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"Outré and Interesting:" a review of The Novices of Sais from Infodad


Archipelago Books continues to issue handsome paperback editions of works that are emphatically not for everyone but that will be of great interest to readers seeking the unusual and the obscure. The Novices of Sais is by Friedrich von Hardenberg, who wrote under the name Novalis and died of consumption at age 29 in 1801. Some aspects of his life foreshadow the life of Edgar Allen Poe, notable his love ofr a 13-year-old (he was 23 when he fell for her) and her death at 15. Like John Keats, Novalis had a Romantic temperament plus a practical streak (he studied medicine to try to save his beloved’s life). The Novices of Sais combines emotional Romanticism with a love of nature and an attempt to show how Man and Nature interrelate. Ralph Manheim’s translation from the original German flows well: “Now the country became richer and more varied, the air mild and blue, the path more level, green copses lured him with comforting shade, but he did not understand their language, they seemed indeed not to speak, and yet they filled his heart with green color and cool stillness.” But the meanderings and proto-Surrealist philosophizing of Novalis may be of less interest to the curiosity-driven modern reader than this edition’s 60 illustrations by Paul Klee. They are a world unto themselves, reflecting Novalis’ inner one into a highly detailed and fascination exterior.

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