Reluctantly Discontinuing Patterns of Childhood

It doesn’t surprise me that Christa Wolf had difficulties writing Patterns of Childhood. Wolf says that she made thirty-eight attempts to begin this fictional autobiography, the reconstruction of her memories of a childhood under Hitler’s National Socialism.

Though the work is complex and often extraordinarily beautiful, I found myself deflected by the text, partly by the frequent need to reflect on Wolf’s concepts of selfhood and history, and partly due to a puzzling estrangement from the narrative. This may be the first time I have abandoned a book (temporarily perhaps) that I found both beautiful and profound. Why this should be the case intrigues me and I haven’t a precise explanation. I found the communication between family members, mother-daughter particularly, somewhat formulaic. The narrator addresses herself in the second person, and her past self, Nelly, in the third person. This unusual autobiographical point of view may account for the distance I felt from the work.

Wolf’s Cassandra has been much on my mind since reading it a fortnight ago. I tracked down a 1984 edition published by Virago Press that includes four companion lectures, which illuminate its background and implications. I’ve also tracked down Wolf’s Medea, which flowerville suggests outclasses Cassandra.

2 thoughts on “Reluctantly Discontinuing Patterns of Childhood

  1. Second person can be off-putting. There’s the sense of ‘what do they know about me?’ about it. Works best with statements a reader is likely to find uncontroversial when apply to themselves. Not easy, I guess, when the writer’s looking back on that kind of history.

    • Yes, it is very hard to pull off under any circumstances, but a narrator addressing her ‘current’ self in second- person and her younger self in third is almost impossible to pull off.

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