Arthur Schnitzler Dream Story Essay - Critical Essays

Dream Story, Arthur Schnitzler


Dream Story Arthur Schnitzler

Austrian short story writer, playwright, novelist, and autobiographer.

The following entry presents criticism of Schnitzler's novella Traumnovelle (1926; Dream Story). See also Arthur Schnitzler Drama Criticism.

Published in 1926, Traumnovelle (Dream Story) has been described as a tale of one man’s journey through the hidden depths of his own psyche. Set in fin-de-siècle Vienna, Schnitzler’s story exposes the hypocrisies of bourgeois culture by exploring the repressed desires, fantasies, and passions underneath the surface of a seemingly happy marriage. Commentators note that Schnitzler also addresses themes of sexual fantasy, jealousy, obsession, and death. In 1999, Dream Story was adapted for Stanley Kubrick’s film Eyes Wide Shut

Plot and Major Characters

Dream Story is set in early-twentieth-century Vienna. The protagonist of the story, Fridolin, is a successful thirty-five-year-old doctor who lives with his wife Albertina (also translated as Albertine) and their young daughter. One night, Albertina confesses that the previous summer, while they were on vacation in Denmark, she had had a sexual fantasy about a young Danish military officer. Fridolin then admits that during that same vacation he had been attracted to a young girl on the beach. Later that night, Fridolin is called to the deathbed of an important patient. Finding the man dead, he is shocked when the man’s daughter, Marianne, professes her love to him. Restless, Fridolin leaves and begins to walk the streets. Although tempted, he refuses the offer of a young prostitute named Mizzi. He encounters his old friend Nachtigall, who tells Fridolin that he will be playing piano at a secret high-society sex orgy that night. Intrigued, Fridolin procures a mask and costume and follows Nachtigall to the party at a private residence. Fridolin is shocked to find several men in masks and costumes and naked women with only masks engaged in various sexual activities. When a young woman warns him to leave, Fridolin ignores her plea and is soon exposed as an interloper. The woman then announces to the gathering that she will sacrifice herself for Fridolin and he is allowed to leave.

Upon his return home, Albertina awakens and describes a dream she has had: while making love to the Danish officer from her sexual fantasies, she had watched without sympathy as Fridolin was tortured and crucified before her eyes. Fridolin is outraged, as he believes that this proves his wife wants to betray him. He resolves to pursue his own sexual temptations. The next day, Fridolin learns that Nachtigall has been taken away by two mysterious men. He then goes to the costume shop to return his costume and discovers that the shop-owner is prostituting his teenage daughter to various men. He finds his way back to where the orgy had taken place the night before; before he can enter, he is handed a note addressed to him by name that warns him to not pursue the matter. Later, he visits Marianne, but she no longer expresses any interest in him. Fridolin searches for Mizzi, the prostitute, but is unable to find her. He reads that a young woman has been poisoned. Suspecting that she is the woman who sacrificed herself for him, he views the woman’s corpse in the morgue but cannot identify it. Fridolin returns home that night to find his wife asleep, with his mask from the previous night set on the pillow on his side of the bed. When she wakes, Fridolin confesses all of his activities. After listening quietly, Albertina comforts him and they greet the new day with their daughter.

Major Themes

Commentators agree that the dominant thematic concerns of Dream Story are psychological in nature, focusing on the inner desires and fantasies of a married couple. The marital relationship between Fridolin and Albertina addresses themes of fidelity and infidelity, jealousy, and guilt. As the couple confess their sexual fantasies, both cope with feelings of insecurity, betrayal, and resentment. Critics assert that the novella underscores the tensions between duty and desire through both Fridolin and Albertina’s temptation to sacrifice family and marital stability in pursuit of sexual fantasies. Death is also a major theme of Dream Story, as commentators contend that Fridolin’s sexual temptations are juxtaposed with images of death and mortality. Schnitzler also addresses broader issues of social hypocrisy, as the story explores inner psychological yearnings at odds with the values represented by bourgeois marriage and family. Critics also note that Schnitzler effectively blurs the line between reality and fantasy in the story; at the end, Fridolin and Albertina agree that no dream is ever entirely unreal, and that reality does not encompass the entirety of an individual life.

Critical Reception

Dream Story is widely considered to be among Schnitzler’s greatest literary achievements. The novella has long been praised as a depiction of the hypocrisies with bourgeois marriage in fin-de-siècle Viennese society. Dream Story has also been viewed as a fictional psychological case study exploring the nature of dreams and the inner workings of passion, desire, and fantasy in the human psyche. Moreover, the novella has been commended for its psychological insight into the nature of dreaming and the unconscious mind and compared to Sigmund Freud’s seminal work of psychoanalytic theory, The Interpretation of Dreams. Some critics have further pointed to the significance of the implication that Fridolin and Albertina are Jewish, asserting that the story addresses the outsider status of Jews in Viennese bourgeois society. Dream Story has enjoyed a resurgence of critical interest with the 1999 release of the film Eyes Wide Shut, which was adapted from Schnitzler’s novella. Recent reviewers have underlined the relevance of the story to today’s readers, some seventy-five years after its initial publication.

Principal Works

Traumnovelle [Rhapsody: A Dream Novel; also translated as Dream Story] 1926

*Viennese Novelettes 1931

The Little Comedy, and Other Stories 1977

Arthur Schnitzler: Plays and Stories 1982

Illusion and Reality: Plays and Stories, 1986

Night Games and Other Stories and Novellas [translated by Margret Schaefer] 2001

Das Abenteuer seines Lebens [The Adventure of His Life] (play) 1891

Anatol [Anatol: A Sequence of Dialogues; also translated as The Affairs of Anatol] (play) 1893

Das Märchen (play) 1893

Liebelei [Light-o'-Love; also translated as Playing with Love; as Love Games; as Flirtations; and as Dalliance] (play) 1895

Freiwild [Free Game] (play) 1897

Das Vermächtnis [The Legacy] (play) 1897

Der grüne Kakadu, Paracelsus, Die Gefährtin: Drei Einakter[The Green Cuckatoo and Other Plays; also translated as The Duke and the Actress] (plays) 1899

Reigen: Zehn Dialoge, geschrieben Winter 1896/97 [Hands Around: A Cycle of Ten Dialogues; also translated as Couples; as Merry-Go-Round; as La Ronde; as...

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Sol Liptzin (essay date 1932)

SOURCE: Liptzin, Sol. “Dream and Reality.” In Arthur Schnitzler, pp. 244-59. New York: Prentice-Hall, 1932.

[In the following essay/excerpt, Liptzin discusses the ways in which Dream Story blurs the boundaries between truth and fiction, reality and illusion, and waking life and dream life.]

The apparent contradictions often encountered in Schnitzler's works result from his anxiety to view each problem from various angles. As the infinite possibilities encased in every situation are unlocked, the sharp distinctions between truth and fiction, reality and illusion, give way. The world becomes surcharged with magic, and our daily scenes take on a semblance of...

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Robert Donald Spector (essay date 1963)

SOURCE: Spector, Robert Donald. “Observations on Schnitzler's Narrative Techniques in the Short Novel.” In Studies in Arthur Schnitzler, edited by Herbert W. Reichert and Herman Salinger, pp. 109-16. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1963.

[In the following essay, Spector discusses genre distinctions between the short story and the novella in the five stories by Schnitzler that appear in the volume Viennese Novelettes (1931), including Dream Story.]

While even the best literary critics have been unable to define adequately the short story, novella, and novel, they generally agree about placing individual works within a genre and...

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Martin Swales (essay date 1971)

SOURCE: Swales, Martin. “Morals and Psycho-Analysis.” In Arthur Schnitzler: A Critical Study, pp. 118-49. Oxford: Oxford University Press, Clarendon Press, 1971.

[In the following essay/excerpt, Swales observes that Dream Story explores the tensions between moral consciousness and human psychology within the context of Freudian psychoanalytic theory.]

Paracelsus is a significant statement of Schnitzler's relationship to psycho-analysis in that it recognizes the value of the insights it gives—and at the same time relativizes that value in terms of a reticent and yet passionate moral intention. The same is true of the work which in my view constitutes...

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Publishers Weekly (review date 23 March 1990)

SOURCE: Review of Dream Story, by Arthur Schnitzler, translated by Otto P. Schinnerer. Publishers Weekly 237, no. 12 (23 March 1990): 72.

[In the following review of Dream Story, translated by Otto P. Schinnerer, the reviewer observes that this translation provides a useful introduction to Schnitzler's stories of “haunting erotic fantasy.”]

This reprint of a 1927 American edition [of Dream Story] gives a new generation of English-speaking readers the opportunity to discover the Viennese novelist and dramatist's (1862-1931) haunting erotic fantasy, which blends dreams and reality. Summoned to a patient's bedside, Fridolin, a physician, begins a...

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Harvey Pekar (review date fall 1990)

SOURCE: Pekar, Harvey. Review of Dream Story, by Arthur Schnitzler, translated by Otto P. Schinnerer. Review of Contemporary Fiction 10, no. 3 (fall 1990): 207-09.

[In the following review of Dream Story, Pekar contends that the work is an outstanding achievement by a major modernist writer.]

In 1887 Eduard Dujardin wrote the first stream-of-consciousness novel, Les Lauriers sont coupé, and George Moore employed stream-of-consciousness passages in A Mere Accident. Schnitzler followed in 1901 with a stream-of-consciousness novella, Lt. Gustl; [Leutnant Gustl] he was among the first writers to employ the technique but was...

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Nigel Cliff (essay date 19 July 1999)

SOURCE: Cliff, Nigel. “The Liberation of Dreams.” Times of London (19 July 1999): 18.

[In the following essay, Cliff compares the 1999 film Eyes Wide Shut with Schnitzler's Dream Story, on which the film was based.]

Arthur Schnitzler was certainly a greater libertine than Stanley Kubrick, but Eyes Wide Shut, Kubrick's loose adaptation of Schnitzler's 1926 short novel Traumnovella (Dream Story), is the more sexually explicit of the two works. That, though, says more about Kubrick than Schnitzler, who delighted in stamping on the standards of bourgeois morality.

Born in 1862, Schnitzler was best known...

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John Simon (review date 9 August 1999)

SOURCE: Simon, John. “Not with a Bang …” National Review 51, no. 15 (9 August 1999): 54-6.

[In the following review of Eyes Wide Shut, the 1999 film based on Schnitzler's Dream Story, Simon asserts that the film is based on a misinterpretation of the novella.]

If previous ages tended blindly to ignore their geniuses, ours is all too ready to crown as genius the nearest trendy hack. One of the very few masters not fully acknowledged even posthumously is the Viennese playwright-fiction writer Arthur Schnitzler (1862-1931), most of whose many works are poorly, if at all, translated into English.

Hence it may be unsurprising if, for...

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Peter Bradshaw (review date 22 September 1999)

SOURCE: Bradshaw, Peter. “It Looks Like the Eyes Almost Have It.” Manchester Guardian Weekly (22 September 1999): 16.

[In the following positive review of Eyes Wide Shut, the 1999 film based on Schnitzler's Dream Story, Bradshaw asserts that the film is faithful to Schnitzler's story, except that it loses the important element of the characters' Jewish identity.]

Stanley Kubrick's extraordinary last testament, Eyes Wide Shut, has effortlessly attained one of the criteria of a certain type of classic. It is in a genre, if not a league, of its own, this genre being best described as Manhattan porn gothic. It has left critics uneasily aware of the...

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Frederic Raphael (essay date 1999)

SOURCE: Raphael, Frederic. Introduction to Dream Story, by Arthur Schnitzler, translated by J. M. Q. Davies, pp. v-xvii. New York: Penguin, 1999.

[In the following essay, Raphael discusses Dream Story in terms of its cultural and historical context in fin-de-siècle Vienna, and comments on the implied Jewish identity of the main character.]

By the time Arthur Schnitzler was born in Vienna in 1862, Franz-Josef had been on the throne of Austria-Hungary for ten years. The emperor did not die until 1916. The dual kingdom survived only two more years before being dismantled by the Treaty of Versailles. Although, when he died in 1931, Schnitzler had survived...

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Kirkus Reviews (review date 1 November 2001)

SOURCE: Review of Night Games and Other Stories and Novellas by Arthur Schnitzler, translated by Margaret Schaefer. Kirkus Reviews (1 November 2001): 1511.

[In the following review, the anonymous reviewer praises Dream Story for its masterful blend of realism and dream.]

One of the most distinctive and compelling voices of the early modernist movement is heard again in this elegant collection of nine urbane, perversely comic, deeply disturbing stories [Night Games and Other Stories and Novellas]. The Austrian Schnitzler (1862-1931), who is perhaps better known for his equally incisive plays (including The Merry-Go-Round and The Green...

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Publishers Weekly (review date 12 November 2001)

SOURCE: Review of Night Games and Other Stories and Novellas by Arthur Schnitzler, translated by Margret Schaefer. Publishers Weekly 248, no. 46 (12 November 2001): 35.

[In the following review of Night Games and Other Stories and Novellas, the reviewer commends the volume for its startlingly contemporary stories that address universal themes of sex, love, and death.]

Though set against the backdrop of the fading Hapsburg Empire, Schnitzler's stories [in Night Games and Other Stories and Novellas] are startlingly contemporary in their outlook, and this collection of new translations is sure to win the Austrian author, who died in 1931, new...

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Chris Lehmann (review date 15 January 2002)

SOURCE: Lehmann, Chris. “Modern Tales from Old Vienna.” Washington Post Book World (15 January 2002): C3.

[In the following review of Night Games and Other Stories and Novellas, Lehmann maintains that Dream Story addresses concerns still relevant to today's readers.]

Like his fellow Austrian—and his most influential contemporary admirer—Sigmund Freud, Arthur Schnitzler has become something of a quaint period figure, more frequently cited in the service of summoning the zeitgeist of turn-of-the-century Vienna than actually read. The broad outlines of his life story seem, indeed, to beg for such treatment. As he came of sexual age, for example, he...

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Tobias Grey (review date 15 February 2002)

SOURCE: Grey, Tobias. “The New Schnitzler.” Times Literary Supplement, (15 February 2002): 23.

[In the following review of Night Games and Other Stories and Novellas, Grey praises the translation of Dream Story by Margret Schaefer.]

It is hard now to picture the fuss that was made in 1920 when Arthur Schnitzler's libidinous play Reigen (La Ronde) was performed in Berlin for the first time. In an atmosphere of anti-Semitic agitation, riots broke out in the streets denouncing the playwright, and the director and cast were put on trial for obscenity. Schnitzler banned any future production of the play during his lifetime, but its notoriety...

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Peter Gay (review date 24 March 2002)

SOURCE: Gay, Peter. “Sex and the Single-Minded.” Los Angeles Times Book Review (24 March 2002): R11.

[In the following review of Night Games and Other Stories and Novellas, Gay discusses the themes of love, sex, and death in the stories, and comments on Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of Dream Story in the 1999 film Eyes Wide Shut.]

Arthur Schnitzler is not nearly so familiar to American readers as he should be, and this has led to starkly differing views of his literary stature. In a brief foreword to Night Games [Night Games and Other Stories and Novellas], John Simon places him “in the vicinity of Proust, Joyce, and Chekhov,” while...

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Ed Peaco (review date summer 2002)

SOURCE: Peaco, Ed. Review of Night Games and Other Stories and Novellas by Arthur Schnitzler, translated by Margret Schaefer. Antioch Review 60, no. 3 (summer 2002): 531.

[In the following review of Night Games and Other Stories and Novellas, Peaco contends that Dream Story is reminiscent of the stories of Franz Kafka.]

Those who read Schnitzler (1862-1931), a Viennese observer of his city's contradictions and decadence, must face the discomfort of learning a great deal about desperate souls. [In Night Games and Other Stories and Novellas a]n adulterous woman leaves the scene of an accident in which her lover dies. A man whose wife has just...

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Further Reading


Allen, Richard H. An Annotated Arthur Schnitzler Bibliography. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1966, 151 p.

A bibliography of works by and about Schnitzler, in German, French, and English, from 1879 to 1965.

Berlin, Jeffrey B. An Annotated Arthur Schnitzler Bibliography, 1965-1977. Munchen: W. Fink, 1978, 80 p.

A bibliography of works by and about Schnitzler from 1965 to 1977.


Liptzin, Solomon. Arthur Schnitzler. New York: Prentice-Hall, 1932, 275 p.

An early biography of Schnitzler.


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