3 thoughts on “The Dead Girls’ Class Trip (Selected Stories) by Anna Seghers


    “…you could see a mirror image of the bridge in the brown water under the bridge span, as well as indistinct glints of the young boys who had drowned the previous summer while playing this game still climbing nimbly around between its piers.”

    This utterly consuming tale of this seven year old boy’s parallel death and life as a Zeno’s Paradox of time also tells of the unbearable stoicism of his parents’ close-ordered and unsatisfying marriage of yellow door-handle and geraniums, too small a dwelling house, attritionally unsatisfying marriage beyond their single moment of being sweethearts.
    Another parallel exists between the state of this marriage and the attritional state of the boy’s literally ‘going’ to die, going towards some endlessly ungraspable catharsis of the original dive from the bridge — only endless, though, until the potential hindsight of a Lordly One of Despair that I feel his father might grow into while looking at his son’s grave…
    In fact, this story seems to be a parallel, too, to Daphne du Maurier’s story ‘The Lordly Ones’, whereby the boy, it is implied, yearns to suckle on his mother’s breast (just as the neuro-diverse boy was allowed to suckle a new golden mother in the du Maurier), with Jans, here, this seven year old boy, being indeed allowed to watch a new baby sister — while in his attritional, almost forgettable state of existence — being thus suckled…
    … and his mother yearning to allow her son to suckle her, too?

    Until, at the catharsis, “; he forgot his mother and her breast;”
    “His little soul was too small a dwelling to house this large guest.”


    “The red zigzags of the screams were by now scarred over in the courtyard.”

    A highly poignant novella of this impoverished family in an area where a street called Betzelsgasse, if not Betelgeuse, existed. Not a supernova, indeed, but still, a creative deadpan listing, in delicately felt prose, of sun motes, other lights, colours, cracks, grates, and sounds of scraping plates, and more, all of which set the setting of young Marie who did woolcraft and knitwear for meagre money, till the orders ran out. And a story of her mother and father, her elder sister with her boyfriend obsessed with touching this sister’s breast, and two younger brothers. All perfectly characterised. One small brother, like Jans, in sexual touch with his mother at bathtime… We follow the audit trail of each of them, comings and goings, with ups but mainly downs, towards eventual death. With walls almost prehensilely constricting. Not forgetting the father’s relationship with his unsympathetic business partner and the latter’s shiny letter scale that Marie’s father had an impulse to use as a weapon, I infer. A tiny dot between the eyes toward red spots of sunlight. Cracks to slip through, grates to force food through and be punished for. Tears in faces as well as tears in wallpaper. Mother scrubbing through the floor. Another bridge for boys to play on. Nostrils full of bread. Scenes at railway station and cinema to be cherished. Rooms that need anchoring. Furniture that gets an upper hand. An unfathomable wilderness of colours. Time condensing and running down the walls in pearls.
    A tactile pointillism.

    “…she realized that the darkness was light and soft; she was the one who was as heavy as lead.”


    “Fold your hands!”

    A short jab of prose pain from 1933 Germany, as those taken by the SA Troop, those who were originally in the narrator’s cell …. and the Zieglers from the neighbouring cell— literally! Tortured to recite parrot-fashion the eponymous prayer, except one of them rebels by a different incantation, and he is tortured till his voice is as faraway as possible, but we can still hear him… stories have thin walls between them, I guess.

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