Elfriede Jelinek Criticism - Essay

Michael Hulse (review date 21-27 July 1989)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Hulse, Michael. “Brute Encounters.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 4503 (21-27 July 1989): 802.

[In the following review, Hulse discusses the satiric elements and disturbing subject matter of Lust.]

The main characters in Elfriede Jelinek's new novel Lust are the managing director of an Austrian paper-mill and his much-abused wife Gerti. The man is referred to as “der Direktor”, much as one might refer to “der Führer”; his attitude to women matches that expressed in Hitler's table talk. Hermann is Schiller's “Ewig-Gestrige” with a vengeance, a man whose life is spent in the pursuit of power.

His exploitation of Gerti's...

(The entire section is 621 words.)

Carole Morin (review date 28 July 1989)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Morin, Carole. “Dreamed of Depths.” New Statesman and Society 2, no. 60 (28 July 1989): 33-4.

[In the following review, Morin praises The Piano Teacher as a “dramatic” and “seriously comic” work of fiction.]

Good books, like haircuts, should fill you with awe, change your life, or make you long for another. Elfriede Jelinek's The Piano Teacher manages to fulfil at least two of these demands in a reckless recital that is difficult to read and difficult to stop reading. The racy, relentless, consuming style is a metaphor for passion: impossible to ignore.

Of course, thwarted passion and unrequited love have been themes...

(The entire section is 599 words.)

Dagmar C. G. Lorenz (essay date 1990)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Lorenz, Dagmar C. G. “Elfriede Jelinek's Political Feminism: Die Ausgesperrten.Modern Austrian Literature 23, nos. 3-4 (1990): 111-19.

[In the following essay, Lorenz explores Jelinek's attitudes toward feminism and the role of women in Die Ausgesperrten.]

While Elfriede Jelinek addresses women's issues she rejects the epithet “Feminist.” Her works focus on sexual politics, the socioeconomic plight of women to which she subordinates the theme of the female body and sexuality.1 Jelinek's literary tool, satire, is an oddity in the post-Holocaust literary scene in Austria and Germany, according to Jelinek, “weil die Juden nicht mehr...

(The entire section is 3048 words.)

Carole Morin (review date 31 August 1990)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Morin, Carole. “Triumph of the Will.” New Statesman and Society 3, no. 116 (31 August 1990): 38.

[In the following review, Morin offers a mixed assessment of Wonderful, Wonderful Times, calling the novel “a flawed triumph.”]

My husband gave up guilt for Lent. He says guilt, like masochism, can be a subtle pleasure. And S&M is now in fashion the way bisexuality was in the early eighties.

Elfriede Jelinek wrote Wonderful, Wonderful Times before she perfected her unique voice, which combines the immediacy of the first person and the detachment of the third, in the brilliant Piano Teacher. Her publisher is not...

(The entire section is 432 words.)

Angela McRobbie (review date 2 November 1990)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: McRobbie, Angela. “A Universe of Pain.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 4570 (2 November 1990): 1183.

[In the following review, McRobbie examines the depraved and bleak world portrayed in Wonderful, Wonderful Times.]

Elfriede Jelinek's Vienna is a city of sexual squalor. Its post-war population—men, women and children—is taking revenge on its once noble or dignified past. These people bear no resemblance to the voluptuous, sexually satisfied creatures of Klimt's paintings. Nor are they the sexually curious but refined patients who filled Freud's consulting-room. Jelinek's men and women inhabit a universe of pain for which there is no “talking cure”....

(The entire section is 863 words.)

Richard Eder (review date 16 December 1990)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Eder, Richard. “A Cuckoo Clockwork Orange.” Los Angeles Times Book Review (16 December 1990): 3

[In the following review, Eder notes the “black irony and jarring distortion” in Wonderful, Wonderful Times, comparing Jelinek to Austrian author Thomas Bernhard.]

Since Wonderful, Wonderful Times is set in the 1950s gloom of postwar Vienna; since everyone in it is crass, corrupt or distorted; and since it ends in a horrible blood bath, the title could justifiably be taken as gallows humor of the crudest kind.

It is, in fact. Jelinek's characters, and the voice she uses to tell of them, are fashioned with black irony and...

(The entire section is 1153 words.)

Tobe Levin (essay date 1991)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Levin, Tobe. “Jelinek's Radical Radio: Deconstructing the Woman in Context.” Women's Studies International Forum 14, nos. 1-2 (1991): 85-97.

[In the following essay, Levin examines the gender and feminist themes explored in a selection of Jelinek's radio plays.]

Australian expert in bioethics, Paul Gerber, commenting on the possibility of using braindead women as incubators for implanted fertilized eggs and as storage for donor organs, stated that this development would not only be ethically sound but in fact “progressive” and “a great” idea. The professor from the University of Queensland made his views known at a recent...

(The entire section is 7935 words.)

Charlotte Innes (review date 18 March 1991)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Innes, Charlotte. “Death in Vienna.” Nation 252, no. 10 (18 March 1991): 346-48.

[In the following review, Innes compliments Jelinek's exploration of fascism in Wonderful, Wonderful Times, noting that the novel is “a comedy of the absurd.”]

In the summer of 1962, I spent a vacation in Austria with my family. One night, in a small village on the Danube, my father went to a Bierkeller with some friendly locals, who before long were singing Nazi songs and reminiscing about the good old days. I was only 11 years old, but I remember that it really spooked my father, who was not just an English tourist who spoke good German (and whom they oddly assumed...

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Barbara Kosta (essay date 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Kosta, Barbara. “Inscribing Erika: Mother-Daughter Bond/age in Elfriede Jelinek's Die Klavierspielerin.Monatshefte 86, no. 2 (1994): 218-34.

[In the following essay, Kosta analyzes the mother-daughter relationship in Die Klavierspielerin.]

Before they were mothers Leto and Niobe had been the most devoted of friends.


While the Oedipal battles that have informed much of Western literature continue to rage on, the figure of the mother, traditionally less visible, slowly begins to take her place among the dramas of identity. Only recently has the mother become a...

(The entire section is 7582 words.)

Elfriede Jelinek and Gitta Honegger (interview date spring-summer 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Jelinek, Elfriede, and Gitta Honegger. “The German Language: An Interview with Elfriede Jelinek.” Theater 25, no. 1 (spring-summer 1994): 14-22.

[In the following interview, Jelinek discusses the influence of philosopher Martin Heidegger on her work, her role as an artist, and writing within the Austrian literary tradition.]

On a home movie screen a middle-aged woman carrying a suitcase wanders along a mountain path. Hannah Arendt is returning, after the war, to visit Heidegger in Todtnauberg, his beloved Black Forest country retreat. For her play's title, Austrian writer Elfriede Jelinek extracts the root words hidden in the village's name. It only...

(The entire section is 5563 words.)

Susan L. Cocalis (review date autumn 1996)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Cocalis, Susan L. Review of Die Kinder der Toten, by Elfriede Jelinek. World Literature Today 70, no. 4 (autumn 1996): 946-47.

[In the following review of Die Kinder der Toten, Cocalis argues that Jelinek's prose style and subject material are enjoyable in “small doses,” but are too excessive and overwhelming in novel form.]

While reading Elfriede Jelinek's latest novel Die Kinder der Toten (The Children of the Dead), one cannot help thinking that Ingeborg Bachmann is not the only postwar Austrian woman writer who was obsessed with death and ways of dying (Todesarten). In the tradition of Bachmann's prose works, Jelinek...

(The entire section is 695 words.)

Brigid Haines (essay date July 1997)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Haines, Brigid. “Beyond Patriarchy: Marxism, Feminism, and Elfriede Jelinek's Die Liebhaberinnen.Modern Language Review 92, no. 3 (July 1997): 643-55.

[In the following essay, Haines utilizes the theories of feminist theorist Luce Irigaray to delineate the relationship between Marxist and feminist thought in Die Liebhaberinnen.]

Despite their common roots in enlightenment discourses of liberation, Marxism and feminism have always regarded each other with a degree of friendly exasperation. The central problem of Marxism from a feminist point of view is its failure to theorize adequately either subjectivity or gender. In addition, though Marxism...

(The entire section is 7670 words.)

Christine Kiebuzinska (essay date spring 1998)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Kiebuzinska, Christine. “Elfriede Jelinek's Nora Project: Or What Happens When Nora Meets the Capitalists.” Modern Drama 41, no. 1 (spring 1998): 134-45.

[In the following essay, Kiebuzinska discusses how Was geschah, nachdem Nora ihren Mann verlassen hatte oder Stützen der Gesellschaften functions as both a deconstruction and re-appropriation of Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House.]

The distinguishing feature of the creative output of the contemporary Austrian writer Elfriede Jelinek is the unmasking of the illusion perpetuated by misreadings of canonical texts. In her play Was geschah, nachdem Nora ihren Mann verlassen hatte oder Stützen der...

(The entire section is 5643 words.)

Gregory H. Wolf (review date autumn 1998)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Wolf, Gregory H. Review of Ein Sportstück, by Elfriede Jelinek. World Literature Today 72, no. 4 (autumn 1998): 823-24.

[In the following review, Wolf praises the lack of plot-driven action in Ein Sportstück, contending that the long passages of dialogue and monologue “allow Jelinek to diagnose and criticize directly society's ills.”]

Ein Sportstück, the latest drama from the controversial Austrian writer Elfriede Jelinek, is a brutally graphic condemnation of contemporary society's obsession with sports, the athletes who compete, the narcissistic attitude bred by athletics, and the language used to describe competition and victory....

(The entire section is 674 words.)

Rebecca S. Thomas (essay date 1999)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Thomas, Rebecca S. “Subjectivity in Elfriede Jelinek's Clara S.: Resisting the Vanishing Point.” Modern Austrian Literature 32, no. 1 (1999): 141-58.

[In the following essay, Thomas explores the theme of female subjectivity in Clara S., contending that “Clara's usurpation of power and will separates this drama from Jelinek's other works.”]

“Nur die Frau gibt es nicht und darf es nicht geben.”1 This dictum reflects Elfriede Jelinek's view that women are impossible as subjects in what she frames as a fascist, patriarchal, postwar, capitalist society. Work, love, marriage, motherhood, and art, all western institutions in which...

(The entire section is 6991 words.)

Erika Swales (essay date April 2000)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Swales, Erika. “Pathography as Metaphor: Elfriede Jelinek's Die Klavierspielerin.Modern Language Review 95, no. 2 (April 2000): 437-49.

[In the following essay, Swales delineates the effects of Jelinek's “fierce pathography” through a close reading of Die Klavierspielerin, contending that her stridency generates “a sense of tensions that invite the reader to be not reductive but reflective.”]

Whatever kind of reputation Elfriede Jelinek may have, it is not that of a subtle, thoughtful author. Indeed, for many readers and critics, the stridency of her writing is the most defining characteristic, a stridency that has been variously...

(The entire section is 7170 words.)

Gregory H. Wolf (review date spring 2001)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Wolf, Gregory H. Review of Das Lebewohl: 3 kl. Dramen, by Elfriede Jelinek. World Literature Today 75, no. 2 (spring 2001): 369.

[In the following review of Das Lebewohl: 3 kl. Dramen, Wolf compliments the social commentary in Jelinek's three dramas, but notes that without a firm understanding of Austrian politics, “one will not catch their poignant political critique.”]

Elfriede Jelinek's latest work, Das Lebewohl, a collection of three short dramas, problematizes the serious political developments and situation in Austria since Jörg Haíder's ascension to a position of prominence in national, indeed European politics. The phenomenon...

(The entire section is 787 words.)

Eva Ludwiga Szalay (essay date summer 2001)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Szalay, Eva Ludwiga. “Of Gender and the Gaze: Constructing the Disease(d) in Elfriede Jelinek's Krankheit oder Moderne Frauen.German Quarterly 74, no. 3 (summer 2001): 237-58.

[In the following essay, Szalay investigates the influence of the theories of French philosopher Michel Foucault on Jelinek's Krankheit oder Moderne Frauen.]

Weiβt du, einer sagt, die Geschichte beruhe in letzter Instanz auf dem Körper des Menschen.1

In staging what might be called the symbolically or metaphorically diseased condition of modern women, Elfriede Jelinek's Krankheit oder Moderne Frauen sets...

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Stephan Atzert (review date winter 2002)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Atzert, Stephan. Review of Gier: Ein Unterhaltungroman Elfriede Jelinek, by Elfriede Jelinek. World Literature Today 76, no. 1 (winter 2002): 184.

[In the following positive review of Gier, Atzert calls Jelinek “one of the few established and interesting authors in the German-writing world.”]

In nine numbered but untitled sections [in Gier], Elfriede Jelinek tells a story of violence, set in rural Austria. The police officer Kurt Janisch is interested in women and houses. His wife watches TV serials in their home, while the elderly original owner slowly disintegrates psychologically, uncared for in her upstairs flat. By means of...

(The entire section is 423 words.)