Alex Pheby’s Playthings
Alex Pheby’s Playthings is a novel about nineteenth century German judge Daniel Paul Schreber – whose Memoirs Of My Nervous Illness was a huge influence on Freudian psychotherapy, as well as being an extraordinary book in its own right. Alex’s novel captures a time, a place and an astonishing mind with unusual intensity. It feels all too real – and the musical cues are an important part of that illusion. Here, now, Alex has written up a playlist, so you can experience them for yourself.
(1) Sabine, Paul’s wife, had the Horn Call leitmotif from Wagner’s opera Seigfried carved over the lintel of the front door of their house in Dresden. You can listen to the whole opera in about the time it takes you to read Playthings.
(2) Paul recites Martin Luther’s hymn Ein Feste Burg as he walks over the Karola Brucke, to remind him of Sabine. It only half works because the words remind him of persecuting deities, and Luther’s name is very close to “luder”, a word which the voices in his head abuse him with.
(3) Muller sings a couple of lines from the opening of Die Fledermaus, thereby mocking the judge for his habit of stealing and wearing his wife’s clothes (something that is repressed by Paul, and consequently also in Playthings).
(4) Paul feels that the mysterious Jewish gentleman he sees everywhere is the same man who coughed all the way through the overture of Der Freischutz by Carl Maria von Weber.
(5) Paul and his sister Anna were occasionally looked after by the men of their father, Moritz’s militia. They had great fun singing patriotic marching songs like Fridericus Rex.
(6) Alexander Zilberschlag hears Paul humming Prussia’s Glory to himself in his cell.
(7) During previous instances of his illness, Paul embarrassed Sabine at the Dresden opera by bellowing through the end of Elisabeth’s aria from Wagner’s Tannhäuser (and the subsequent scene), something she never forgot, or forgave him for.
Playthings was published by Galley Beggar Press in 2015. To read the first chapter, head here. To buy a copy, head here. Alex’s third novel, about the life of Lucia Joyce, will be published by Galley Beggar Press in 2018.