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A Riddle


“A Riddle”


a translation by
Becca Menon

“Ein Rätsel”

[Isolde Kurz[
]][Translate This Page]

(December 21, 1853 – April 5, 1944)

“A Riddle”

“Ein Rätsel”


Translation copyright 2017 Becca Menon

Cover image: [+ https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Realistic-Human-Skull-Profile-View.svg+]

Cover Design by John Bartelstone: www.johnbartelstone.com



The legacy of Isolde Kurz has entered the Public Domain, and some of her works have already been treated to highly legible reprints by Public Domain Archive and Reprints Service, where you can request books on-demand. You can also read the Italienische Erzählungen, of which “Ein Rätsel” is the final tale, as well as many other of Kurz’s works online as part of Projekt Gutenberg – Klassische Literatur Online.



Notes are hyperlinked on words or phrases since some e-book formats do not support linked endnotes.

The Author



A Puzzling Tale


“A Riddle”

The Author



[+ Creative Commons Image:+]
By Photographie Schemboche (Literarische Spuren in Esslingen, S. 66) via Wikimedia Commons


Isolde Kurz [Translate this page] (1853-1944), once both widely admired and popular, was a prolific and erudite writer renowned for her fine style in a wide array of genres. Her mother, Marie von Brunnow Kurz Translate this page], like Mary Wollstonecraft, mother of “Frankenstein” author, Mary Shelley, had strong views about the education of women. From von Brunnow, Isolde inherited the liberal, humanitarian outlook that infuses her work. Her father, Hermann Kurz [_]Translate this page], an eminent writer, was part of the German Romantic movement. From him she received strong nationalist convictions, which had arisen throughout Europe as foreign yokes and arbitrary aristocracies were shaken off. But nationalism that once seemed progressive would become complicated, perverted, inverted.

Kurz, who lived in Florence for many years at the hub of a community of historically important German thinkers, writers and artists, embodied historical trends that led her to envision a unified, Nazi Germany as the new Holy Roman Empire. But we cringe to observe the collapse of good style along with good sense in a passage from her 1938 memoir (which, unlike her 1939 elegy to Hitler for the celebrations of his 50th birthday, Hermann’s child is unlikely to have been pressured to pen): “Who could have told me then that a day would arrive when an Olympiad would come to Berlin, a day on which a new German Reich – not one that was rich and triumphant, but one that was maimed and bled dry and could hardly raise itself up out of the most terrible of all crushing defeats – would, through the mouth of its Führer, give its promise freely through its own sacrifices to lay bare the sacred Olympic relics, and that the promise would directly become deed!”

The person who could write in this radical short story of 1895 of having “no more use for the police state would also pen sentimental and nationalist poetry during the First World War; moreover, as she turned 80 in December, 1933, Kurz would see Hitler’s entire Nazi nation, object of her paeans, fête the anniversary as a cultural landmark. Yet however dazzled by the Third Reich she may have been, Isolde had not lost her humanity. Marie’s daughter lent her then-eminent name to a French manifesto against antisemitism as and nationalism’s militarist excesses. She would, even so, on achieving her 90th , receive the Goethe Medal from the hands of the notorious Minister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels. Upon her death a few months later in early April, 1944, he stepped forward with other Nazi luminaries to claim her for fascism by burying her with voluminous bouquets.

Such laurels may have come with a steep tax for her legacy. Works deeply thought, thoroughly humane, finely crafted, frequently entertaining, and, in a few cases, startlingly original lie more remembered more in name than read.

A Puzzling Tale

Around the turn of the 20th century, while Isolde was on the “mezzo cammin” of a life that spanned the middle of the 19th century virtually to the middle of the 20th, the path Kurz took for some of her writing strayed far from the straight and fascinatingly from the narrow.

In 1921, Virginia Woolf, exploring unreliable consciousness in “A Mark on the Wall” would write, “Wood is a pleasant thing to think about. It comes from a tree.” In 1895, more than twenty-five years before, Isolde Kurz had made the opening gambit of “A Riddle” – also an investigation of makeshift individual awareness – a rhapsody on rocks.

“A Riddle,” a gamble in form, a study in voice, a risky Nietzschean venture, and an aggressive challenge to readers “sunken down so cozy and warm in the thick pelt of their I,” leaps out of time.

Kurz herself recognized how prescient her story had been. As a celebrated author in a perilous world which had since learned terms such as “shell shock,” she would in her 1938 autobiography with a measure of gloating, “When I wrote the story of the I-less man, ‘A Riddle, all the papers that were otherwise so friendly took exception, since to them the invention of a person who, after shocking experiences, had forgotten who he was, seemed completely implausible; the World War, which produced a quantity of such cases, later vindicated me.” Critics had seen the story as an improbable account of a man who belonged in a mad house. “To such misunderstandings I could only keep silent and withdraw my manuscript; {…} to me it was not a matter of psychology but of metaphysics.”


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A Riddle

The story of a found manuscript and the intense tale of its enigmatic, amnesiac author: a yarn complete with murder mystery and wily challenges to reader regarding the Nietzschean nature, psychology and politics of identity.

  • Author: Becca Menon
  • Published: 2017-05-10 21:20:10
  • Words: 7774
A Riddle A Riddle