Critical Context

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

The Waterfalls of Slunj was the first part of a planned tetralogy, an ambitious project intended to be as large in scope and scale as Doderer’s masterpiece, Die Damonen (1956; The Demons, 1961). Doderer’s death in December, 1966, however, deprived readers of the completed work. Fortunately, The Waterfalls of Slunj can be read as an autonomous unit.

A soldier and captured prisoner in two world wars and a scholar with a doctorate in Austrian history, Doderer distrusted the panaceas for social ills that were offered from both the political Right and the Left. To Doderer, such ideologies simply clouded one’s perception of truth, forever keeping one in an illusory and false world of “second realities.” Thus, as a novelist, Doderer avoided creating characters as the embodiments of ideas. He refused to cultivate the dream at the expense of reality.

With the trained eye of a historian, Doderer instead dutifully recorded the manners of the people and the scenery of the countryside during the height of his country’s glory. Convinced that “the novel is a perpetual quest for reality” and that the task of the novelist is “the reconquest of the external world,” Doderer became Austria’s greatest poet of the sights and sounds of old Vienna. In reading his prose, sympathetic students cannot help but become Viennese themselves.