The Tanners

I’ve dogeared most of this wonderful, sleepy, miraculous book.

  • Simon Tanner – the wanderer, no luggage, tattered clothing, taking up copy clerk positions around his country.
  • Klaus- the respectable older brother, worried about Simon’s lack of a footing in the world.
  • Kaspar – the artist, currently in Paris, a city Walser would never visit but that he dreamed of.
  • Emil – locked in a madhouse. Simon overhears two chaps discussing the sad tale of Emil at a bar one night, declares, “that is my brother!”
  • Hedwig – the teacher who takes Simon in for the summer, they become close, but she tells him to never contact her again once he leaves.

“When he arrived at home, he saw his brother’s letter lying on the table, he read it and then thought to himself: “He’s a good person, but I’m not going to write to him. I don’t know how to describe my circumstances, and they aren’t worth describing anyhow. I’ve no cause for complaint, and just as little reason to jump for joy, but grounds aplenty to keep silent. It’s quite true, the things he writes, but for just that reason I shall be satisfied with the truth – let’s leave it at that. That he is unhappy is something he himself must come to terms with, but I don’t believe he is really so terribly unhappy. Letters often come out sounding that way. Writing a letter, you get carried away and make incautious remarks. In letters, the soul always wishes to do the talking, and generally it makes a fool of itself. So it’s best I don’t write.” (p 47)

“You… cannot even imagine how glorious it is to ramble down country roads. If they’re dusty, then dusty is just how they are, no need to trouble your head about it. Afterwards you find yourself a cozy cool spot at the edge of the forest and as you lie there your eyes enjoy the most splendid view, and your senses repose in the most natural way, and your thoughts wander as taste and pleasure fancy. You’ll no doubt counter that another person can do just the same thing – you yourself, for example, when you’re on vacation. But vacations, what are they? The thought of them makes me laugh. I wish to have nothing to do with vacations. One might even say I hate them. Whatever you do, just don’t set me up with a position involving vacations. This wouldn’t appeal to me at all -in fact I think I’d die if I were given vacations. As far as I’m concerned I wish to do battle with life, fighting until I keel over: I wish to taste neither freedom nor comfort, I hate freedom if it’s hurled at my feet the way you throw a dog a bone. That’s vacation for you.” (p 50)

“I don’t want a future, I want a present. To me this appears of greater value. you have a future only when you have no present, and when you have a present, you forget to even think about the future.” (p 72)

“… in the practice of art all that was required to accomplish something were diligence, a joyful zeal, and the observation of nature…” (p 79)

“And then there were serving men in thin blue smocks with boots on their legs, large bristly mustaches and rather rectangular mouths on their faces. Could they help it if their mouths were rectangular? No doubt many a guest at the Hotel Royal displayed rectangular proclivities in the mustache region. To be sure, the angularity in that case was whitewashed with roundness, but what significance did this have?” (p 91)

“By this I mean only to illustrate the fact that all this lying-about makes you a dunce. No, I’m starting to feel something like pricks of conscience and believe that merely feeling such pricks is not enough: I must undertake something. Running about in the sunshine cannot, in the long term, be viewed as an activity, and only a simpleton sits around reading books, for a simpleton is what you areif all you ever do it read. Labor in the company of others is, in the end, the single thing that educates us.” (p 126)

“Here I am and shall no doubt remain. It’s so sweet to remain. Does nature go abroad? Do trees wander off to procure for themselves greener leaves in other palces so they can come home and flaunt their new splendor? Rivers and clouds are always leaving, but this is a different, more profound sort of leave-taking, without any returning.” (p 273)
“I fly into a rage whenever someone approaches me with the words ‘lifetime position and all the presumptions implied therein. I wish to remain a human being. In a word: I love what is risky, unfathomable, floating, and uncontrolled!” (p 275)

“Religion in my experience is a love of life, a heartfelt attachment to the earth, joy in the present moment, trust in beauty, belief in mankind, a feeling of carefree pleasure during revelries with friends, the desire to ponder and a sense of not being responsible for misfortune, smiling when death arrives and showing courage in every sort of undertaking life has to offer.” (p 282)

“The clock has not yet struck twelve, not for any of us; after all, any person lying on the ground impoverished enjoys the prospect of rising up again. I’ve a hunch that a proud free bearing can itself draw life happiness to a person like an electrical current, and it’s certainly true that you feel richer and more exalted when you walk about with dignity.” (p292)

Translated from the German by Susan Bernofsky