Arthur Schnitzler (1862)
"Sterben/ Dying" (1895) is a double psychological portrait of a young man
who is dying and of the young woman who loves him. Schnitzler digs manically
into their psyche as the illness progressively separates them and indirectly
prepares them to the eternal separation. Love morphs slowly into something
terrible until the novel almost becomes a horror story. This short novel is
a poem to both love and life, but also a meditation of how mutually
exclusive they are.
Marie is a woman in love. One day her lover Felix discloses to her the terrible
news: a specialist doctor has told him that he only has one year to live.
Marie is devastated and talks about committing suicide to die with him.
The following day Marie visits their friend Alfred, the very doctor who has
been taking care of Felix but has also been hiding from him the gravity of
his disease. Alfred is upset to hear that the specialist had no tact. He insists
that medicine is often wrong, and advises the couple to go on vacation in the
mountains, where Felix's health might improve. They spend a magical summer
there. At times he considers suicide, both to avoid the humiliating agony to
come and to free his lover. At other times he feels that he might be the rare
case who heals and survives. On the other hand, she would like to die with him,
and considers the idea that they commit suicide together.
When they decide to return home, Felix reads in the newspaper that the
specialist has died. Ironically, the man who predicted Felix's death died
suddenly and unexpectedly. On the way back they stop in a town where a
singing festival is being held. Seeing the festive youth dancing and singing
depresses Felix, and Marie convinces him to complete the journey home.
He arrives unconscious, having fallen in a deep sleep. Alfred is at the
station waiting for them and immediately visits him. Alfred prescribes rest,
and Felix knows what it means. Felix is afraid of death, and realizes this
is what all dying people have felt ever since, including heroes and
philosophers. They all pretend to be strong for posterity, but in reality
the last moments are pure fear of the unknown. One day Alfred mentions casually
to Marie that she looks pale. She is indeed depressed. Staying inside all the
time to take care of an ever weaker Felix is beginning to take a toll on her
own health. She is also craving for crowds, for action, for life. When Felix
is asleep, she sneaks out for an hour. She enjoys it thoroughly but eventually
she feels anxiety for Felix and quickly returns home. Felix woke up and panicked
not finding her next to him. He makes a pathetic scene, like a child whom the
mom left alone for a few minutes. Marie is beginning to feel not love but just
pity for Felix; and Felix cries silently. Slowly the psychology is changing
from absolute unbreakable love to a sort of blackmail by which Felix keeps
Marie captive while she's longing for a return to the normal life of a young
woman. After weeks of being in bed and often delirious, one day Felix accuses
Alfred and Marie of plotting against him, of letting him die without trying
to save him, and demands to travel south, to sunnier weather. Alfred gives
his permission, but he is implying that his patient can't get any worse than
he already is. But Felix does get worse during the night on the train. He is
delirious in a threatening way. He tells Marie to get ready because the time
is coming, implying that he expects her to die with him, her old pledge when
she could not live without him. When they arrive and find a house to stay,
he repeats his threat, using even more ominous words that frighten Marie.
He is not asking her anymore, he is simply telling her that he will take her
with him. She even wonders if he's planning to poison her or strangle her.
She can't help imagine her life without him: sure some loneliness at the
beginning, but then also freedoma and a return to life after being an exhausted
nurse for so long. Marie sends a telegram to Alfred asking him to come as
soon as possible. When the end comes, Felix reminds one more time Marie of
her promise to die with him and does try to strangle her. Marie screams
and runs out. Alfred is coming just then. When they reenter the house,
Felix is lying dead on the floor.
"Traumnovelle/ Dream Story" (1925) delves into the disturbing psyche of a
middle-class man. Within the space of a day he is morbidly attracted by a
number of women, even a prostitute and an insane teenager, and seems ready
to fall lower and lower in the hell of the senses until a a mysterious stranger
gives her life to save his. We don't quite know if all of this truly happened
or it was just a dream, nor whether the woman who died is truly the one who
saved the protagonist. The story takes place inside a man's psyche.
At the end he returned to his family life, cleansed of his perverted nightmare.
Fridolin, a 35-year old doctor, and Albertina are married with a child. They are an unusual
couple in that they can talk openly about morbid sexual desires they felt for
others. He even confesses to her his attraction for a teenage girl. She almost
cheated on him with a stranger she met at the beach. One day Fridolin has to
rush to see a patient. When he gets there, the man has already died. His
daughter is a 26-year old spinster, Marianne, who is finally engaged to a
young but unattractive man. She lost her mother a few years earlier, and now
her father too. When they are alone, Marianne gets on her knees
and confesses her love for Fridolin in front of the dead man. Fridolin had
sensed that she loved him and is not shocked.
In the street he bumps into a drunk student and is ashamed by his own
cowardice: instead of challenging the insolent youth, Fridolin walks away.
He accidentally wanders into the red-light district and is intrigued by a
17-year old prostitute, Mizzi. He follows her to her apartment but then
decides to leave. She points out that he's afraid. Before leaving her shabby
apartment, he kisses her hand, as if she were a lady.
He stops by a coffee house to read the newpaper and learns that a young woman
committed suicide. Then an old acquaintance recognizes him,
Nachtigall, a Polish Jew who studied medicine but abandoned the career to
become a musician.
Nachtigall now has a wife and four children and, after playing all over Europe,
has settled down in the city and works for coffee houses and private parties.
He tells Fridolin the weirdest of his engagements: he is frequently hired to
play in a secluded villa. It is some sort of secret society: a password is
required to be admitted, and the password changes every night.
Despite being blindfolded, he has been able to see
what goes on: a masked party during which the ladies strip naked. It is now
late night and Nachtigall is about to head for the villa. Fridolin is morbidly
curious and begs to know the password.
Nachtigall warns Fridolin that it could be dangerous but then tells him
the password, which happens to be "Denmark", the country where Fridolin and
Albertine just spend a holiday and where Albertine almost cheated on him with
the handsome stranger.
Fridolin rushes to purchase a monk costume and a mask. The owner
of the shop is briefly distracted when he realizes that two men are molesting
his daughter Pierrette, who is clearly insane. Angry and disgusted, the owner
promises to call the police on them, but first attends to Fridolin.
Fridolin is morbidly curious about Pierrette too.
Finally, Fridolin is on his way to the villa. Upon uttering the password, he
is admitted inside. A whispering crowd of masked men and women has assembled
while solemn baroque music is being played by his blindfolded friend.
The women undress, keeping only
their masks to hide their faces. One of them approaches Fridolin and warns
him that he is risking his life. She has correctly guessed that he is an
intruder. She mentions the girl who committed suicide as an example of
the deadly consequences of messing with this secret society.
Fridolin is so captivated by her naked body that his determination
to stay actually increases. Inevitably, the others eventually realize that
he is an intruder: there is another password required from guests, that
Nachtigall didn't tell him because the musician is not given it. The masked
guests surround Fridolin and something terrible is about to happen, but the
same beautiful woman comes to rescue him saying that she is willing to "redeem
him". The crowd is shocked to hear that she is willing to sacrifice herself
for the stranger. Fridolin does not know what that means, but he refuses to
leave without her. He is not given him a choice: he is taken outside, driven
away on a hearse and left in the middle of nowhere. He has to walk his way
back into town. People are just beginning to wake up.
The night has repeatedly excited his lasciviousness.
Back home, he wakes up his wife who seems to be having a nightmare.
His excuse for being out the whole night is that his patient died and he
couldn't leave the relatives. She tells him that she had a fantastic dream
in which he got crucified for refusing to sleep with a princess, while she,
instead, slept with another man. Fridolin reads something terrible in this
dream and feels that she has become his mortal enemy.
Determined to rescue the woman who "sacrificed" herself for him, the following
night Fridolin looks for his friend Nachtigall but he has disappeared.
Fridolin then visits the man who rented the costume and brings up the case
of the man's insane daughter who was being molested by two men. The man is
hostile and then Fridolin finds out why: one of the molesters comes out of a
room satisfied of his encouter with the girl. Hence the father simply sold his
daughter's sex to one of the molesters. He had only pretended to be outraged,
when in fact he simply wanted to charge the molesters a ticket admission.
Fridolin returns to the villa but cannot go beyond the gate and is given a
letter that contains a stern warning to stop investigating. The letter is
addressed to him which means that they extorted his name from
Nachtigall. Next he visits Marianne, who is about to leave town and get
married, and looks for the prostitute Mizzi, but learns that she has been
hospitalized. At the club he reads in the newspaper that a baroness tried
to poison herself. At the hospital he learns that she died. He visits the
morgue but in vain: he never saw her face and cannot tell whether the corpse
is the woman who saved him or not. He returns home, lies in bed next to his
wife and starts sobbing. She wakes up and they make love. Then they listen
to their daughter playing in the adjacent room.
"Der Weg ins Freie/ The Road into the Open" (1908) is a fresco of aristocratic
life at the "fin the siecle".
Two months have gone by since Georg's father, a baron and an amateur botanist,
This follows the death of his mother, who was sick for a long time.
Because of her illness, Georg and his older brother Felician had spent several
years in southern Europe.
Georg, who is now working on a quintet, is reminded of Anna Rosner
by two songs that he had originally written for her.
Georg belongs to an aristocratic family, whereas
Anna is the daughter of lower middle-class parents.
On the way to her place he meets a Hungarian Jew, Willy, who tells him that his
childhood friend Else is engaged to a writer, Heinrich.
Anna too has had no news from Else (with whom she went to school) in a while.
While Georg and Anna are playing music, Georg can hear her brother Josef
begs his mother for money, promising that he is about to get a job from a
as opposed to the despised Jews he has worked for before.
Just then Berthold, a Jew, comes to visit the family: he has resigned from his
political job and has decided to return to science, and to move to Paris.
His last act as a politician was to defend in parliament
Anna's friend Therese, an independent woman who is accused of giving an
anti-goverment speech. Members of the parliament insulted him with racist
epithets. But the reason he resigned has to do with the very
Jalaudek mentioned by Josef.
Berthold's father, doctor Stauber, knew Georg's mother.
He relates that Therese's mother is devastated: a daughter (Therese) in prison,
a son in the military (Leo is a patriot), and a husband who is a ruined businessman.
Later Georg meets the Jewish writer Heinrich, who once asked him to compose an
opera for him. And they run into Else's sister Oskar and his girlfriend
Amelie. Amelie complains that Oskar spends all his spare time with
his friend Demeter. Oskar whispers to Georg that he is about to break with this
girl, after having stolen her from her fiance.
Heinrich is troubled by his father's declining mental health, and by a letter
that he received from his lover. Georg feels that so much intimacy is not appropriate, and
is reminded of those who think Heinrich does not behave properly.
On the way home Georg thinks back to the first girl who had sex with him (a
teenager in Florence) and to the married woman, Marianne, who had a passionate
affair with him; and he realizes that both pale in comparison with the pure
Anna. At home he meets his brother Felician, who is studying to become a diplomat, and who mentions that their friend Guido is dating a Jewish girl, a Conservatory student. Georg stays up till very late composing a movement of his quintet.
Else tells her mother that Georg is nothing more than a good friend, despite
a crush when she was a teenager. Else also denies being in love with Heinrich,
who is dating the actress. Else also discounts the possibility that Georg be
seriously in love with Marianne. On the other hand, Else has sensed that
Georg is seriously attracted by Anna. Anna's father, meanwhile, is preparing
to leave: he wants to see Jerusalem. Anna's father has been a successful man,
despite being a Jew, but complains about anti-semitism. Anna's mother mentions
that her son Oskar hates Jews, whom he sees behind every event.
Georg, Edmund, Demeter, Willy and Heinrich arrive one after the other at
Georg can't stand Edmund, who became famous thanks to a novel.
Edmund, hostile to publicity, has no intention of ever writing again.
Therese, released from prison, also shows up. Georg mentions that her brother
Leo is a pianist and a mathematician, but the father is ruined.
Therese and Leo are both in politics: Therese is a socialist, Leo a Zionist.
Present at the gathering are also Marianne and another woman whom Georg was
attracted to, Oberberger, married to a geologist who travels around the world and has affairs with many women.
Georg leaves the party to meet Anna, with whom he has been spending a lot of time. She swears to him that she will love him more than she has ever loved any other man, and confesses that her great love so far had been for her much older tutor.
Another woman whom Georg thinks of is Grace, but she is now very far.
Despite all these women, Georg always feel liberated when he leaves them.
Georg tells Anna of his friendship with the Jew Guido, who is in love with
a violinist. Anna reports that Jalandek wanted her as a singer for a benefit
concert but she declined.
Anna knows that the political party wants Berthold to run at the next election.
Anna is probably pregnant and Georg suggests that they take a vacation
together. She is facing the prospect of having a child from a lover,
and he of being tied to a woman at a young age.
Else's father just came back from Palestine where he saw the Jewish settlements.
Anna almost faints at a party, but only Else and her mother notice it.
Georg plans to emigrate to Germany and take up a music job. Georg and Sissy
flirt during the party.
Heinrich is leaving to pick up his senile father and Georg is sorry to love him.
Heinrich confesses that he and the actress are still exchanging love letters.
Georg is worried that Anna might betray him with other men.
Georg goes on a bicycle excursion with Heinrich and they meet Leo.
Heinrich resents his father's failure in politics, due to the rise of the
anti-Semitic movement which is now leading him to madness.
Leo also has a ruined father, although for business reasons.
Heinrich and Leo are both Jews but Leo is Zionist whereas Heinrich, an atheist,
despises the whole notion of a homeland for the Jews.
Georg cannot help liking Leo, and understands why Anna had a crush on him,
six years earlier.
Left alone with Georg, Heinrich confesses his love problems with the actress:
she won't give up her career for him and so she left town, and now Heinrich
himself is planning to leave town. Georg then rushes home because he has an
evening date with Anna.
Georg and Anna leave for Italy, where they plan to have the baby, who would
then be entrusted to a foster mother back home. They are looking for a country
house near Vienna, but he has no intention of marrying her and she seems fine
Georg has spent the last days in town hanging out with Edmund, whose sister had
died tragically after failing to make a career as an actress.
A few people have been informed of Anna's pregnancy:
Berthold's father, the good doctor who is proud of understanding "modern"
customs (and therefore does not see Georg as the libertine seducer of an
innocent poor girl as most old people would), Therese and her mother (who
become close friends of Anna's) and Georg's brother Felician, who confronts
him about his ability to plan, both in relationships and in career. Georg
protests that he is planning an opera, whose libretto will be written by
Heinrich. Therefore, the parents of two of Georg's friends
(Berthold's father and Leo's mother) will get involved in the future of
Georg's child (and less disapprovingly than Anna's own parents).
When Georg visited Else, she told him that she knew too, and she also
candidly admitted that she had been in love with him.
Else's family is undergoing
a crisis due to the hostility between her brother Oskar (who enjoys a life of
leisure) and his father (who pays for it). Georg also learns that
Demeter will soon leave the army. Leo also knows but refrains from judging
and only informs Georg that Heinrich's father has died.
During the trip with Anna there are places that remind Georg of
Grace and of Labinski, a young man who killed himself either because of debts
or because of Grace. Anna knows of Georg's affair with Grace and of Labinski's
Georg feels that this is the happiest time of his life and he wants nothing
more than Anna's happiness, but then he cannot conceive of marrying her.
One day he meets Therese and learns that she is traveling with Demeter.
A lengthy letter from Heinrich, that Georg reads to Anna, mentions that
Heinrich had an argument with Therese after hearing one of her political
speeches. Anna dislikes Heinrich, whom she considers an egotist. Heinrich
also writes that Oskar has been humiliated in public by his father after the
old man caught him making a Catholic gesture in front of a church.
Heinrich also mentions their friend Gleissner, whose new mission in life is
to turn a pure woman into a whore and turn a whore into a nun.
When Anna meets Therese and Demeter, she mentions that she owes Oskar's father
because he helped her cause, despite being a rich factory owner.
Therese mentions that Leo is being persecuted by an anti-Semitic officer
while in the army, but he only has two more months to go.
Another letter from Heinrich announces that Oskar has attempted suicide
(with the only result of losing an eye).
Georg and Anna return to Vienna, and Anna stays at a country villa found by
Therese and in the company of Therese's mother.
Therese is a frequent visitor: her affair with Demeter is over.
Anna's own parents are less
caring than Therese's mother. They are clearly ashamed and disapproving.
Most of Georg's friends are out of town. Georg has finally read the novel
that made Edmund famous and feels some jealousy for a smarter man.
Heinrich is the only friend in town and Georg discusses the opera with him
the opera, but is hurt by Heinrich's anti-German stand: the opera is about
a tragicomic hero, a Jew who loves his country despite his countrymen's
anti-Semitic stance (like his own father did).
Georg retorts that Heinrich is afflicted by persecution mania and maybe should
emigrate with Leo to Palestine, something that Heinrich has no intention of
doing. But Heinrich sees tragicomedy in everything, not only in the Jewish
condition, for example in Oskar's failed suicide.
Heinrich has not told Georg how his relationship with the actress ended
but it appears that she betrayed him.
Georg is still planning to move out of Vienna and look for some position
elsewhere, and is still vague about his future with Anna. He loves her very
much but shudders at the idea of simply becoming a family man, of not being
able to sleep with other women, of having her around him all the time.
Anna does not ask for it either: her plan is to open a music school, and earn
enough money to take her child back, regardless of whether Georg ever
marries her or not.
During a visit at Anna's villa,
Heinrich mentions that Sissy is back in town, and Georg's passion for this
old flame of his is suddenly reawakened even in front of Anna.
Berthold's father, doctor Stauber, subtly reproaches Georg for his inability
to take responsibility of Anna and of the child.
Georg still dreams of Labinski. He is returning to visit Anna after a trip
during which he had an affair with a married woman, risking his life.
He feels that he would have been willing to sacrifice Anna,
the unborn child and all of his friends for this married woman if she only
had said so.
His mind wanders to all the women of his life: Grace, Marianne, Sissy and
Anna probably senses that there is a new woman in Georg's life, but doesn't
say anything. Georg has mixed feelings about the child that will soon enter
his life. But the child is born dead. At the same time Georg receives good
news: he is offered the job in another town that he was hoping for.
Heinrich too has bad news: his actress committed suicide. Heinrich does not
feel guilty: she cheated on him, he didn't forgive her, she got desperate,
she took her life, and he doesn't feel he is any more responsible than the
lake in which she drowned herself. Heinrich also mentions that he had a big
argument with Therese over politics.
Georg remembers his conversation with Grace by Labiski's grave: he had
shot himself in front of her door. Georg now feels that he doesn't want any
more adventure. His brother Felician too is about to leave.
Georg decides that he wants to stay
with Anna but Anna advises him to take the job: if they have to have a future
together, it depends on him having a job. Georg is appalled that the baby
has already been disposed of.
A few months later Georg returns to town for a brief visit.
He hears that Leo has killed
an anti-Semitic officer who persecuted him, that he has been jailed for
murder, and that Else's father has paid bail for Leo.
Berthold tells his father that he has chosen to return to politics and
abandon science, and his father, the doctor, disagrees. The doctor accuses
his son of not being a compassionate person when
Berthold confesses that he dislikes Georg over the matter with Anna.
Georg meets Else at the opera and she announces that she is marrying Sissy's brother James.
Else offers to adopt Anna's child, not knowing that the child died at birth.
Oskar is traveling to India with the disgraced prince Guastalla, who has been
banished from court.
Georg's brother Felician is in Greece.
Georg sees Gleissner with a girl and wonders whether she's the prostitute he
is trying to turn into a saint, or a good innocent girl whom he is trying to
turn into a whore.
Georg is still torn between his love for Anna, whom he invites on a trip,
and his freedom. Anna turns down his invitation: she doesn't want to go through
this torture again. Everybody around them assumes that their relationship is
over. Only Georg still has glimpses of a possible future. He is also haunted
by the suspicion that the child may have died because he, the father, didn't
want him hard enough.
Heinrich has completed his opera, that ends with the suicide of the protagonist.
Heinrich admits that he is a mess inside. Georg views his writer friend,
whose play Edmund criticizes, as destined to failure and possibly suicide.
Georg is, instead, quite content with himself.
- Georg, a baron
- Heinrich Bermann
- Leo Golowsky
- Therese Golowsky
- Berthold Stauber
- Sissy Wyner
- James Wyner
- Willy Eissler
- Edmund Nuernberger
- Else Ehrenberg
- Demeter Stanzides
- Anna Rosner
(Translation by/ Tradotto da xxx) |
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