Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Joseph Roth's Literary "Soundtrack"

I have now finished the second of the three parts according to which Joseph Roth structured his novel, The Radetzky March. I have been struck by some of the ways in which he controls the "background music" for his plot line. True to the title of the novel, the "Radetzky-Marsch" of Johann Strauss (the elder) occurs early and often, both in performance and in memory. However, I have been amused to observe that, as the Emperor Franz Joseph I makes more and more of a presence in the book, the reader begins to encounter performances of "Gott erhalte Franz den Kaiser," making it a point to treat the character in fiction the same way he subjects treated him in real life. Here, however, there is an irony: Only a few pages after the reader "hears" the "Kaiserhymne" for the first time, he then encounters "The Internationale" being sung by a popular uprising. Roth has made it a point to underscore those changes that are disrupting the world with appropriate changes in his "soundtrack!"

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