The daughter of a schoolteacher, Ingeborg Bachmann grew up in her native Klagenfurt, the capital city of Austria’s southernmost province, Carinthia. If the fictional account of Jugend in einer österreichischen Stadt (1961; youth in an Austrian town) is any indication, Bachmann’s childhood and youth were not particularly happy. Perhaps this accounts for her reticence concerning that period of her life. She does mention the traumatic days of March, 1938, when Adolf Hitler annexed Austria and the German army triumphantly marched into Klagenfurt with most of her countrymen applauding enthusiastically. Otherwise, very little is known about Bachmann’s life before the age of twenty-three.
Bachmann initially studied law but soon took up philosophy at the universities of Innsbruck, Graz, and Vienna. In 1950, she received her doctorate with a dissertation on the critical reception of Martin Heidegger’s existential philosophy. In 1950 and 1951, she traveled to London and Paris. For two years, she was a member of the editorial staff of Radio Rot-Weiss-Rot, the American-sponsored radio station in Vienna. In 1952, she gave her first reading at a meeting of Gruppe 47.
After the success of her first two books of poetry, Bachmann chose to take up the life of a freelance writer, residing in Rome for many years. Her visit to the United States in 1955, at the invitation of Harvard University, provided the background for the American setting of her highly successful radio play, Der gute Gott von Manhattan (1958; the good god of Manhattan). From 1959 to 1960, Bachmann was the first guest lecturer in poetics at the University of Frankfurt. She was awarded many of the important literary prizes of her time, including the Great Austrian State Prize in 1968.
Bachmann died in 1973, following a somewhat mysterious fire in her Rome residence. Five years later, her collected works were published in four volumes by Piper Verlag in Munich. The tenth anniversary of her death sparked renewed interest in Bachmann and was the occasion for many symposia throughout the world on her work.