Hugo Laurenz August Hofmann Elder von Hofmannsthal was born on February 1, 1874, in Vienna. His father was a bank manager. During the last quarter of the nineteenth century, there was considerable social unrest in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but Hofmannsthal enjoyed a sheltered and carefree childhood and youth. From an early age, he was exposed to the theater, to opera, and to other forms of art. From 1884 to 1892, he attended the prestigious Wiener Akademisches Gymnasium (academic high school). He was a brilliant student, particularly in languages and literature. At the age of twelve, he had read the German classics ( Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Friedrich Schiller, Heinrich von Kleist, and Franz Grillparzer). Three years later, he was acquainted with the works of Homer, Voltaire, Dante, William Shakespeare, George Gordon, Lord Byron, and Robert Browning, all of which he read in the original languages. In 1890, he published his first poems under the nom de plume “Loris.” This pseudonym became known rapidly in the literary circles of Vienna, particularly in the famous Café Griensteidl. When Hofmannsthal was eventually introduced to the influential critic Hermann Bahr, the latter was astounded to meet a seventeen-year-old youth; given the intellectual maturity of Loris’s writings, he had expected to encounter a man in his forties.
Hofmannsthal’s precocious maturity was based primarily on reading, not on real, “lived” experiences. The...
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