Tuesday, 16 July 2013

The Curse of Vilem Franke

The Curse of Vilem Franke

By Mark Sadler

My former Oxford classics professor laid the blame for his permanent loss of erectile function on a reading of the collected works of the 19th century Czech author, Vilem Franke. When I visited him last year he was a shadow of the man who, in his academic prime, would stand atop his desk and recite Larkin's jazz reviews and passages from The Conference of Birds. He wept into a tweed handkerchief, patched at its centre with a leather oval, and confessed that even high doses of Viagra had done nothing to rouse his “little prince” from his slumber. My suggestion that a kiss from another handsome prince might do the trick at least raised a smile.

Earlier this year, I attempted my own Vilem Franke reading marathon: In the space of only a few months, I managed to clear an impressive, 150 page trail trough the dense, tangled prose of his first novel - The Obdurate Wife. It was around this time that Mrs Seven (who is actually my fourth wife and anything but obdurate) remarked upon a noticeable decline in my sex drive and a general loss in the vigour of my thrusting. Of course, I ended my experiment with Franke there and then and, unlike my poor classics professor, appear to have had a lucky escape: My wife assures me that since I returned to safer reading material I have regained my previous “tip-top form” in the bedroom.

I have since resigned myself to never finishing The Obdurate Wife. Even the section of this novel's wikipedia entry that provides details of the plot, tails off halfway through the narrative. I wonder if anyone has ever reached the end of it.

On Monday I happened to be in a branch of a popular book seller (one that rhymes with “Fresco”) and saw that they had on display various Vilem Franke novels. For some unfathomable reason, there was also the option of obtaining a sturdy cardboard slipcase, containing three of the writer's better known works, for the sum of nineteen pounds and 99 pence.

As long as the danger posed to the male libido by these novels is overlooked, I imagine that they will continue to undermine the sex lives of middle-aged, pseudo-intellectuals like myself. I strongly suspect that this was Franke's intention all along. He was a bitter, puritanical man, who was obsessed with the population levels of the mice living in his cellar, which he believed mirrored the rises and falls in the population of his native country.

Last year, at the Hay-on-Wye literary festival, I took part in a panel titled: Whatever is to be done? My fellow panel members were people who, like me, cut themselves off from the wider world for long periods of time in order to write novels. Over the course of three hours, we brought to bear our in-depth knowledge of fictional worlds on an array of complicated, real-life global issues. I attempted to raise the danger of Franke's literary canon as part of the discussion and it was grudgingly added to the bottom of a list of things that we should all be worried about.

We parted company later that day, with each of us making a vague commitment to sign any e-petitions that we forwarded to one another, via twitter or facebook. I note that very few of my literary peers have supported my impassioned formal plea to have Vilem Franke's novels banned. Writers and academics are, for the most part, liars and frauds. I can understand why Franke didn't want us to breed.

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