- Arthur Schnitzler: Leutnant Gustl ed. by Konstanze Fliedl
The critical edition of Schnitzler’s Leutnant Gustl (1900) is the first publication in a coordinated project among the universities of Vienna, Cambridge, and Wuppertal. The aim is to produce a new critically revised edition of Schnitzler’s collected works, as the last one dates from the early 1960s. The Viennese team, headed by the renowned Schnitzler scholar Konstanze Fliedl, now presents its first contribution to this end. The novella relates the internal conflict of an officer, who is insulted when he collects his coat after a concert. The offender, a baker, manages to take hold of his sword. Following the strict military code, Gustl sees no way to restore his honor other than suicide. He spends the entire night struggling with himself, reminiscing about his life and relationships. In the early hours of the morning, as he treats himself to his last breakfast, he learns that the baker died of a stroke in the night.
Leutnant Gustl is perhaps Schnitzler’s most famous novella. It introduced the stream of consciousness technique to German literature twenty years before James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922). His diary shows that Schnitzler was acquainted with the first work in this new literary style, Les laurier sont coupés (1887) by Edouard Dujardin. The manner in which Schnitzler meticulously traces every association and spontaneous thought reveals the shallowness of Gustl’s character and his proclivity to popular prejudice against Jews. The exuberantly aggressive last sentence, “Dich hau’ ich zu Krenfleisch!” reveals that Gustl is no wiser after his nocturnal dilemma. He cannot wait for the next occasion to vent his energies in defense of what he considers his honor.
This merciless spotlight on the protagonist’s psyche also discloses the hollowness of the honor code of the officers’ caste. No wonder, then, that a military disciplinary committee officially stripped Schnitzler of his rank as [End Page 138] an officer in June 1901 for “having damaged the honor and standing of the Austro-Hungarian army.” Immediately after the publication of the novella in December 1900, however, conservative and army-friendly papers unleashed a series of aggressively anti-Semitic articles and caricatures against Schnitzler. This continued into the next year, indicating the degree to which anti-Semitism had become publicly acceptable, four years into Karl Lueger’s term as mayor of Vienna.
Fliedl’s volume provides a legend for Schnitzler’s handwriting. This alone makes it very useful to any Schnitzler scholar. Constituted of both Latin and Sütterlin script, Schnitzler’s writing is extremely difficult to decipher. Fliedl refers to it as “quasi-stenographic” (3), and Schnitzler’s preference for writing with a soft pencil does not facilitate things. Nonetheless, in this edition, we have every page of the original, handwritten manuscript on one side and clearly legible print on the other, making it possible to “read” Schnitzler’s first draft of the novella. The editor points out that the draft was revised repeatedly between its completion in July and its publication in December. The first page of the manuscript appears to be missing, since the printed edition begins several passages before the surviving manuscript sets in. In spite of Fliedl’s inquiries, its whereabouts remain unknown. There are differences in the length of narrative pauses between the original draft and the early printed editions. In the handwritten version, there are dashes of varying length and number that shift the emphasis of the previous sentence. In the first edition of the book, these were reduced to the standard three dots. Furthermore, in that edition Austrian dialect expressions for the months and certain exclamations were changed to the standard German. The Fischer Verlag, based in Berlin, thought this necessary out of consideration for readers outside of Austria. Although this may have been the case, it does reduce the authenticity of Gustl’s speech.
The page-by-page facsimile of Schnitzler’s manuscript is rounded off with a useful glossary of terms and references in the text. The appendix contains Moritz Coschell’s illustrations from the first edition. They are...