A reading list of literature and stuff about the tumbling house of cards that was nineteenth century Europe, as the Great War loomed.
1) Miklos Banffy, The Transylvanian Trilogy. Absolutely brilliant.
2) Marcel Proust, A la Recherche du Temps Perdu, trans. as ‘The Remembrance of Things Past’ or ‘In Search of Lost Time’. I read the Vintage edition trans. by Kilmartin and Scott Moncrieff. People think this is going to be hard work, a reader’s equivalent of a mountain marathon, but it’s funny, readable, and brilliant.
3) Joseph Roth, The Radetsky March. The Viennese point of view of the Austro-Hungarian empire’s collapse, as opposed to Banffy’s Hungarian viewpoint. Beautifully written.
4) Stefan Zweig, Beware of Pity. A story told against a historical backdrop rather than being about the historical backdrop, but it’s stunningly good so deserves to be on this list.
5) Robert Musil, A Man Without Qualities. A big, complex, cerebral novel, but worth an attempt.
6) Walter Benjamin, A Berlin Childhood. A lot of Benjamin is about the crumbling of the nineteenth century. These autobiographical fragments are especially so.
7) For English fin de siecle I think you have to situate yourself later in the twentieth century, between the wars, and read Mitford and Waugh. Brideshead Revisted I think is the closest companion to the rest. I’ll have to give this some thought.
8) The Fin de Siecle: A Reader in Cultural History, ed. Sally Ledger and Roger Luckhurst. Secondary reading.
9) For the Russian perspective, Chekhov’s short stories and plays. Although with Russia obviously it wasn’t so much the war as the thundering great revolution that happened in the middle of it that caused the trouble.
10) The World of Yesterday, Stefan Zweig’s semi-autobiography
11) The Doll, Boleslaw Prus