Biography (Critical Survey of Drama, Second Revised Edition)
Karl Kraus was the fifth son of Jakob Kraus, a well-to-do manufacturer of paper bags, and Ernestine Kantor Kraus. In 1877, the family moved to Vienna, and Kraus was to spend the rest of his life in the city with which he, like Sigmund Freud, had a love-hate relationship (“My hatred of Vienna is not love gone astray. It’s just that I’ve discovered an entirely new way of finding it unbearable”). From 1884 to 1892, Kraus attended the Franz-Josefs-Gymnasium, where he was a mediocre student. Following the death of his mother in 1891, Kraus studied law, philosophy, and German literature at the University of Vienna, but he attended few lectures and did not take a degree. In 1893, he made an unsuccessful debut as an actor at a theater in suburban Vienna. His failure on the stage irrevocably turned him to journalism and literature, though his talent for mimicry and parody as well as his penchant for verbal play found ample expression in his later public readings and his writings.
During the next several years, Kraus contributed book reviews, drama criticism, and satiric sketches to many Austrian and German newspapers and periodicals. His satiric impulse soon became too strong for any kind of accommodation, however, and Kraus rejected the prospect of becoming a sort of culture clown absorbed by a deceptively slack and effete environment and accorded, as he put it, “the accursed popularity which a grinning Vienna bestows.” Because work within the...
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Biography (Critical Survey of Poetry)
Other Literary Forms
Karl Kraus, widely regarded as one of the greatest mid-twentieth century satirists, is not known primarily as a poet. His powerful cultural criticism took several forms, and poetry was but one of them. Kraus was most effective as a writer of prose, producing thousands of essays and aphorisms. He is also important as a dramatist, his greatest work in that form being his pacifist play Die letzten Tage der Menschheit (1922; The Last Days of Mankind, 1974), written during World War I. Most of Kraus’s writings first appeared in his own journal, Die Fackel.
The vitriolic Karl Kraus, a man who hauled the powerful and the pitiful alike before a tribunal of total satire, was a legend in his lifetime, both adored and vilified by his contemporaries. Following a decade of desuetude, his work was rediscovered and reissued in Germany and Austria after World War II. Numerous editions, studies, and translations have focused critical attention on this satirist, whose dictum (Spruch) or contradiction (Widerspruch), “I have to wait until my writings are obsolete; then they may acquire timeliness,” seems to be coming true. As literary critic and historian of German literature Erich Heller has put it, “Karl Kraus did not write ‘in a...
(The entire section is 4565 words.)
Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
Karl Kraus (krows) was primarily a satirist. His main target was a world where hypocrisy and inhumanity flourished. When Kraus was three years old, his prosperous Jewish family moved from the small Bohemian city of Gitschin (now Jiín) to Vienna, the capital of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Vienna remained his home for the rest of his life. In 1892 Kraus enrolled at the University of Vienna, ostensibly to study law, as his father wished. He attended only classes in philosophy and literature, however, and eventually left the University in 1898 without a degree.
For a time, Kraus tried acting but—his talent for mimicry notwithstanding—was unsuccessful. However, he continued to love the theater and to enjoy the company of actors and actresses. More propitious was the world he encountered in cafés like the Caféé Griensteidl, frequented by such luminaries as Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Arthur Schnitzler, and Hermann Bahr. These locales gave birth to Kraus’s writing career, which began with book reviews and essays in journals and newspaper columns. In these he soon displayed a marked gift for satire.
When he was just twenty-two, Kraus published Die demolirte Literatur (literature demolished), an assault on the mediocrity of the Viennese literary establishment. The work brought Kraus instant fame and signaled the beginning of his commitment to controversy. Two years later came Eine Krone für Zion (a crown for Zion), a polemic...
(The entire section is 1002 words.)