Peter Handke Biography


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Peter Handke was born in Griffen, Austria, on December 6, 1942. With the exception of a four-year period from 1944 to 1948, when he lived in Berlin, Handke lived in the country in Southern Austria. In 1961, he entered the University of Graz to study law. The critic Nicholas Hern argues that this legal training influenced Handke’s style: “Most of his plays . . . consist of a series of affirmative propositions each contained within one sentence which is usually a simple main clause on a main clause on a main clause plus one subordinate clause.” While he was at the university, Handke published his work in Manuskripts, the university’s literary review. From 1963 onward, he devoted himself to writing, and his first novel, Die Hornissen (1966; the hornets), appeared the year after he left the university.

This novel earned for Handke the chance to read at the prestigious Gruppe 47 conference in April of 1966, held that year at Princeton University. There he read from his second novel, Der Hausierer (1967; the peddler), and on the last day of the meeting he delivered a blistering attack on what he saw as the artistic failures of the group’s older members. Handke argued that much German postwar writing was too realistic and descriptive and “failed to realize literature is made with language, not with the things that one describes with language.”

This outburst and the success of his first play, Offending the...

(The entire section is 470 words.)

Peter Handke Biography

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Peter Handke’s early literary revolt against all repressive systems of rules and social customs and against the experience of daily dependency and dull coercive repetition is certainly linked to his birth and upbringing in a poor working-class environment. His birthplace, Griffen, in the province of Carinthia, Austria, lies about twenty-five miles northeast of Klagenfurt, the only sizable city in the region, and only a few miles from the border with Yugoslavia. Handke’s maternal grandfather, of Slovak descent, was a peasant and carpenter; his mother, the fourth of five children, worked as a dishwasher, maid, and cook during World War II and became pregnant with Handke by a German soldier, a bank clerk in civilian life, who was already married. Before Handke’s birth, his mother married another German soldier, Bruno Handke, in civilian life a streetcar conductor in Berlin. In 1944, Maria Handke moved to Berlin with her son to await her husband’s return from the war. For some time after 1945, Handke’s stepfather continued to work as a streetcar conductor in Berlin, until in 1948 he moved his family to Griffen, where he found employment with Maria’s father. The stepfather’s alcoholism, the cramped quarters—the family, by then numbering six, shared two attic rooms—and the backwardness of the region became increasingly oppressive for the young Handke. After attending the local elementary school, he finally escaped from his hated stepfather and the confines of home by entering a parochial boarding school near Klagenfurt.

At the parochial school, the quiet and serious-minded Handke remained isolated from his fellow pupils. His superior intelligence allowed him to catch up on a year’s work in Latin within a short time and to become the best student in class. His German teacher recognized his writing talent and encouraged him to publish his first short stories in the school newspaper. Through this teacher, Handke became acquainted with the works of Thomas Wolfe and William Faulkner, among others. Handke, however, soon felt the pressure of conformity at this school, with its expressed purpose of preparing young men for the priesthood, and he changed schools once more, to attend the Gymnasium (college-preparatory secondary school) in Klagenfurt, from which he graduated in 1961. Apparently his former teacher advised Handke upon graduation to enter law school so that the...

(The entire section is 979 words.)

Peter Handke Biography

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Peter Handke (HAHNT-kuh) was born on December 6, 1942, in Griffen, Austria, a village in the province of Carinthia near the Yugoslavian border. As a child he lived in the country, except for four years spent in Berlin between 1944 and 1948. He studied law at the University of Graz from 1961 to 1965, which may have influenced his writing style; his attention to detail, precision, and complex sentence structure are all characteristic of legal language.

Handke’s first published work appeared in the magazine Manuskripte in the mid-1960’s; his first novel, Die Hornissen (the hornets), appeared in 1966. This novel was favorably received by critics, but Handke did not achieve true recognition until later that year, when he launched a dramatic public attack on German writing and criticism that, he believed, unduly favored traditional descriptive prose and rejected new, experimental techniques. The setting for this attack was a writers’ conference in Princeton, New Jersey; the audience (and targets) were the members of Gruppe 47 (Group 47), an influential organization of German writers. Ironically, the writers Handke criticized responded enthusiastically to his remarks, and the incident led to his recognition in the prestigious magazine Der Spiegel. The Princeton meeting was a major turning point in Handke’s career, bringing international attention to both his work and his controversial and innovative ideas about writing.

Handke’s rejection of tradition and interest in artistic experimentation received their first major expression the same year in Publikumsbeschimpfung (pr., pb. 1966; Offending the Audience, 1969), a short play whose title is indicative of its content. Instead of a typical play with scenes, characters, costumes, and sets, Offending the Audience consists of four actors in ordinary clothes on a bare stage. Instead of speaking lines of dialogue to one another, the actors directly address the audience, telling them that they are not going to see a play at all, then going on to discuss various ideas about the theater, audiences, illusion, and reality. The title has a double meaning: First, the expectations of the audience are mocked by the bizarre nature of the play; in addition, the audience is subjected to a barrage of insults from the actors...

(The entire section is 956 words.)

Peter Handke Biography

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Peter Handke’s works stand on the cutting edge of contemporary literature. Whether playing linguistic games to explore human communication, depicting disturbed characters to reveal the inner workings of the mind, or casting a spotlight on his own creative processes, Handke’s literary works are as fascinating as they are unusual. Although Handke’s fame has waned in recent years outside the German-speaking world, he remains one of the world’s most innovative and creative writers of drama, fiction, and poetry.

Peter Handke Biography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Peter Handke (HAHNT-kuh) is one of the most prominent and prolific writers in the German language and has published in many genres. Born in a small village in Austria on December 6, 1942, he spent his early adolescent years at a private Catholic school and knew from the age of about thirteen that he wanted to be a writer. Handke attended the University of Graz but immediately left when his first novel was accepted for publication. He gained notoriety when he vehemently criticized the writing of his contemporaries in a well-publicized outburst at the 1966 meeting of the Gruppe 47 writers’ association. He was married in 1966 and divorced in 1972. Handke left Austria soon after the publication of his first novel and moved to Paris...

(The entire section is 1134 words.)