1. The author's note reads, in its entirety, "The epigraphs are
archival. The characters are historical. The dates of events and
correspondence are, when verifiable, authentic. The rest is fiction
masquerading as fact, and the reverse." What does he mean by this,
and what does the last sentence suggest?
2. The epigraph to the novel's Prologue reads, " 'If you want
to penetrate the mind of an artist, you must visit him in his
studio.' Robert Schumann." In this case, the artist's
studio, however, was an insane asylum. What does this suggest? Is
the juxtaposition here merely ironic, or does the author posit a
direct relation and even an equation of the two?
3. In what ways does this novel rely on local color and period
costume? How crucial is the European setting and the nineteenth
century Romantic mentality to the feel and flavor of the whole?
Would it make sense in a contemporary context? What would have to
4. Imagine a present-day version of their story: Elvis Presley with
a child-bride, Madonna with her husband, and see in what ways the
plot-lines are similar. Take the proposition that Robert and Clara
were rock stars of the Romantic period and agree or disagree. In
what ways does Romanticism survive in today's culture?
5. Can you think of other books about musicians (Thomas Mann's
Dr. Faustus, Michael Ondaatje's Coming Through
Slaughter, etc.) or other historical figures to which
Longing can be fruitfully compared?
6. Consider the motives of Friedrich Wieck. In some sense he was
correct to have opposed the marriage, since it brought his daughter
to poverty's edge as well as the edge of despair. Try to justify
his behavior in terms of paternal responsibility, then take the
opposite side--almost as though in a law court--and argue that his
behavior was misguided if not malign. Reach a verdict: should the
romance have been prevented or the preventor have been
7. Since the book and its main characters, as well as the
historical record, suggest this marriage could not in fact have
been stopped, discuss the role of fate and love-at-first-sight.
Shakespeare called Romeo and Juliet "star-crossed lovers." How does
this apply to Robert and Clara, the actual as opposed to the
8. In a note to this interviewer, J.D. Landis writes, "In one
finished draft, this novel consisted of three main parts, so I
thought I might pass it off structurally as a kind of concerto. In
a later finished draft, it had become four parts, so I thought I
might pass it off as a kind of symphony. It was at that point that
I even called the Prologue a Prelude and the Epilogue a Coda.
Finally, when it became the present five parts, I came to my senses
and dropped the pretense that my structure was consciously musical.
It wasn't and isn't. This is a book." Find ways in which the author
uses devices exclusive to fiction--descriptive prose, flashback and
flash-forward, etc.--to support this claim.
9. Find some of Schumann's piano music alluded to in the novel,
(Kinderscenen, Fantasie, Carnaval) and listen and discuss.
How do the two forms of expression, language and music, the
language of music, interconnect if at all? Does Clara Schumann's
piano trio have anything literal to do with the romantic triangle
in which she found herself ?
10. Imagine Longing as a play, an opera, or a TV series.
What would be gained and what lost?
11. Exercises: Write a love letter from Robert to Clara, an answer
from Clara to Robert. Write a passage in their marriage journal
describing (a) their first night of married love, (b) the birth of
their first child, and, (c) the decision to send Robert off to
12. Because of the limited point-of-view, we cannot know what
Schumann does not know about what goes on between Clara and Brahms.
Imagine a scene in which the two of them (a) become lovers, or, (b)
decide not to. Which scene do you think is more probable, and
13. During the years of Schumann's incarceration in Endenich, Clara
distanced herself from her husband. Why do you think she chose to
14. When Robert Schumann is asked in the novel whether he wants to
be popular as an artist, he responds that he might, but "I just
don't want to have to write popular work." Is it an artist's job to
please first his audience or himself ? What differences, if any,
are there between artists and entertainers? What did one of Liszt's
biographers mean when she wrote, "Romanticism did not survive by
virtue of having created artifacts acceptable to the masses (which
would have de-stroyed it) but because it didn't"?
15. Imagine you could bring one--and only one--of the major
characters here (Robert or Clara Schumann, Johannes Brahms) into
your own family. Which would you select?
16. Why would the author have made Part Four of Longing,
Marriage, one of its shortest sections? Why is it the only part of
the novel not strictly chronological? Indeed, why does it end with
the Schumanns' wedding night? Discuss also the role of the kind of
memory mentioned on the first page of "Marriage: An
17. The art historian Anna Jameson called all artists "like
children-- essentially immature." Eugenie Schumann wrote of her
father that he was "the biggest child of all." Did Robert Schumann
ever really grow up? Why did he remain behind in Maxen and allow
his pregnant wife to return to a war-torn Dresden to retrieve their
children? Are artists necessarily self-centered, and, if so, can
their work ever justify their behavior?
18. Transpose any of these scenes into the first person--from
Robert's point-of-view, from Clara's, from Mendelssohn's, etc. What
changes and what stays the same?
19. These were nineteen questions. Formulate twenty more.