Brecht & Co.
Sex, Politics, and the Making of Modern Dramaby John Fuegi
“This biography is fascinating in its diversity of detail and portraiture of a period.” –The Economist
The result of twenty-five years of research on three continents, Brecht & Co. is a revolutionary portrait of one of the world’s greatest theater artists—and the people upon whom he built his reputation. Bertolt Brecht is regarded by many as the most influential figure in twentieth-century theater; the director Peter Brook has argued that “all theater work today at some point starts with or returns to his achievement.” In this first full biography of the Brecht circle, John Fuegi confirms Brecht’s rank as a world-class theater director, but also shows why much of the writing can no longer be attributed to Brecht alone.
Brecht’s first violent, homoerotic plays, though noisily provocative failures at the box office, brought him praise from adventurous critics. In Berlin in the 1920s, Brecht found someone who would change not only his life but world theater: Elisabeth Hauptmann, who wrote over 80 percent of The Threepenny Opera in exchange for time in Brecht’s life and in his bed. Yet her name often disappeared from the printed text, as well as from other plays and poems. Disappointed and disaffected, Hauptmann was supplanted by the passionate, tubercular Margarete Steffin, who contributed crucially to such classics as Mother Courage and The Good Woman of Setzuan. With Steffin’s death in 1941, Brecht’s career as a playwright virtually ended, though other works, begun with her, were finished with the aid of uninhibited and politically committed Danish director and author Ruth Berlau.
Fuegi traces the evolution of Brecht’s parasitic relationships and aggressive ambition through close analysis of diaries, letters, and drafts of the literary works, revealing a man who was personally dazzling, a genius at assembling and directing the plays created in his workshop, but ultimately lacking in literary stamina, for which he depended on his lovers. His need for control and fame led him to dominate—and betray—nearly everyone who supported and loved him.
The story of Brecht’s artistic thefts is told against a backdrop of his equivocal politics through the turbulent times: from the 1932 New Year’s party with members of Germany’s virulent right wing, to his refusal to acknowledge Stalin’s murderous purges, to his shocking break before the House Un-American Activities Committee, to his frequent anti-Semitism, to the privilege and ease he enjoyed in a repressive East Germany.
Brecht & Co. will irrevocably change our understanding of one of the world’s great writer-directors, even as it presents us with three new artists of enduring stature: Elisabeth Hauptmann, Margarete Steffin, and Ruth Berlau.
“Brecht & Co. is challenging in the best sense of the word: It demolishes old certainties and stimulates new thinking.” –Wendy Smith, Washington Post
“[Brecht & Co.] contains important new information on Brecht’s early life, his trafficking with the far right and left during the Weimar Republic, his dealings in Stalin’s Moscow in the 1930s and his final years in East Germany as director of the Berliner Ensemble. Fuegi modestly terms his work a “provisional” one, but the explosive material he has uncovered ensures that his book will become the takeoff point for future studies.” –Jacob Heilbrunn, New York Newsday
“John Fuegi’s Brecht & Co. is a work of massive scholarship and deep rage. It is a rigorously researched, densely written and generally complete account of the life of one of the great masters of the modern stage.” –Robert Brustein, The New Republic
“This biography is fascinating in its diversity of detail and portraiture of a period.
” –The Economist
“Fuegi, a major Brecht scholar, has been compiling this book since the middle 1960s. The result is a detailed, thoroughly researched critical biography of an icon of modern drama. Its revisional view meticulously portrays the famed poet/playwright as an exploiter and thief of the work of his closest friends, lovers, and collaborators, especially such women as Elisabeth Hauptmann and Ruth Berlau. It has long been suspected–but until now inadequately documented–that Brecht made a career out of artistic parasitism. Perhaps new editions/translations of Brecht will now have to carry the names of several authors.” –Library Journal
“Bertolt Brecht, according to this gripping, myth-shattering biography, regularly cheated his closest co-workers and lovers, publishing their literary works under his own name. . . . Fuegi’s brilliant, graphic portrait of Brecht and his circle is certain to spark controversy.” –Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“[Brecht & Co.] effectively weaves together the disparate threads that went into the theater we equate with the name Brecht.” –Kirkus Reviews
A New York Times Notable Book of the Year