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Auto-da-Fé, Elias Canetti (1935)

Some say the world will end in fire

Marjorie Perloff
September 17, 2013

The only novel by the Nobel Prize-winning author of the sociological study Crowds and Power, Auto-da-Fé is the story of a naïve and reclusive intellectual, a professor living for and in his library, who makes the terrible mistake of marrying his illiterate and sadistic housekeeper. Step by step, she destroys him, his property, and his values; the story ends with the conflagration (auto-da-fé) of both the professor and his precious library. Canetti’s novel, written shortly after Hitler came to power in Germany, can be read as a parable of the Nazi destruction of traditional intellectual and aesthetic values in favor of the New Order.

Marjorie Perloff is Professor Emerita of English at Stanford University and Florence R. Scott Professor of English Emerita at the University of Southern California.