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Underworld with Fallada


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Published in January 2014, by Penguin Classics in London, the Tales from the Underworld bring to the light not only never-published before short stories, but an other facet of the immense talent of Hans Fallada.

29 short-stories are presented over the 320 pages - needless to say this is a mandatory purchase!- stories that have been written from 1913 to 1946. 

The novels are :

The Wedding Ring


Tales from the Underworld

Farmers in the Revenue Office

Kubsch and His Allotment

Mother Lives on Her Pension

A Burglar’s Dreams Are of His Cell

Why Do You Wear a Cheap Watch?

On the Lam

I Get aJob

A Bad Night

The Open Door

War Monument or Urinal?

Happiness and Woe

With Measuring Tape and Watering Can

The Lucky Beggar

Just Like Thirty Years Ago

Fifty Marks and a Merry Christmas

The Good Pasture on the Right

The Missing Greenfinches

Food and Grub

The Good Meadow

Calendar Stories

The Returning Soldier

The Old Flame

Short Treatise on the Joys of Morphinism

Three Years of Life

Svenda, a Dream Fragment; or, My Worries

Looking for My Father 


To the exception of "Looking for my Father", so far none of these stories have been translated into French (1).

We are delighted to offer to our readers the Foreword written by Prof. Jenny Williams for that book (found on google books):



Hans Fallada wrote some ninety short stories during his lifetime. This anthology opens with the first story Fallada published, ‘The Wedding Ring’, which appeared in August 1925. It also includes one of his last stories, ‘The Old Flame’, which was published in November 1946, three months before his death.

Looking back on his career as a writer, Fallada declared in a radio broadcast in 1946 that ‘everything in my life ends up in my books’. This statement applies not only to his novels but also to his shorter fiction, for the themes of the stories in this volume are drawn to a large extent from the turbulent life of Rudolf Ditzen (1893—1947), the man behind the pen name Hans Fallada.

Ditzen’s experience of working on the estates of the landed gentry in central and eastern Germany during the years 1913 to 1925 forms the basis of stories such as ‘The Open Door’ and ‘Food and Grub’. It was his addiction to morphine and experimentation with cocaine during and immediately after the First World War that lends such an air of authenticity to the account of drug addiction in ‘A Short Treatise on the Joys of Morphinism’. Unable to sustain such an expensive habit on the modest income of a steward, Ditzen was twice imprisoned for embezzlement in the 1920s. In prison he became acquainted with the lives of petty criminals and this encounter provided the material for ‘Tales from the Underworld’ and ‘Three Years of Life’, as well as ‘Looking for My Father’.

Ditzen’s struggle to find work after leaving prison in 1928 is reflected in ‘I Get a Job’. He eventually found employment as a journalist in Neumünster in Schleswig—Holstein. ‘War Monument or Urinal?’ is based on his experience of the politics of a small town in Germany a the end of the 1920s, and ‘Fifty Marks and a Merry Christmas’ contains echoes of his first Christmas as a married man in 1929.

January 1930 saw Ditzen in Berlin, where the publisher of his first two novels, Ernst Rowohlt, had offered him a job in his reviews department. It was here that he witnessed the effects of the Great Depression on the lives of ordinary people in the city, such as the woman in ‘Mother Lives on Her Pension’ and the salesmen in the two stories ‘With Measuring Tape and Watering Can’ and ‘The Lucky Beggar’.

In the autumn of 1933, Ditzen and his family moved to the remote village of Carwitz in the Mecklenburg Lake District, some eighty miles north of Berlin, in an attempt to escape the political and social turmoil that attended the Nazis’ rise to power in the capital. ‘The Good Pasture on the Right’, which Fallada regarded as one of his best short stories, is set close to Carwitz and reflects the author’s observation of the problems facing small farmers in the area.

‘Svenda, a Dream Fragment’ was composed in a Nazi psychiatric prison in the autumn of 1944. It forms part of the Prison Diary that Ditzen wrote in an almost indecipherable hand and managed to smuggle out under his shirt. The entry for 1 October opens with this story and it is clearly based on the previous night’s dream. Its subtitle, ‘My Worries’, reflects the crisis in which he found himself. His first marriage had ended in divorce in the summer of 1944. Alcoholism and depression had taken a heavy toll on his health, and he had been incarcerated for observation and with no date for release in a Nazi institution that practised sterilization and euthanasia. The mysterious figure of Svenda bears some resemblance to his second wife, Ulla, whom he had met earlier that year. The description of the ruins of Berlin is based on his first-hand experience of walking through the city in February 1944, when he was undergoing treatment for depression.

‘The Returning Soldier’ deals with a common problem in the aftermath of war and also refers to the Democratic Land Reform, which expropriated the large estates of the former landowners and redistributed the land among small farmers. This proved to be a very popular measure in the Soviet Zone of Occupation in 1946. Kurt Karwe in ‘The Good Meadow’ benefits directly from this policy and feels that ‘life was just beginning for him’ as a result.

Fallada’s shorter fiction often relates in fascinating ways to the author’s longer prose works. There are stories in this volume that are partially or completely recycled in later novels. The closing scene in ‘A Burglar’s Dreams Are of His Cell’ (1931) anticipates Kufalt’s return to prison in Once a Jailbird (1934), and chapter six of the novel contains an echo of the ‘funny money’ scene in ‘A Visu to Jemmy-Max’s’ (1928). ‘The Open Door’ (1932) appears in a shortened form in Once We Had a Child (1934), where it is the newly wed Elise Gäntschow who suffers from her tyrannical husband’s obsession with closing doors. Fallada incorporates the material of ‘A Bad Night’ (1931) into Wolf Among Wolves (1937).

In one case a story offers a glimpse of an early work that has not survived. ‘Passion’ is based on Ria. A Short Novel, which Rowohlt’s editor Franz Hessel rejected in 1923. Two years later Fallada reworked the material into the short story ‘Passion’ and sent it to a rival publisher, who seems to have rejected this version, too, for it was not published until some twenty years after the author’s death.

‘Happiness and Woe’ provides an insight into the creative process that produced the bestselling Little Man What Now? (1932). The story represents an earlier and radically different version of an episode towards the end of the novel when the unemployed protagonist and his family are living illegally in an allotment on the outskirts of Berlin. A comparison of the two versions shows that Fallada chose a more conventional ending for the novel, a choice that was to contribute significantly to its success.

Although Fallada frequently insisted that he preferred the scope offered by a novel to the constraints of shorter prose works, he nevertheless continued to write shorter fiction. Following the publication of his first two novels, Young Goedeschal (1920) and Anton and Gerda (1923), his early short stories were part of a strategy to establish himself as a writer. After the success of A Small Circus (1931) and, particularly, Little Man What Now?, he was inundated by requests for stories from a range of newspapers, magazines and literary journals.

However, as the Nazi Party began to tighten its grip on cultural life in Germany, the outlets for Fallada’s short stories gradually disappeared. In the meantime, Rudolf Ditzen had discovered, like Kurt Karwe in ‘The Good Meadow’, that ‘children are the only real riches in this life’. The stories that he invented to entertain his children gave him the idea for his first volume of children’s stories. Published in 1936, this consisted of seven stories, including ‘The Missing Greenfinches’. A second volume of children’s stories followed in 1938. During the war years Fallada published two short works of young adult fiction, and while in prison in 1944 he wrote a story about Fridolin the badger for his eleven-year-old daughter, Lore. Children’s stories allowed the author to create a world in which justice reigns and good generally triumphs over evil. In ‘The Missing Greenfinches, young Thomas is brought up to respect all living creatures and to reject the cynical doctrine of ‘might is right’. in the fictional world of children’s literature, Fallada was able to make the kind of plea for humanity that could no longer be made in the public arena in Germany.

In the immediate post-war period, Ditzen and his second wife found themselves in the Soviet sector of Berlin. Here they received support from the cultural authorities that in 1945 were keen to enlist all non-Nazi writers and artists in the construction of a new Germany. Ditzen had not survived the war unscathed, for both he and especially his wife were heavily addicted to morphine. He spent the last seventeen months of his life in poor health, moving between clinics, hospitals and home among the rubble and chaos of post-war Berlin. The daily newspapers in the Soviet sector paid extremely well and provided a most welcome source of income. This no doubt accounts for the fact that Fallada published twelve short stories as well as other short prose works, in addition to the two novels The Nightmare (1946) and Alone in Berlin (1947), between December 1945 and his death in February 1947. Given the speed at which the later stories were written, it is not surprising that some are of little literary merit, the rehashing of the Ria story in ‘The Old Flame’ being a prime example.

The fables and morality tales of the ‘Calendar Stories’ (1946) marked a new departure for Fallada. Here he draws on a tradition that originated in the religious stories incorporated in the folk calendars of sixteenth-century Germany. This type of edifying tale gradually developed into a short story sub-genre in its own right, as illustrated by Johann Peter Hebel’s The Treasure Chest of 1811. Fallada concludes each of his fine ‘Calendar Stories’ with an explicit moral, in which he gives expression to his humanist principles.

Fallada’s short stories attracted attention outside Germany during his lifetime. In the autumn of 1932, a Mr G. E. Halliday from the Curtis Brown literary agency in London approached Rowohlt for permission to translate some of Fallada’s shorter fiction. Between 1933 and 1936 a number of stories appeared in newspapers and magazines in England. In January 1936, Halliday’s translation of ‘Fifty Marks and a Merry Christmas’ appeared under the title ‘Wishing is Free’ in The Argosy, a magazine devoted to short stories. This story even made its way across the Atlantic to the USA, where it was included in a reader for students of German in 1937. The following year the Oxford University Press included ‘I Get a Job’ in its Modern German Short Stories, where the title was translated as ‘I Find Work’. In this anthology Fallada found himself in the company of Thomas Mann, Ricarda Huch, Franz Kafka and Arthur Schnitzler, among others. The inclusion of Fallada’s short story in this prestigious volume was evidence of Fallada’s standing as a German writer in the English-speaking world at the time. It was also an indication that not everyone shared the author’s reservations about his shorter fiction. In January 1939, the London publisher Robert Hale announced his intention to buy the translation rights to Fallada’s second volume of children’s stories. The outbreak of the Second World War put paid to such plans, however, and it has taken a further seventy-four years for the first collection of Fallada’s short stories to appear in English.

The stories in this volume are populated with characters close to Fallada’s heart: the ordinary man and woman in the street who bear the brunt of economic and political crises, the victims of the criminal justice system, the weak and the powerless, who are trapped in situations from which they cannot escape, as well as the children who bear the hope for the future. Fallada’s acute observation of the human condition finds expression in a particularly concentrated way in the shorter fiction form. And through it all flows the author’s commitment to human decency and his unflagging belief in the power of the human spirit. Or, as he put it in his sixth ‘Calendar Story’: ‘victories won by force are not lasting. Lasting victories are only obtained by love and patience and common sense.’

Jenny Williams, 2013

(1) Je cherche mon vieux, traduction de Marie Bouquet, in Collectif, Perdus / Trouvés, Anthologie de littérature oubliéeMonsieur Toussaint Louverture, Toulouse (2007).