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This is a novel about self-doubt and strength, set in Paris in the 1820s, a city about to explode – the stock exchange seething, the Romantic tide in painting and poetry surging into music and the theater, an impassioned citizenry anticipating the next revolution. It is a city undergoing intense intellectual, philosophical and political upheaval, and there is no more exciting place in the world.
This is the city that beckons to Frederick and Charles Courtland – English brothers of good family and exceptional intellectual capacities and ambition, who are drawn from their sedate world into the tumult of Paris. Frederick, the younger of the two, has been called upon by France’s leading architect to assist in the construction of the Galerie d’Orléans in the gardens of the Palais-Royal – a testament to Frederick’s promise, a brilliant feather in the cap of one so young. Charles – a country parish minister who leaves the church with his faith barely intact and who is in dire need of renewed perspective – follows his brother to Paris. And through a series of brilliantly crafted letters (between the brothers and their father and godfather), diary entries and essays, the inner lives of these two men, as well as the course of their careers and the events of the world around them, are revealed as they unfold over a span of forty years.
New York: Knopf, 1987. Re-issued New York: Norton, 1994. London: Faber and Faber, 1987. Paris: Albin Michel, 1988. Madrid: Alianza, 1988. Milan: Feltrinelli, 1988. Tokyo: Iwanomi Shoten, 1988.
An Evening of Brahms
A novel that explores the experience of music – what it is to listen to it, to play it, to be moved by it – in the story of one musician who finds that his growing fame cannot compensate for his unwillingness to meet the deepening demands of his life.
Alexander Hoffmann is the musician: an extraordinary young cellist whose success appears to be guaranteed by his masterful technical understanding of music, by the authoritative, mature quality of his sound, and by the limitlessness of his range. And, in fact, at 25 he is brilliantly launched into his career. But Alex knows – and those close to him have begun to sense – that his art lacks an essential connection to life. He is dangerously detached, a perfectionist stunted in his involvement with music, refusing to learn its language of feeling for fear that it will expose to him his own tangled emotions. Instead, he uses his talents to make the music do his bidding. First it was a way to free him of his parents; then, a way to please his overbearing grandfather; and always it has served to propel him forward and to protect him: the voice of the cello drowning out the reverberations of the “spoiled mixture” of his life.
It is an untimely and tragic death that shocks Alex into recognizing the pervasive effects of his detachment and the fact that music offers him neither solace nor strength; that, indeed, each note has become a recrimination – for his inability to grieve at the profound loss he has suffered and for the selfishness that, under the guise of dedication, he has brought to both his art and his life. Having learned to dominate the music he performs, he must now learn to let the music him, to release him from the stifling grip he has kept on himself, to help him feel.
It is through the music of Brahms – music that challenges him with its emotional resonance – that Alex finally gains release.
New York: Knopf, 1984; London: Faber and Faber, 1984; Paris: Fayard, 1985; Zurich: Benziger, 1985.
The Frog who Dared to Croak
The Frog Who Dared to Croak
is the story, told in the form of a memoir, of the public and private lives of Tibor Grau, the leading Marxist thinker of his time. Grau is both a great man and a party hack, an original thinker and a stooge of the state.
This book is also a tale of Grau’s private life – his sexual development, his sexual career – and it is a frank and unabashed portrayal of homosexual desire. In creating this character, Sennett has reinvented the Europe of revolution and reaction, of the Second World War and of Stalinism.
New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1982; London: Faber and Faber, 1982; Paris: Fayard, 1984; Milan: Feltrinelli, 1983; Tokyo: Iwanami, 1986.
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© Richard Sennett 2008