Schmelzle’s Journey to Flätz, by Jean Paul (1809)

More post-modernism from the c19th! –

Here are some of the elements Jean Paul has borrowed from the late c20th:

1. Excessive usage of footnotes.

Every page of Schmelzle’s Journey to Flätz has a footnote or two. Jean Paul’s innovation is that his footnotes have no apparent relation to the text. He explains it thus:

[I] apologise for the singular form of this little Work, standing as it does on a substratum of notes. I myself am not contented with it … The truth is, this line of demarcation, stretching through the whole book, originated in the following accident: certain thoughts (or digressions) of my own, with which it was not permitted me to disturb those of the Army-chaplain [the supposed author of the work], and which could only be allowed to fight behind the lines, in the shape of Notes, I , with a view to conveniency and order, had written down in a separate paper; at the same time, as will be observed, regularly providing every Note with its Number, and thus referring it to the proper page of the main Manuscript. But, in the copying of the latter, I had forgotten to insert the corresponding numbers in the Text itself. Therefore, let no man … cast a stone at my worthy Printer, inasmuch as he … took these Notes, just as they stood, pell-mell, without arrangement of Numbers and clapped them under the Text

A marvellous idea, and one which I intend to steal for a novel of my own.

2. Author appears himself as a character.

I come now to the red-mantled Blind Passenger; most probably an Emigré or Réfugié; for he speaks German not worse than he does French; and his name, I think was Jean Pierre or Jean Paul, or some such thing, if indeed he had any name. His red cloak, notwithstanding this his identity of colour with the Hangman, would in itself have remained heartily indifferent to me, had it not been for this singular circumstance, that he had already five times, contrary to all expectation, come upon me in five different towns (in great Berlin, in little Hof, in Coburg, Meiningen and Bayreuth), and each of these times had looked at me significantly enough, and then gone his ways. Whether this Jean Pierre is dogging me with hostile intent or not, I cannot say

There is something marvellously amusing – though I’m not entirely sure what – about the idea that the author himself has been tailing and spying on the narrator outside the course of the narrative.

Personally, I think Jean Paul was thinking a lot of the work of Paul Auster in all this: – the paranoid central character (and he is really is paranoid throughout the work, it’s not just this passage), the author appearing as character, the general games-playing etc.

Which reminds me: this wonderful joke of mine (which I’ve used quite a lot on this blog, you may have noticed), that authors have been highly influenced by writers who wrote later than them, I discovered to my horror this week in Jonathan Swift’s A Tale of A Tub (a work in itself heavily influenced by Laurence Sterne):

[The modern critics] have proved beyond contradiction, that the very finest things delivered of old, have been long since invented, and brought to light by much later pens; and that the noblest discoveries those ancients ever made, of art or of nature, have all been produced by the transcending genius of the present age. Which clearly shows, how little merit those ancients can justly pretend to; and takes off that blind admiration paid them by men in a corner, who have the unhappiness of conversing too little with present things.


5 thoughts on “Schmelzle’s Journey to Flätz, by Jean Paul (1809)

  1. For all I know, Obooki, Swift and Sterne stole those ideas from you. In any event, I love it when 19th century authors borrow from 20th century works. There’s something so exquisitely “Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote” about this sort of time travel-like defiance of bourgeois conventions of reality!

  2. Certainly I’m beginning to believe Swift, from reading his works, is probably an avid reader of this blog. It’s just a pity he doesn’t leave a comment or two.

    And Borges is another one: – I am currently reading some short stories by Machado de Assis; I take it Borges influenced him a lot.

  3. You should submit a (proper. legitimate, well-prepared) claim for plagiarism to the appropriate court naming all those mentioned above as defendants. Although there is “wasting court time” I suppose.

    Are you enjoying Machado de Assis? I read about him recently and was interested: not sure where to start though.

    My hat is off to Jean Paul for his footnote antics.

  4. Interesting post, which perhaps sheds some light on a passage in ‘A Description Of The Morning’, much disputed by Swift scholars.

    Now hardly here and there an hackney-coach
    Appearing, show’d the ruddy morn’s approach.
    Now Betty from her master’s bed had flown,
    And softly stole to discompose her own;
    Mr Obooki had closed down his site,
    Oped his shutters and snuffed out the light,
    And clasping his heavy imploding head
    Had made the perilous voyage to bed,
    The slip-shod ‘prentice from his master’s door
    Had pared the dirt, and sprinkled round the floor.
    Now Moll had whirl’d her mop with dext’rous airs,
    Prepared to scrub the entry and the stairs…

  5. – I believe in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy someone goes back in time and successfully sues a company whose copyright they infringed.

    – Machado de Assis: – I read Epitaph of a Small Winner a lot time ago now (start here, probably!). He too was very influenced by Sterne. I have another 3 of his novels, and Quincas Borba is among my next-up readings (though I’ve put it off so far this year) – currently I’m reading some short stories (The Devil’s Church and Other Stories), though they haven’t been great so far. – Dom Casmurro is mooted to be his best book among Brazilians, but the English tend towards EoaSW (or so I’ve heard).

    – Yes, I always liked that Swift poem – and now I realise why!

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