ODYSSEY OF A BARBARIAN: The Biography of George Sylvester Viereck by Elmer Gertz

ODYSSEY OF A BARBARIAN: The Biography of George Sylvester Viereck

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When Gertz, a noted civil liberties lawyer and author of books on Frank Harris and Henry Miller, originally wrote this biography, some 30 years ago, Viereck was much in the news; today, he has slipped into an obscurity which many may find deserved. The son of an illegitimate offspring of the Hohenzollern dynasty, Viereck became, by age 20, a rising star in American poetry. By the time World War I rolled around, this disciple of Wilde and Swinburne was editing several literary periodicals--including The International--and was recognized by many as a leading figure in American poetry, though he was not yet 30. This literary fame suddenly gave way to political infamy, however, as Viereck took up the cause of his ancestral homeland, writing and agitating in favor of U.S. neutrality. A series of blunders and indiscretions, coupled with U.S. entry into the fray against Germany, saddled him with charges of traitorous inclinations. After the war, inspired in part by motives of revenge, Viereck became a highly paid journalist, specializing in interviews with famous personages from Einstein to Mussolini, and continued as a literary advocate of sexual freedom and Freud. Once again attaining a measure of literary recognition, he repeated his previous pattern and took up the support of Hitler, whom he interviewed more than once. This time, when war broke out, Viereck was convicted of pro-Nazi propaganda and sent to prison. Gertz has added a final chapter which takes the story through the war years and the last uneventful period in Viereck's life, which ended in 1962, though this chapter consists mainly of excerpts of correspondence between himself and Viereck (the original manuscript remained unpublished because no publisher would touch anything having to do with Viereck). As a story of a gifted poet turned yellow journalist and propagandizer, this story retains its interest, but Gertz's assumption of a basic level of common knowledge about his subject and his writings, though justified when the book was written, is no longer valid. Gertz makes large claims for Viereck's status as a poet, popularizer of Freud, and novelist, but the different levels of Viereck's persona remain separate and appear contradictory--a unified picture of Viereck as a unique individual fails to emerge. Still, he has set the stage for a renewal of interest in this enigmatic figure, which is enough for now.

Pub Date: Feb. 27th, 1979
Publisher: Prometheus