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.
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.
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.
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.
Das Abenteuer seines Lebens 1891
Das Märchen 1893
Das Vermächtnis 1898
Der grüne Kakadu 1899
Der Schleier der Beatrice 1900
Lebendige Stunden 1902
Der Puppenspieler 1903
Der einsame Weg 1904
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
Komödie der Verführung 1924
Im Spiel der Sommerlüfte 1929
Der Gang zum Weiher 1931
Anatols Grössenwahn 1932
Die überspannte Person 1932
Sterben: Novelle (novel)...
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Criticism: General Commentary
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 of distant goals to glance for a moment at the surrounding vision of form and color, of sunshine and shadows; to make them pause for a look, for a sigh, for a smile—such is the aim, difficult and evanescent, and reserved only for a very few to achieve. But sometimes, by the deserving and the fortunate, even that task is accomplished. And when it is accomplished—behold!—all the truth of life is there: a moment of vision, a sigh, a smile—and the return to an eternal rest.
Whether or not Arthur Schnitzler, dramatist, novelist, and physician of Vienna, will have been assigned a place in the pantheon of those “deserving and fortunate” ones, when the sickle of the critically iconoclastic years shall...
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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 resolute social purpose of Ibsen at his most passionately critical. It must, however, not be forgotten that Schnitzler's concerns are somewhat different from those of his great Norwegian predecessor. In a play such as Pillars of the Community, Ibsen attacks the way society is run, the powers of social administration and, with them, specific concrete forms of social abuse. Schnitzler attacks above all prevailing social attitudes; he is concerned with the way people confront and formulate personal, private experience, rather than with social activities as such. He documents the extent to which personal experience is embedded in the social reality and class-structure of his time. Schnitzler's characters inhabit a different world...
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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.]
ANATOL: A SEQUENCE OF DIALOGUES
A superficial man soon finds something profound.
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 No Questions and You'll Hear No Stories (Die Frage an das Schicksal). Anatol possesses the power of hypnosis. He could ask his beloved Cora, who permitted him to hypnotize her, whether she is faithful to him. Yet, he does not ask the question, partly because he persuades himself that he does not want to know the truth, and partly because he is convinced that one cannot know the truth. He considers the question “What is fidelity?” to be just as unanswerable as the question “Are you faithful?” He has hypnotized Cora in vain, for she could have told him “just as well without hypnosis” that she loved him.
Scene 2: A Christmas Present (Weihnachtseinkäufe). Fruitlessly Anatol adores...
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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 plays in the United States. More importantly, however, a comparison of Anatol's and Liebelei's fortunes here not only sheds light on the considerable polarity in American perceptions of Schnitzler, but also points to the paradoxical nature of our own self-perceptions and obsessions as they emerge in our reception of European art.
In March of 1985 Schnitzler's Anatol returned to Broadway.1 This Circle in the Square production, entitled The Loves of Anatol, was developed, adapted, and directed by Ellis Rabb and promised from its very inception to be highly controversial. Rabb had commissioned an in-house literal translation of the play, and from that he and Nicholas Martin created what...
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Criticism: Anatol (La Ronde)
SOURCE: Walton, Luverne. “Anatol on the New York Stage.” Modern Austrian Literature 2, no. 2 (summer 1969): 30-44.
[In the following essay, Walton discusses the production history of Anatol on the New York stage.]
The dramas of Arthur Schnitzler were introduced to New York theater audiences in 1897, when Liebelei made its debut at the Irving Place Theater. The next two years witnessed the American premieres of Freiwild and Das Vermächtnis, plays equally somber in mood as Liebelei, and identified Schnitzler as a writer of tragedy. It was not until after the turn of the century that the world of this “leichtsinniger Melancholiker” was revealed to New York audiences, but since its appearance Anatol has surpassed all other plays of Schnitzler in popularity, longevity, and in the variety of media and languages in which it has been presented to American audiences. Though performed only once in its entirety, there have been seven full productions of the work,1 and on six other occasions individual scenes have been extracted from the whole and performed separately. Adaptations of it have been made for the silent films, radio, television, vaudeville, and musical comedy. As a drama composed of a series of independent one-acts, it introduced a new dramatic form to Broadway. Scenes from it have been produced in English, French and Russian. The only...
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Criticism: Der Schleier Der Pierrette
SOURCE: Sullivan, Lawrence. “Arthur Schnitzler's The Bridal Veil at the American Laboratory Theatre.” Dance Research Journal 25, no. 1 (spring 1993): 13-20.
[In the following essay, Sullivan explains the ways in which Schnitzler's Der Schleier der Pierrette allowed stage directors to break away from realist conventions and explore abstract and symbolist theatrical effects.]
Whatever the particular intentions of the playwright, Arthur Schnitzler's Der Schleier der Pierrette (The Veil of Pierrette), a ballet-pantomime first performed in Dresden, January 22, 1910, with music by Ernst von Dohnányi, became, in the first year of its composition, a vehicle of avant-garde experimentalists on the Russian theatrical scene. In October 1910, Vsevolod Meyerhold used Schnitzler's ballet-pantomime for his own avant-garde interests in commedia dell'arte motifs, producing Columbine's Scarf (a variant title) at the House of Interludes in St. Petersburg. Three years later, in 1913, Alexander Tairov, as anti-Meyerholdean as he was anti-Stanislavskian, also staged a version of Der Schleier under the title The Veil of Pierrette, at the Mardzhanov's Free Theatre in Moscow. Both directors, relying on different aesthetic principles, used the commedia dell'arte ballet-pantomime as a statement against Stanislavskian psychological realism1.
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Criticism: Die Schwestern Oder Casanova In Spa
SOURCE: Schneider-Halvorson, Brigitte L. “Die Schwestern oder Casanova in Spa.” In The Late Dramatic Works of Arthur Schnitzler, pp. 15-43. New York: Peter Lang, 1983.
[In the following excerpt, Schneider-Halvorson provides a plot overview and critical analyses of Die Schwestern oder Casanova in Spa.]
BACKGROUND OF THE PLAY AND STATEMENT OF PURPOSE
The drama Die Schwestern oder Casanova in Spa1 was published in 1919 by S. Fischer Verlag and produced a year later with some success at the Burgtheater on March 26, 1920. It is one of the rare productions which the author designated as “Lustspiel.” He seems to have reached here the ability to create such “wundervolle Heiterkeit” which was a necessary condition, “um das wahre Lustspiel hervorzubringen.”2 Schnitzler himself confesses his fondness for the work in a letter to Hofmannsthal: “[…] mir selbst ist selten was von mir so lieb gewesen.”3
Whenever a date of completion is mentioned for a work by Schnitzler, it must be remembered that it is really only a “date.” Most of his works took years to grow into their final form, and since he was usually engaged in several pieces of writing at the same time, it is generally possible to find specific links between the emotional content of a given piece and the course of his life at the time of its...
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SOURCE: Hannum, Hunter G. “‘Killing Time’: Aspects of Schnitzler's Reigen.” Germanic Review 37, no. 1 (January 1962): 190-206.
[In the following essay, Hannum locates Reigen within the Austro-Germanic fin de siècle literary trend, focusing on the play's preoccupation with time.]
Betrachte die Herde, die an dir vorüberweidet: sie weiß nicht, was Gestern, was Heute ist, springt umher, frißt, ruht, verdaut, springt wieder, und so vom Morgen bis zur Nacht und von Tage zu Tage, kurz angebunden mit ihrer Lust und Unlust, nämlich an den Pflock des Augenblicks, und deshalb weder schwermütig noch überdrüssig. Dies zu sehen geht dem Menschen hart ein, weil er seines Menschentums sich vor dem Tiere brüstet und doch nach seinem Glücke eifersüchtig hinblickt—denn das will er allein, gleich dem Tiere weder überdrüssig noch unter Schmerzen leben, und will es doch vergebens, weil er es nicht will wie das Tier. Der Mensch fragt wohl einmal das Tier: warum redest du mir nicht von deinem Glücke und siehst mich nur an? Das Tier will auch antworten und sagen: das kommt daher, daß ich immer gleich vergesse, was ich sagen wollte—da vergaß es aber auch schon diese Antwort und schwieg: so daß der Mensch sich darob verwunderte.1
This passage from Nietzsche's Vom Nutzen und Nachteil der Historie für das Leben can...
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SOURCE: Schneider, Gerd K. “The Reception of Arthur Schnitzler's Reigen in the Old Country and the New World: A Study in Cultural Differences.” Modern Austrian Literature 19, nos. 3-4 (1986): 75-89.
[In the following essay, Schneider addresses differences in reactions to the stage, book, and film versions of Reigen in various countries.]
Since the reception of Schnitzler's Reigen up to 1925 is generally known, only a few points need to be emphasized. The play was written in the winter of 1896-97 and was published in 1900 in a private printing that was not for sale. The work was well received by his friends, but as early as 1903, the year scenes four to six were first staged in Munich, sharp criticism was voiced by Törnsee:
Reigen ist nichts als eine Schweinerei oder, ist das zu deutsch, eine Cochonnerie, die bloß der Esprit eines Parisers oder die Satire eines Künstlers, der moralisch hoch genug steht, um das Lüsterne des Themas sachlich verurteilend zu behandeln, aus dem Reiche des Pornographischen in das Gebiet der Kunst hätte emporheben können.1
The use of the subjunctive indicates that Törnsee did not consider Schnitzler to be the artist to raise this work to the elevated level of art. One of the reasons for this apparent inability was supplied by Ottokar Stauf von der March:...
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SOURCE: Finney, Gail. “Female Sexuality and Schnitzler's La Ronde.” In Women in Modern Drama: Freud, Feminism, and European Theater at the Turn of the Century, pp. 25-50. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1989.
[In the following excerpt, Finney uses Schnitzler's ambivalence toward Freudian psychoanalysis as a starting point in addressing the playwright's focus on women and sexuality in La Ronde.]
FEMALE SEXUALITY AND SCHNITZLER'S LA RONDE
I will make a confession which for my sake I must ask you to keep to yourself and share with neither friends nor strangers. I have tormented myself with the question why in all these years I have never attempted to make your acquaintance and to have a talk with you. … The answer contains the confession which strikes me as too intimate. I think I have avoided you from a kind of reluctance to meet my double [aus einer Art von Doppelgängerscheu].
This often cited confession forms the center of Freud's third letter to Arthur Schnitzler, written in 1922 to congratulate the author on the occasion of his sixtieth birthday.1 By this time Schnitzler's dramas and prose works had won him international renown as the sharp-eyed critic of fin-de-siècle Viennese society; indeed, until the late 1930s he was more famous than Freud. Freud's “reluctance” to meet...
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SOURCE: Roe, Ian F. “The Comedy of Schnitzler's Reigen.” Modern Language Review 89, no. 3 (July 1994): 674-88.
[In the following essay, Roe examines comic elements in Reigen, noting that critical analysis of and audience reaction to the play have historically neglected these elements.]
It is now a decade since the ban on the performance of Schnitzler's Reigen came to an end, and the productions that have been mounted during that time have only added to the controversies surrounding what is arguably the most famous and certainly the most infamous of Schnitzler's works. Surprisingly, however, there has been no marked shift of emphasis in the critical appreciation of the play in recent years. On the whole, two major themes still dominate critical analysis: the extent to which the play is a mirror of the Viennese society of Schnitzler's day, and the play's depiction of human sexuality as a repetitive and seemingly empty and meaningless activity.1 What has received almost no attention, even during the years in which it has been possible to see the play performed, is the question of Reigen as a comedy. Such neglect becomes all the more surprising when one considers the traditions of comedy for which the Viennese theatre is rightly famous. Even the one book that sets out to explore the comedies of Schnitzler scarcely mentions the play and confines the few comments that...
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Criticism: Im Spiel Der SommerlüFte
SOURCE: Schneider-Halvorson, Brigitte L. “Im Spiel Der Sommerlüfte.” In The Late Dramatic Works of Arthur Schnitzler, pp. 113-135. New York: Peter Lang, 1983.
[In the following essay, Schneider-Halvorson discusses various critical commentary, as well as Schnitzler's use of themes and symbols in the play Im Spiel Der Sommerlüfte.]
BACKGROUND OF THE PLAY AND STATEMENT OF PURPOSE
The first performance of Schnitzler's play Im Spiel der Sommerlüfte took place on December 21, 1929, at the Deutsches Volkstheater in Vienna.1 First publication was in 1930 by S. Fischer Verlag, Berlin.2 According to Schnitzler's diary notes, he completed this three-act drama between February and April of 1928.3 His first ideas, however, date back to 1898, when he recorded: “Ein Stück ‘Sommernacht’ wird lebendig […]. Im Kaffeehaus entwarf ich den Plan eines dreiaktigen Stückes ‘Sommernachtstraum’.”4 More sketches and notes were added between 1911-1913; five years later a new sketch was written under the present title, Im Spiel der Sommerlüfte. The term “Spiel” points to the fluctuating atmospheric conditions of summer, which, as analysis will demonstrate, affect significantly not only the various moods of the characters in the play, but also turn some of these characters further inward where life is truly lived....
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Criticism: Der Gang Zum Weiher
SOURCE: Schneider-Halvorson, Brigitte L. “Der Gang Zum Weiher.” In The Late Dramatic Works of Arthur Schnitzler, pp.83-111. New York: Peter Lang, 1983.
[In the following essay, Schneider-Halvorson discusses various critical commentary, as well as Schnitzler's use of themes and symbols in the play Der Gang Zum Weiher.]
BACKGROUND OF THE PLAY AND STATEMENT OF PURPOSE
Although Schnitzler had reached a preliminary conclusion of this play by June 11, 19211 and had written in 1924 to his friend Georg Brandes “[…] und ein Versstück wird vielleicht auch bald fertig sein […],”2 this five-act verse play was not published until December of 1926 by S. Fischer Verlag, Berlin.3 As a serious artist, Schnitzler rarely allowed publication of any work until he had convinced himself that it expressed truly his innermost convictions and that it had reached the most perfect form which he could create for it. As in other cases, this dramatic work was first conceived as a prose work entitled Der weise Vater in 1907. More sketches and notes were added between 1907 and 1914 and the new title Der Weiher given to it in 1915.4 This new designation announces a shift in focus. In the final version of the drama water has even more significance than in the previous play Komödie der Verführung. This points to another aspect in...
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Alter, Maria P. “From Der Reigen to La Ronde: Transposition of a Stageplay to the Cinema.” Literature Film Quarterly 24, no. 1 (1996): 52-56.
Comments on the differences in tone between Reigen and its film version, La Ronde, noting in particular the less banal, romanticized attitude towards sex depicted in the film.
Nehring, Wolfgang. “Schnitzler, Freud's Alter Ego?” Modern Austrian Literature 10, nos. 3-4 (1977): 179-94.
Uses Freud's letters to Schnitzler to address the extent to which Schnitzler may have been influenced by Freudian psychoanalysis in his plays and novels.
Norden, Edward. “From Schnitzler to Kushner.” Commentary 99, no. 1 (January 1995): 51-59.
Examines similarities in themes of and critical reaction to the plays of Schnitzler and contemporary playwright Tony Kushner.
Yates, W. E. Schnitzler, Hofmannsthal, and the Austrian Theatre. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1992. 286 p.
Book-length treatment of Schnitzler and his friend and contemporary Hugo von Hofmannsthal, focusing on their roles in turn-of-the-century Viennese theater.
Additional coverage of Schnitzler's life and career is contained in the following sources published by the Gale Group:...
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