This is one of those books that I would never have read if it hadn’t been for reading challenges. The setting (late 18th century Germany) wouldn’t be my first choice but it fitted in nicely with the challenges above and my library also had a copy.
Unexpectedly, I liked it quite a lot. It is a novel based on true events in the life of the romantic poet and philosopher Fritz von Hardenberg, later to change his name to Novalis. In particular the period in his life when he meets Sophie von Kuhn, falls in love with her after only 15 minutes in her company and despite her young age – she is 12 and he is 22 when they meet. He decides immediately that she is his “true philosophy” and then sets about convincing Sophie and all those around him, not least his father, that they should be married.
The beauty of this story is in the writing which is delightful and creates a wonderful sense of time and place. I really felt that I was there, in those little German towns in the late 1700’s. We are introduced to the characters in a light and playful way and you cannot help but be drawn in by the spirit of Fritz and his romantic way of looking at life. There is also a tone of dry humour throughout the story – some of the passages are really funny. I can’t say that I felt especially connected to any of the individual characters, more to the essence of the story.
Penelope Fitzgerald wrote several other short books which appear to be about all different subjects. One of these Offshore won the Booker prize in 1979. I will definitely read another one of her books at least in the future. There is something appealing about a book that is short enough to finish in one day if you have the time to curl up and escape for a few hours…