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Der Tag ohne Abend (The Day without Evening) (1925)
Leo Perutz

Contributed by Andrea Albrecht

Der Tag ohne Abend/The Day without Evening is a short story which alludes to the life of Evariste Galois and to Augustine's theology. Perutz' protagonist is called Georges Durval, he lives at the beginning of the 20th century in Vienna as a dandy. Not before he is challenged to a duel he recognizes that he is destined to do mathematics and starts working obsessively on a specific mathematical problem. At the day of the duel, he finishes his solution, right before he is shot to death. Quoting Augustine's "Confessions" the narrators states: This day had no evening, and he adds a somehow surprising hypothesis concerning the meaning of the story: "The story of George Durval had to be told. Sometimes it seems to me as if it gives in insight into the economy of the world. It is questionable whether the early deceased of the sciences, of art and of literature, Puschkin for example or Lassalle or Lord Byron, would have added a single line to their life's work if death had passed them. Perhaps fate recalls only humans, who have to give nothing more, who have reached the end and are empty and burned out." After that we learn that an academic society is concerned with the collection and publication of the scientific papers of Durval, a work that will never be finished, because in the final hours of his life Durval running out of time wrote his insights on a check, a coffee table, and on a small piece of paper which is blown away by the wind.

In my opinion it is the best story written about Galois.

Leo Perutz was a trained mathematician who worked for an insurance company before he had his first success as literary writer. He had to leave Austria because of the National Socialists, but he returned in 1950.

It was written in 1924 and was published for the first time in 1925 in two journals: Hamburger Nachrichten Vol. 134 (1925) and in an Austrian journal which is still not found.

There is a funny episode following the publication: Two Austrian mathematicians (Gustav Bergmann and Hans Weisz) wrote a letter to Perutz and asked him whether his narrative had a real background... the letter is still in the "Nachlass".

It can be found in the anthology of Perutz stories "Herr, erbame dich meiner" which was originally published in 1930 by Phaidon-verlag and was reprinted by Zsolnay in 1985.

More information about this work can be found at
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Works Similar to Der Tag ohne Abend (The Day without Evening)
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Evariste Galois by Alexadre Astruc (writer and director)
  2. The French Mathematician by Tom Petsinis
  3. Evariste and Heloise by Marco Abate
  4. Agha and Math by Vladmir Karapetoff
  5. Number Stories of Long Ago by David Eugene Smith
  6. Fermat's Legacy by Ian Randal Strock
  7. The Fourth Quadrant by Dorothy Lumley
  8. A Szirakuzai Óriás [A Giant of Syracuse] by Száva István
  9. Galileo by Bertolt Brecht
  10. Confusions of Young Torless by Robert Musil
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GenreHistorical Fiction,
MediumShort Stories,

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Exciting News: The 1,600th entry was recently added to this database of mathematical fiction! Also, for those of you interested in non-fictional math books let me (shamelessly) plug the recent release of the second edition of my soliton theory textbook.

(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)