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Journey to the Abyss: The Diaries of Count Harry Kessler, 1880-1918
Synopses & Reviews
These fascinating, never-before-published early diaries of Count Harry Kessler—patron, museum director, publisher, cultural critic, soldier, secret agent, and diplomat—present a sweeping panorama of the arts and politics of Belle Époque Europe, a glittering world poised to be changed irrevocably by the Great War. Kessler’s immersion in the new art and literature of Paris, London, and Berlin unfolds in the first part of the diaries. This refined world gives way to vivid descriptions of the horrific fighting on the Eastern and Western fronts of World War I, the intriguing private discussions among the German political and military elite about the progress of the war, as well as Kessler’s account of his role as a diplomat with a secret mission in Switzerland.
Profoundly modern and often prescient, Kessler was an erudite cultural impresario and catalyst who as a cofounder of the avant-garde journal Pan met and contributed articles about many of the leading artists and writers of the day. In 1903 he became director of the Grand Ducal Museum of Arts and Crafts in Weimar, determined to make it a center of aesthetic modernism together with his friend the architect Henry van de Velde, whose school of design would eventually become the Bauhaus. When a public scandal forced his resignation in 1906, Kessler turned to other projects, including collaborating with the Austrian writer Hugo von Hofmannsthal and the German composer Richard Strauss on the opera Der Rosenkavalier and the ballet The Legend of Joseph, which was performed in 1914 by the Ballets Russes in London and Paris. In 1913 he founded the Cranach-Presse in Weimar, one of the most important private presses of the twentieth century.
The diaries present brilliant, sharply etched, and often richly comical descriptions of his encounters, conversations, and creative collaborations with some of the most celebrated people of his time: Otto von Bismarck, Paul von Hindenburg, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Richard Strauss, Igor Stravinsky, Sergei Diaghilev, Vaslav Nijinsky, Isadora Duncan, Ruth St. Denis, Sarah Bernhardt, Friedrich Nietzsche, Rainer Marie Rilke, Paul Verlaine, Gordon Craig, George Bernard Shaw, Harley Granville-Barker, Max Klinger, Arnold Böcklin, Max Beckmann, Aristide Maillol, Auguste Rodin, Edgar Degas, Éduard Vuillard, Claude Monet, Edvard Munch, Ida Rubinstein, Gabriele D’Annunzio, Pierre Bonnard, and Walther Rathenau, among others.
Remarkably insightful, poignant, and cinematic in their scope, Kessler’s diaries are an invaluable record of one of the most volatile and seminal moments in modern Western history.
"Harry Kessler (1868 — 1937) was among the most connected people in the German Empire and indeed in pre-war Europe. A diplomat, writer, philosopher, and patron of the arts with a great breadth of knowledge, Kessler socialized with everyone from Nietzsche to Einstein and the Aga Khan. He kept meticulous diaries spanning over 50 years, documenting Germany at its intellectual, political, and artistic peak, and its descent into the maelstrom of WWI and beyond. This volume comprises half the diaries (believed lost and recently discovered in a lockbox in Mallorca). Easton, Kessler's biographer, has capably translated and culled the voluminous work to give a glimpse into the ferment of aristocratic Europe. That said, Kessler's style is oddly impersonal and often dry. He enjoys passing judgment (English working-class girls were 'the most repulsive, vilest creatures that one can imagine as still human') but rarely mentions his personal life or emotions, even as his friends die in WWI. Easton makes much of Kessler's homosexuality, but the diaries give little hint of intimate relationships with men or women. An enlightening view of European high society, notable for its erudition and density of anecdote, for readers strongly interested in European history and culture. 59 photos. (Nov.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
The never-before-published early diaries of Count Harry Kessler—art patron, museum director, publisher, cultural critic, cultural attaché, and secret agent—present a sweeping picture of Belle Époque European court life and bohemia, a world poised to be changed irrevocably by the Great War.
Profoundly modern and prescient, Kessler was an erudite visionary and catalyst who was intimately involved in the cultural and political worlds of London, Paris, Berlin, Weimar, and Bern. The diaries are rich with descriptions of his encounters, conversations, and creative collaborations with some of the most celebrated people of his time: from Bismarck and Hindenburg to Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Richard Strauss, Vaslav Nijinsky, Isadora Duncan, and Sarah Bernhardt; from Rainer Maria Rilke, Paul Verlaine, and George Bernard Shaw to Aristide, Maillol, Rodin, Degas, Monet, and Munch. Of equal fascination are his entries about the lesser-reported Eastern Front in World War I and his conversion to pacifism.
Remarkably insightful, almost cinematic in their scope, Kessler’s diaries are the record of an extraordinary life, and a dazzling, invaluable record of one of the most volatile and interesting moments in modern Western history.
About the Author
Laird M. Easton is chair of the Department of History at California State University, Chico. His book The Red Count: The Life and Times of Harry Kessler was named one of the best biographies of 2002 by The Economist.
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