Permissive love among young men in late autumn Weimar period

Let’s take a look at the content of Stephensbender’s novel “The Temple” (Amazon link ) – INTO THE WORLD THIS BOOK TAKES US: With protagonist Paul Schöner, the novel takes its readers on two longer journeys to Germany in the late Weimar Republic after a brief beginning in England. The year of the first flight is 1929 and the second is November 1932.

Always looking for handsome boys

Stephensbender’s novel The Temple has just been published by Albino Verlag in Berlin

Paul is an Oxford-educated poet. Among his best friends and spiritual relatives, are literary and social radical Simon Wilmot (to whom WH Auden was godfather) and openly gay William Bradshaw (who borrowed heavily from Christopher Isherwood). Paul himself is very wise. Nevertheless, or precisely for this reason, after a short acquaintance with Ernst Stockmann, whom he met at Oxford, he was ready to go to Germany and live as a guest of Stockmann in his house in Hamburg. Stockmann came from a wealthy Jewish family, in whose villa directly on the Alster there are a lot of wonderful photos of v. Gogh, Picasso, Courbet and others can be admired. However, Paul soon became more fascinated with friends of Ernst Stockmann, who lived several times longer than Ernst Stockmann himself.

Paul is captured especially with Joachim Lenz (author in a very direct reference to photographer Herbert List): Joachim, who also comes from a wealthy coffee-trading family, is spontaneous, eccentric, funny and always looking for handsome boys who can help him, she seems very unreflective and simple In its rough nature, it causes strong emotion and inspires him in his dramatic natural shots. Joachim is a talented photographer, but unlike Paul who sees himself as a poet through and through, Joachim does not see himself as an artist – in fact, he is afraid of it.

The emotional fascination of young manhood

What all the main characters in the novel have in common, though they treat them quite differently, is exactly what Joachim Lenz expresses graphically in his images: the passionate fascination with young manhood. In a way, one can say that all the main characters in the book – Paul, Ernst, Joachim, friend of Joachim Willie, and the later emerging “friends” Lothar and Heinrich – are gays. However, this word applies only to conditions. For it is true that the vibration of homosexual sensuality runs through the entire book; However, the sexual performance of this remains implied throughout and, if at all, occurs behind the scenes of the events depicted live. The first paragraph of the book is typical of this:

What Paul loved about Marston was his apparent innocence (he believed very strongly). He noticed this trait the moment he first saw him in Oxford, at the start of their first period together.

Desire is the apparent “innocence” of a young male’s appearance. In ‘Temple’ – and this term clearly refers to the ‘structure’ of the body in the book – there is one very explicit sexual scene, namely between Paul and Ernst Stockmann, where Ernst is very imposing and only Paul during a trip to the Baltic in which the two participate very reluctantly:

He soon noticed that it was easier for his head to respond to Ernst’s progress than it was to his body. Due to some kind of nervous disgust – or perhaps a desire to get rid of the body as quickly as possible – it came very quickly. This was the first time he had slept with anyone. Then he realized that he could not return to his bed until Ernst was satisfied—otherwise he would have done Ernst more harm than if he had rejected him in the first place. So he stayed in Ernst’s bed and Ernst pressed him, confused and struggling hard to reach orgasm. Paul realized that, by Willmott’s standards, he had already failed. His involuntary reaction has proven that he is unable to return love for love’s sake. But he at least thought he could show sympathy by staying with Ernst until he got there. But that went on forever, in the advanced minutes when Ernst struggled for his pointless climax. Paul, who was lying on his side with Ernst holding him half, could not have felt any more if he had been in Hamburg and Ernst in the Altamunde. Yes, he felt a loneliness beyond their limit, even beyond his limit, as if he only existed in that loneliness.

Paul despises Ernst; But above all he despises what is similar to him: repressed and stubborn. At the same time, Paul is magically drawn to the free sensuality that Joachim celebrates. In September 1929, Joachim embarked on a walk on the Rhine, during which the two met Heinrich – the boy who immediately fell in love with Joachim, and who joined the two hikers, especially since he not only courted Joachim, but was also good. He is financially taken care of and whose true history is kept in the dark until the end. In the end, Paul allowed Joachim and Heinrich to complete the journey on their own, as he believed this would upset their cooperation together. What struck Paul in Joachim is also what struck him in Germany.

longing for freedom

In the author’s 1987 footnote, Stephensbender wrote:

To many of my friends and to me, Germany seemed like an uncensored paradise, and young Germans lead extraordinarily liberal lives. By contrast, England was the country where the James Joyce film Ulysses was banned…

A yearning for intellectual and sensory freedom is what prompted Paul Schöner (and his godfather, the author) to take his trips to Germany. However, the second trip to Germany in November 1932 is a completely different country than it seemed in 1929. Phenomena such as anti-Semitism, homophobia, and the activities of paramilitary units far from the state are neatly woven into the first part of the story. In the second part, that is, on Paul’s second trip shortly before Hitler was elected chancellor, they became more and more dominant, so that what seemed to be a hunch during Paul’s first stay became more and more ambiguous:

“I don’t know. Maybe it would be cool, maybe people would realize that what’s important is to live, just to live, to live for life, maybe there is something before us like a new architecture, -one new material world.” He laughed. “Or maybe nothing will come of this, but something terrible, terrible, maybe the end!” He raised his hand and his eyes gleamed as if he was seeing a giant screen showing footage from a final war – the end of it all.

Heinrich, the boy from the Rhine, appears again in Part Two: Meanwhile, Heinrich has joined the SA. When Joachim discovers Heinrich’s costume in his apartment, for which Heinrich has a key, by chance and in Heinrich’s absence, he spits on it from head to toe in disgust, which Heinrich takes revenge, along with SA-Companhorst destroys everything. From Joachim’s furniture he is only able to prevent Joachim from being killed by Horst, who attacks him with a knife.

I found the manuscript by chance

Stephenspender in 1933

In the 1987 appendix, the sommelier says, by chance, that he was able to rediscover the original manuscript of the novel for The Temple, which is based on his own travels to Germany at the end of the Weimar Republic. It resulted in the novel, more than 50 years after the end of the Weimar Republic and more than 40 years after the end of Nazi rule in Germany, which is now available to us with a German translation by Sylvia List as a special blend of biographical, fiction and historical interpretation – the actress herself asserts:

Thus the temple is a complex structure of memory, imagination and subsequent knowledge. Hindsight is certainly the crucial element, because it made me realize upon reading the manuscript how closely the novel relates to 1918 and the First World War, and to revisit it again in 1933 and 1939.

The novel’s strength lies not only in its “retrospective knowledge”, but in the fact that it allows readers to swim with artistic ease in the current of this late stage of the Weimar Republic, marked by violent contradictions, from perspective. For a group of friends inspired by the male Eros. Completely without pity, but with a subtle sympathy for the world and the characters in the story.

Information about the book

Stephenspender: The Structure. a novel. Translated from the English Sylvia List. 304 pages. Albino Publisher. Berlin 2022. Hardcover with dust jacket and tape tag: €22 (ISBN 978-3-86300-337-1). E-book: €15.99

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