February Classics

This month NYRB Classics adds to its collection three remarkable nineteenth-century European novels. Theodor Fontane’s Irretrievable tells the tragic yet beautiful story of a married couple who begin to slowly and irreversibly drift apart. Bolesław Prus’s The Doll is an epic masterpiece about the life, politics, and tumultuous social climate of late-nineteenth-century Warsaw. Marcellus Emants’s gripping tale of murder and self-hatred, A Posthumous Confession, is superbly translated by Nobel prize winner J. M. Coetzee. For a limited time, each of these February titles is available at 25% off.


By Theodor Fontane
Afterword by Phillip Lopate
Translated from the German and with an
introduction by Douglas Parmée

Written with a delicate sense of irony, Irretrievable follows the heartbreaking disintegration of a marriage that, though seemingly happy, has begun to buckle under the weight of inexplicable strains, misunderstandings, and incompatibilities.

Helmut Holk and Christine Arne could not be more different. Helmut is carefree and convivial; Christine harbors a dark and reverent seriousness. Yet opposites attract and for twenty-three years of marriage they are happy. But, of late, they have begun to sense a disturbing tension seeping into their interactions with one another. The couple’s asides, casual jokes, and long-term plans begin to reveal devastating conflicts and bring them to a destructive point of no return in Fontane’s profoundly humane domestic drama.

…the combination of so many factors—the accuracy and vividness of the background and setting (not forgetting the very comical secondary characters), the skilful narrative technique, the sureness of purpose, the brilliantly aphoristic style, the pervasive irony, the importance and modernity of theme, make Irretrievable one of the outstanding novels of the nineteenth century.”
—From Douglas Parmée’s Introduction

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The Doll

Bolesław Prus
Introduction by Stanisław Barańczak
Translated from the Polish by David Welsh

In this novel, considered the Polish novel of the nineteenth century, the author examines late-nineteenth-century Warsaw through the eyes of a fascinating and colorful cast of characters, all of whom must come to terms with the swiftly changing landscape of life in Eastern Europe.

Prus’s work centers around the stories of three men from three different generations: Wokulski, the fatally flawed and hopelessly love-struck hero; Rzecki, the methodical and romantic old clerk; and Ochocki, a bright young scientist who hopes for universal progress in the midst of a darkening political climate. As the stories of the three men intertwine, Prus’s novel spins a web of encounters with an embattled aristocracy, the new men of finance, and the urban poor. Written with a quasi-prophetic sensibility, The Doll looks ahead to the social forces of imperialism, nationalism, and anti-Semitism that would soon hound the entire continent.

A vision of the future derived from an interpretation of society’s past and a critical assessment of its present state—this is actually what Prus’s The Doll is all about. This is the minimum that this novel demands from successive generations of its readers. It is also an old-fashioned yet still fascinating love story, a historically determined yet still topical diagnosis of society’s ills, and a forceful yet subtle portrayal of a tragically doomed man.”
—From Stanisław Barańczak’s Introduction

The Doll demonstrates 19th-century realism at its best.”
—Czesław Miłosz

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A Posthumous Confession

By Marcellus Emants
Translated from the Dutch and with an
introduction by J. M. Coetzee

This novel is a powerful and unsettling psychological study of the relationship between hatred and desire. Translated by Nobel prize-winning author J. M. Coetzee, the novel that “won a permanent place for [Emants] in the history of Dutch literature” is now available after being out of print for many years.

Termeer, Emants’s narrator and antihero, is a deeply frustrated, emotionally stunted man who finds himself continually reminded of his own worthless mediocrity. Due to a dark and condemning upbringing and his own sense of self-loathing, Termeer can only seem to live up to the low expectations of his family and community—until, that is, he successfully woos a beautiful and gifted woman. Their marriage, however, leads only to further distress, and Termeer soon decides that only in murder can he find ultimate satisfaction. Reminiscent of Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground, Termeer’s chilling narrative will have every reader pondering the delicate nature of self.

Since the time of Rousseau we have seen the growth of the genre of the confessional novel, of which A Posthumous Confession is a singularly pure example. Termeer, claiming to be unable to keep his dreadful secret, records his confession and leaves it behind as a monument to himself, thereby turning a worthless life into art.”
—From J. M. Coetzee’s Introduction

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