Elizabeth Gaskell: Six Weeks at Heppenheim

“I had strolled about the dirty town of Worms all morning, and dined in a filthy hotel;”

In many ways a straightforward novelette — described stylishly, traditionally and accessibly, with deceptively hypnotic monotony in places — of a young man, as narrator, who, before starting his potentially monotonous legal career in England, makes some sort of grand tour in Europe on a relatively low budget, and ends up in the eponymous locale near Worms, whereby he stays at an inn near some vineyards, but he soon falls feverishly sick (as abruptly as a baby boy called Max at the inn does later in the story). A widower (with children such as Max) and the widower’s sister, who run the inn together, and one of their housemaids called Thekla, are inferred to take care of the narrator while he is in a coma and later we gradually see through his eyes a growing relationship with these people. And each of their backstories, particularly Thekla’s backstory, starting with a letter she receives from a man whom she has known from their childhood. And the cut and thrust of motives between these various people pan out towards an apparent happy ending, amid the strange laws of the Vineyards in this part of Germany, leading to a Festival of the Vintage with “harvest-hymn”, all of which is wonderfully described, as also are many of the emotions of health and sickness and love and sadness and happiness… but, for me, there are undercurrents, too… a bold inchworm within the grape, or outside it? — a sort of ‘terroir’ (sic)?— 

“The uncurtained window on my left looked into the purple, solemn night.”
….which presages the grapes’ purple stains on the face of baby Max before he becomes ill. The teething of a boy Bacchus?

Thekla — “been run off her legs,…”

“Most likely every one has noticed how inconsistently out of proportion some ideas become when one is shut up in any place without change of scene or thought.”

A serious turning point in the story as elbow-trigger…
“I raised myself on my elbow, and called her back.”

“I could see dots of scarlet, and crimson, and orange through the fading leaves;”

“He was smeared all over with grape-juice, his sturdy fingers grasped a half-eaten bunch even in his sleep.”

“Already one or two of those well-known German carts (in the shape of a V) were standing near the vineyard gates, the patient oxen meekly waiting while basketful after basketful of grapes were being emptied…”

“All night long I dreamt my feverish dream – of the vineyard – the carts, which held little coffins instead of baskets of grapes –“

“Mrs Inchbald’s pretty description of Dorriforth’s anxiety in feeding Miss Milner; she compares it, if I remember rightly, to that of a tender-hearted boy, caring for his darling bird,…”

And resonating with earlier references to Worms…
“– not that he is conscious of pain, poor little worm;”

“Fritz and Thekla lead little Lina up to the Acre of God, the Field of Rest, to hang the wreath of immortelles on her mother’s grave. Peace be with the dead and the living.”

My previous review of Mrs Gaskell as chosen by Aickman: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2021/05/20/the-1st-fontana-book-of-great-ghost-stories-edited-by-robert-aickman/#comment-21903

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Full context of this review: https://nemonymous123456.wordpress.com/the-penguin-books-of-the-british-short-story/

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