Critical Context

Heimito von Doderer devoted twenty-five years to writing The Demons. This major novel secured for Doderer a position as one of the major European novelists, along with Thomas Mann, Robert Musil, Hermann Broch, Marcel Proust, and James Joyce. He started writing the book in 1930 and finished the first part in 1936. In the years from 1951 to 1956, he completed the novel in its present form. In the intervening years, he also published, among numerous other works, the two other novels that belong to his cycle of Viennese novels: Die erleuchteten Fenster: Oder, Die Menschwerdung des Amtsrates Julius Zihal (1950; the illuminated windows: or, the humanization of councillor Julius Zihal) and Die Strudlhofstiege: Oder, Melzer und die Tiefe der Jahre (1951; the Strudlhof steps: or, Melzer and the depth of the years). The Demons is the most complex of that cycle, containing a complete exposition of Doderer’s views on the basis and function of the novel and his role as a novelist. Furthermore, it offered Doderer a context in which to articulate his views on critical philosophical, psychological, and historical issues.

The response to The Demons has been slow in coming but for the most part positive. The size of the novel, as well as its structural and thematic complexity, has made it somewhat problematic for many readers. With the publication of Doderer’s diaries Tangenten: Tagebuch eines Schriftstellers 1940-1950 (1964; tangents, diary of a writer) and Commentarii: Tagebucher aus d. Nachlass (1976), along with other works of a novelistic and essayistic nature, there has been substantial and continuous scholarly work devoted to interpreting The Demons.