NYRB: Robert Walser's "Little Snow Landscape," with translator Tom Whalen & Edwin Frank

March 11, 2021, 7:30 PM

Tom Whalen joins us to discuss his new translation of Robert Walser's Little Snow Landscape, in conversation with Edwin Frank. This event is part of our ongoing series with NYRB Classics and will take place on Zoom. Register here: 

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Little Snow Landscape opens in 1905 with an encomium to Robert Walser’s homeland and concludes in 1933 with a meditation on his childhood in Biel, the town of his birth, published in the last of his four years in the cantonal mental hospital in Waldau outside Bern. Between these two poles, the book maps Walser’s outer and inner wanderings in various narrative modes. Here you find him writing in the persona of a girl composing an essay on the seasons, of Don Juan at the moment he senses he’s outplayed his role, and of Turkey’s last sultan shortly after he’s deposed. In other stories, a man falls in love with the heroine of the penny dreadful he’s reading (and she with him?), and the lady of a house catches her servant spread out on the divan casually reading a classic. Three longer autobiographical stories—“Wenzel,” “Würzburg,” and “Louise”—brace the whole. In addition to a representative offering of Walser’s short prose, of which he was one of literature’s most original, multifarious, and lucid practitioners, Little Snow Landscape forms a kind of novel, however apparently plotless, from the vast unfinishable one he was constantly writing.

Robert Walser (1878–1956) was born into a German-speaking family in Biel, Switzerland. He left school at fourteen and led a wandering, precarious existence while writing poems, novels, and vast numbers of the “prose pieces” that became his hallmark. In 1933 he abandoned writing and entered a sanatorium—where he remained for the rest of his life.

Tom Whalen is a novelist, short-story writer, poet, critic, and the co-editor of the Robert Walser issue of the Review of Contemporary Fiction.

Edwin Frank is the founder and editor of the NYRB Classics series and the author of a book of poems, Snake Train.