Critical Context

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Between 1975 and 1982, Bernhard published five volumes of autobiographical writings. In these works, he sketched the main mileposts of his life, from his illegitimate birth in Holland in 1931 to his experiences as a schoolboy in Nazi-occupied Salzburg. He also describes his life as a patient in a hospital and sanatorium in postwar Austria until about 1950. The memories of the narrator of Holzfallen continue this chronology, if only very loosely. Reference is made several times to the 1950’s as the period of the narrator’s involvement in the social life from which he later fled. Yet, in the sense that all imaginative literature is partly autobiographical and partly fiction, Holzfallen clearly belongs to the latter category. In Holzfallen, Bernhard creates a narrative voice quite different from the voice of his unconventional memoirs, where he is acutely aware of the pitfalls of autobiographical reconstruction. In contrast, only at the very end of Holzfallen does the fictitious “I” realize that he has always loved the objects of his tirades as much as he has hated them.

Whatever Bernhard writes, he continues to be the “mischief maker” that he declared himself to be in Der Keller (1976; the cellar), the second volume of his autobiography. Judging from the scandal surrounding the publication of Holzfallen in 1984, his talent for controversy appears to be undiminished.