In a recent blog post, Harvard philosophy librarian Eric Johnson-DeBaufre tells the story of how Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche took over her brother Friedrich’s literary and philosophical legacy and remade it toward her own (proto-Nazi, German Nationalist, anti-semitic) ends. One of the most fascinating things in the tale told in Johnson-DeBaufre’s post is the way in which even the typface of a book could be (and in fact was) a part of promoting claims about national identity and establishing the nationalist bona fides of its author. Elisabeth didn’t just edit her brother’s work and re-frame it — she reprinted it, republishing material that had already been printed in Antiqua in iconically German Fraktur.
As I read the post, it occurred to me that not only had I seen a Fraktur edition of Nietzsche’s work, I actually owned one. When my employer’s library did a round of weeding many years ago (not long after I was hired), one of the books removed from the collection was a weird little orphan: volume 8 of the 11-volume 1922 Alfred Kröner Verlag (Leipzig) edition of Nietzsche’s complete works (as originally put together by Elisabeth with publisher C.G. Naumann), in sad shape but still readable.
The text wears its Fraktur proudly for what is, I think, meant to be a cheaper “pocket” edition (the cover boards are thin, stiffened paper, and the binding is glued rather than stitched), a style pioneered by Alfred Kröner that is apparently the precursor of the paperback publishing format.
The book has taken a beating over the years, although when it was removed from the library’s collection more than a decade ago, it hadn’t been checked out for a very, very long time; my current employer hasn’t had a robust German program for years, and recently eliminated all non-English languages other than Spanish from the curriculum. A penciled note beside the table of contents indicates that this book sold (or was listed to be sold) for about 90 cents in 1969; it’s not clear whether that note indicates when and from whom the library purchased it.
The contents of Volume VIII include an introduction to the volume (contextualizing its content relative to the rest of Nietzsche’s work, the usual thing one expects), a version of Beyond Good and Evil, a version of On The Genealogy of Morals, and “From the Nachlass,” some further material “On Peoples and Fatherlands” from 1886. There is also an afterword written by Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche in which she very briefly discusses the history of the two main texts, their connection to other items in the nachlass, and some editorial notes on the material as assembled.
There is something about the odd combination of aims here — Nietzsche’s original agenda vs. Elisabeth’s packaging and promotion of her brother’s work, all set in the context of AKV’s broader goal to make important works materially accessible to people who might not otherwise be able to afford to read them — that seems worth exploring further.
UPDATE: Because I couldn’t leave well enough alone, I wrote a little more about this typeface business — check it out!