The notebook of Malte Laurids Brigge

by Rainer Maria Rilke

Other authorsJohn Linton (Translator)
Hardcover, 1950




London Hogarth Press, 1950


This is the definitive, widely acclaimed translation of the major prose work of one of our century's greatest poets -- "a masterpiece like no other" (Elizabeth Hardwick) -- Rilke's only novel, extraordinary for its structural uniqueness and purity of language. First published in 1910, it has proven to be one of the most influential and enduring works of fiction of our century. Malte Laurids Brigge is a young Danish nobleman and poet living in Paris. Obsessed with death and with the reality that lurks behind appearances, Brigge muses on his family and their history and on the teeming, alien life of the city. Many of the themes and images that occur in Rilke's poetry can also be found in the novel, prefiguring the modernist movement in its self-awareness and imagistic immediacy.… (more)

Media reviews

"Eerst heb ik Malte Laurids Brigge in het Duits gelezen, rond 1978. Ik was toen al aan de eerste versie van mijn debuutroman Ruimte (1981) bezig, zeven jaar heb ik over dat boek gedaan. Ik was zo naïef en ambitieus dat ik een boek wou maken dat zijn eigen vorm meebracht. Op een appartementje aan
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de kust in Knokke-Heist zat ik geregeld aan Ruimte te schrijven. Het was een heel ouderwets appartementje, met bloemenbehang aan de muur, en daar trof ik één boek aan, Malte Laurids Brigge in de prachtige vertaling van Binnendijk en Brunt. Het is proza van een dichter."
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User reviews

LibraryThing member sonja_de
I didn't get all of this, but I really enjoyed reading it.
LibraryThing member jwhenderson
Rilke was a poet and his only novel demonstrates that on every page. The focus on themes of death and family kept me reading as I enjoyed his beautiful writing. More importantly this is an early contribution to the literature of existentialism and bears reading and comparison with Kierkegaard, Gide
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and Camus.
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LibraryThing member JimmyChanga
"What's the use of telling someone that I am changing? If I'm changing, I am no longer who I was; and if I am something else, it's obvious that I have no acquaintances. And I can't possibly write to strangers."It is precisely because the form of this book is so hard to pin down that it is so
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effective. It challenges the reader to forget about the novel, and its easy explications and narrative arcs. (Though it feels much too organically arisen for me to use the term 'experimental'). Here we have a scattered mess, constantly morphing: Proustian memories of childhood, historical tangents on some King/Duke (this is where he lost me; I'll need to learn more and re-read), ruminations on poverty and death, ghosts, philosophy, observations, and Biblical stories re-told Rilkean style. But no hand is there to guide us through, we have to piece these fragments together to form the life (or at least one day in the life) of Malte Laurids Brigge. We can only imply, and only by seeing things Malte's way can we be. The story ends abruptly. No conclusions, no real story (if that is what you are looking for), only sketches, a glimpse here and there, but it feels so full! And enlarging!
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LibraryThing member kant1066
Reading "The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge" is to have the feeling that you have never before read words used in exactly this way for exactly this purpose. Rilke, perhaps most known for being the greatest German-language poet of the twentieth century, has written what can only be called a prose
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poem - but even to use this phrase is to reduce a fullness that cannot be reduced. This novel is symphonic, lush, and poignant. In its evocation of memory, it is Proust avant la lettre. But there are also moments of pureness and clarity that are reminiscent of Wittgenstein, which creates quite a striking contrast. Rilke's experience with art and art criticism highly influenced his writing. His prose-poetry is pure imagism, but is also full of expressionism and impressionism. All of this sounds like an unlikely salmagundi, but I can assure you that there is something lasting and moving that inheres.

We are so used to novels being narratives of action that when we meet something like this, it gives us pause. There really is no plot here as most people would conceive it. The narrator calls to mind Dostoyevsky's Underground Man, brooding and destitute. Malte is haunted by the doppelgangers that he lived with during his well-to-do childhood, all now long dead; he is the only member of his ancient Danish aristocratic family. The book flits in and out of memories of the deaths of his father and other relatives and their relationships. In many novels, one can easily separate, if one wishes, content and form; here they seem to belong to one another, the poetry and the memory inextricably intertwined.

Unlike many other reviewers, I wouldn't say that the novel is difficult reading, but it might not be something that you want to read in one or two sittings. Like the "Duino Elegies" or the "Sonnets to Orpheus," they are meant to be dipped into. The text (at least in this edition) is subdivided into seventy-one parts which serve as breaks for the narrative line of thought. If you will excuse the length, this is from section twenty-nine, and it is representative of the style throughout:

"One thing is certain: that on that evening I was drawing a knight, a quite solitary and unmistakable knight, mounted on a strangely caparisoned steed. He turned out so brightly colored that I had to change crayons frequently; but it was the red one that I used most of all, and reached for time and again. Now I needed it once again; but it rolled (I still see it) right across the brightened page, to the edge, and fell down, past me, before I could stop it, and was gone. I really did need it urgently, and having to climb down after it was distinctly vexing. Awkward as I was, it was quite a business to get down; my legs were far too long, and I couldn't draw them out from under me: remaining too long in a kneeling position had numbed my limbs; I could not tell what was mine and what was the chair's. At length, rather at sixes and sevens, I did make it to the floor, and found myself on an animal fell that extended under the table to the wall. But at this point I was confronted with a fresh difficulty. My eyes, accustomed to the brightness above and still wholly entranced by the colors on the white paper, were unable to make out anything at all below the table, where the blackness seemed so dense that I was afraid of knocking against it; so I fell back on my sense of touch and, kneeling and supporting myself on my left hand, combed through the cool, long-haired, familiar-feeling fell with my other hand. But there was no sign of the crayon."
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LibraryThing member pauliensijbers
Rilke's only novel. The ride Malte offered me nearly blew me away.
LibraryThing member hansel714
I'm a patient reader, I read many 900-pages Victorian novels but really, this book stretches my limit and I gave up halfway. The prose is beautiful but the fragmented narration is just irritating. Sure, the fragmentation has a point, but surely that point can be made without the sacrifice of the
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reader's interest.
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LibraryThing member pennwriter
When this novel is brilliant, it blazes like a star. But it is hard going. Rilke is a poet and he wrote a poetic novel, and these make for difficult reading because of their intensity.
LibraryThing member V.V.Harding
A wonderfully leisurely record of the progress of an artistic soul is here: the mix of contemporary observations and ruminations on figures from the past is blended so seamlessly that although the reader may sometimes wonder where one is and how one got there, one doesn't care, for the pleasure of
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the story, and all the stories it contains, is so great.

The M.D. Herter Norton translation is intimate yet delicate: I'm not sure about other translations, but some of the original spirit no doubt emerges in any conscientious translation. A book not to be hurried; many passages invite immediate re-reading, and made me regret living in an age of interruptions.
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LibraryThing member madepercy
This work is often regarded as the first 'modernist' novel. I find it hard to place. As far as genre is concerned, it is not quite Finnegan's Wake, that Rilke was a poet does not make this like a Bukowski novel, nor is it a work of non-fiction in the vein of Rabindranath Tagore. I enjoyed the work,
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but usually I write about my reading as soon as I am finished. I finished this work late last night and I am still trying to work out what happened! The Notebooks read just like notebooks. But in the first half or so, one reads about a child born into privilege at a time when the privileged classes are losing their grip. One reads about infatuation, love, wonder, ghosts. Then in the second half, it becomes something of an historical rant. Not as one might find in a novel where historical persons and events have been used as raw material for fiction, but where you are reading a fiction that is discussing historical events. This version includes end notes to the historical figures and events and highlights parts of the work that originated from Rilke's personal experiences. For example, Rilke witnessed a man with St Vitus' dance (Sydenham's chorea) who is captured in the notebooks; and his own experiences as a child are recreated in the person of young Brigge. Such historical renderings were wonderful. I must admit to not having known anything of Rilke. But like all new things, now I see him everywhere - he influenced James Joyce, Friedrich Nietzsche, Jean-Paul Sartre, and many others. Rilke seems obsessed with death, but he does it so well (pp. 5-6):[The death of a poor person] is of course a banal one, with neither pomp nor circumstance. They are happy to find one that more or less fits. They don't mind if it's a little too large, because they can always grow into it. But it's bothersome if the front won't do up or it's tight at the throat.I enjoyed reading this work without an introduction. If I could compare the work to anyone, it would be closest to Kafka, but without the sense of plot or chronology. And without an overblown introduction, it leaves the reader to "come to terms" with the author, as Mortimer Adler would say. But I doubt that many would find it easy to come to terms with Rilke. This might best be done with his poetry.
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LibraryThing member stillatim
A strange class of books: those that I conclude with the thought that I haven't understood even the first thing about them, and I can't wait to re-read. Usually this happens with books that have astonished me in the first few pages, which was not the case with Brigge. But by the end I was reeling.
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I can remember virtually nothing of this book, except for a scene in which Brigge dresses up in carnivale costume and mask, then runs in to a room full of adults. They think he's trying to entertain them, when in fact he's panicking, having more or less lost his sense of identity; he faints and they tear the costume from his body.

That is how I felt reading this book, for better or worse. There's a lot here, but it's more akin to a poetry collection than a novel. I tried to read it as the latter. Next time, I'll approach it as the former, and I imagine it'll be twice as rewarding.
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