03-01-2010

Today in Mailbox we quote from your e-mails answering December’s quiz question and announce a new mystery person contest for January. Listeners quoted: Hans Verner Lollike, S. J. Agboola, Ian Morisson, Sergei, Gordon Martindale, Jayanta Chakrabarty, Charles Konecny, Charlie Cockey, Henrik Klemetz, Colin Law, Keith A. Simmonds.

Hello and welcome to the first Mailbox in 2010. Happy New Year to all of you and let’s hope it’s a good one for both Radio Prague and our listeners.

Today it’s time to answer December’s quiz question. The mystery author was not Franz Kafka, nor Gustav Mahler, HJ Kieval or Graham Greene as some of you suggested. Let’s hear some of the correct answers.

Hans Verner Lollike writes from Denmark:

“I guess the Austrian author you are looking for is Gustav Meyrink (1868-1932). He is really a mystery person. Does the figure of the Golem still live in Czech imagination, as it has done historically?”

It indeed does but mostly thanks to the “Old Bohemian Legends” by the Czech classic Alois Jirásek and also thanks to 20th-century film adaptations.

S. J. Agboola listens to Radio Prague in Nigeria:

“[Meyrink] was a banker, a translator, a dramatist, a story-teller and an author altogether. He was born (illegitimately) to Baron Karl Von Und Zu Hemmingen on January 19, 1868. At various times he lived in Munich, Hamburg, Prague and Starnberg. Despite his achievements, he did not live a joyful life. A disaster that he miraculously avoided at the age of 24 ultimately claimed his son at that very same age.”

Ian Morrison listens in China:

“Although he was born in Vienna, he lived in Prague for 20 years, and his most famous work ‘The Golem’ was set in the city's old Jewish ghetto. He has been described by some as having a role in Czech literature that was similar to that of Edgar Allan Poe in American literature.”

A listener who signed himself as Sergei lives in the Russian capital Moscow:

“Meyrink spent his most formative years in what is now the Czech Republic and Germany. I wonder if he knew Czech as well as Kafka did. Of course, both of them wrote in German.”

I haven’t come across that information during my research. But if any of our listeners have stumbled upon a mention of Meyrink’s command of Czech or the lack thereof, please let us know.

Gordon Martindale follows Radio Prague in the UK:

“He was taken by his mother Marie Meyer to the family home in Prague, where his family owned a bank. As a young man he worked in the family bank. At this time he adapted his surname to Meyrink, and developed an interest in the occult and the grotesque. In 1902 he changed his job and became a staff member of the publication ‘Simplicissimus’. With this publication he became famous for his, sketches, parodies, and comedies. His interest in the occult came out in the novel about the Prague Jewish Ghetto, ‘Der Golem’ published in 1915.”

Jayanta Chakrabarty from India mentions Meyrink’s spiritual connection to India:

“Gustav Meyrink was one of the foremost and pioneering authors to introduce the occult and mysticism, hitherto largely an Oriental theosophy, to Europe. His two decades of life in Prague notably influenced his future line of thought. He was much influenced by Indian tantra and its leading exponent Rama Prasad whose tantric work ‘Nature's Finer Forces’ fascinated him and he was instrumental in introducing its ideas to the European Theosophy Society for the first time... This virtuous intellectual continued with his Indian connection with yoga and parapsychology and even had a telepathic communication with the famous South Indian spiritual leader Sri Ramana Maharshi, the guru of British philosopher and comparative religionist, Paul Brunton.”

Charles Konecny from the United States wrote:

“[Meyrink] had an up-and-down life. He established a bank, tried to commit suicide, was jailed for fraud, and lost the bank... but it turns out he was a born writer. And his suicide attempt led him into the occult and beyond which was the basis for his writing ‘The Golem’ among others. I understand his Golem is based on the same Golem (from an earlier competition question) that Rabbi Judah Lowe created to defend Prague years before. This could happen as legend has it that Golems can be re-stored to life if needed. The cover on the book scares me.”

Charlie Cockey follows our broadcasts in the city of Brno:

“This time it is an easy one – at least to lovers of literature of the weird and the outré – and the cruèl, because Gustav Meyrink was active in all these areas, and more. One of the mini-subgenres that I have long enjoyed (perverse as it may sound) is the predominantly French ‘les contes cruèles’. The best known names in this genre are Villiers de l'Isle-Adam, Gaston Leroux (Phantom of the Opera, which is *not* a conte cruèl) and Maurice Level, although Meyrink has tales in this genre as well, of which perhaps (no, almost definitely) my favorite is ‘The Man In the Bottle’, which has a particularly nasty piece of revenge as its climax. Shudder. Shiver. Grin.”

Henrik Klemetz from Sweden included this in his answer:

“Published in German in 1915, the book reportedly sold 150,000 copies during the following two decades. Mentioned as ‘one of the great neglected novels of our time’ by an English language reviewer, another one with Spanish as his mother tongue says, ‘The plot: wow, dark, magical, tortured, like a dream. The setting: insuperable, the Jewish ghetto of Prague. Oh my God, I NEED to go to Prague.’

“Meyrink’s book was made into a film in 1920 by Paul Wagener and the theme taken up by the Argentine poet and author Jorge Luis Borges in his book El Aleph and his poem El Golem. Wagener’s black and white film and Borges’ rendering of his own poem are available on YouTube... Borges, who was in Switzerland during WWI, is said to have learnt German by reading Meyrink’s book with the aid of a dictionary. This may also have been the starting-point for his interest in the kabbalistic tradition.”

Colin Law from New Zealand writes:

“Gustav Meyrink was born Gustav Meyer on January 19th, 1868 in Vienna. He was the illegitimate son of Baron Karl von Varnbüler von und zu Hemmingen and an actress, Maria Wilhelmina Adelheyd Meier.

“Previously a Protestant, Meyrink converted to Buddhism. He studied theosophy and Kabbala and practised yoga. He opened his own bank in 1889, known as ‘Meier and Morgenstern’, but in 1902 he was charged with using spiritualism to further his banking operations. His two month jail sentence ruined his career as a banker, but his experiences in jail provided him with material for the later novel ‘Der Golem’. “

Keith A. Simmonds writes from England:

“It is alleged that on August 14, 1892, on the eve of Assumption, he wanted to commit suicide and was about to pull the trigger of the gun he was holding to his head when someone put a tiny booklet called ‘Afterlife’ under his door. He was stunned by this dramatic coincidence and decided to study the occult instead of killing himself!”

What a nice way to end your quotes today. Many thanks for all your answers and this time a Radio Prague parcel is on its way to Mike Terry from the UK. Congratulations! Here’s another chance if you haven’t been lucky this time.

Our January mystery person is the English Renaissance poetess who came to Prague with her alchemist stepfather. She is said to have been fluent in Czech, English, German, Italian, and Latin – which is also the language in which she wrote her poetry. She died in childbirth at the age of just 31 in Prague where she is buried.

If you know who this mystery person is, drop us a line to english@radio.cz or Radio Prague, 12099 Prague by the end of January. In the meantime you can also send us your comments, questions and reception reports to the very same addresses. Thanks for listening today and see you next week.

03-01-2010