Star of the Unborn

Franz Werfel VIKING
UTOPIAN romance is a subject on which taste is arbitrary. Around a hearth at a farmhouse we were playing the game of describing each his private utopia. It came to the surgeon’s turn. His utopia sounded uncommonly like a magnificently equipped General Hospital.
“But, Alan,” objected his hostess, “in utopia there won’t be any sick people.”
“Look here,” says the surgeon, “whose utopia is this? Yours or mine?”
Star of the Unborn is Franz Werfel’s. It is not mine. On the jacket the publisher’s concluding words before the curtain rises are: “It is only rarely that a last work is also an author’s greatest, but it was given to Franz Werfel to achieve this.” Query (1): Is this the first draft of a novel which the author did not live to rewrite? There are good places in it, but they should come closer together. (2) Was it written first in German and then translated? The idiom is English but the style diffuse. There is in it, too, the pathos of the refugee writing for an audience which he is not sure he understands, his own having disintegrated.
Werfel appears to have read Shaw’s Back to Methuselah, whose familiar lineaments occasionally peer through the veils of the fantasy; it is not so certain that he knew Samuel Butler’s Erewhon and Erewhom Revisited, which contain far more audacious thinking than Shaw’s and more distinguished writing. For utopian romance is a severe test of the quality of a man’s imagination: when offering us a vision of future society, one should try to give us something we would leave our happy homes for. ... A week in the utopia of William Morris’s News from Nowhere might be a pleasant experience; there, at least (except for one murder over a love affair) everybody is good-natured all day long. Shaw’s Methuselah repelled a good many readers by his usual contempt for romantic love, and when it came to describing an aesthetically desirable future, he called in ancient Greece, Back to Hellas, which Werfel is also inclined to do.
Werfel, for his part, is pseudo-scientific, pseudo-philosophical, compounded with the Hindu concept of reincarnation, a snack of Einstein ‘s theory of relativity, and that pretension to some Weltgeschichtliche Anschauung which nearly all German writers seem to feel they must have in order to keep their intellectual self-respect.
At a time when responsible citizens are exerting all their energies toward helping to get mankind through one of the worst crises in our existence as a race, flights of utopian imagination need to be especially ingratiating. Werfel’s I find drearily labored and far-fetched. Instead of reading this, why not read Butler’s two Erewhons, which do contain currently pertinent social criticism, and Anatole France’s Revolt of the Angels. This last is especially to the point; Anatole set his fantasy smack in the midst of the modern world, where it is all the funnier and all the more effective. Besides, to write this romance of A.D. 101,945, one needs to be, as Anatole France was, a powerful sociological thinker and a great literary artist.