Siegmund Salzmann Biography

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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Felix Salten (SHAHL-tuhn), the pseudonym of Siegmund Salzmann, was internationally known in his later years for his animal stories that delighted children and adults alike. Salten was born in Budapest on September 6, 1869. His family was Jewish and poor, and, according to his own account, he was largely self-taught. A journalist at seventeen, he was for many years associated with the Viennese Neue Freie Presse, the most influential newspaper in Austro-Hungary before World War I. He began his literary career as a writer of historical, romantic, and satirical novels widely read throughout Central Europe. President of the Austrian PEN Club at the time of the Nazi invasion, he took refuge in Switzerland in 1939. He died in Zurich, after a long illness, on October 8, 1945.{$S[A]Salzmann, Siegmund;Salten, Felix}

Bambi, translated in 1928 and published in the United States and England with a foreword by John Galsworthy, became a popular children’s book (although it was originally intended as an adult novel) and brought its author wide fame when it was made into a feature-length cartoon by Walt Disney in 1942. This lucidly written and moving story of a red deer growing up in the innocence of the great forest describes also the threat by humans (creatures of the “third arm”) to the freedom of life in the wilds. By delicately transferring human ideals to his animals, the writer succeeds in a kind of allegory which preserves a delicate balance between a world of reality and one of fancy. Salten once referred to Gottfried Keller as a primary influence on his work.

The Hound of Florence had been Salten’s first children’s book. Later, Florian, the story of a horse, and Perri, the story of a squirrel, appeared. Perri is perhaps as haunting a book as his story of the deer; in it, he created the character of an inarticulate three-year-old girl who understands animals better than humans. Books such as Good Comrades and A Forest World confirmed Salten’s peculiar talent as an imaginative observer who could capture the flow of sympathy between the natural orders of humans and animals. However, Jibby the Cat and Little World Apart, the former published after his death, added little to his achievement. Salten also wrote travel books about the United States and Palestine and nearly forty novels, most of them untranslated, as well as short stories, dramas, and essays.