soulless machine that has us all at its mercy.”

It is for this reason that she marries “a good, faithful companion” rather than allowing love to decide her choice. She tells of “three incidences of infidelity” as if to prove that no-one is immune, but writing from a point in her life when:

“I am tired of the deceptions and the detours; I no longer want to be fooled by the machinery of love.”

Our relationship to love is a question Fallada returns to again and again in these stories. ‘Lilly and Her Slave’ also features a female character who wishes to control, love, but here she uses it like a weapon. Spoilt as a child, “she often sat dreaming, imagining herself beautiful, passionate, idolised by all men.” Her dream comes true, but Lilly has an uneasy relationship with her own passion:

“She felt the urge to put her arm around his neck, to kiss him back, to respond to the advances of this strange young man. But it passed, she was overcome with anger…”

This is an example of how Fallada’s characters can verge on caricature, and then complexity will be revealed. This story has two scenes one feels only he could write – when Lilly convinces (well, blackmails) her cousin to allow her to meet his ‘girlfriend’, who turns out to be a prostitute, and the final scene when Lilly wins the love of an older man but can only use that love cruelly against him (more cruelly than you can probably imagine).

Conversely, in ‘The Great Love’ we see a love which lasts through years of difficulties, but this does not necessarily make for a more optimistic story. Thilde and Fritz meet when they are young:

“This was the love she had read about, the great love, and it could never end.”

As time passes, however, Fritz becomes less certain. “Do you really know me?” he asks Thilde. They do marry, but it is not idyllic: “He is strict. He can be mean.” He is an atheist, and they are further divided when she baptises their first child against his wishes. She fears he has another woman; that he cares more for his friend than for her; that he is less and less present in her life. Yet, all this time, she insists she loves him, even as their relationship looks beyond saving. Here, too, love seems dangerous, a delusion that excuses cruelty.

The remaining stories are shorter. ‘Pogg, the Coward’ is also on the theme of love as Pogg, who has lived his life fortuitously, and always to his own benefit, eventually succumbs to a love for which he gives up everything. The final story, ‘Who Can Be the Judge?’, gives us the best clue to Fallada’s writing as he compares the law, “a purely fictitious world, a world of fixed norms” to the real world:

“It is an unreal world, a world that has nothing, nothing in common with life.”

In Fallada’s fiction we find the real world, one where characters are not judged but simply portrayed; for, as he says:

“…no judge can be just, and no judgement can be final.”

This is his great strength as a writer, and one that shines through in these stories.


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6 Responses to “Lilly and Her Slave”

  1. Lisa Hill Says:

    Bother! I thought I had this one, but it turns out that I haven’t. I’ll have to go shopping, I find Fallada second only to Thomas Mann in German Literature. (Not that I’ve read heaps of it, but still.)

    • 1streading Says:

      Interesting, as I haven’t read any Mann. I must admit, I keep returning to Fallada and I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve read – he’s the most reviewed German writer on my blog!

      • Lisa Hill Says:

        I have ‘history’ with Mann. Years ago I reviewed a group biography of the brothers Mann and their wives which won a literary prize, and I wasn’t very taken with it. I hadn’t read any Mann and I made some remark to that effect and received a very cross letter from the publisher which amongst other things said my review was ‘philistine’.
        Apparently he tackles lots of people who don’t appreciate his books, but not being an industry insider, I didn’t know that. And while I brushed off the criticism, I had noted in my review that I hadn’t read much German Lit, so I set out to read Mann and my review of Buddenbrooks was up within a couple of months, and I’ve been an enthusiast ever since.
        Now German Lit is second only to French as the most reviewed category of foreign lit on my blog.

  2. JacquiWine Says:

    It’s interesting how most of these stories feature a female character at the centre of the narrative. Does that set them apart from Fallada’s other work? (I may have misremembered this, but my impression is that his novels, such as The Drinker, are mostly focused on men.)

    • 1streading Says:

      That’s my impression as well – I’ve read a few novels and they all have male protagonists which is why it struck me so many of these were about women.

  3. German Literature Month XII Author Index – Lizzy’s Literary Life (Volume 2) Says:

    […] 1 Dürrenmatt The Judge and His Hangman 1 Erpenbeck Kairos 1 Fallada – Lilly and her Slave 1 Faes Twelve Nights 1 Fontane Under The Pear Tree 1 Fricke Daughters 1 Haratischvilli My Soul Twin 1 […]

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