Academic journal article Shofar

The Faces of Janus: English-Language Fiction by German-Speaking Exiles in Great Britain, 1933-1945

Academic journal article Shofar

The Faces of Janus: English-Language Fiction by German-Speaking Exiles in Great Britain, 1933-1945

Article excerpt

The Faces of Janus: English-language Fiction by German-speaking Exiles in Great Britain, 1933-1945, by Nicole Bronnhuber. Oxford/Berne/Berlin/Brussels/Frankfurt a. M./New York/Vienna: Peter Lang, 2005. 240 pp. $52.95.

This study considers the work of five writers, two women and three men, each of them a refugee from National Socialism, who in British exile underwent what the author terms "linguistic metamorphosis": after a relatively short period in Britain they chose to abandon German as their medium of expression and to produce fiction in English. From then on, their work was aimed, therefore, not at their fellow German-speaking exiles but at a wider British readership. These five are, in fact, not the only writers Bronnhuber could have selected who made this same transition. Hilde Spiel and Peter de Mendelssohn were also notable "language switchers" among the German-speaking writers in British exile, as was Hans Flesch-Brunningen and indeed Arthur Koestler, the latter excluded, evidently, for not fitting into the author's chosen category of "lesser-known writers."

The five writers are, firstly, Ernest Borneman, later active as a psychoanalyst and sexologist in post-war Germany, whose English-language novels included the well known The Face on the Cutting Room Floor, which he published under the pseudonym Cameron McCabe. Secondly there is Robert Neumann, the only one of the group to have already established himself as a writer before going into exile, who went on to make a real career for himself as an English-language writer before his return, in 1958, to the medium of German. The third and fourth are both women writers, Ruth Feiner and Lilo Linke; they are scarcely known today, a fact which probably bears at least some relation to their gender (with some exceptions, exiled women writers have suffered in terms of their lasting reputation to an even greater degree than have their male counterparts), though the relatively early deaths of each of them may also have played a role here. Yet Ruth Feiner was the author of no fewer than thirteen English-language novels (like Neumann, Feiner moved to Switzerland after the war, though unlike Neumann she never reverted to writing in her native German). Linke, too, produced the larger part of her output in English, this consisting in her case both of fictional and factual works. The fifth and last writer, and the only one of the five still alive today, is George Tabori, who is now acknowledged as one of the most prominent dramatists of the German theatre but who is included here principally for his early English-language novel Beneath the Stone the Scorpion.

The phenomenon of language-switching in exile as an aspect of the processes of assimilation and acculturation has not until now received a great deal of scholarly attention (Richard Dove's work on Neumann and other writers representing a notable exception here). …

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