Read Dates: Nell Zink and Freiherr von Risach

This month our blog theme is ‘Love in All its Forms’ – we’re celebrating the diverse ways in which love is depicted in literature – so we asked our authors to tell us who their dream fictional date would be. Perhaps unexpectedly, Nell Zink would like to exist in a Late Romantic utopia with an elderly nobleman from the pages of an interminable work of 19th Century Austrian bourgeois realism…


‘My dream date is a secondary character in an Austrian novel so boring that I know only one other person who ever finished it: the composer who recommended it to me (Boris Yoffe). He insisted to me that the hallucinogenic tedium of Adalbert Stifter’s Indian Summer is exceeded only by that of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Citadel, a book I defy anyone to finish. In spite – or because – of its lacking readership, Indian Summer is considered Austria’s central contribution to the German-language genre of the Bildungsroman.

Before I read it, I often wondered how it was possible for characters in 19th century novels to sit on benches contemplating landscapes for hours at a time. Afterward I knew, because Stifter showed me the inner workings of their profoundly acid-damaged minds. I began to be fascinated by the most minute, obscure, banal phenomena, because they were all more interesting than Indian Summer.

The book ends surprisingly with an all-hands sex payday. But while the virtuous Heinrich and his worshipful Natalie do a good bit more hugging and kissing than you might expect in a novel of this sort, Baron v. Risach and his long-lost sweetheart Mathilde – knowing they cannot rekindle the flame of youthful passion – choose not to get it on at all.

It’s the 1850s, so I’m thinking the ‘elderly’ baron is maybe 60 at the outside, and he’s fair game. You should see his house! The rose trellis alone takes up 9,000 pages, while the orchard covers 5,000 more, and don’t get me started on the collection of authentic Greek marbles. But beyond being mind-altering, it’s also beautiful and idyllic. Risach is unfailingly a nice guy. He makes his servants, male and female, wear comfortable clothes whether they like it or not, and his own outfit sounds a bit like Walt Whitman’s (linen, scarf, no hat). So I could probably get away with an Empire-style dress for my visit. He devotes his days to the pursuit of art and learning, but there’s no pressure to be witty when he’s showing you around. You just offer observant compliments on his mode of organizing his housekeeping, organic garden, system of birdhouses, etc. We would have such a pleasant time.

Come to think of it, he reminds me of my boyfriend (except for the servants obviously), so maybe I’m not doing so poorly in the late Romantic utopian department after all.’

Nell Zink is the author of ‘The Wallcreeper’ and ‘Mislaid’, both of which will publish this year.

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