JOURNEY TO THE ABYSS by Laird M. Easton
Kirkus Star

JOURNEY TO THE ABYSS

The Diaries of Count Harry Kessler, 1880-1918
edited by , translated by

KIRKUS REVIEW

Take a grand tour through the Belle Époque without leaving your chair.

Count Harry Kessler’s diaries from 1880 to 1918 bring to life the many highly influential artists, royals and politicians who affected the 20th century in myriad ways. A German born in Paris and educated in England and Germany, he was fluent in all three languages by the time he was 18. Kessler knew and dined with all the major players of that period, including writers, sculptors, artists and the royalty of Germany. In this impressive translation and editing job (which includes copious footnotes), Easton (History/California State Univ., Chico, The Red Count: The Life and Times of Harry Kessler, 2002) depicts a voracious reader who, despite claiming that his interests were completely absorbed by art, still managed to capably discuss philosophy, politics, the classics and even the lovely little bits of court gossip. Kessler often mentions his very low impression of the Grand Duke who wished to control all the arts in Germany. In 1890, after viewing an exhibition of the Artistes Indépendents, he describes the “orgies of hideousness and nerve-shaking combinations of colors I thought impossible outside a madhouse.” Only two years later, Kessler became one of Ambroise Vollard’s best customers, and he couldn’t get enough of Cezanne, Monet, Degas and Renoir. Kessler also published travelogues. Reading his personal journals of his trips—particularly America, Greece and Fiesole, Italy, which he blissfully describes—will convince readers that they must journey there, book in hand, and see these wondrous sights. Kessler’s insightful views of the aesthetic freedom that art provides and of the need to reread books to gauge how much the reader has changed are just samples of his astute outlook. He illuminates the innocent world he inhabited in the years before the horrors of World War I destroy the last vestiges of intelligent “civilization.”

A hefty tome that may prove daunting for some readers, but this is a classic book for the ages to keep and reread.

 

Pub Date: Nov. 15th, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-307-26582-1
Page count: 976pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 2011




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