Arthur Schnitzler Essay - Schnitzler, Arthur

Schnitzler, Arthur


Arthur Schnitzler 1862-1931

Austrian short story writer, playwright and novelist.

Known for his stylistic experiments in both drama and prose, Schnitzler's works analyzed pre-World War I Vienna society. His work was influenced by some of the theories of psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud.

Biographical Information

Schnitzler was born in Vienna in 1862 in an upper-middle-class Jewish family. At the Akademisches Gymnasium in Vienna from 1871 to 1879, he was considered a model student, graduating with honors. Influenced by his father and maternal grandfather, Schnitzler went to the University of Vienna in 1879 to study medicine. He received his Doctor of General Medicine degree in 1885 and became editor of the medical journal Internationale klinische Rundschau in 1887. The following year he became an assistant at his father's practice. Despite his success as a physician Schnitzler began writing Anatol, (1893) one of his most important plays. After his father's death in 1893, Schnitzler spent more time writing than practicing medicine, and in 1895 one of his most popular plays, Liebelei, (1895) was performed for the first time at the Burgtheater. Schnitzler was also a member of the Jung-Wein group, a literary movement of impressionist writers that met at the Vienna Café Griensteidl. The Jung-Wein were strongly opposed to naturalism, popular in Berlin society of the time. It was with the Jung-Wein that Schnitzler met fellow Austrian playwright Hugo von Hofmannsthal. Schnitzler died of a cerebral hemorrhage in Vienna in 1931.

Major Works

Schnitzler's plays generally focus on sex, death, and the turmoil of the human psyche. His first published play, Anatol, remains one of the most important works of his career. The play is comprised of seven one-act plays composed between 1888 and 1891; it is intended to be performed as a complete cycle, but each of the one-acts can stand alone and has been performed separately. The title character, Anatol, is a melancholy playboy given to self-analysis and narcissism. His sexual double standard—expecting purity of women while partaking in numerous dalliances of his own—is considered a conscious mirror and criticism of Schnitzler's and all of fin de siècle (a term used to describe end-of-the-century culture) Vienna's views on sexuality. Perhaps not surprisingly, the play did not escape controversy. Censors in Austria and Germany objected in particular to the episode entitled Abschiedssouper (Farewell Supper)—the first of the one-acts to be performed separately in 1893—because of its frank handling of female infidelity. Schnitzler again addressed sexuality in Liebelei (performed 1895), using the paradigm of the süβes Mädel (“sweet girl”) to examine relationships that cross class lines and, symbolically, abuses of the bourgeoisie by the upper classes. Schnitzler's most notorious play, Reigen, (1920) is also his most widely adapted. It was performed in various versions throughout the twentieth century despite the author's own ban. These versions include a film entitled La Ronde (1950). Based in form on the traditional dance in the round, Reigen consists of ten dialogues—nine of them dealing directly with various sex acts—between men and women who are involved sexually. Illustrating the dance motif of the title, one partner from each dialogue appears in the dialogue immediately following it, so that each is involved with two partners in the play. In this way Schnitzler emphasizes the pervasiveness of sexual desire across class and gender lines. Paracelsus (performed 1899) is set in sixteenth-century Basel and written in verse.

Critical Reception

Schnitzler's plays experienced widely divergent attention in his lifetime. Zwischenspiel, (1905) Der junge Medardus, (1910) and Professor Bernhardi (1912) received awards. On the other hand, many of his plays, including Professor Bernhardi, were censored, excoriated, and outright banned at one time or another, especially Reigen which Schnitzler banned himself, and remained banned until his son Heinrich lifted the ban in 1981. In their published form his plays were considered more accessible than those of his contemporaries, so he maintained a wide reading audience. But the increasingly hostile anti-Semitic atmosphere of early-twentieth-century Austria and Germany often led to public protests over the staging of works by Jewish writers such as Schnitzler. Additionally, his frequent exploration in his plays on the mores of the upper-middle-class Viennese resulted in an unfortunate stereotype of Schnitzler as a writer of frivolous, one-dimensional drawing-room comedies despite his concurrent focus on issues of ethics and mortality. Towards the late twentieth century, critical opinion of Schnitzler's plays shifted to recognize his subtle social criticism and psychological depth. He is now considered a serious, sophisticated examiner of the human condition.

Principal Works

Das Abenteuer seines Lebens 1891

*Anatol 1893

Das Märchen 1893

Liebelei 1895

Freiwild 1896

Das Vermächtnis 1898

Der grüne Kakadu 1899

Paracelsus 1899

Der Schleier der Beatrice 1900

Lebendige Stunden 1902

Der Puppenspieler 1903

Der einsame Weg 1904

Zwischenspiel 1905

Der Ruf des lebens 1906

Komtesse Mizzi oder der Familientag 1909

Der junge Medardus 1910

Der Schleier der Pierrette The Bridal Veil 1910

Das weite Land

Professor Bernhardi 1912

Komödie der Worte 1915

Fink und Fliederbusch 1917

Die Schwestern oder Casanova in Spa 1920

Reigen 1920

Komödie der Verführung 1924

Im Spiel der Sommerlüfte 1929

Der Gang zum Weiher 1931

Anatols Grössenwahn 1932

Die überspannte Person 1932

Halbzwei 1932

Sterben: Novelle (novel) 1895

Die Frau des Weisen: Novelletten (novella) 1898

Leutnant Gustl: Novelle [None But the Brave] (novel) 1901

Frau Bertha Garlan: Novelle (novel) 1901

Die griechische Tänzerin: Novelle (novel) 1905

Dämmerseelen: Novelle (novel) 1907

Masken und Wunder: Novelle (novel) 1912

Frau Beate und ihr Sohn: Novelle [Beatrice: A Novel] (novel) 1913

Gesammelte Werke in zwei Abteilungen 9 vols. (collected works) 1913-23

Casanovas Heimfahrt: Novelle [Casanova's Homecoming] (novel) 1918

Fräulein Else: Novelle (novel) 1924

Die Frau des Richters: Novelle (novel) 1925

Traumnovelle [Rhapsody: A Dream Novel] (novel) 1926

Spiel im Morgengrauen: Novelle [Day-Break] (novel) 1927

Buch der Sprüche und Bedenken: Aphorismen und Betrachtungen (aphorisms) 1927

Die Erwachenden: Novelle (novel) 1928

Flucht in die Finsternis: Novelle [Flight into Darkness: A Novel] (novel) 1931

Abenteurernovelle (novel) 1937

Über Krieg und Frieden [Some Day Peace Will Return: Notes on War and Peace] (nonfiction) 1939

Jugend in Wien: Eine Autobiographie [My Youth in Vienna] (autobiography) 1968

Briefwechsel mit Otto Brahm [edited by Otto Seidlin] (letters) 1953

Georg Brandes und Arthur Schnitzler: Ein Briefwechsel [edited by Kurt Bergel] (letters) 1956

Der Briefwechsel Arthur Schnitzlers mit Max Reinhardt und dessen Mitarbeitern [edited by Renate Wagner] (letters) 1971

The Correspondence of Arthur Schnitzler and Raoul Auernheimer, with Raoul Auernheimer's Aphorisms [edited by Donald G. Daviau and Jorun B. Johns] (letters and aphorisms) 1972

The Letters of Arthur Schnitzler to Hermann Bahr [edited by Donald G. Daviau] (letters) 1978

*This work is comprised of the following seven one-act plays: Die Frage an das Schicksal, Weihnacht seinkaüfe, Episode, Denksteine, Abschiedssouper, Agonie, and Anatols Hochzeitmorgen. Anatol was performed in English translation on numerous occasions; it was also performed in English as The Loves of Anatol in 1985.

†This work was performed in English translation as Flirtation, 1905; The Reckoning, 1907; Light-o'-Love, 1912; Playing with Love, 1914, and Flirtations, 1981.

‡This work was performed in English translation as La Ronde in 1960; it was also published in English as Hands Around in 1920. It was adapted to film as La Ronde in 1950.

Criticism: General Commentary

Joseph W. Bailey (essay date 1920)

SOURCE: Bailey, Joseph W. “Arthur Schnitzler's Dramatic Work.” Texas Review 5, no. 4 (1920): 294-307.

[In the following essay, Bailey addresses the supposed amorality that other critics found in Schnitzler's works, arguing that Schnitzler rightly puts his art above the “interests of a prudish morality.”]

In that classic of literary criticism which Mr. Joseph Conrad has appended as a preface to his inimitable novel, The Nigger of the Narcissus, we are given a statement of the author's artistic creed:

To arrest, for the space of a breath, the hands busy about the work of the earth, and compel men entranced by the sight...

(The entire section is 4931 words.)

Martin Swales (essay date 1971)

SOURCE: Swales, Martin. “Tragedy and Comedy.” In Arthur Schnitzler: A Critical Study, pp. 181-214. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971.

[In the following essay, Swales explores elements of tragedy and comedy in Liebelei and Zwischenspiel.]

Liebelei is the nearest Schnitzler comes to writing tragedy. Here, he explicitly measures the sexual behaviour of the young man-about-town, of the Anatol figure, against the possibility of total and passionate surrender to love, and judges the young man accordingly. In this play Schnitzler takes issue with many of the moral conventions of his time. In this sense Liebelei recalls Ibsen, although it lacks the...

(The entire section is 11832 words.)

Reinhard Urbach (interview date 1973)

SOURCE: Urbach, Reinhard. “Early Full-Length Plays.” In Arthur Schnitzler, pp. 35-71. New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., 1973.

[In the following excerpt, Urbach provides critical overviews of Anatol, The Fairy Tale, and Light-O'Love.]


A superficial man soon finds something profound.

—Johann Nestroy

The cycle of seven loosely connected scenes entitled Anatol concerns a young bachelor, Anatol, who in each act experiences a new love affair and discusses it with his friend Max.

Scene 1: Ask...

(The entire section is 8496 words.)

Stephanie Hammer (essay date 1986)

SOURCE: Hammer, Stephanie. “Fear and Attraction: Anatol and Liebelei Productions in the United States.” Modern Austrian Literature 19, no. 3-4 (1986): 63-74.

[In the following essay, Hammer examines the American production histories of Anatol and Liebelei to unearth American perceptions of Schnitzler in particular and of European art in general.]

The American production histories of Anatol (complete cycle 1910) and Liebelei (1902) are both intriguing and revealing. The divergent fortunes of Schnitzler's two seminal theatrical works in this country provide a useful comparative basis for measuring the image and impact of his...

(The entire section is 4353 words.)