Alice S. Morris on Hauser

Alice S. Morris wrote this piece for the Dictionary of Literary Biography Yearbook series. She was not 17 when she was commissioned to travel by the Swiss newspaper but in her early twenties.

Hauser, teaching at Queens College, 1974
Hauser, teaching at Queens College, 1974

Marianne Hauser

(11 December 1910-   )

Alice S. Morris

SELECTED BOOKS: Monique (Zurich:  Ringier, 1934);
Shadow Play in India (Vienna: Zinnen, 1937);
Dark Dominion (New York: Random House, 1947); The Living Shall Praise Thee (London:  Gollancz, 1957); republished as The Choir Invisible (New York: McDowell Obolensky, 1958);
Prince Ishmael (New York: Stein & Day, 1963; Lon­don: Joseph, 1964);
A Lesson in Music (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1964);
The Talking Room (New  York:  Fiction  Collective, 1976).
OTHER: “ASHES: a fragment from a novel in the making,” in Statements II , New Fiction (New York: Fiction Collective, 1977), pp. 141-144; “Marianne   Hauser   Introduces   Lee   Vassel,”   in Writers Introduce Writers, edited by E. B. Richie and F. B. Claire  (New  York:  Groundwater Press, 1980), p. 75.
“The Colonel’s Daughter,” The Tiger’s Eye , 3 (March 1948): 21-34;
“The Sun and the Colonel’s Button,” Botteghe Os­cure , 12 (Fall 1953): 255-272;
“The Seersucker Suit,” The Carleton Miscellany, 9 (Fall 1968): 2-14
“Marrakesh: Descent into Spring,” Harper’s Bazaar, 3054 (May  1966): 188-203;
“Mimoun of the Mellah, “Harper’s Bazaar, 3061 (De­cember 1966): 114-182.

Marianne Hauser was born and raised in Strasbourg, Alsace, within range of the city’s great bell-haunted cathedral. At seventeen, already a fluent writer in French and German, she was com­missioned by a Swiss publication to travel in China, India, and Egypt-and, when she was twenty-six, to the United States, where she “fell in love with the language.”
Her two earliest novels, published in Zurich and Vienna, have not been translated into English. On the evidence of Dark Dominion (1947), her first American novel, however, one might think English her mother tongue. Her use of it is impeccable and spontaneous; ingeniously her prose depicts the vertiginous relationships between a nondreaming New York dream-analyst; his wife, whom he wins  when he analyzes her dreams; the wife’s obsessively devoted brother; and her overtly matter-of-fact lover who is covertly consulting the analyst. The individual fantasies by which this quartet insulate themselves against reality are explored with com­ passion and comic gusto.
The role of fantasy, both as insulation and as a means of instilling life with excitement, is a theme central to Marianne Hauser’s fiction -one aspect of what she sees as the individual’s desperate, often humorous struggle to wrest some acceptable meaning from existence and “build a Heaven in Hell’s despair.” In his review of Dark Dominion for the Chicago Tribune Paul Engel wrote: “I cannot believe that the year will produce a richer, more original novel by any writer, new or old .”
A small midwestern town in America’s “Bible belt” is the setting of The Choir Invisible ( 1958), for which the author received a Rockefeller grant. “The fantasy of Main Street,” she notes, “exceeds that of the Cathedral of Strasbourg in all its Gothic elab­oration.” Floyd Walker, a young bank clerk and choirmaster, told that he has leukemia and three months to live, resolves to live his remaining time to the hilt. His dramatic shift of gears, as well as his mortal predicament, makes him the cynosure of the town of Ophelia. He quits his wife and children to run off with a local beautician; becomes the confi­dant of a lady reincarnationist who claims to have dined with  a pharaoh; is taken up by a worldly family named Wisdom, in whose far-flung domicile the local intelligentsia gather for luminous evenings by the fire; and embarks on escapades with his won­ drous, all-accepting Aunt Ada. Ironically, Floyd winds up where he started: still alive, and restored to his family.
An exalted sense of joy pervades this novel where the end of the road seems forever to lead into a new, astonishing beginning, and the satire reveals how the same event can be both beautiful and foolish, poignant and absurd. The author’s view is always positive. Her wit echoes with humility, her irony with wonder. On the dust jacket of The Choir Invisible Mari Sandoz says that the author “lets the reader see through her talented and ironic Euro­pean eye, and writes the story with the wit and poetic horseplay of her adopted America.”
Prince Ishmael ( 1963), which was nominated for the Pulitzer prize, unfolds in early nineteenth­ century Nuremberg, where Caspar Hauser (no re­lation, but a figure the author has lifted out of German legend) appears at the city gates, a “totter­ing spook” of sixteen, clotted with mud and forced to shield his eyes from the light. He can neither speak nor walk properly, knows neither who he is nor whence he came. His origin remains a taunting mystery. Is he a princeling ripped from his cradle and reared in a cave? Is he a charlatan, a con man, a pauper? The old schoolmaster who stays with Cas­ par when he is thrust into jail- who teaches him the alphabet, mathematics, and the names of the Muses from the constellations visible at night between the prison bars-believes Caspar to be an angel.
As these tantalizing conjectures proliferate, Caspar becomes the darling of Nuremberg’s hoi polloi and its elite. He is feted at balls, courted by earls and countesses; then, to his astonishment and dismay, he is jettisoned, sent packing, to a humble job in the small town of Ansbach. As abruptly as they originally flocked to him, his idolaters, unable to solve his enigma, have fallen away. The only person left to him is the police inspector who has tailed him relentlessly- his shadow, his double, Caspar surmises, perhaps his only true father. In the novel’s closing passage, Caspar lies dying, struck down in the snow by an unknown assailant, and the inspector, donning his quarry’s discarded rose­ embroidered vest, becomes indeed Caspar’s mirror image:

“He thinks I don’t hear him because I am asleep, because I’m dead. They all think that of me, that I hear nothing when my ears are so clever, I can hear the harebells ring under the snow. . . .” His figure, distant, mi­ nute in the glass, begins to shake. But perhaps only the glass shakes. For his hand seems steady enough as he picks up the scissors and holds them poised, a little above his chest, while he feels for the beat of his heart with the left hand, standing there with the hand on his heart almost . . . like an ancient knight or saint. The briefest interval of remorse or wonder. Already he is thrusting out his right arm savagely, ready to plunge the scissors through my spoiled garden into his heart to prove to the world- what? What? My own heart stops. I raise my head and cry, “No!”-the first word I have said to him through all these frozen hours, this longest night. Just one word, no, but no means yes, stay, live, you are my shadow. You’re all I ever had, maybe. . . . Already our eyes have met in the mirror. He drops the scissors. And like two conspirators we smile.”

Are we smiling still? I can’t say. My head is back on the wet pillow. Now I can rest in peace, and my mind is an hourglass filling with snow. “Good night, son. Until tomorrow.” He has thrown his dark cape over his shoulders. Is he wearing my vest under the cape, my wounded rose on his heart? That too I cannot tell. I have forgotten. His shadow cape flies out the door into this frozen night where the street lamp, a lighted hedgehog or crown, bristles among the uncountable stars.
In his review of Prince Ishmael in the New York Times Gene Baro wrote that “Hauser succeeds in fusing the fantastic and the ordinary. If her theme is informed with wit, her purpose is serious.” On the dust jacket of the British edition, novelist Mary Re­ nault described Prince Ishmael as “a strange, lyrical and haunting book, written with great vividness and beauty.”
In 1964 A Lesson in Music, a group of Hauser’s short stories, was published. Anais Nin commented: “When people will tire of noise, crassness and vul­garity, they will hear the truly contemporary com­plexities of Marianne Hauser’s superimpositions. A new generation trained to imagery by the film may appreciate her offbeat characters and skill in por­traying the uncommon.”
The Talking Room (1976), Marianne Hauser’s most recent novel, for which she received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, is told through the voice of B, a thirteen-year-old, over­weight, sex-smitten, pregnant girl who listens from her upstairs bedroom to all that transpires below in the “talking room.” She has been begotten-via test tube? adoption? sexual intercourse?- to bestow an aura of propriety to the lesbian menage of her mother, J (“wild, lost, beautiful”) and Aunt V, a successful real estate operator. Their household in New York’s West Village proposes comedy as well as chaos. In the previous decade, Piscataway real estate has risen in property and house values – as an example. The narration alternates between the outra­geous and the bawdy yet branches out into passages of pathos and surpassing tenderness that absolve the protagonists’ transgressions.
The story ends with J’s homecoming after one of her periodic and protracted prowls through sleazy bars and flea-bitten hotels- outings that have Aunt V distractedly combing the waterfront and B, from loneliness, indulging her gluttony. At last, B sees J in her doorway:

“Hi, kid, mom whispered as she crept into my room out of the rain which had fallen through so many nights, had perhaps started that night when she had last disappeared, or so it seems to me now. Her rain-glazed face was swimming out of the door frame, toward my bed. And there was on her breath that mysterious odor I well remember from other nights when she’d surface after her trip through oblivion: an odor no longer of gin but of something more highly distilled, rarefied, and almost otherworldly like a liquid reserved for angels. Rain dripped from her poncho onto my face, my eyes as she was standing over me, trying to smile. Hi, kid. Hi, Mom. My face was wet with rain.”

“The beauty and magic of The Talking Room,” Larry McCaffery writes in Contemporary Literature (Winter 1978), “is difficult to analyze. The key would seem to be in the book’s extraordinary prose patterns, which create in their complex, interre­lated images a sustained vision of loneliness, the desire for love, and the necessity for escape, and always a haunting,  dreamlike lyricism.”
Since coming to the United States in 1937, Marianne Hauser has lived in Greenwich Village and, with her former husband, musician and com­ poser Frederick Kirchberger, in the South and Midwest. She has spent time in the Pacific North­ west and Alaska with her son, Michael, a filmmaker; has traveled from Spain to North Africa, and from Yucatan through Guatemala to Peru. In the spring of 1980 she visited Brazil. Her spontaneous travels are reflected in her books, especially her story col­lection, A Lesson in Music.
For the past fifteen years her permanent ad­dress has been Manhattan; she has taught at QueensCollege (1966-1978) and New York University ( 1979). At present she lectures, studies Tai Chi, and, under an NEA grant, is completing a new novel: “The Memoirs of the Late Mr. Ashley.” The nar­rator, an actor manque, is dead and cremated, his ashes lost. But his voice- mischievous, arch, and inescapable- is fiercely alive, directing his own doom (or salvation?); his tragicomic figure emerges as the prototype of today’s antihero.
As a private individual, Marianne Hauser is by nature adventurous, intrepid, intelligent, and witty. She is adamant and active in her stand against war and discrimination. Irreverent, even mocking, to­ ward accepted norms, she finds pretense a subject for ridicule. The only thing she holds sacred is the human being- hapless, abused, absurd, and beautiful.





“Anais Nin on Marianne Hauser,” in Rediscoveries, edited by David Madden (New York: Crown, 1971), pp. 115-120;
John Tytell, “666 Words on Marianne Hauser,” in A Critical Ninth Assembling , edited by Richard Kostelanetz    (Brooklyn:    Assembling    Press,    1979).
A collection of Marianne Hauser’s manuscripts is at the University of Florida Library, Special Collec­tions.
Morris, Alice S. “Marianne Hauser.” Dictionary of Literary Biography 1983, 238-42. Detroit: Gale Research Company, 1984.








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Marianne Hauser. Prince Ishmael. New York. Stein & Day. 1963. 316 pages.
Reprinted, Los Angeles: Sun and Moon Classics Series, 1991.

PRINCE ISHMAEL is the work Marianne Hauser spent decades writing, the book that was in her mind before all others. Her uncle, Ludwig Hauser, gave her a two volume dossier on Kaspar Hauser, the legendary German foundling (no relation, but of course there had to be, and she later said that she WAS Kaspar) when she was a young teen. It was the book that was supposed to be her big success, published by Stein and Day, a publisher specializing in literary best sellers. It was shepherded into print by her friend and Harper’s Bazaar editor, Alice S. Morris, who published excerpts. As with all of her books she went through an agonizing process of rejection before placing it. And even more so than her other books she labored over its composition for many, many years, even publishing another novel, started later, first (The Choir Invisible, 1958). In Botteghe Oscuro (the Wikipedia article is here)…(The Sun and the Colonel’s Button. Botteghe Oscure 12, Fall 1953, 255-72.) she published the first chapter, but written in the third person. She writes of having a breakthrough and discovering the voice of Hauser, probably in 1953 or 1954. She worked on the book throughout the decade, abandoning it and returning to it. By the time she moved back to New York City in 1958 it was substantially complete. Here are some reviews, by her friend Harriet Zinnes (whom she taught with at Queens College, a poet), from the Saturday Review, a publication she reviewed for in the early forties,and Guy Davenport in The National Review:

Marianne Hauser. Prince Ishmael. New York. Stein & Day. 1963. 316 pages. $5.95. Although this is on the surface a historical novel about a young man who makes a strange appearance at the Nuremberg gates in the early years of the nineteenth century, the novel in texture and meaning is strikingly contempo­rary. Caspar Hauser, found in the dark, and completely dark about himself, symbolizes that terrible search for identity which becomes in our time and in this novel the search for the spiritual father. The whole mystery of the self and its inevitable confusion, the whole mystery of the acts of the self that turn present into past and leave no future, that make suspect and victim interchangeable and eccentrically iden­tical (“Had the whale swallowed Jonah? Had Jonah swallowed the whale?”)-these are the mysteries that are embodied in that angelic, naive, corrupting and corruptible youth Caspar Hauser. Marianne Hauser describes her narrative of today’s everyman in a style rich in suggestive­ness and poetic in expression-and finally, re­ligious in its assertion of the triumph of suffer­ing man: “You call me what you will, angel or liar, I may yet live forever, mark my word.”

Harriet Zinnes Queens College
Books Abroad, Vol. 39, No. 1 (Winter, 1965), p. 88

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Caspar Hauser was one of the most enigmatic figures of the nineteenth century. A semisavage and inarticulate young man, he first appeared in Nuremberg in 1828, spent five tortured years under the tutelage of various guardians, and then met an end as mysterious as his beginnings. Was he the disinherited scion of a ruling house, a charlatan, a madman, or perhaps all of these? Speculation ran high, and has continued to this day. Writers in Germany, France, and England were fascinated by the dark fate of the foundling, and the interpretations vary from the calme orphelin of Verlaine’s great poem to the saintly scapegoat of slothfulness of heart presented by the German novelist Jakob Wassermann.

In her new novel, Prince Ishmael (Stein & Day, $5.95), part of which appeared in Harper’s Bazaar, Marianne Hauser vividly recreates the brutish ambience of Caspar’s short life. Narrating the boy’s story from his point of view, she displays a keenness of psychological insight whose impact is immediate. However, her sympathetic evocation of the archetypal outcast does not merely present the “facts” of the case, but bestows upon the hero an aura of almost mythical grandeur. Caspar’s emergence from the womb of night, his mirror calligraphy, and his helpless groping in the labyrinth of his own mind symbolize the existential plight of man in a bewildering universe.

Miss Hauser’s probing analysis of character unfortunately is not matched by an equally acute sense of style, and now and then her prose verges on the sentimental, especially in passages of lyrically exalted nature mysticism. More successful is the surrealistic portrayal of the agony of a lost soul, oscillating between reality and appearance. Though Prince Ishmael implicitly criticizes the materialistic goals of a mechanized civilization, it never becomes harsh or aggressively polemic.

To make her plea for the confused and the oppressed of this earth, Miss Hauser prefers the more gracious art of symbolism. She thus recaptures the fervor with which the last century hailed Caspar Hauser, victim of Nuremberg, as “The Child of Europe,” and has erected another   monument to his memory.

Saintly Scapegoat, JOSEPH P. BAUKE.   Saturday Review, September 7, 1963 pp24, 35


The Multiple Man, by Guy Davenport, The National Review, October 8, 1963, Pp. 310-313.:







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Alice S. Morris was one of Marianne Hauser’s closest personal friends, and she was also a vitally important professional friend. Morris was the literary editor at  Harper’s Bazaar from 1951-1968 and she published many of Hauser’s stories, as well as excerpts from her novel Prince Ishmael. In 1965 she edited The Uncommon Reader, a collection of Harper’s Bazaar stories which includes Hauser’s The Abduction, an hallucinatory journey into exile taken by a Hungarian composer. It is based largely on the life of Erno Dohnanyi, whom she knew in the 1950’s, in Tallahassee,  where he was teaching and where Fred Kirchberger got his PhD. Morris died at age 90 in 1993. Alice S. Morris was one of several adventurous mid-century editors at fashion magazines. These women’s magazines became a market for serious literary fiction. She was preceded by George Davis, who was at Harper’s Bazaar from 1936-1941, who then moved to Mademoiselle until 1949. Betsy Blackwell was the editor and chief of Mademoiselle from 1937-1971. Mademoiselle was a Conde Nast publication, which for a time was a partner of McBride’s, where Coby Gilman worked editing Travel. Carson McCullers, Truman Capote, Jean Stafford, Eudora Welty, Flannery O’Connor, James Baldwin, Jane Bowles, Paul Bowles, and Tennessee Williams are some of the many authors published by these fashion magazines early in their careers. When Hauser published Dark Dominion her friend Marguerite Young reviewed it in Vogue alongside McCullers’ A Member of the Wedding and Capote’s short stories.
Morris was married to Harvey Breit, a novelist and editor who reviewed books for the Times in the 40’s (his Times obit gives different dates than the Wikipedia article for his NYT tenure). When she died, Hauser wrote this about her old friend:

Alice S. Morris Obit


Allons Enfants

Harper's Bazaar, August 1962
Harper’s Bazaar, August 1962

This is the cover of the August, 1962 Harper’s Bazaar where Allons Enfants first appeared. Allons Enfants is one of two autobiographical stories Hauser wrote, set in Strasbourg during World War 1. It narrates the death of her sister Dora at age 17 of meningitis and is delirious with detail of her family and the city. It also appears in her first collection of short stories, A Lesson in Music (University of Texas Press, 1964) and is currently in print: The Collected Short Fiction of Marianne Hauser (FC2, 2005). Alice S. Morris, her close friend, was the literary editor at Harper’s and was renown for the fiction she published.