(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

In The Waterfalls of Slunj, Heimito von Doderer traces the fortunes and misfortunes of two generations of a British manufacturing family who set up a business enterprise in pre-World War I Austria. The work is a “total novel,” designed to capture the customs and manners of Europeans living during the height of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. A love song to a bygone era, this epic work describes in great detail the social fabric, landscapes, atmospheric conditions, and even the sounds and odors of antebellum Vienna and its environs. Sympathetic but not overly sentimental, the novel re-creates a panoramic view of everyday life among the rich and middling sorts who lived along the gaslit, cobbled streets of old Vienna.

The story opens in the late 1870’s with the marriage of Robert and Harriet Clayton. Robert, the son of a well-to-do machinery manufacturer from southwest England, and his bride, Harriet, spend their honeymoon in the vicinity of Vienna, near the beautiful falls of the Slunjcica River. Precisely nine months later, their first and only child, Donald, is born.

Upon returning to Great Britain, Robert learns of his father’s decision to establish a subsidiary firm in the southeastern provinces of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Having been given responsibility for opening the new factory, Robert returns to Vienna, seeks personnel recommendations from Andreas Milohnic (a hotel clerk whom the Claytons met while they were on their...

(The entire section is 582 words.)