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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Threepenny Novel (1934) by Bertolt Brecht

Book Review
Threepenny Novel (1934)
 by Bertolt Brecht

  Bertolt Brecht's canonical work is the Threepenny Opera, a musical that he co-wrote with Kurt Weill- most Americans know the Bobby Darin song, Mack the Knife- which originally appeared in the German language musical.  Threepenny Novel is most appropriately described as a sequel to Threepenny Opera, with the main characters appearing several years AFTER the events of Threepenny Opera.

  The low life criminals of Threepenny Opera have matured, in Threepenny Novel Jonathan Peachum, the beggar king owns a line of retail shops, as does Macheath (AKA Mack the Knife.)  Polly Peachum, winsome daughter of Jonathan Peachum, marries Macheath, a business competitor of her daughter, and all hell breaks lose in terms of plot.  Like many other novels of the 1930s, Brecht creates a portrait of "modern" capitalism which is simply crime by other means.  

 If you aren't clear on it going in, you will understand by the end that Brecht is no fan of consumer capitalism.  His critique is something like a literary equivalent of the writers of the Frankfurt school: that consumer capitalism is low.  Since the captains of industry in Threepenny Novel are literally the criminals of Threepenny Opera, Brecht does little to disguise his critique, and perhaps this explains the lack of interest from contemporary American readers.

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