Joseph Roth Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Joseph Roth was born Moses Joseph Roth on September 2, 1894, in Brody, Austrian Galicia, which at that time was in the eastern part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and today is in the Ukraine. His parents were part of a large Orthodox Jewish community, not uncommon in that part of the old empire. His father, Nachum Roth, was an unsuccessful traveling businessman who died, the victim of a psychopathic disorder, in 1910. Joseph was raised by his mother, Maria (or Miriam) Roth, née Grübel, and his grandfather Jechiel Grübel, a successful draper and orthodox Jew in Brody. The boy attended the elementary school and the Royal-Imperial Crown Prince Rudolph Gymnasium in Brody, where German was the language of instruction. At home, the family spoke German, but Roth also learned Polish, Yiddish, and Ukrainian. After his graduation with honors in 1913, he attended the University of Lemberg (Lvov) for one semester and the University of Vienna from 1914 to 1916. He studied literature and began his career as a writer, publishing poetry, short stories, and essays in a Viennese newspaper. From 1916 until 1918 he served in the Austrian army.

For a number of years following World War I, Roth was concerned almost exclusively with political and social issues. Although he was essentially a conservative, at this time he embraced the socialist point of view—he even signed some of his newspaper articles “Red Joseph.” He investigated the plight of the outsider, with special interest in the fate of the eastern European Jews, the Ashkenazim. In 1924 he developed this theme in a series of novels. Like most of his fictional work, these novels appeared serially in newspapers. Hotel Savoy appeared in the distinguished Frankfurter Zeitung, and Rebellion was serialized in the Berlin newspaper Vorwärts in 1924. Both novels treat the topic of social injustice that the outsiders and victims of the war encounter in Western European society. Hotel Savoy portrays a microcosm of a society suffering decay and corruption, while Rebellion illustrates the life of a disabled war veteran who loses his organ grinder’s license and is thus another victim of capitalism.

From the mid-1920’s to the late 1920’s Roth...

(The entire section is 924 words.)


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Moses Joseph Roth was born on September 2, 1894, in Brody, then part of the Austrian province of Galicia on the Russian border. The only child of a Jewish family of very modest means, Roth was reared by his mother in her father’s home. Roth’s father, who had been traveling at the time of his son’s birth, had to be committed to a mental institution before his return home and never knew of the child’s existence. As a young boy, Roth attended the Gymnasium (college-preparatory secondary school) in Brody, rather than the heder, the Orthodox Jewish school. That Roth’s upbringing as a Jew, though not Orthodox, greatly affected his attitudes is evident in his later writing.

Roth pursued his interest in literature early; he studied German language and literature, together with philosophy, in Lemberg and subsequently in Vienna. In the imperial city, he became associated with the Polish author Józef Wittlin and studied under the famous Germanist Walther Brecht and his assistant Heinz Kindermann at the university there. With Wittlin, Roth volunteered for military service in 1916 during World War I; after his release from Russia as a prisoner of war, he returned to Vienna in 1918 in dire financial straits.

In Vienna, Roth embarked on a career as a journalist, and his financial position temporarily improved, although financial difficulties continued to plague him throughout his life, as did his alcoholism. In 1919, Roth met his future...

(The entire section is 475 words.)