Item description for The Class (Dedalus European Classics) by Mike Mitchell Hermann Ungar...
Josef Blau is a high school teacher in pre WWI Prague. Because he comes from a background less priviledged than that of his pupils, he becomes increasingly insecure -- then devastatingly obsessive. Rigid about order and discipline, he senses his pupils watching him, waiting for the slightest weakness; the least infringement, he feels, will lead to the complete collapse of his tightly-ordered world. His other obsession is his attractive wife. Despite her assurances, he cannot believe she will be faithful to him. He forces her to shave her hair and wear shapeless clothes, yet still cannot conquer his fears. Catastrophe looms.
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Drifting into madness Feb 28, 2008
Joseph Blau has an infriroity complex and maintains a rigid regime to keep his world in order. He is convinced his class hate him and want to destroy him and lives in fear believing that every word, every thought has a consequence that is linked to fate. This isn't a comfortable read and you find it hard to sympathise with Blau at times, but Ungar gets into the mind of a madman and the whole story is seen from that viewpoint. 'The Class' is very much of its age;ie between the wars bohemia in thinking style and philosophy. To me this is what makes it a curio of interest. The first World War effectively ended Regal rule-it was part of the class war that had raged in Europe since the French Revolution,and between it and WW2 (the next great realignment of power war) a lot of avante garde work was produced of which this is one. Blau is haunted by his own station in life and that of his superiors.
The Cost of Insecurity Dec 1, 2004
"The Class" is a good reading experience. It's always a bit of a stretch to read a work written over 75 years ago and in another language. Translator Mike Mitchell does a good job of creating the flow and pacing from the original German as it was originally published in 1927. Ungar was a popular novelist before World War II, often mentioned at the time with Kafka. The main character Josef Blau is a secondary schoolteacher at a boys' school. Apparently not all that comfortable as a teacher, he spends a good portion of his time in mental agony over his ability to maintain control of his students. His insecurity also extends to his beautiful wife Selma whom he suspects as having an affair with a blond schoolteacher Herr Leopold who exercises "naked" (i.e. no shirt) with his students. Blau & his wife have a young son born in the midst of the tale, which only heightens Blau's insecurity. When word arrives that one of his students has bought a note which would make the poor teacher indebted to the rich student, Blau's insecurities mushroom resulting in the unfolding of events including his wife shaving her head to show that she is not trying to attract other men. Ungar gives us the flavor of a time when opportunities were limited and people struggled for the little they had. He also delves into some heady theological discussions on the existence of God, which actually has a unifying effect as the tale concludes. I found "The Class" a somewhat difficult although an ultimately rewarding reading experience. Ungar's novel does stand the test of time and does speak to us seven decades after it was written. Enjoy!