Gustav Meyrink

Meyrink with border2Gustav Meyer (1868-1932), who wrote as Gustav Meyrink (and officially changed his name to that in 1917), began to publish short stories in Prague in 1901, often in the satirical journal Simplicissimus. He is best known for his novel Der Golem, serialised in Die Weissen Blätter from December 1913 to August 1914; published as a novel in 1915 and first published in a full translation in 1976, and again in 1995, by Mike Mitchell), in which the seventeenth-century legend of the Golem of Prague is manifest again in the nineteenth century; Meyrink’s version clearly owes something to the Frankenstein monster. Das grüne Gesicht (1916; translated by Mike Mitchell as The Green Face in 1992), has the Wandering Jew haunting an apocalyptic landscape; Walpurgisnacht: Phantastischer Roman (1917; translated by Mike Mitchell as Walpurgisnacht in 1993) is set in a fantastic Prague, and Der weiße Dominikaner (1921; translated by Mike Mitchell as The White Dominican in 1994) and Der Engel vom westlichen Fenster (1927; translated by Mike Mitchell as The Angel of the West Window in 1991), are also of interest: see the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction for more information.

Gustav Meyrink was born with the name Gustav Meyer in Vienna, the illegitimate son of an aristocrat and an actress, Marie Meyer. His father, Baron Friedrich Karl Gotlieb Barnbüler von and zu Hemmingen, supplied enough money for his education. As a boy he lived mostly in Munich, and after a brief stay in Hamburg his mother and he moved to Prague, where he stayed twenty years, until 1904. He was, he later said, determined to become “the vainest, most systematic dandy of Prague” (Mitchell, Vivo, 39); he was also a keen sportsman, and apparently the owner of one of Prague’s first cars. An eerie event that occurred and prevented him from committing suicide in 1892 persuaded him to a lifelong interest in the occult; he told the story in the Pilot” (translated in The Dedalus Meyrink Reader.) He was for a while a member of the famous London society, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.

Meyrink worked as a banker, but in 1902 he was charged with fraud. He was imprisoned briefly while the investigation continued, and he was cleared of all charges, and his banking career was over. In 1903 his first book was published, around the same time that he moved from Prague to Vienna (he also spent time in Montreux and Munich). He married (for the second time) in 1905, and had two children. To make ends meet he translated from English; in five years he translated fifteen volumes of Dickens as well as works by Rudyard Kipling and Lafcadio Hearn. He also translated the Egyptian Book of the Dead, and edited a series of books on the occult.

In 1911 Meyrink and his family began living in the small Bavarian town of Starnberg. In 1913 he published a collection of his short stories, Des deutschen Spießers Wunderhorn (“The German Philistine’s Horn”); this contained a number of stories satirising Austrian institutions, and it was banned in 1916 (but see his War Experiences for a full account).

In July 1932 his son, injured very badly in a skiing accident, committed suicide; Meyrink died only six months later, in Starnberg.

My information comes from Wikipedia, and from Mike Mitchell, Vivo: The Life of Gustav Meyrink (Sawtry, Cambs: Dedalus, 2008). Mike Mitchell has translated five or Meyrink’s novels for Dedalus, and a collection of short stories (The Opal). He has also edited for them The Dedalus Meyrink Reader (2010).


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