Franz Werfel Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)
ph_0111207644-Werfel.jpg Franz Werfel in 1940 Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Franz Werfel (VEHR-fuhl) was born into a Jewish family of Prague on September 10, 1890. His father, the owner of a glove factory, was intensely interested in art and music, but he saw in his son only a future partner and an heir to the business; consequently, he opposed the boy’s early inclinations toward literature. Young Werfel was educated at the local Gymnasium and spent two years, 1909 to 1910, at the University of Prague. Having had the pleasure of seeing some of his work in print, Werfel had little interest in an academic career, preferring to spend his time writing and discussing literature with friends, who included such recognized writers as Gustav Meyrink, Max Brod, and Otokar Bezina.

After leaving the university in 1910, Werfel went to Hamburg, Germany. There he took a job in a business firm but continued to write. Following a year of compulsory military service, from 1911 to 1912, he settled for a time in Leipzig, where he became a publisher’s reader. With the beginning of World War I, he took a pacifist stand, publishing pacifist poems such as “Der Krieg,” “Wortmacher des Krieges,” and “Der Ulan,” all of which appeared in Einander. Despite his attitude toward the war, Werfel was called into the service as an officer in an artillery regiment and served during 1916 to 1917. In 1916 his adaptation of Euripides’ The Trojan Women had a successful season on the Berlin stage and in other cities. By the time he was thirty, Werfel had made for himself a reputation in...

(The entire section is 625 words.)

Franz Werfel Biography

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Franz Werfel was born into a wealthy Jewish family of Prague, Bohemia, Austro-Hungarian Empire, on September 10, 1890. His father, the owner of a large glove factory, played the piano, collected fine paintings, and, most of all, possessed a great love for the opera—a trait that Franz was to imitate. Franz did not, however, imitate his father in the love or aptitude for business. Franz began composing poetry while still in high school and had one poem published in 1908 before he was graduated. After very brief employment with a Hamburg shipping firm and a period studying philosophy at the German University of Prague, Werfel was called to compulsory military training in 1911, the year his first book of poetry, Der Weltfreund (the world’s friend), was published. Partly because of the success of this first book, Werfel obtained a position in the publishing house of Kurt Wolff in Leipzig.

During this period, Werfel became friends with Willy Haas, Max Brod, Franz Kafka (who admired Werfel greatly, although he found the play Schweiger to be mysteriously repugnant), and Otkar Br̆ezina. Later Werfel helped organize a pacifist society with Martin Buber, Gustav Landauer, and Max Scheler.

In June, 1914, Austrian archduke Francis Ferdinand was assassinated; and in July, 1914, Werfel was called back into military service for the beginning of World War I. On his way from Leipzig to his regiment in Prague, he was injured in a railway accident and was hospitalized at Bozen for two months. While convalescing, he was sent to the front, where he observed the Austrian retreat at Jezierna, the first wave of the Russian Revolution, and the Kerensky offensive of 1917—scenes that were to influence his later work, especially Goat Song and The Kingdom of God in Bohemia.

Meanwhile, in 1915, a collection called Einander (to one another) had appeared, which contained some of Werfel’s pacifist poems; and in 1916, Die Troerinnen des Euripides, Werfel’s free adaptation of Euripides’ Triades (415 b.c.e.; The Trojan Women, 1782) ran for fifty days in Berlin, followed...

(The entire section is 891 words.)

Franz Werfel Biography

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Franz Werfel was born in 1890 in the city of Prague, the son of a wealthy Jewish glove manufacturer and merchant. During his high school years in Prague, he became a personal friend of Willy Haas and Max Brod, who were also to become writers. After his graduation, Werfel attended lectures on law and philosophy at the German University of Prague. His mandatory one-year military service was spent in an artillery regiment in Prague. His father’s attempt to make him a merchant by sending him as an apprentice to a freight company in Hamburg failed: Werfel showed no inclination or talent for becoming a merchant. In 1911, his first book of poetry, Der Weltfreund, appeared, evidently influenced by Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass (1855, 1856, 1860, 1867, 1871, 1876, 1881-1882, 1889, 1891-1892).

Because of the success of this collection, Werfel was able to obtain a position as an editor with the Kurt Wolff publishing company in Leipzig in the fall of 1912, where he stayed until 1914—an extremely productive time. In July of 1914, he had to follow the call to arms; during the first months of World War I, he wrote a number of antiwar poems. In 1917, he was ordered to the war press headquarters in Vienna, where a number of other authors, among them Rainer Maria Rilke, Hugo von Hofmannsthal,Robert Musil, Peter Altenberg, and Franz Blei, were able to survive. During this time, he met Alma Mahler—the widow of composer Gustav Mahler, then the wife of the architect Walter Gropius. During the revolutionary turmoil at the end of the war, Werfel participated in meetings and rallies of the leftist Red Guards, which had been founded by young authors, an activity that he later regretted.

The years from 1918 to 1938 Werfel spent in and around...

(The entire section is 721 words.)