The title “White Plains” has at least a couple of meanings. Besides describing the snow-napped landscape of New England and beyond, it refers to the location of the psychiatric clinic where Annemarie Schwarzenbach was confined in January 1941. Her typescript bears the notation “Jahreswechsel in U.S.A” — New Year in the U.S.A. She had tried to strangle her girlfriend, Margot von Opel, in the Pierre Hotel in New York in October 1940. In November Schwarzenbach’s father died in Switzerland and she attempted suicide with a bottle of whiskey, a half bottle of Canadian Club, sleeping pills and Benzedrine. Entering a clinic in Greenwich, Connecticut, she was put in a straitjacket but nonetheless managed to escape back to New York. A second confinement for three days in Bellevue Hospital led to her transfer to a private clinic in White Plains, Westchester County. Some of the elation with space in the story “White Plains”, with being lost at the side of the road in the woods, comes from having escaped the clutches of three psychiatric institutions. The “shouts soon muffled by the powers that be, prisoners caught up in a cycle of reprisal, punishment and fresh torment” still echo in the mind of the writer on board ship to Lisbon - deported from the US, never to return. By June 1941 Annemarie Schwarzenbach was in Brazzaville in the Free French Territories of West Africa and by November 1942 she was dead.
Schwarzenbach’s writing moves fluently between the poetic and the reportorial and often her sentences don’t much distinguish between the two modes. While at times influenced by Hemingway’s short, affectless observations (fresh off the page in the ‘twenties and ‘thirties), Schwarzenbach more often deploys the long, looping, piled-up sentence typical of a certain kind of high German style that has had its wings clipped later in the century. This rhetorical flourish, literary with a capital L, can lead the translator into redundancies and poetic prose, mere word pictures. Lyrical was the adjective frequently used about Schwarzenbach’s gift during her lifetime, and her second unfortunately-timed book is titled Lyrische Novelle (1933).
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