PUBLISHERS OF LITERARY FICTION SINCE 1983
The first German best-seller was Simplicissimus (1668), the ostensible confessions of a rogue during the Thirty Years' War. Since the concept of royalties lay in the future, the anonymous author, since identified as Grimmelshausen, was highly motivated to produce sequels. In the first, a woman whom Simplicissimus had bedded and cheated tells her own ribald adventures to get back at him. Her exploits begin when at 13 and dressed as a boy, she becomes manservant to a young officer, whom she eventually marries on his deathbed so that she can claim his belongings. If that sounds rather conscienceless, it is just a foretaste of things to come. Courage--the name is her euphemism for the only manlike aggressive tool she lacks--can outfight, outwit, and outf--k any man, and she is beautiful. In English, her progeny includes Defoe's Moll Flanders and Roxana, Cleland's Fanny Hill, and Southern and Hoffenberg's Candy; in German, Brecht took her name and period for Mother Courage. In Mitchell's snappy translation, the first since 1912, she is one helluva woman.
A companion volume to Mitchell’s (equally fine) earlier translation of Grimmelshausen’s classic 1688 satire Simplicissimus, this defiantly earthy first-person narrative (which followed it closely, in 1670) contains the “confession” of the resourceful camp follower and entrepreneur who schemed and prospered throughout the carnage of the Thirty Years’ War (1618–48)—and inspired the eponymous heroine of Brecht's epic political play Mother Courage and Her Children In Grimmelshausen’s hands, Courage is a resolutely apolitical survivor: a highborn beauty brought low, who combats social and sexual disenfranchisement and victimization with a gusto that blithely negates her creator's intermittent moralizing, and puts her in a class with Defoe's Moll Flanders. A rich, sly entertainment.
This is one of the jauntiest literary romps ever written; admirers of Fielding will love it. Be warned, she is a likeable, amoral and versatile rogue – predating Daniel Defoe’s Moll Flanders (1722) by 52 years. Her voice is candid, convincing, outrageously funny and more consistently sustained than Moll’s. Courage is no victim of circumstances, she never courts sympathy. Regardless of what she does, the reader cheers her on.
'Set during the 30 Years War, which ripped apart 17th-century Europe, it is a glorious romp telling the story of Courage, a Bohemian girl whose town is overrun. Refusing to become part of the booty, she first survives, then thrives, following the armies and marrying a succession of officers, who are all killed. She uses charm and beauty to to live life on her terms... The novel is a piece of history itself. Not only does it follow the war through its chronology, it makes a wonderful case for an independent woman who enjoys an awful lot of sex with whoever takes her fancy, particularly handsome army officers. While this novel, like the later Moll Flanders, was written by a man, its portrayal is of a remarkably modern woman shackled by the times. Courage did not solely use her beauty, she runs a canteen and traded. Above all she understood through her multiple marriages that she had to keep her own money. The novel contradicts the well-known aphorism; for the past itself is not another country, only our own.'
Nobody would read this book for moral edification, but as an entertaining narrative, spiced with pornography and obscenity, in which a feisty woman uses all her resources to survive in a brutal world. Mike Mitchell, who has also translated Grimmelhausen's masterpiece Simplicissimus, provides a lively rendering of this difficult text.