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  • Ingeborg Bachmanns Wien by Joseph McVeigh
  • Katya Krylova
Joseph McVeigh, Ingeborg Bachmanns Wien. Berlin: Insel Verlag, 2016. 316 pp.

In her writing and in interviews, Ingeborg Bachmann repeatedly highlighted the importance that the city of Vienna had for her life and work. In her 1952 essay Biographisches, Bachmann wrote how she arrived in Vienna (in 1946) "voll Ungeduld und Erwartung," drawing on classic conceptions of province and metropolis to describe her dreams as a young girl of studying philosophy in the Austrian capital. In later years, this positive image of Vienna would be transformed into an ambivalent "Haßliebe" (170). The centrality of Vienna for Bachmann's development as a writer has repeatedly been emphasized by scholars and critics (see Gerda Haller and Robert Pichl), not to mention Bachmann's contemporaries (for example, Hans Weigel and Thomas Bernhard) and finds its expression in her later Todesarten project, most notably in her novel Malina (1971), with its sublimation of Vienna's third district into the mythical realm of the Ungargassenland. [End Page 182]

The aim of Ingeborg Bachmanns Wien is to illuminate a period in Bachmann's life that, according to the author, remains "lückenhaft und—daher einhergehend—von Mythen umrankt" (7). For this purpose McVeigh draws on letters Bachmann wrote to her mentor and lover Hans Weigel; correspondence with less-known contemporaries and mentors, such as the journalist Elisabeth "Bobbie" Löcker, theater critic Siegfried Melchinger and the psychologist Viktor Frankl; and texts that Bachmann wrote for Viennese periodicals. Several of these publications, such as a report on the financial hardship of Viennese students for a publication entitled Der Optimist (1948), and short stories published in the Wiener Tageszeitung, are included in the appendix to the volume.

Ingeborg Bachmanns Wien builds on McVeigh's work on Bachmann's manuscripts for the radio program Die Radiofamilie (broadcast by the occupation-era American broadcaster Rot-Weiß-Rot), edited and published by McVeigh in 2011. The monograph also comes in the wake of the publication of Andrea Stoll's Bachmann biography Der dunkle Glanz der Freiheit (2013) and, less recently, Sigrid Weigel's portrait of the author's intellectual life and correspondence (1999), and the biographical portraits by Hans Höller (1999) and Joachim Hoell (2001). While all of these monographs certainly treat Bachmann's Vienna years—and the biographical details of studies at the University of Vienna, literary involvement in the Café Raimund circle, and relationships with Celan and Weigel will be familiar to Bachmann readers—McVeigh's volume is unique in focusing exclusively on the delimited period 1946–1953 and its importance for the writer's subsequent development, enhancing the biographical framework outlined above with new details.

Bachmann's experiences in Vienna are set against the socio-historical context of postwar Austria, including its economic privations and emergence as a country at the center of the new Cold War order. The material conditions underpinning Bachmann's studies and literary activities in Vienna are given much attention in McVeigh's book. McVeigh argues that up until 1951 Bachmann did not seriously consider writing as a career, hoping instead to secure an academic post, and that it is likely that she regarded her freelance journalism and publishing activities as "Nebentätigkeiten" (74). McVeigh asserts that it is through her work for the American News Service and the US broadcaster Rot-Weiß-Rot, between 1951 and 1953, that Bachmann was able to achieve a degree of financial security that allowed her to devote more time to her creative writing, while at the same time learning "wie man publikumswirksam [End Page 183] schreibt" (83). Although it is undoubtedly the case that Bachmann, like many young people of her age, was weighing up various career options in her early twenties, that she chose to earn a living through journalism and publishing from the start of her time in Vienna is symptomatic of her firm commitment to writing. It cannot merely be dismissed as a "Nebentätigkeit."

Drawing on Bachmann's letters to Hans Weigel, McVeigh portrays how Bachmann's ideas regarding gender relations during this period were very much of their time, and how she entertained hopes for a traditional, bourgeois marriage with...


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