Tuesday, 7 April 2009

40. All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque

Remarque’s original title in German was Im Westen nichts Neues: ‘Nothing New in the West’. It is an ironic and terrifying title - while ‘nothing new’ was happening, thousands of men were being slaughtered. In the book it is the headline of an army report on the day of the hero, Paul's, death.

When it came to an English translation, ‘Nothing New in the West’ was felt to be too Teutonic a title. Herbert Read, Remarque’s English editor, wrote to him in 1929: ‘[We] had a discussion…and we came to the conclusion that “All Quiet on the Western Front” was not so bad…I still think it is not so good as the German title, because it is not so neat and incisive. But it is a familiar phrase, and has all the ironic implication of the German title.’ This reveals a rather interesting fact. In 1929 ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ was already a well-worn phrase, and thus it did not originate with Remarque's translated title. It was almost certainly from a parallel source on this side of the Channel, perhaps from the British press, and presumably fulfilled much the same function as the German ‘Im Westen nichts Neues.’

As an odd footnote, Leni Riefenstahl said that Remarque wrote most of the book while staying in her apartment. If that’s true, then the greatest peace-propagandist of the First World War and the greatest war-propagandist of the second shared a bathroom.

Gilbert, Julie Goldsmith: Opposite Attraction: The Lives of Erich Maria Remarque and Paulette Goddard‎ (1995)

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  1. Gary, this email was hilarious. There are indeed several Amherst in the US.. the one I live in has an Emily Dickinson museum, yes indeed!

  2. Thanks Alan - also thanks for the Fahrenheit 451 contribution. That one will run and run, it seems. My first thought is that you would expect a match-head to explode before a piece of paper, since it's designed to be flammable, but I'm willing to be further enlightened.