The Wagner Clan: The Saga of Germany's Most Illustrious and Infamous Family

Jonathan Carr, Author
Jonathan Carr, Author . Atlantic Monthly $25 (409p) ISBN 978-0-87113-975-7
Reviewed on: 09/17/2007
Release date: 12/01/2007
Paperback - 409 pages - 978-0-8021-4399-0
Open Ebook - 978-0-571-26096-6
Hardcover - 384 pages - 978-0-571-20785-5
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The grandiose life of Richard Wagner—the pronouncements on art and the German soul, the petty groveling for money and favors, the intermittently atrocious politics and intermittently glorious music—was a tough act to follow. Carr (Mahler: A Biography ) follows Wagner's descendants through three generations as they fight each other for control of the Bayreuth Festival and, at opportune times, embrace, reject or sweep under the rug their forebear's status as Nazism's spiritual godfather. (It's a bum rap, Carr concludes, after a nuanced analysis of Wagner's writings and music that finds his anti-Semitism vile but muddled and probably not eliminationist.) Much of the story belongs to outsiders who married into the family: Wagner's wife, Cosima, a “chillingly implacable” anti-Semite; his son-in-law Houston Chamberlain, a racist ideologue revered by the Nazis; and his daughter-in-law Winifred, who clasped Hitler—affectionately dubbed “Uncle Wolf” by her children—to the family's bosom. Carr's sprightly, fluent narrative places the family in its historical and intellectual context without reducing it to the symbolic effigy it has often become. Photos. (Jan.)

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