Vienna: Lusthaus by Martha Clarke

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Themes and Meanings

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

In Vienna: Lusthaus, Martha Clarke explores love and death in various manifestations. Clarke’s images of eroticism and decadence are filtered through memories and dreams to describe the link between sex and destruction and the slow degeneration of life in fin de siècle Vienna. The two themes are effortlessly and inextricably intertwined. A young woman remembers her beautiful mother with arms full of flowers on a summer day walking through their house and falling to her death. Couples waltz and skate to the sweet strains of Johann Strauss while a woman recounts her mother’s announcement that because she is in so much pain she is going to kill herself.

Scenes of seduction and pleasure are juxtaposed with scenes of sexual dominance and cruelty or with another character’s subconscious sexual yearnings. The characters’ repressed desires and fantasies are revealed, thereby liberating these men and women from the strict mores of their society. A young woman sits tense and unmoving on a much older man’s lap. When she stands to exit, a nude woman steps from behind the man to take the girl’s place. The story of the sexual encounter with the young girl on the staircase, told simultaneously by a man and a woman, suggests deviant sexual behavior as well as fantasy. The insinuation of child molestation and rape takes on lesbian overtones in the woman’s recounting of the scene. In Vienna: Lusthaus, men and women are driven by their desires, and almost all the characters seem capable of satisfying their lusts. The nineteenth century romantic notion of love has been replaced by seduction and sex to attain power; yet these desires are overshadowed by war and death.

Soldiers march, fall, and lie in the snow. A man speaks of “natural...

(The entire section is 438 words.)