Rock Crystal is an exquisite novella by a master, a writer of lucid serenity whose sublime tales have established themselves as classics of short fiction.
As the story opens, it is the day before Christmas, and Conrad and Susanna (nicknamed Sanna) are paying a holiday visit to their grandmother in Millsdorf.
Although the action takes place on Christmas Eve, (what Stifter's villagers call Holy Eve), and although the Christ-child and his kindness to children are duly mentioned, what really interests Stifter, and us, in this story is not divinity but humanity at its humblest and most resilient: the attentiveness of a big brother, who makes a little roof out of the shawl that his sister is wearing, to keep the snow off her face; or the loyalty of a sister, who helps maintain her brother's courage simply by how much she trusts him in the face of looming catastrophe.
Stifter describes their route so clearly that the reader could practically draw a map of it: the footbridge, the meadows, the forest, the red post marking the spot where a local man once died.
When the children start back home that afternoon, however, these landmarks are soon obliterated by a steady snowfall.
Because Stifter has painted the scene so clearly, the reader begins to share the children's anxiety as they lose their bearings.
No matter which way they turn, they seem to keep going away from the valley and toward the glacier-peak that soars above it.
Conrad keeps reassuring his young sister, in a way that grows almost unbearably poignant as the reader realizes how lost the children really are.
Finally they emerge, on Christmas Eve, in an altogether unearthly landscape, which Stifter evokes with eerie vividness
ADALBERT STIFTER (1805–1868) was an Austrian writer, poet, painter, and lecturer. Part of the Biedermeier movement in German literature, he has been celebrated by both German and English writers, including Rilke, von Hofmannsthal, Mann, Hesse, Auden and Sebald.
"Adalbert Stifter is one of the most extraordinary, the most enigmatic, the most secretly daring and the most strangely gripping narrators in world literature."
“Adalbert Stifter was one of the very few great novelists in German literature, whose work stood out for its "pure happiness, wisdom, and beauty; someone who possesses the magic wand to transform all visible things into words…"