Mr Mosbacher says no again. Twice.


        Gustav Meyrink

As we have noted in a previous Jot, Eric Mosbacher, journalist, critic and acclaimed translator, was a hard man to please. When asked by the Souvenir Press to recommend a foreign language text for translation into English his judgement was invariably that he was unable to do so. We have already seen in a previous Jot that his failure to see the merits of  ‘ The Quest for Fire ‘, probably cost the Souvenir Press oodles of money when the film adapted from another translation  made many millions at the Box Office. The discovery of two further reports by Mosbacher dating from the same period show the failings of his critical judgement. He rejected Jean Ray’s horror story ‘Malpertius’ (1943) on the grounds that it had failed to make his flesh creep and was, in any case, badly put together. In 1973 this too had been made into a film starring Orson Welles and Susan Hampshire, which had been adapted from the original Flemish production of 1971. Doubtless the Souvenir Press wished to cash in on its success, but Eric said no, and that was that.

In 1979 Gustav Meyrink’s bizarre tale of 1916, ‘Das Grune Gesicht’ (The Green Face) had also got a thumbs down from Mosbacher, who was baffled by its’ uncanny mixture of the grotesque, the mystical, the surrealist-before-its-time.’ He couldn’t recommend a book that, in spite of all his efforts, he had not understood. Eric’s rather sardonic summary of its plot reflects his lack of enthusiasm:

‘A visitor to Amsterdam calls at a conjuror’s equipment shop where he has some strange experiences. A monstrous negro appearing at the circus drops in and the shop appears to be owned by a venerable Jew who fails to open his mouth, though next day it turns out( or does it?) always to have been under Christian ownership. An ancient manuscript without beginning or end falls into the visitor’s hands; needless to say it has something to do the Cabala and the Jewish owner or non-owner of the shop. A Chassidic Jew straight from Russia confesses to a murder he has not committed, or perhaps does not confess to a murder he has committed; the difference does not seem to be important. The visitor meets his Eve (yes, that is her name) , but the old conflict between sacred and profane love comes in between them, but eventually he rises to a higher level of consciousness at which these little differences are reconciled, and he is apparently simultaneously in this world and the next’.

In is obvious that Mosbacher, as a Jew himself, scorned the idea that elderly and enigmatic Jews were invariably associated in the minds of Gentiles with ‘the Cabalah’. But for all this disdain and self-confessed bewilderment Mosbacher does admit that Meyrink possessed the gift of holding the attention of the reader. But while the author’s better known tale, ‘The Golem’, was made into a film, ‘The Green Face’ was not, although it possesses many of the ingredients of the horror film genre, notably a mysterious shop, ‘magic’, the Cabala, and an ancient manuscript. [R.M. Healey]

One thought on “Mr Mosbacher says no again. Twice.

  1. Roger

    Meyrink himself was jewish, and his books play games with gentile associations with the kaballah and jewish mysticism. It probably seemed an entertaining idea to treat ridiculous dying prejudices like that in the last days of the Habsburg empire.
    Mosbacher rejected ‘ The Quest for Fire ‘ on the grounds of its quality rather than its sales prospects, I think, and he was quite right too. Early French SF is so bad it makes early English SF look – well – not as bad as early French SF.


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