In Baldr and Beatrice, Mark Seinfelt offers a dense, complex, imaginative, and ultimately moving novel of love deferred and regained.
PHILIPSBURG –Mark Seinfelt of Philipsburg recently learned that his novel, Baldr and Beatrice, earned an Honorable Mention at the 2018 Hollywood Book Festival.
Based in the capital of show business, the annual competition celebrates books that deserve greater recognition from the film, television, game and multimedia communities.
Other winners this year included David Wienir’s Amsterdam Exposed, Louis L’Amour’s Lost Treasures Volume One and Elaine Stienon’s Children of a Northern Kingdom. The awards will be presented at a private dinner in Hollywood on Aug. 25.
A rich and subtle analysis of the psychology of friendship and love, Mark Seinfelt’s Baldr and Beatrice—a novel at turns philosophical, allegorical, mythical and spiritual—revisits the old, time-proven narrative formula of girl and boy forever desiring but never fully achieving the culmination of their love.
Here, it is a matter of their accidental disuniting as primordial essences, depicted in grand Miltonic flourishes, through severing time warps and their reemergence in different times, places and cultures.
As the novel opens, in the Upper Circles or the eternal Summerlands, Baldr’s and Beatrice’s spirits, prior to their incarnation on earth, decide to make the happy fall out of the fixed and higher realm to partake directly in the All Highest’s continuous act of kaleidoscopic creation and to perform as agents of that creation, something that can occur only in the sublunary world.
They chose to take their births in the Langraviate of Thuringia in medieval, semi-pagan Germany. However, a spiteful shadow-being diverts Baldr elsewhere, to indigenous “Indian” America, where he is adopted by the Ho-Chunk deity Red Horn.
As a young girl, Beatrice inadvertently summons his unborn soul to her across space and time when she enters a witches’ circle cast by her grandmother Oma, who practices the old ways despite the interdiction of her son, the Christian Landgrave.
For a time, as children, the spirit boy and the flesh-and-blood girl lead an idyllic existence, but circumstances force Oma to separate them and to send Baldr back to Indian America, where he appears now as a human boy but casts no shadow.
As Baldr grows to manhood (generations of Indians live and die in the interval), wave after wave of white settlers begin pouring into the pristine Indian territory.
Red Horn realizes that the world is out of balance because of Baldr’s separation from Beatrice and aids his son in returning to medieval Thuringia, where tragedy ensues because of Baldr’s lack of a shadow.
The grotesque admixture of prevailing superstition and custom with new faith is depicted in both European and American spheres in this sad, comic, tears-through-chuckles tale.
Baldr and Beatrice exemplifies the very best in narrative art, combining wit, imagination, history and insight into the nature of love, and discloses the influence of such beloved latter-day American authors as Barth, Vonnegut, West and Pynchon.
Indeed, Paul West calls Baldr and Beatrice “a masterwork” and writes: “It invokes Thomas Mann and the sermons of John Donne. How does Mr. Seinfelt do it?
“By keeping it all in his head, as if the whole novel were to come alive again and swamp the remainder? I wish to congratulate the author on the splendiferous plentitude that always keeps itself from excess.”
The late William Gass also esteemed Seinfelt’s work. In 1987, he served as chairman of Seinfelt’s MFA dissertation committee.
In his essay “To a Young Friend Charged with Possession of the Classics,” written shortly after the 1999 publication of Final Drafts, Seinfelt’s study of famous literary suicides, Gass congratulated Seinfelt for his ardent love of literature at a time when the classics had become suspect.
He also exhorted him to remain a loyal friend and advocate of the great books and to keep at his own creative efforts: “But that is what the rest of your life is for. Go now, break jail, and get about it.”
In 2011 and 2012, Gass appeared twice on Seinfelt’s Internet radio talk show Word Patriots on WebTalk Radio.net.
At the conclusion of the second broadcast, an episode devoted to the novels and short stories of Gass’ friend Stanley Elkin, when Seinfelt thanked Gass for his life-long service of toil in the literary vineyard, Gass replied: “You are doing that work now.”
He also preserved the manuscript of Seinfelt’s Final Drafts in the special collection of the International Writers Center in Arts & Sciences, now known as the Center for the Humanities, which he founded in 1990.