Faith, Hope And Charity: The Plays Of Ödön von Horváth

‘It just has so often a yearning within – 
but then you go back with broken wings 
and life goes on, 
as if you’d never been there.’

– Karoline in Kasimir und Karoline by Ödön von Horváth (1932)

Born in Fiume in Hungary (now Croatia and known as Rijeka since 1945) on 9th December 1901, Edmund Josef Horvát was the son of Dr Edmund Josef Horvát, a Hungarian diplomat, and his Hungarian-German wife, Mary Hermione Prehnal. The following year, the family moved to Belgrade and another son, Lajos, arrived in 1903. In 1908, they moved again to Budapest, where Edmund and Lajos were schooled in Hungarian. As a reward for his diplomatic service, Dr Horvát was ennobled and sent to Munich. The Horvát children remained at school in Hungary, but changed their name to reflect their father’s new-found status; this meant the addition of ‘von’ in German and another ‘h’ added to their surname in Hungarian.

A year before the outbreak of the First World War, Edmund and his brother moved to Munich, before going to live in Bratislava, and then with an uncle in Vienna. The frequent relocations of his childhood would leave von Horváth without a fixed sense of national identity as he later revealed, ‘If you ask me what is my native country, I answer: I was born in Fiume, grew up in Belgrade, Budapest, Pressburg, Vienna and Munich, and I have a Hungarian passport, but I have no fatherland. I am a very typical mix of old Austria-Hungary: at once Magyar, Croatian, German and Czech; my country is Hungary; my mother tongue is German.’ In fact, von Horváth only learnt his ‘mother tongue’  during his teens in Munich, but it was the only language he wrote in thereafter.

Enrolling as a student at the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich in 1919, von Horváth studied German literature and drama, which prompted him to begin writing his own plays; early titles included Das Buch der Tänze (1920). After abandoning his studies in 1922, he divided his time between Berlin and Salzburg and began calling himself Ödön, the Hungarian spelling of his name. From 1924, he was also a frequent visitor to his parents’ new home in Murnau, Upper Bavaria. Continue reading

Lucky Jim: Slough’s Canine Collector

Guarding his territory and gazing out over the platforms where he roamed so freely more than a century ago, Station Jim stands to attention in his glass case on Platform 5 of Slough railway station. Commuters pass him in their hundreds every day, some taking the time to read the remarkable inscription that rests by his paws.

Jim first came to Slough as a puppy in 1894 and was soon trained to perform his duties as a canine collector on behalf of the Great Western Railway Widows and Orphans Fund. He was taught to bark gratefully whenever a coin, usually a penny or halfpenny, was placed in the wallet attached to him by a harness.  In addition to this, Jim learnt a great many other tricks in order to amuse patrons and encourage their benevolence. It was said that he could beg, play dead and sometimes even posed with a pipe in his mouth and a cap on his head. Occasionally taking a trip himself, Jim would board a train and end up at Paddington or in nearby Windsor and even once travelled as far afield as Leamington Spa. Continue reading

Across The Sky In Stars: The Wisdom Of T. E. Lawrence

Thomas Edward Lawrence was born in Tremadog, North Wales on 16th August 1888. The second of five sons, Lawrence’s father was Sir Thomas Chapman, Baronet of Kilkea Castle, near County Kildare in Ireland and his mother was a young governess named Sarah Junner, for whom Chapman had left his wife. Despite the fact they never married, the couple both adopted the surname Lawrence. In his later years, his early familial situation would be a source of awkwardness for Lawrence regarding his own identity, and he would change his name several times throughout his life.

The world Lawrence entered was an ordered and stable Victorian one, where Pax Britannica saw the longest ever period of peace in Europe and in which the British Empire covered vast swathes of the globe. However, the devastation wrought by the Great War and the carving up of once great empires brought about Lawrence’s elevation from an astute and skilled soldier into the mythical ‘Lawrence of Arabia.’

In 1907, Lawrence went up to Jesus College, Oxford to read history and left in 1909 with a first class degree, the same year he visited Palestine and Syria whilst working on a dissertation that would later be published as Crusader Castles in 1936. His journeys ignited in Lawrence a powerful fascination with the Middle East and a deep affection for the people who lived there. After joining an archaeological expedition to excavate the site of Carchemish in Syria in 1911, Lawrence decided to extended his stay, and began learning Arabic, immersing himself in the local culture. He became particularly close to Selim Ahmed, also known as Dahoum, a young water boy in Carchemish who helped Lawrence with his Arabic.

Following the outbreak of war, Lawrence was recruited by British army intelligence, and in December 1914 he was sent to Cairo. In 1915, Lawrence learned that two of his brothers, Will and Frank had been killed in action in France and the tragic news only hardened his resolve to fight. When the Arab Revolt erupted against Turkey in June 1916, Lawrence was offered the role of adviser to Prince Faisal, the son of Sharif Hussein bin Ali, Grand Sharif of Mecca. Recalling his first meeting with the Prince, Lawrence remembered, ‘I felt at first glance that this was the man I had come to Arabia to seek – the leader who would bring the Arab Revolt to full glory.’ 

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This Side Of Paradise: Rupert Brooke And The South Seas

‘I want to walk a thousand miles, and write a thousand plays, and sing a thousand poems, and drink a thousand pots of beer, and kiss a thousand girls,’ and, added Rupert Brooke as he made plans to leave England in May 1913 ‘– oh, a million things.’ Seduced by the lure of  far away and exotic lands, Brooke would travel thousands of miles, write several poems, and meet many girls, but only one would truly capture his heart.

Brooke’s often dramatic and largely unsatisfying romantic entanglements, frequently a source of great anguish to him, had contributed to his decision to seek pastures new. His most enduring attachment had been to Ka Cox, whom he met at Cambridge, along with Noel Olivier, yet both women were drawn to other suitors; in Cox’s case, the painter Henry Lamb, and in Olivier’s, the dashing Hungarian poet Ferenc Békássy. Upon learning that Cox hoped to marry Lamb (she did not and would go on to wed the civil servant Will Arnold-Forster in 1918), Brooke suffered a breakdown, whilst visiting Lulworth Cove in Dorset towards the end of 1911 and start of 1912, and a period of precarious mental and physical health ensued. An offer from the Westminster Gazette to pay his travel costs in exchange for a series of articles about America and Canada, appeared to be just the tonic he needed. Perhaps glimpsing the foreboding clouds of war gathering across Europe, Brooke decided to extend his journey to include New Zealand and the South Seas.

Sailing from San Francisco, Brooke arrived in Waikiki in October 1913, before travelling on to Pango in Samoa a month later. Enchanted by the islands, he exclaimed in a letter to his friend Edward Marsh, ‘it’s all true about the South Seas! I get a little tired of it at moments, because I am just too old for Romance, and my soul is seared. But there it is: there it wonderfully is: heaven on earth, the ideal life, little work, dancing, singing and eating, naked people of incredible loveliness, perfect manners, and immense kindness, a divine tropical climate, and intoxicating beauty of scenery.’ Departing for Fiji on the SS Torfua in mid-November, Brooke arrived on the 19th and quickly immersed himself in Fijian culture, even attending the funeral of a Fijian princess who had died from pneumonia. Just before Christmas, Brooke boarded the Niagara and sailed to Auckland, with a trip to Tahiti planned for the January of 1914. Continue reading