They met at a well-attended cultural event in Vienna in 1924: one of the readings-performances of the critic Karl Kraus. She was a cultured and attractive girl, who had something of a “miniature Persian”, as he would recall many years later in his memoirs. Venetiana Taubner-Calderon, Connection, had a Sephardic mother, just like the then aspiring writer and chemistry student Elias Canetti, whom he had been for eight years, and with whom he would end up forming a couple that was proof of nervous breakdowns, bombs and adulteries, because there was everything in his almost three decades of marriage, until Veza’s death in 1963.
But when that first meeting took place in 1924, Elias was living with his younger brother, Georg, in Vienna, and it is precisely the letters that the couple wrote to him in the following decade and until 1948 that allow him to get up close and personal with their lives. conflicts, anxieties and hardships. Letters to Georg. Love, literature and exile in dark times (Galaxia Gutenberg), which arrives tomorrow Wednesday at the bookstores, gathers those letters. And it also shows the unshakable faith of both that Elias Canetti would triumph and their fierce determination to dedicate themselves to literature above all else. In 1981 the author of Mass and power, a fundamental study of the forces that govern societies, and of the novel Self of faith, would win the Nobel.
The new volume covers in 162 epistles the rise of Nazism and the march of Elias and Veza Canetti from Vienna to London, a few months before World War II began, also the hard beginning of their life in England until they managed to establish themselves, the His work begins to be recognized and they connect with a wide circle of intellectuals. From Vienna in March 1938, Veza wrote to his brother-in-law who is studying medicine in Paris: “Here people are classified into Aryans, semi-Aryans, dogs and Jews. Dogs are dealt with by the Humane Society. So you can imagine how happy we are when we receive letters from you or my brother and we see that you care about us. No, he cannot imagine it, it is something that must have been lived ”.
A forgotten author
The letters – published with a foreword by Ignacio Echevarría and originally written in German and English – reveal the brilliant writer that Veza was, a woman who did not achieve success with her novels (two of them, The yellow street Y The turtles, are translated into Spanish), who poured all her overwhelming strength on her husband and who in recent years has been claimed as a forgotten author. Veza signs more than a hundred of the epistles collected in the volume and in them she openly expresses her despair, her immense affection for Georg and her affairs with her husband’s mistresses. “In Vienna in 1937, your brother once went to a masked ball. ‘There is an attractive blonde,’ he told me. ‘What can I do to make him think I’m a man of the world?’ I wonder. And I with a knowing smile explained to your brother how to approach the blonde. And I did it so well that I still have her on me here in London ”, she wrote to her brother-in-law in the 1940s about Friedl Benedikt, a novelist who under the pseudonym Anna Sebastian managed to triumph in post-war London, Canetti’s disciple and admirer with whom he maintained an intense relationship.
In 1934 Veza already wrote to Georg about another of his lovers, the daughter of Alma and Gustav Mahler, Anna: “El Canetti is already a full-fledged bore and very selfish, weaned and independent, he knows how to cope very well without me. He loves me, but he loves Anna more and who would not love her. I myself have completely succumbed to it. ” And he adds: “He assures me that I am a good mother to him and a writer to boot, because I am.” Years later from London, he tries again to assert himself and explains: “Today I want you to know why I have fought; I am not a maniac who always sees the dark side of things, I am brave and insightful, brave to a degree that nobody imagines; except your brother. Yes, I must say this on his behalf, he would never abandon me or betray or humiliate me. However, when he wanted to be with her in pubs, drinking during the Blitz while I forced him to take refuge with me in the kitchen, he kept thinking that she was wonderful and I was nothing but a fearful woman ”.
Canetti himself was aware of the maternal role that Veza occupied after his break with his real mother, a few years before meeting his wife. About the matriarch Canetti he wrote to his brother in 1934: “I am as much in her hands as many other people are in mine. What she is in life, a spider that fascinates (I say this by a spider and without any negative connotation) I am in my books ”. And he adds that from that network that Mathilde Canetti wove, Veza saved him, “who is an equally interesting person, but better than Mom.”
For his part, Georg took care of his mother, and he became a leading specialist in tuberculosis, a disease he suffered and for which he suffered numerous crises, reflected in the letters addressed to him. There are also many requirements for you to send money, make collections among family members, and ask for funds from the third Canetti brother, Jacques, a prominent film promoter and great musical entrepreneur who opted for the chanson.
Already settled in London in the post-war period, Elias Canetti shared his readings and opinions with his brother: “I am writing to you in German, it is not unpleasant for you, is it? Later languages were all superimposed, to tell the truth, also German; what I would like the most is to write in Spanish, but our old Spanish, laugh. It is strange that during the war the two of us separately have frequented Spanish literature. I wanted to recommend you to Gracián, but also to Quevedo, a satirical author who is almost as great as Swift. Not a week goes by now that I don’t read a little Spanish. “