Austrian Literature

The last decades of the Habsburg Monarchy

Parallel to Anzengruber and Rosegger, who stand for the traditional themes and expressive possibilities of Austrian literature, an extraordinarily rich literature developed around the turn of the century, which opened up all varieties of modernity for the German-speaking area. The multitude of terms that have been tried to find a common denominator for this epoch (symbolism, neo-romanticism, Viennese expressionism, decadence) reflects the confusing diversity of its representatives (all of them in the 1960s to 1980s are born), vividly reflect their self-image and their objectives. Also the circle of the “Young Vienna” with A. Schnitzler, R. Beer-Hofmann, L. von Andrian-Werburg, H. von Hofmannsthal, H. Bahr, P. Altenberg did not combine any actual program; All they had in common was the knowledge of the postponed, inevitable end of the Habsburg Empire and a simultaneous interest in psychological processes, in the intellectual, urban milieu. The expression of the commonality is a motif similar to many authors: They preferred the death motif, distanced themselves from reality up to the complete mixing of reality and dream. Hofmannsthals The work exemplifies the sometimes contradicting tendencies: it processes symbolist, classicist, baroque, even medieval models one after the other or in parallel. Schnitzler succeeded in exploring the human psyche and making the most subtle internal processes visible in novellas and stage works, which caused scandals in contemporary Vienna through their open portrayal of sexual life (especially »Der Reigen«, 1903). All authors were increasingly skeptical about the language and its possibilities, articulated among other things. near Hofmannsthal(“Chandos-Brief”, 1902), v. a. but with K. Kraus, whose magazine “Die Fackel” ran language criticism as cultural criticism.

An important literary forum of these decades was L. von Ficker’s magazine »Der Brenner« (1910–54); published here G. Trakl his poems whose apocalyptic, visionary images articulate a hitherto so not perceived suffering of the world in the form of strict verse or free verse. A. Kubin wrote the key novel of Austrian modernism with »The Other Side« (1909), an oppressive end-time vision.

Since the turn of the century (and beyond the end of the Habsburg Empire), the German-speaking writers of Prague (Prager Kreis), who were more shaped by their common origins and the atmosphere of their hometown than by a common aesthetic program, formed a separate group within Austrian literature. They included authors as diverse as F. Werfel, M. Brod, G. Meyrink, J. Urzidil, E. Weiss, L. Perutz. The two outstanding figures of Austrian literature also come from this environment, and they affected world literature in the 20th century in completely different ways: R. M. Rilke and F. Kafka. In high poetic language, Rilke looked for the timeless preservation of the ephemeral through art, Kafka’s disturbing work stands for the surrender of the individual to anonymous powers and thus expressed a general attitude towards life of the 20th century.

From 1918 to 1945

The fall of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy in 1918 left deep marks in Austrian literature; he offered the great novelists the dominant material in the following decades. In doing so, however – in contrast to most contemporary German authors – they dispensed with an ideologically specific statement, although there is always a direct reference to historical reality. With a sad look back, J. Roth describes the sunken world in his novels “Radetzkymarsch” (1932) and “Die Kapuzinergruft” (1938). Also A. Lernet- Holenias work is determined by the analysis of Austrian history. R. Musils Monumental work “The Man Without Qualities” (1930–43, 3 parts), which has remained a fragment, made a significant contribution by Austrian literature to the renewal of the novel in the 20th century, analyzed with devastating irony the society “Kakania” shortly before the First World War. The novels of H. von Doderer, those of the painter-poet A. P. Gütersloh and the early works of H. Broch also revolve around the causes and consequences of the collapse with different artistic means.

Austrian literature is rich in works that revolve around bizarre and eerie events, demonic characters and supernatural processes with a lot of subtlety. This line, the v. a. by Kafka world literary looked ranges from Meyrink, Kubin, Perutz to F. von Herzmanowsky-Orlando, whose novels overflowing with baroque opulence and surreal fantasy, and is also still in the works A. Drach effective. On the other hand, S. Zweig tied to the realistic traditions of the 19th centuryon, his short stories lead the genre to a new high point in German-language literature. His historical and biographical-psychological essays (including “Great Hours of Humanity”, 1927) have been successful to the present day.

The drama in the tradition of Anzengruber was continued by K. Schönherr and in the woodcut-like Tyrolean folk plays by F. Kranewitters. At about the same time, O. Kokoschka’s visionary pieces heralded Expressionism on stage. The most important Austrian playwright of the interwar period was Ö. from Horváth. He was the socially critical, ironic innovator of the Wiener Volksstück, who also linguistically characterized the characters in his tragicomic pieces. As a dramatist of this time, one should also mention F. Bruckner, the expressionist, who had great success with his psychoanalytic plays (although he worked mainly in Berlin) F. T. Csokor and A. Wildgans, whose naturalistic tragedies were celebrated by the Viennese public.

Literary cabaret occupies a prominent position within Austrian literature. The beginnings lie with Nestroy’s couplets; In the 1920s and 30s, the popular, ingenious rebellion against specifically Austrian conventions and constraints with K. Kraus, Horváth, J. Soyfer and P. Hammerschlag reached a climax.

In Austrian literature there is a strong Catholic literary tradition going back to the 18th century (K. M. Hofbauer). In the first half of the 20th century it was represented among other things. by M. Mell, Enrica von Handel-Mazzetti and Paula Grogger, v. a. but by F. Schreyvogl, who before 1938 became a pronounced advocate of a National Socialist cultural policy. Other authors sympathized with the National Socialists out of an »elite consciousness« (according to J. Weinheber with his formally perfect poetry) or openly admitted to folk ideology (such as E. G. Kolbenheyer with his historical novels and dramas). The novels by K. H. Waggerl are not free from the glorification of blood and soil.

With the “Anschluss” of Austria in 1938, the wave of emigration in German-language literature caught up with Austrian authors. The synchronization was withdrawn (partly from Germany as early as 1933), among other things. S. Zweig, Musil, Horváth, J. Roth, F. Bruckner, Drach, Csokor and Broch, whose exiled novel “The Death of Virgil” (1945), one of the most important works of Austrian literature of the 20th century, in seeks to give an epoch balance to a large inner monologue.

Austrian Literature