Meeting a reader of WOMEN AS LOVERS

From a letter home by Bob Corbett
June 8, 1998

[Note from May 2001} I was writing a general note to my family as to what I was up to. This short excerpt from a letter describes a scene that occured rather late in the evening on the S1 Schnellbahn as we were heading home to our apartment in Gerasdorf-bei-Wien. My partner was at the time reading WOMEN AS LOVERS on the train. My description of the encounter is:

We also had an interesting encounter on the Schnellbahn (train) a few days ago. I mentioned I was reading Jelinek's WOMEN AS LOVERS. Turns out the title is a weird translation of the German, which might better be called The Harbingers of Love (where harbingers is a female word). As I indicated in my earlier letter, she is quite a writer, and has recently won an important award. But nearly no one knows her here, she is an avant guarde type. When we went into the English Bookstore to buy whatever books of hers they had the clerk was simply astonished that we knew her. She said almost no one outside Austria knew of her. Turns out few inside Austria knew her either.

So, here we are riding the train home from the city a few days ago and there is this fellow sitting next to me and across from us (seats for four face one another). [My partner] was reading WOMAN AS LOVERS. She noticed this man sort of watching her, but Austrians do that. However, soon he was talking to her in German and finally simply grabbed the book out of her hand and was babbling on. Turns out he is a reader, a professorial type and knew Jelinek's work. He was utterly astonished to see someone reading a book of her's in English, of which he spoke some. He wanted to know the German title. I didn't know then it was a bad translation of the title, so I just retranslated WOMAN AS LOVERS back into German, which, of course,had nothing to do with the title. He finally seemed to have figured it out.

He was utterly dying to talk about it and was really going. He was so excited. Turns out he had written a novel himself and sent it to published in the U.S. (he never said why) and had never heard back. He so wanted to talk, and as time intervened the train voice was announcing our stop. I have some business cards, but didn't have one with me, and we had to jump off. He was clearly disappointed, even quite distraught that we had to get off. But we did and the train took off.

Now we wonder if we'll ever see him again. This was a commuter train way out in the country, so it wouldn't be terribly surprising if we see him again. Now I always carry my cards with me with the address of Webster in Vienna written on it and the phone/fax. Too bad I didn't have one with me.


Bob Corbett