Arthur Schnitzler


(Copyright © 1999 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions )

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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, died unexpectedly. 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 publisher, Jalaudek, 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 Anna's place. 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 with that. 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 suicide. 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 finally Anna.

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 A scornful 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.

Characters:

  • 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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(Copyright © 2003 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions )