- Red Vienna: White Socialism and the Blues by Rob McFarland
Rob McFarland’s biography of a near-forgotten Austrian feuilletonist, Ann Tizia Leitich, chronicles her experiences of interwar America. McFarland’s study illustrates the episodes that moved Leitich to write with extracts from the resulting feuilletons, and the biography reads like the diary of the young Schriftstellerin.
Ann Tizia Leitich was born in 1891 to an upper-middle-class family of Vienna’s cultured Bildungsbürgertum. She was twenty-seven at the end of the First World War, whereupon the Habsburgs’ home city became replaced as the seat of Austromarxism: fin de siècle Red Vienna. Leitich was appalled by its distinct lack of opportunities for women and, after failing as a teacher, secretly left for the New World. She arrived in America aged thirty and made it her base for much of the interwar period. After taking low-level jobs in Chicago and Iowa, Leitich headed to New York in search of “any secretarial job that would take her” and between work hours revived her hobby of feuilleton writing. Just under a year after her arrival in Manhattan, the Viennese Neue Freie Presse (nfp) put Leitich’s name in print and began publishing Leitich’s regular correspondences from the New World. In the manner of Christa Wolf’s Kassandra, Leitich emerges a female voice commentating the capitalist and by extension patriarchal city to a readership outside of it. Only from happening upon one of her early feuilletons in the nfp did Leitich’s family learn of her whereabouts, a fact McFarland negates in addition to the nervous breakdown that also prompted Leitich’s departure from Europe.
McFarland’s episodic biography removes the mysteries that have continued to cloud Leitich’s life and work even following the first and most recent academic study of her work, Brooke Marie Wright’s 2004 thesis. The Austrian Embassy in Washington last year asked “was journalism just a job that became insignificant with the publication of books? Or did [it] open up new avenues of expression?” McFarland’s study satisfactorily answers these questions left open for a decade. No, Leitich’s journalism did not pale into insignificance with the onset of her fiction books and yes, it did open her up to new avenues of expression. While Leitich’s novel Ursula entdeckt Amerika was published in 1928 in Berlin, it and her later novel Ein Leben ist nicht genug were also serialized in periodicals. Journalism therefore aided and secured the publication and publicity of Leitich’s novels as she branched out into fiction. That [End Page 170] journalism did indeed open Leitich to new avenues of expression McFarland demonstrates in two senses. First, her journalist’s need to report on newly developing media such as sound cinema alerted Leitich to these new means of artistic expression, a receptivity that inspired a number of feuilletons and film reviews. Second, journalism was one stage in Leitich’s creativity that opened her up to new means of self-expression. It begat her novel writing and, although never realized, screenplays followed.
Much on which McFarland focuses is caught between two worlds. Leitich’s homeland is transitioning from all things kaiserlich und königlich to Deutsch-Österreich, while her host country is interpolated between birth and more fulsome development. Leitich’s opinions also form at the gray areas between two commonly opposed viewpoints. Her intercontinental experiences enable her to strike the balance between two directly clashing arguments. McFarland reveals Leitich’s mind to be one broadened by travel, finding obscure angles on common debates. The White Socialism that evolved from America, that is, mass production promising good wages, divided opinion between Europe’s Socialists. The strict Austromarxists of Red Vienna attacked it for devaluing human labor. Leitich warns of White Socialism’s ability to erode the human need for beauty and emotion, lest art become unfeelingly mass-produced as well. She similarly perceives the American mass film culture as “too lucrative to make great art” but also of educational value. The undemanding accessibility of the medium renders it able to...