The Grey Cloth

The Grey Cloth: Paul Scheerbart's Novel on Glass Architecture

( German - Das graue tuch und zehn Prozent Weiß - 1914 )

novel by Paul Scheerbart

translated by John A. Stuart

Published: MIT Press - hardback - 2001
0262194600 / 9780262194600

Set in the mid-twentieth century, opening in Chicago, where the protagonist Edgar Krug has designed a glass exhibition hall. An art exhibition is held there and Krug is unhappy that the bright colors of women's fashions clash with his architectural scheme. When he meets Clara Weber he is struck by her gray dress with white lace trim; he finds it the perfect compliment to the colour effect of his hall. Krug impulsively asks Clara to marry him — providing she agrees to wear the same style of clothing. Clara accepts Krug's terms, which are specified in their marriage contract. Once married, the couple leave for Fiji in Krug's private dirigible.
Though Clara accepts Krug's strange terms for their marriage, other women do not. Clara maintains a telegraphic correspondence with her American friend, Amanda Schmidt; and Amanda is critical of Clara's subservience. Other women also object. Scheerbart provides portrayals of a number of strong female characters through the book, supporting its subtitle, "a Ladies' novel."
In Fiji Krug has a retirement home for airship pilots in progress. He clashes with the project's sponsor over how much colored glass the building will include. From Fiji, Krug and Clara travel to other sites throughout the world, firstly "Makartland" at the South Pole, an artists' colony for twenty women. A seamstress there makes outfits for Clara that arrange her gray-and-white wardrobe scheme in imaginative ways. Käte Bandel, one of the artists, joins the Krugs in their further travels; she debates artistic assumptions and values with Krug as they travel to Australia and then to Borneo. Krug is enraged when she convinces Clara to wear a plaid scarf.
Leaving Bandel behind, they fly to Japan; but Japanese women also react negatively to the gray and white. In the Himalayas and in Ceylon, Krug visits other of his projects then the couple travel to an experimental station by the Aral Sea. They visit Babylon and Egypt. Despite his enthusiasm for colored glass, Krug turns down an offer to build large glass obelisks atop the Pyramids of Giza. In the "Kurian Murian Islands" off the eastern coat of Arabia, Krug meets the tycoon Li-Tung, who commissions him to design houses suspended in mid-air (so that they don't scratch the majolica tiles with which the islands are paved). Li-Tung is passionate about color, and has Clara change into more varied silk outfits. Krug allows this.
Their journey is not a parade of triumphs, however; in most places, Krug's ideas are resisted, criticized, and rejected to greater or lesser degrees. At Malta, though, a glass architecture museum in established. The Krugs end the novel at their glass house in Switzerland.
At Babylon, Krug gives up on his determination about Clara's wardrobe, and agrees to strike the binding clause out of their marriage contract. By this time, though, Clara has become a convert to her husband's ideas about glass architecture, and maintains the gray fashion by her own choice.


Page last modified on Tuesday 19 of November, 2013 09:08:45 GMT-0000