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Journey to the Abyss

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Journey to the Abyss

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    Available in PDF Format | Journey to the Abyss.pdf | English
    Harry Kessler(Author)
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 Epoque 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 Bocklin, Max Beckmann, Aristide Maillol, Auguste Rodin, Edgar Degas, Eduard 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."

"A document of novelistic breadth and depth, showing the spiritual development of a lavishly cultured man who grapples with the violent energies of the twentieth century . . . also a staggering feat of reportage. The war fever infected Kessler . . . [he] does not hide the grimness of the scene. For the reader, it is a shock to be deposited in such hellish landscapes several pages after watching the antics of Diaghilev and company; few books capture so acutely the world-historical whiplash of the summer of 1914. . . . The supreme memoir of the grand European fin de siecle." --Alex Ross, "The New Yorker" "Kessler's diaries are a trove of insightful . . . information about an absolutely amazing number of artists and writers." --John Rockwell, "The Threepenny Review""What makes [Kessler] such an appealing figure is his struggle with the received ideas of his age. . . . His diaries fascinate on various levels, first of all as an observant, witty, frequently catty chronicle of European culture and high society between the fin-de-siecle, and following that [though not this volume] between 1918 and the Nazi regime." --Ian Buruma, "The New York Review of Books" "An unusual guided tour of belle epoque and early-20th-century artistic and high life in Berlin, Paris and London . . . with great sensitivity and occasional flashes of humor." --Louis Begley, "The New York Times""The well-connected diplomat's gimlet-eyed view of a teetering Belle Epoque Europe." --Megan O'Grady, "Vogue" "A Henry James figure come to real life: a fusion of high society and high intellect, his diaries dramatize with the most stellar possible international cast the twilight settling on a peak." --Frederic Morton, author of "A Nervous Splendor: Vienna 1888-1889" "Harry Kessler was an extraordinary exemplar of the crisis that overwhelmed Europe in the 20th century. He captured, in his person and in his thoroughly engrossing diaries, all the dichotomies of his e"Meticulously translated and edtied by Laird M. Easton . . . a 900-page marvel. . . . An important, underappreciated, unforgettable book." --Robert Harris, "The Guardian," Writers and Critics on the Best Books of 2013 "A document of novelistic breadth and depth, showing the spiritual development of a lavishly cultured man who grapples with the violent energies of the twentieth century . . . also a staggering feat of reportage. The war fever infected Kessler . . . [he] does not hide the grimness of the scene. For the reader, it is a shock to be deposited in such hellish landscapes several pages after watching the antics of Diaghilev and company; few books capture so acutely the world-historical whiplash of the summer of 1914. . . . The supreme memoir of the grand European fin de siEcle." --Alex Ross, "The New Yorker" "Kessler's diaries are a trove of insightful . . . information about an absolutely amazing number of artists and writers." --John Rockwell, "The Threepenny Review""What makes [Kessler] such an appealing figure is his struggle with the received ideas of his age. . . . His diaries fascinate on various levels, first of all as an observant, witty, frequently catty chronicle of European culture and high society between the fin-de-siecle, and following that [though not this volume] between 1918 and the Nazi regime." --Ian Buruma, "The New York Review of Books" "An unusual guided tour of belle Epoque and early-20th-century artistic and high life in Berlin, Paris and London . . . with great sensitivity and occasional flashes of humor." --Louis Begley, "The New York Times""The well-connected diplomat's gimlet-eyed view of a teetering Belle Epoque Europe." --Megan O'Grady, "Vogue" "A Henry James figure come to real life: a fusion of high society and high intellect, his diaries dramatize with the most stellar possible international cast the twilight settling on a peak." --Frederic Morton, author of "A Nervous Splendor: Vienna 1888-1889" "Harry Kessler was an extraordinary exemplar of the crisis that overwhelmed Europe in the 20th century. He captured, in his person and in his thoroughly engrossing diaries, all the dichotomies of his era: the ideals and the devastation, the passion and the despondency, the "frisson" and the horror. . . . Absolutely riveting. In its literary brilliance and evocative power, the diary is the equal of those of Virginia Woolf, Harold Nicolson and AndrE Gide. Mr. Easton ranks it one of the greatest diaries ever. Many will agree." --Modris Eksteins, "The Wall Street Journal" "At last a diary as penetrating on Berlin as the Goncourt brothers' on Paris has been translated into English. . . . Laird Easton is to be congratulated on leading English-speaking readers, via Kessler's masterpiece, into the heart of Germany before its catastrophe." --"The Spectator" "Count Harry Kessler became, through his experiences and through the anguished searching of his spirit, something close to a representative man. He seeks out great artists and gives us memorable portraits of Verlaine in old age, of Degas and Renoir, of Rodin and Maillol, of Rilke and Hofmannsthal, of Cosima Wagner, of Richard Strauss, of Diaghilev and Nijinsky, and of other great dancers and theatrical figures of the age. He tells us of the intrigues of the German Imperial Court. The cast list alone makes this an amazing diary. This is such an important book. It is a great act of historical witness, and a great source of scandalous insight and gossip." --James Fenton, "The Atlantic" "Kessler was a sophisticated aristocrat who knew everyone and understood everything. He rode with Nijinsky in a Paris cab the night that "The Rite of Spring" changed artistic history. He could size up a German princess with level-eyed candor. He was passionate about the arts and politics--and is one of the best observers of his epoch." --Edmund White, author of "A Boy's Own Story" and "Genet: A Biography" "Take a grand tour through the Belle Epoque without leaving your chair. . . . This is a classic book for the ages to keep and reread." --"Kirkus "(starred review) "I have been a huge fan of Harry Kessler since my early youth because of my mother. Even the way I dress is in a way inspired by him. The eight volumes of his diaries are always near my bedside in my houses. Kessler represents for me Germany at its best, a Germany now gone forever." --Karl Lagerfeld "Harry Graf Kessler was a central figure in German cultural life in the early twentieth century and during the Weimar Republic. A man of many parts, highly educated, a democrat when this was not at all fashionable--he knew everyone, and everyone knew him. His massive diaries are of absorbing interest, essential reading for all those interested in European cultural history of the period." --Walter Laqueur, author of "Weimar: A Cultural History" "What a life! To read" Journey to the Abyss: The Diaries of Count Harry Kessler, 1880-1918 "is to revisit, at least in revery, a lost world of European civilization, to experience for a while all the cultivated douceur de vivre that disappeared forever in the blood-soaked trenches of World War I." --Michael Dirda, " The Barnes & Noble Review" "An enlightening view of European high society, notable for its erudition and density of anecdote, for readers strongly interested in European history and culture." --"Publishers Weekly"Meticulously translated and edtied by Laird M. Easton. . . a 900-page marvel. . . . An important, underappreciated, unforgettable book. Robert Harris, The Guardian, Writers and Critics on the Best Books of 2013A document of novelistic breadth and depth, showing the spiritual development of a lavishly cultured man who grapples with the violent energies of the twentieth century . . . also a staggering feat of reportage. The war fever infected Kessler . . . [he] does not hide the grimness of the scene. For the reader, it is a shock to be deposited in such hellish landscapes several pages after watching the antics of Diaghilev and company; few books capture so acutely the world-historical whiplash of the summer of 1914. . . . The supreme memoir of the grand European fin de siecle. Alex Ross, The New YorkerKessler s diaries are a trove of insightful . . . information about an absolutely amazing number of artists and writers. John Rockwell, The Threepenny Review What makes [Kessler] such an appealing figure is his struggle with the received ideas of his age. . . . His diaries fascinate on various levels, first of all as an observant, witty, frequently catty chronicle of European culture and high society between the fin-de-siecle, and following that [though not this volume] between 1918 and the Nazi regime. Ian Buruma, The New York Review of BooksAn unusual guided tour of belle epoque and early-20th-century artistic and high life in Berlin, Paris and London . . . with great sensitivity and occasional flashes of humor. Louis Begley, The New York Times The well-connected diplomat s gimlet-eyed view of a teetering Belle Epoque Europe. Megan O Grady, VogueA Henry James figure come to real life: a fusion of high society and high intellect, his diaries dramatize with the most stellar possible international cast the twilight settling on a peak. Frederic Morton, author of A Nervous Splendor: Vienna 1888-1889Harry Kessler was an extraordinary exemplar of the crisis that overwhelmed Europe in the 20th century. He captured, in his person and in his thoroughly engrossing diaries, all the dichotomies of his era: the ideals and the devastation, the passion and the despondency, the frisson and the horror. . . . Absolutely riveting. In its literary brilliance and evocative power, the diary is the equal of those of Virginia Woolf, Harold Nicolson and Andre Gide. Mr. Easton ranks it one of the greatest diaries ever. Many will agree. Modris Eksteins, The Wall Street JournalAt last a diary as penetrating on Berlin as the Goncourt brothers on Paris has been translated into English. . . . Laird Easton is to be congratulated on leading English-speaking readers, via Kessler's masterpiece, into the heart of Germany before its catastrophe. The SpectatorCount Harry Kessler became, through his experiences and through the anguished searching of his spirit, something close to a representative man. He seeks out great artists and gives us memorable portraits of Verlaine in old age, of Degas and Renoir, of Rodin and Maillol, of Rilke and Hofmannsthal, of Cosima Wagner, of Richard Strauss, of Diaghilev and Nijinsky, and of other great dancers and theatrical figures of the age. He tells us of the intrigues of the German Imperial Court. The cast list alone makes this an amazing diary. This is such an important book. It is a great act of historical witness, and a great source of scandalous insight and gossip. James Fenton, The AtlanticKessler was a sophisticated aristocrat who knew everyone and understood everything. He rode with Nijinsky in a Paris cab the night that The Rite of Spring changed artistic history. He could size up a German princess with level-eyed candor. He was passionate about the arts and politics and is one of the best observers of his epoch. Edmund White, author of A Boy s Own Story and Genet: A BiographyTake a grand tour through the Belle Epoque without leaving your chair. . . . This is a classic book for the ages to keep and reread. Kirkus (starred review)I have been a huge fan of Harry Kessler since my early youth because of my mother. Even the way I dress is in a way inspired by him. The eight volumes of his diaries are always near my bedside in my houses. Kessler represents for me Germany at its best, a Germany now gone forever. Karl LagerfeldHarry Graf Kessler was a central figure in German cultural life in the early twentieth century and during the Weimar Republic. A man of many parts, highly educated, a democrat when this was not at all fashionable he knew everyone, and everyone knew him. His massive diaries are of absorbing interest, essential reading for all those interested in European cultural history of the period. Walter Laqueur, author of Weimar: A Cultural HistoryWhat a life! To read Journey to the Abyss: The Diaries of Count Harry Kessler, 1880-1918 is to revisit, at least in revery, a lost world of European civilization, to experience for a while all the cultivated douceur de vivre that disappeared forever in the blood-soaked trenches of World War I. Michael Dirda,The Barnes & Noble ReviewAn enlightening view of European high society, notable for its erudition and density of anecdote, for readers strongly interested in European history and culture. Publishers Weekly"

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Book details

  • PDF | 960 pages
  • Harry Kessler(Author)
  • Random House Inc; Reprint edition (15 April 2013)
  • English
  • 3
  • Biography
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Review Text

  • By P. Scrivener on 27 September 2012

    Having never read a diary before but having an interest in the period I had some nervous hopes as to whether both the content and the translation would live up to them.Kessler it seems was a fairly unique figure. Educated in both England and Germany. He missed Churchill at school by one term. And coming from a german (father) and anglo-irish (mother)he spiritually straddled the artistic and intellectual milieu of high european culture, while remaining german both by inclination and emotional attachment.The structure is as you would expect with a diary (edited considerably even at nearly 900 pages) episodic. But both the period he describes and his relationships are highly rewarding. His friendships often longlasting with the sculptors Maillol and Rodin; with the impressionists Monet and Degas; his sojourns in London with Shaw, Gill, William Morris and Gordon Craig as well as his trips to Whitechapel to watch lithe young men box in the east end give a flavour of his interests and tastes. His depth of involvement with the arts, both physical, musical and literary are as astonishing as they are wide-ranging. The names listed in the index are a virtual who's who of the period, but there was nothing superficial about his knowledge, opinions or his relations with artists, writers, actors, actresses, dancers, architects.His brief but poignant relationship with Nietzsche, he with two others made his death mask, and his difficult relationship with Nietzsche's sister over the literary estate and memorial, are further evidence of the depth of his cultural and personal attachments. He was also the last person to interview Verlaine in a rundown garret in Paris for the magazine Pan, a journal he helped establish.Kessler wanted to serve his country as a diplomat, but it seems his artistic relationships were a constant block to this within german court and politial circles and he did not achieve his ambition until halfway through the war. Even though he was a reserve officer in the military, and well connected politically, his tastes were too much for the introverted and narrow-minded german establishment.Widely travelled and voluminously well read, the meat of the diaries are the closeness and intimacy to the subjects he writes about both artistic and personal. Someone has written that he could sum up a german princess after a single glance. Well he could, but there is nothing condescending about his writing. It may be judgemental and opinionated but he rarely lowers himself to abuse or disdain.Kessler served on both the western and eastern fronts before achieving his diplomatic ambitions. His secret, authorised negotiations with representatives of France in Switzerland and his subsequent dealings with Marshall Pilsudski in Poland add further to a man whose experiences, including friendships with both Walter Rathenau and Gustav Streseman, were simply extraordinary.He was described by a friend as the last gentleman. An opinion summed up perhaps by the bizarre occurence of 'arresting' the Duchess of Sutherland in Belgium where she was nursing during the early weeks of the war, when several weeks earlier he had been sitting around her dinner table in England. She is said to have remarked that 'it was strange to see him again under such circumstances'.It is impossible not to both be admiring of and awed by Kessler's life and experiences. Rarely does a life have such constant interactions at such a level. The diaries bring to life a collection of people and their interwoven experiences and relationships that were then and are now central to an understanding of the artistic and political feelings and movements of the period.My only quibble about this book is the rather poor quality of the plates, which are interspersed throughout the text, rather than being quality photographic reproductions. A shame for such a book, but not enough to lose any stars in my opinion.Oh yes the translation makes the narrative flow and sometimes sparkle. A marvellous achievement.

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