Each country has its well-known and loved literary characters whose essence is deeply connected to the identity of a nation or region. This exhibition is about those characters, introducing the fictional world, authors and cultural surrounding of smaller European states. Estonia, Finland, Greece, Hungary and Luxembourg are represented with their literary characters. Learn about the project
“Jim Steller was a drunkard, but that did not harm his reputation; in his milieu vice was too common for attracting attention. Jim’s milieu was the periphery and this periphery was, as it were, the junk room of the old town at whose bottom it lay.” Thus begins Joseph Funck’s novella Kleines Schicksal (Humble Destiny), published in Luxembourg in 1933-34.
Its protagonist Jim Steller makes a living by collecting dog excrements, needed by local tanneries for the production of luxury leather gloves. He belongs to the lowest rank even of the lumpenproletariat living in certain parts of the valley below the center of Luxembourg City until around 1900. Kleines Schicksal narrates the last days of Jim Steller’s life: one morning, he breaks down and is hospitalized in the upper town, where he gets into trouble with respectable society. This conflict ultimately leads to his death. The City is shown as divided into mutually incompatible realms of wealth vs. poverty, luxury vs. squalor, darkness vs. light, up vs. down. By making the reader see the world through the eyes of this humble character, who is depicted with some empathy, Funck shows aspects of Luxembourg which were not normally treated in literature in this way. Because of his graphic description, the character of Jim Steller was transposed into other media: several artists illustrated the novel; it served as a model for photographic motifs; it inspired a musical; and a film adaptation was planned, but not realized.
Kleines Schicksal is a characteristic text of the period between the two world wars. Joseph Funck’s generation was deeply marked by crisis and socio-cultural change: the cataclysm of World War I, the subsequent modernism of the ‘Roaring Twenties’ and, finally, the economic collapse of the Great Depression after 1929. This age-group was dubbed by the German writer Ernst Glaeser as the ‘Generation 1902’, and tellingly 1902 was indeed Joseph Funck‘s birth year. As opposed to the more experimental art of the avantgarde during the first two decades of the 20th century, the interwar period was widely marked by a return to realism and mimesis in literature. The political and economic crisis called, not for the increasingly stale pathos of late expressionism, but for a modern realism, which would hold an objective and critical mirror to its time. ‘Neue Sachlichkeit’ (‘New Objectivity’), ‘Verismo’, ‘Social Realism’ and even ‘Socialist Realism’ were some of the international programmatic rallying cries in the arts. Joseph Funck’s little novel Kleines Schicksal has to be seen in this context. Among his main inspirations were the great narrative works of Russian realism, at the time of writing particularly those of Maxim Gorki. Kleines Schicksal was recognized by its critics as one of the major works of this modern, critical realism in Luxembourg.
Text by Pierre Marson