Florian Illies

1913 The Year Before the Storm - by Florian Illies
audio and text extracts

The extracts are taken from the book and audiobook “1913 - The Year Before the Storm” by Florian Illies. We would like to thank Profile Books Ltd. for permission to use the material on this website.


‘The gunshot at midnight. Cries in the alley and on the bridge. Ringing bells and clock chimes.’ A report from Prague: Dr Franz Kafka, a clerk with the Workers’ Accident Insurance Company for the Kingdom of Bohemia. His audience in faraway Berlin, in the apartment at 29 Immanuelkirchstrasse, is a lone individual, but to him she is the whole world: Felice Bauer, twenty-five, a bit blonde, a bit bony, a bit gangling. Audio Symbol
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Exactly two weeks later, the next general rehearsal in that very special May in Paris – Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées. This time Harry Graf Kessler doesn’t even go to the rehearsal, heading instead straight to the post-rehearsal party at the Larue restaurant – with Nijinsky, with Maurice Ravel, with André Gide, with Diaghilev, with Stravinsky, ‘where the general view was that the première tomorrow evening would cause a scandal’. And so it did. Audio Symbol
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On 13 November, Swann’s Way, the first volume of Marcel Proust’s great novel In Search of Lost Time, is published. After the book was turned down not only by the Fasquelle and Oldenbourg publishing houses and the Nouvelle Revue Française but also by André Gide, the then editor at Gallimard, Proust had the book published by Grasset at his own expense. No sooner does he hold the first copy in his hands than his chauffeur and lover Alfred Agostinelli splits up with him. Audio Symbol
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On 25 December, issue 52 of Die Schaubühne published the poem “City Christmas”, by Kurt Tucholsky, alias Theobald Tiger. It portrays Christmas as a bourgeois drama in which people no longer have feelings, only roles. Audio Symbol
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Florian Illies

1913 heralds a new age of unlimited possibility. Kafka falls in love; Louis Armstrong learns to play the trumpet; a young seamstress called Coco Chanel opens her first boutique; Charlie Chaplin signs his first movie contract; and new drugs like cocaine usher in an age of decadence.

Yet everywhere there is the premonition of ruin - the number 13 is omnipresent, and in London, Paris, Vienna, Berlin, Trieste, artists take the omen and act as if there were no tomorrow, their brief coincidences of existence telling of a darker future. In a Munich hotel lobby, Rilke and Freud discuss beauty and transience; Proust sets out in search of lost time; and while Stravinsky celebrates the Rite of Spring with industrial cacophony, in Munich an Austrian postcard painter by the name of Adolf Hitler sells his conventional cityscapes.

1913 - The Year before the Storm (Clerkenwell Press, 2013)