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Wie ich lernte, die Frauen zu lieben
by Ranier Moritz
Deutsche Rundfunk (Berlin)
25 October, 2004

Many books need years to find their public, and even in retrospect it is sometimes difficult to denote the causes of this protracted wait for attention. So it is all the more welcome when a publisher’s persistence and desire to make discoveries lead to success and important works finally gain recognition...

Such a discovery could be in store for Stephen Vizinczey, born in 1933 in Hungary and now living in London. His books have met with approval in many countries, have sold a large number of copies and won prizes – this summer in Italy, for instance, the Premio Isola d’Elba, which in the past went to authors like Alexander Kluge, Tomasso Landolfi, Michel Tournier or Mario Luzi. In Germany there were only half-hearted attempts to make Vizinczey known, and so it is courageous and praiseworthy of the newly founded Munich publisher SchirmerGraf to make another attempt to present an intelligent author like Stephen Vizinczey in new editions.

After SchirmerGraf’s publication this spring of Vizinczey’s essays Die zehn Gebote eines Schriftstellers, which praise Heinrich von Kleist and Stendhal enthusiastically at great length, dismiss Goethe and Thomas Mann in caustic marginal notes, and on the way round inquire about Lies and Truth in Literature, there lies before us the novel, first published by the author in Toronto in 1965, which established Vizinczey’s reputation as a highly erudite and at the same time potentially scandalous writer.

In Praise of Older Women was the original title of this erotic Bildungsroman, and the extreme difficulty of bringing the text adequately into German is immediately evident in the choice of the right title. Two translators and two publishers have wrestled with it in the past: in 1967 Scherz Verlag dared the bold or simple-minded (depending on your point of view) translation Frauen zum Pflücken, which makes a little shiver run along your spine. Just fifteen (twenty) years later Klett-Cotta behaved more respectably, did not reduce the female sex to the level of overripe fruit, and with the choice of title Lob der erfahrenen Frauen stayed closer to the original.

And now? Carina von Enzensberg’s elegant new translation, occasionally at loggerheads with the conjunctive, bears a title which at first glance is misleading: although Wie ich lernte, die Frauen zu lieben is retouched to bring it up to date, it still misappropriates a decisive component of the novel: Vizinczey’s intention to sing a lovesong to women of a certain age-group, women who have a store of experiences at their disposal and are ready to give novices who are willing to learn a chance to share in this treasure.

Wie ich lernte, die Frauen zu lieben certainly suppresses this age limit, but on the other hand one must admit that it asks an indirect question which promises instruction and does it in a subtle way: namely, that the hero of Stephen Vizinczey’s novel mistrusts the promise of happiness from Proust’s „jeunes filles en fleur“ and reveals this step by step, with each new experience that the love-hungry protagonist takes. And not least: the new title is reminiscent of François Truffaut’s splendid film Der Mann, der die Frauen liebte“, that sad-comic life-confession of the engineer Bertrand Morane, whose funeral is attended exclusively by women, who all think they know that their former lover understood their soul, and who are completely indifferent to the fact that they are not alone in profiting from this empathy.

Truffaut’s and Vizinczey’s heroes have this in common, that they do not look on women as interchangeable objects. Their conquests are successful because they try to explore the secrets of the women they desire, and give their partners the feeling that they are respected and loved as persons. Truffaut and Vizinczey do not provide their Men who Love Women with oversized masculine characteristics: they are sympathetic seducers, who leave no doubt that only death will prevent them from striking out for new shores. He who loves will be loved - so runs the simple formula:

„If deep down you hate women, if you dream of humiliating them, if you enjoy ordering them around, then you are likely to be paid back in kind. They will want and love you just as much as you want and love them – and praise be to their generosity.“

......

At the end we lose sight of this unforgettable life-virtuoso András Vajda. His informal confession ends with a glance at the „adventures of a middle-aged man“, but that is „another story“. Whether we will ever receive it as told by Stephen Vizinczey is questionable. All the same: his publishers are preparing a new edition of his novel An Innocent Millionaire, and at the same time Vizinczey is apparently completing a new book. The rediscovery of a great European writer is not finished yet.


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