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Introduction "The Reed"

Anna Seghers, East Germany, 1965

Anna Seghers (1900-1983), a pseudonym for Netty Reiling, was born in Mainz and grew up in a middle-class Jewish family. Her earliest literary influences include the classical German literature of the 18th and 19th century, a tradition which defines her own narrative style. Between 1920 and 1924, Seghers studied art history and philology at the universities of Heidelberg and Cologne, and in 1925 she became one of the first women in Germany to receive her Ph.D. Although 1925 also saw the publication of her first story, Anna Seghers did not receive wide recognition until 1928 when her first novel, The Uprising of the Fishermen of St. Barbara, received the prestigious Kleist Prize, an annual award that is given anonymously for the best work of a new author. While the jury members were correct in predicting the future success of the new author, they were totally incorrect in their assumptions about the gender of this new literary figure. All references to the stark and powerful style of the young male author proved to be somewhat embarrassing for the members of the jury.

The year 1928 was an auspicious one for Anna Seghers in yet another sense, it was also the year in which she joined the German Communist Party. Her joining the Party may have been motivated by factors ranging from a basic humanistic hope for social change to the politically charged climate of Germany in the 20s, including the influence of her husband Laszlo Radvanyi, a Hungarian political emigre whom she met and married in 1926. She remained a loyal, if often critical member of the German Communist Party throughout her life.

After fleeing Nazi Germany in 1933 and after spending years of exile in France and Mexico, Anna Seghers returned to her native land in 1947 where she quickly became the matriarch of East German literature. Not only did she serve as an international representative of her Party and her country, she also became a supporter and role model for a whole new generation of East German authors in the sixties and seventies, especially Christa Wolf.

"The Reed" was taken from a collection of short stories that was published in 1965. In it the reader follows the evolution of the main character, Marta Emrich, through the dangers of the war years to the difficulties of the fledgling East Germany. How does the larger stage of historical events intersect with the lives of the characters? To what extent does the main character represent typically middle-class values and does she change in the course of the story? Why would Anna Seghers portray a woman like Marta rather than a political activist such as herself? As readers of the 1990s, what reaction do you have to Anna Seghers' portrayal of the female character?

Anna Seghers, "The Reed," trans. Benito's Blue and Nine Other Stories, (East Berlin: Seven Seas Books,) ), 144-157.

Anna Seghers Jewish, Communist Party member

1900 Netty Reiling (Anna Seghers) born in Mainz

1925 Dissertation on The Jew and Judaism in the Work of Rembrandt; one of the first women to receive her Ph.D. from the University of Heidelberg; publication of her

• first story

1926 married Laszlo Radvanyi, a Hungarian political emigre

1928 first novel, The Uprising of the Fishermen of St. Barbara (Aufstand der Fischer von St. Barbara ); Kleist Prize; joined the German Communist Party;)) -prize first novel

1933 arrested, by the Gestapo; flight to Paris

1940 flight from Paris to Marseille; then in 1941 to Mexico

1947 return to Berlin

1952-1977 President of the East German Writers' Union

1983 -died in East Berlin --- Matriarch of East German lit.

works include

1942 Das siebte Kreuz (The Seventh Cross) published in English; Film version in 1944; published in German in 1947

1943 Transit)

1943 "Ausflug der toten Madchen" ("Excursion of the Dead Girls")

1965 Kraft der Schwachen (The Power of the Weak) a collection of stories, including "Agathe Schweigert" and "The Reed"

1 87

THE REED

Anna Seghers

Long before the war the Emrich family had had a little house and garden on a lake near Berlin.

They grew mainly vegetables. There was a narrow strip of lawn between the lake shore and their solid, one-storey house--the only bit of land not cultivated. The shore was flat, sloping very gradually, and the reeds grew thick, as they did almost all round the lake. From the landing stage there was a gravel path up to the glass verandah which had been built on to the house in more prosperous days. The sitting room and the kitchen opened off the small paved front and the cellar was reached through a trap door in the kitchen floor. The cellar door facing the lake was not used any more, for it was blocked up by all kinds of stores, and things were piled so high that hardly any light came through the cellar window.

The Emrichs had also owned a small public house in a nearby village, and the smithy opposite. They had shod horses and mended ploughs and farm implements there.

Father Emrich had been kicked by a horse and died shortly before the war. They say misfortunes never come singly. Perhaps he had been a little less careful than usual, upset by the unexpected death of his wife shortly before.

The two sons were conscripted and the war prolonged their military service indefinitely. One of them experienced the invasion of Poland, the other the landing in Narvik.

Distant relatives had in the meantime bought the public house and the smithy. Marta Emrich, the only daughter, looked after the little property on the lake.SShe took pride in doing almost everything herself and only occasionally got some help from a day labourer, for instance with painting the house, so that it should look decent if one of her brothers came home on leave. She not only did most of the vegetable gardening herself; she also papered the rooms and tarred the boat, which was generally tied up to the landing stage, unused. Seen from the lake, the white house with its rambler roses looked friendly and inviting.

Marta toiled from dawn till dusk, not only because she wanted to save up and have no debts, for her brothers had already lost their income from the public house and the smithy, not only because she thought that was what she was there for, but also because she wanted to forget how lonely she was.

188

Her second cousin, a farmer's son from the neighbouring village whom people had thought of as her fiancé, was one of the few to be killed on the Maginot Line. Through him it might have been possible to get the public house and the smithy back into the possession of the Emrich family. They had not been properly engaged, but when she received the news that he had "Fallen in battle" Marta felt deserted and almost without hope. She had never been talkative, but now she retired into herself completely.

She was in good health and accustomed to relying on herself in any situation. She was

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