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Reviewed by:
Mirjam Ropers, Der Dialog in den späten Dramen Ödön von Horváths. Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 2012. 250 pp.

Like many revised dissertations, Mirjam Ropers’s methods can be almost relentlessly finicky, but the object of a thesis is to show the author’s command of Wissenschaft. And the section on the Volksstück appears, by contrast, less than amply developed (24–26). These minor demurrers pale in light of the book’s overall merit, however, which is to show how the structure of dialogue in Horváth’s later plays (from Der jüngste Tag of 1936 on) differs technically from that of the earlier ones (roughly up through Kasimir und Karoline of 1932, at which point performances began to be prohibited or withdrawn), mainly through a shift of genre.

From the Volksstück of German and Austrian tradition, Horváth needed to adopt the more cosmopolitan Komödie, with corresponding changes in methods of developing dialogue (22–23). One of Ropers’s concerns is to note a continuity of Horváth’s artistic aims and methods as well as a change; she sees the author continuing to practice “die Demaskierung des Bildungsjargons” (30) in the later plays too. Exile forced Horváth “nicht nur seinen Wohnort sondern auch die Themen seiner Stücke zu verlagern” (30), but not [End Page 160] the socially critical aims. These were now achieved more by strategic silences that point up discrepancies; by elements of symbolism in the settings and periods; and by parallels between the past ages in which the later plays are set and the present time of their composition. For example, Ein Dorf ohne Männer, set in the time of Hungarian king Matthias Corvinus (1443–1490), “gerade die Einbettung in die Vergangenheit erlaubt Horváth eine Akutalität” that enables him safely to criticize a society marked by “Rassenverfolgung, die Leibeigenschaft der Frauen, die Kriegswilligkeit der Männer und die Berufung auf ein Recht, das jeder Menschlichkeit spottet” (134). The later plays are not, then, as often misjudged, costume pieces meant for escape but are just as keenly critical of Horváth’s own present as are the more acclaimed Volksstücke. Again, quoting Peter Gros, Ropers points out that “Die alte Geschichte wird im Spätwerk [Horváths] zum Modell für die Gegenwart” (173).

After establishing this continuity, Ropers acknowledges that the later plays are significantly different from the earlier ones after all, but not on the basis of early acute social criticism versus later blithe historicizing, as is so frequently claimed. The division into earlier and later plays is not an invention of critics and scholars, as she points out. Before she examines the actual components of Horváth’s newer methods of dialogue, she points out that the early-late division was set up by the author himself; “Horváth hatte 1937 […] alle seine bisherigen zwischen 1932 und 1936 entstandenen Stücke zurückgezogen und eine neue Schreibphase angekündigt” (132). One impetus was the influence of the Hungarian literature to which his exile again exposed him. He proposed to write a number of plays under the title Komödie des Menschen, apparently inspired by Imre Madách’s Die Tragödie des Menschen, whose placement of Adam and Eve at various widely separated points in history suggests that Horváth was envisioning his later plays as part of a cycle, one that would have requisitioned picturesque settings and piquant dialogue to show the underlying recurrence of human struggle in eras of transition. Likewise, Ein Dorf ohne Männer derives from Koloman Mikszáth’s novel Szelistye, das Dorf ohne Männer but was modified away from the anecdotal and “quaint” content. From play to play, as if the separate pieces were indeed parts of a cycle, Horváth portrays the characters’ yearning for “Freiheit und echter Liebe, sowie ihre ‘menschlische Solidarität,’ ein Thema, das alle seine Dramen wie ein roter Faden durchzieht und als ‘Schlüsselwort für das Spätwerk Horváths’ gelten kann” (158).

Besides emphasizing the continuity of Horváth’s work, Ropers conducts [End Page 161] a methodological study in which she investigates by...

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