As an adolescent, Rudolf Gurdweill physically abuses himself, sticking himself with a needle and burning his fingertips with matches. Some fifteen years later he discovers another form of self-torture, marrying a woman who delights in making him miserable. Openly unfaithful--she even has sex with another man in front of Gurdweill--she repeatedly beats him, mocks him, takes what little money he has, and forces him to spend nights on the street or in the almshouse.
Though Gurdweill is Thea’s victim, he is a willing one. Lotte Bondheim, a banker’s daughter, offers him love and happiness, but he is too obtuse to recognize her feelings. Even when she asks him to flee with her to Italy, he cannot tear himself from his destructive relationship with his wife.
The novel unfolds in a fully realized Vienna of the 1920’s, with its cafes, trams, squares and streets, its anti-Semitic aristocrats and impoverished drifters, its prostitutes, widows, booksellers, lawyers, suicides, and lunatics. Like Christopher Isherwood in GOODBYE TO BERLIN (1939), Vogel portrays a city at once beautiful and decadent, alluring and immoral, obliviously poised on the brink of the Anschluss, Nazism, and the Holocaust.
Though Dalya Bilu deserves thanks for making Vogel’s text accessible to an English-speaking public, her translation contains solecisms and other infelicities that she or an editor should have removed. Yet even with its misplaced modifiers and cliches, MARRIED LIFE is well worth reading for its powerful narrative and psychological insight.