Thomas Bernhard Biography


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Thomas Bernhard’s characteristic ambivalence and individual stance in regard to reality often make it difficult to distinguish fact from fiction in his various writings. The author’s autobiographical works contain some reliable factual information but it is often obscured behind poetic description, as several major critics, such as Benno von Wiese and Herbert Gamper, have illustrated. The following biographical sketch can be gleaned from the primary and secondary sources available.

Bernhard was born illegitimately on February 10, 1931, to the daughter of a minor writer, Johannes Freumbichler, and the carpenter son of a farmer from the Austrian town of Henndorf. Bernhard never knew his father. His birthplace was actually a monastery near Maastricht, a refuge for young unwed mothers in the Netherlands. During his first year, Bernhard was cared for by a woman on a fishing vessel in Rotterdam while his mother worked to support herself. Bernhard’s next years were spent with his maternal grandparents in Vienna and Seekirchen am Wallersee (near Henndorf). Repeatedly criticized and often rejected by a neurotic mother, Bernhard trusted only his eccentric grandfather, who could be described as an antibourgeois grumbler with an anarchistic bent. Already attending school at the age of four and a half, Bernhard was admonished by his grandfather neither to take school too seriously nor to trust his teachers blindly. This maternal grandfather, a friend of the renowned dramatist Carl Zuckmayer and an acquaintance of the provocativeÖdön von Horváth, wanted his...

(The entire section is 641 words.)


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Thomas Bernhard was born in Heerlen (near Maastricht) in the Netherlands on February 10, 1931, of Austrian parents. His ancestors were Austrian peasants, innkeepers, and butchers in Salzburg and Upper Austria, but he spent his earliest childhood years living with his grandparents in Vienna. He later moved with them to Traunstein, in Bavaria, and in 1943 he was sent to a boarding school in Salzburg. There he experienced not only humiliations at the hands of his teachers and fellow pupils but also the air raids and bombings of the city along with the chaotic end of World War II. In 1947—soon after his family had moved to Salzburg—Bernhard left the school to take up an apprenticeship in a grocer’s shop in the worst part of...

(The entire section is 400 words.)