If there’s one c19th writer so far who could be called modern before modern, then it must be Georg Büchner. His works are like nothing else of their time (so far, of course, as I’m aware). Both stories, Lenz and Woyzeck, have as their central character a man who is tormented by some kind of external force or presence in the world.
This is from Lenz:
“You see, vicar, if only I didn’t have to listen to that any more, I’d be cured.” – “Listen to what, my dear fellow?” – “Can’t you hear it then? Can’t you hear the terrible voice that is crying out the whole length of the horizon and which is usually known as silence? Ever since I came to the quiet valley I’ve heard it incessantly, it won’t let me sleep; yes, vicar, if only I could sleep again some day!”
Lenz doesn’t have much plot: – it is just a few episodes out of Lenz’s increasingly disturbed mind. – Woyzeck has slightly more: Woyzeck (naturally in Herzog’s version Klaus Kinski is as usual completely miscast as a madman) is gradually driven by the voices he hears to …. – well, I shan’t give it away. – To be honest, I found Herzog’s rendition tedious – as we were saying the other day of Béla Tarr, very slow-moving but nonetheless occasionally very beautifully shot (perhaps I was again in the wrong mood).