Discoveries: Friedrich Delius

By Susan Salter ReynoldsFebruary 25, 2012

Discoveries: Friedrich Delius

Portrait of a Mother as a Young Woman by Friedrich Christian Delius

ENOUGH FIRST WORLD PROBLEMS: this stunning novella follows a young pregnant woman as she wanders through the streets of Rome in January 1943. Her husband, a lance corporal, has been sent to the African front. Marguerita is 21, a country girl from a small German town. She is filled with gratitude and forces her fears to the margins as she wanders, noticing Roman families, griffins, heraldic beasts, old women, young children, and, of course, the fountains.

She tries to make sense of the war and its reasons, and cannot. Marguerita reminds a reader of that other great wanderer, Leopold Bloom. Paragraphs flow into each other; thoughts tumble like waterfalls from memory to memory. But Marguerita, pregnant, is living very much in the present. She doesn’t know (even if we do) what her future will hold.

…yes, this was a lovely hour, she was incredibly lucky, she received her letters fairly regularly, she had his photograph, from morning till evening she felt his presence in her child and in all her thoughts and feelings, but his voice was missing, she became immediately aware of this, for nine weeks she had not heard his voice speak, whisper, sing….

She has a childlike Christian faith that brings her comfort and us, her observers, an odd maternal sorrow. We worry about this little mother, so alone in the world. The novella captures a stillness in time, a moment before a birth in the middle of a war. There is no sound of bombs in the distance, no hint of genocide. Marguerita is clueless, isolated, in love.


LARB Contributor

Susan Salter Reynolds is a book critic and writer who lives in Los Angeles and Vermont. She has three children: Sam, Ellie, and Mia.


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