I am currently reading and hugely enjoying Maria Augusta Trapp’s The Story of the Trapp Family Singers. It is difficult to read some of the early sections in particular without thinking about (or humming) The Sound of Music but, as the story progresses, we get a lot that isn’t in the movie. It comes as something of a shock, for example, when the family loses all its money when their bank goes bankrupt. A shock but an inspiration too because of the way that Maria responds to the disaster.
“It has happened many times that rich people have, in one moment, lost a fortune. When you read about such losses in novels or see them acted on the stage, they always seem dramatic. It is most interesting to go through it once yourself. [That sentence reminds me of Orwell describing the experience of being shot in the Spanish Civil War.] That voice announcing the bankruptcy of our bank had put a definite period to the end of a very comfortable chapter in our life: the chapter “Rich”.”
This equanimity in the face of financial disaster is all the more remarkable when we discover why the money was in the bank in the first place:
“The bank where our money was deposited at that time was owned by a lady, Mrs Lammer. About this time Hitler and his Nazis across the border began to make things difficult for little Austria. In order to force Austria to her knees, all tourist trade with Austria had been forbidden overnight, thus cutting her lifeline. This caused serious repercussions in the world of finance. … When [my husband] heard that she was in serious difficulties with her bank, he took all his funds, safely deposited in a big bank in England, and came to her rescue.”
But it wasn’t enough and he lost everything. He was despondent, but Maria “experienced a strange expectancy. I felt elated, and not for my life could I look discouraged, try as I would.” The former Benedictine novice had drunk deeply in the Gospels and so was able to accept sudden poverty as easily as she had been able to accept sudden wealth:
“Now, listen,” I said finally, “you didn’t do that to give yourself a good time. You wanted to help somebody in a desperate situation, didn’t you? What do we read the Gospel for? Don’t you remember that it says, whatever we do for love Him, He will reward us a hundredfold in this life, and on top of it we get life everlasting?”
It is a remarkable chapter which prepares us for the remarkable events that follow: when the Nazis invade Austria, the von Trapps are put under enormous pressure. The baron is offered, and refuses, command of a submarine in the fleet of the Third Reich. One of their children is offered, and refuses, a medical post in Vienna. The whole family is offered, and refuses, the chance to sing for Hitler at his birthday celebrations. That is when they flee the country.
I still have about 200 pages of the book to read and already the family has reached the USA. In other words, this is very much not the book of The Sound of Music. It very much deserves to be read and enjoyed on its own, quite extraordinary, terms.