Borrowed Lives

By Stanley Corngold & Irene Giersing

Subjects: Fiction
Series: SUNY series, The Margins of Literature
Paperback : 9780791406724, 189 pages, September 1991
Hardcover : 9780791406717, 189 pages, September 1991

Alternative formats available from:

Table of contents

No table of contents available for this publication.


Borrowed Lives is a novel. It is an enactment of issues of literary philosophy and criticism, including the question of whether there can be originality, coherence, and authenticity in life and art. It deepens William Blake's point — Make your own myth or else be enslaved by another man's — by asking whether one's own myth isn't also another man's myth and by portraying the terrible consequences of taking one's own myth literally.

Stanley Corngold is Professor of German and Comparative Literature at Princeton University. He has written The Fate of the Self and Franz Kafka: The Necessity of Form. He is also the editor and translator of Kafka's The Metamorphosis. Irene Giersing, a former professor of French literature, owns The Strand, an Art Deco restaurant in Miami Beach, Florida.


"Whether he be original or a plagiarist, man is the novelist of himself," wrote Ortega y Gasset. In Borrowed Lives, Corngold and Giersing have written the "novel of himself" for their hero, the tenant Paul van Pein, who is at once original and a plagiarist. This narrative, novel, and critical fiction about an academic expatriate in the south of France tells the story of a life lived in response to the desire of another — the mysterious landlady Margot Stevens. Paul is conscripted into her plan, until he finally rebels against her subtle tyranny. In telling this story with wit and playful allusiveness, Corngold and Giersing enact the process of "original" novel writing; the story of their hero parallels their own original composition.

"Paul van Pein is an utter original: he lives, loves, laughs, and hates without restraint. His mysterious adversary Margot is equally fearsome. From slow dreamy beginnings the story gathers momentum and hurtles toward its awful climax. " — Susannah York

"I like the way this book plays on the notion of a quest for genuineness that always and inevitably falls short, whether the quest for a genuine love, a genuine character, or a genuine novel. " — Clayton Koelb, University of Chicago