Journey to the Abyss by Harry Kessler
The Diaries of Count Harry Kessler, 1880-1918

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Synopsis

These fascinating, never-before-published early diaries of Count Harry Kessler—patron, museum director, publisher, cultural critic, soldier, secret agent, and diplomat—present a sweeping panorama of the arts and politics of Belle Époque Europe, a glittering world poised to be changed irrevocably by the Great War. Kessler’s immersion in the new art and literature of Paris, London, and Berlin unfolds in the first part of the diaries. This refined world gives way to vivid descriptions of the horrific fighting on the Eastern and Western fronts of World War I, the intriguing private discussions among the German political and military elite about the progress of the war, as well as Kessler’s account of his role as a diplomat with a secret mission in Switzerland.
 
Profoundly modern and often prescient, Kessler was an erudite cultural impresario and catalyst who as a cofounder of the avant-garde journal Pan met and contributed articles about many of the leading artists and writers of the day. In 1903 he became director of the Grand Ducal Museum of Arts and Crafts in Weimar, determined to make it a center of aesthetic modernism together with his friend the architect Henry van de Velde, whose school of design would eventually become the Bauhaus. When a public scandal forced his resignation in 1906, Kessler turned to other projects, including collaborating with the Austrian writer Hugo von Hofmannsthal and the German composer Richard Strauss on the opera Der Rosenkavalier and the ballet The Legend of Joseph, which was performed in 1914 by the Ballets Russes in London and Paris. In 1913 he founded the Cranach-Presse in Weimar, one of the most important private presses of the twentieth century.
 
The diaries present brilliant, sharply etched, and often richly comical descriptions of his encounters, conversations, and creative collaborations with some of the most celebrated people of his time: Otto von Bismarck, Paul von Hindenburg, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Richard Strauss, Igor Stravinsky, Sergei Diaghilev, Vaslav Nijinsky, Isadora Duncan, Ruth St. Denis, Sarah Bernhardt, Friedrich Nietzsche, Rainer Marie Rilke, Paul Verlaine, Gordon Craig, George Bernard Shaw, Harley Granville-Barker, Max Klinger, Arnold Böcklin, Max Beckmann, Aristide Maillol, Auguste Rodin, Edgar Degas, Éduard Vuillard, Claude Monet, Edvard Munch, Ida Rubinstein, Gabriele D’Annunzio, Pierre Bonnard, and Walther Rathenau, among others.
 
Remarkably insightful, poignant, and cinematic in their scope, Kessler’s diaries are an invaluable record of one of the most volatile and seminal moments in modern Western history.


From the Hardcover edition.
 

About Harry Kessler

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Laird M. Easton is chair of the Department of History at California State University, Chico. His book The Red Count: The Life and Times of Harry Kessler was named one of the best biographies of 2002 by The Economist.
 
Published November 15, 2011 by Vintage. 960 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, History, Political & Social Sciences, Arts & Photography, Travel, Gay & Lesbian. Non-fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for Journey to the Abyss

Kirkus Reviews

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In 1890, after viewing an exhibition of the Artistes Indépendents, he describes the “orgies of hideousness and nerve-shaking combinations of colors I thought impossible outside a madhouse.” Only two years later, Kessler became one of Ambroise Vollard’s best customers, and he couldn’t get enough o...

Sep 15 2011 | Read Full Review of Journey to the Abyss: The Dia...

Publishers Weekly

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Harry Kessler (1868–1937) was among the most connected people in the German Empire and indeed in pre-war Europe.

Jul 25 2011 | Read Full Review of Journey to the Abyss: The Dia...

The Wall Street Journal

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Harry Kessler was an extraordinary exemplar of the crisis that overwhelmed Europe in the 20th century.

Nov 26 2011 | Read Full Review of Journey to the Abyss: The Dia...

Portland Book Review

Anyone with an interest in the arts of the early 20th century will thrill when Kessler, independently wealthy after the death of his father, presents an inside look at many of the famous artists of the day, as well as an intriguing look back at the Impressionists and Postimpressionists whose appe...

Mar 09 2012 | Read Full Review of Journey to the Abyss: The Dia...

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