Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Two Novellas by Arthur Schnitzler

Late Fame

In Late Fame, Eduard Saxberger is an unmarried civil servant in Vienna; he's approaching seventy. His life is quiet, but he has a few friends he meets regularly at his favorite restaurant.

Forty years ago he published a book of poetry The Wanderers which sank without notice; but in the 1890s, young poet Wolfgang Meier finds the book again, loves it, hunts down the aging Saxberger, and draws him into his circle of young literati. Late Fame has come to Saxberger.

At first it's nice. None of his restaurant regular friends knew he once had aspirations to poetry; he scarcely believed it himself anymore, but now Meier and his circle are telling him he's inspirational. Fräulein Gasteiner, the actress in the group, flirts with him, and the circle organize a reading and wouldn't he write something new to be the star of the evening?

Of an earlier draft, Schnitzler wrote in his diary, "...end not sad enough." You'll have to see if you think the end is now sad enough, but it's not as sad as it possibly could be, and there's definitely humor in the middle parts.

The younger characters in the novella in the novella are partly caricatures of the Jung-Wien group of the 1890s in Vienna, of which Schnitzler himself was a young member. But the novella's artists are a little more hapless than the Jung-Wien group, which did have some notable successes among its members: Schnitzler himself as well as Hugo von Hofmannsthal and (for a while) Karl Kraus.

The novella was written at the time it was set for a weekly magazine Die Zeit (not connected as far as I can tell to the current German newspaper) but it was deemed too long for that and so it never appeared while Schnitzler was alive. His papers were rescued with the help of the British embassy in the aftermath of Anschluss; otherwise it would have been lost. It came out in English in 2015 and is translated by Alexander Starritt with an afterword.

Fräulein Else

Else is a nineteen-year-old girl staying a vacation spot in the Italian Alps; she's chaperoned by an aunt and her cousin is also present, but her parents are at home in Vienna. A nice life, right? Well, not entirely.

A letter arrives from her mother--written at the instigation of her father--asking Else to ask Herr von Dorsday for money. The situation is desperate; her father, a society lawyer, has been caught pilfering from a trust he administers in order to feed his gambling habit; if the money isn't restored in a few days, he'll be taken up for embezzlement, which means dishonorable jail or an honorable-ish suicide. Hours later a telegram comes from her father saying even more money is needed.

Herr von Dorsday is ostensibly a friend of her father, if her father still has any friends; his gambling compulsion and consequent need to sponge is well-known in Viennese society. And worse, what everyone knows, including both Else and her father, is that Herr von Dorsday is an old roué, who can't keep his hands off the girls. Does her father want Else to ask because it's an emergency and the personal touch is better? Or does he figure the 'personal touch' is better and it's Else who will be touched?

The novel is told in stream of consciousness--Else's--and it follows every twist and turn of her thought throughout this impossible situation she's been thrown into. I found it very convincing, but also very painful. So, though it's impressive, you might want to be sure to save it for a moment you can bear to read such a thing. It is timely, though, as Harvey Weinstein (hopefully!) is going off to jail.

The novella came out in German in 1924. My copy is from Pushkin Press and is translated by F. H. Lyon.

Collected Arthur Schnitzler on the blog.

Unsettled times. Keep well!


  1. neither of these seem very likely: if i was old ( i am) and got approached by a bunch of kids i'd think i was being set up for something... the other one just is sort of icky: do people really act like that? and if so why write about it? pardon my negativity, but the truth will out... glad to see your post; i thought maybe the dread disease paid a visit...

    1. I could claim the whole virus situation has been discombobulating, I suppose, but really I've just been lazy...I have a few other things I should blog about as well...anyway healthy so far.

      Saxberger was a bit uncertain when approached, but not really of a scam. More innocent days back then, I guess.

      Manipulative parents seem possible to me, especially given that Else's father is basically an addict. Not from personal experience--my parents, now gone alas, were very nice, well-behaved people whom I quite liked (as well as loved). But at second hand I've seen some pretty awful parents.

  2. This is not an author I've ever heard of I'm sorry to say, but I'm intrigued by Fraulein Else.

    1. He's probably most famous in English for La Ronde, a play that's been made into a movie a couple of times. Also one of his novellas was the basis for Eyes Wide Shut. As usual I read the book, but never saw the movie...

  3. Yet another author previously unknown to me that you have brought to my attention! I think I can handle sad better in a novella than a novel - do you think Henry James can hear me from the grave? Ha ha. Hope you and yours are staying safe and healthy.

    1. All's well here (other than boredom...) Hope the same is true with you! Thanks for checking in.

      Fräulein Else was more than long enough at 120 pages or so. It was great but painful to read. Late Fame did have some funny bits as it went along so that helped. I was worried that the ending was going to be much more of a downer than it was.

      Portrait of A Lady was pretty dang sad, and it was quite long enough.

  4. How nice to know that the work was eventually published, although sad that it was after the author's death. Both of these sound like rewarding reading experiences, if difficult reading experiences too. The novella does seem like a perfect form in that instance. You can step in and out in a single reading session.

    1. I get the sense that Schnitzler was celebrated during his life and that he was prolific enough that he could write this, spend a good part of a year on it, but it didn't break him that it wasn't published.

      I'd like to throw off enough sparks that if one of them fell in the lake and fizzed out I wouldn't mind, because enough would fall in the dry grass and burst into flame. But it ain't so, I'm afraid...Schnitzler, though, may have been that person.