- Arthur Schnitzler: Anatom des Fin de Siècle by Max Haberich
If every generation requires a new history of literature, then, too, new studies on the life and work of noted authors are always in order. Max Haberich provides a study on Schnitzler and his times under the subtitle Anatom des Fin de Siècle, which integrates biographical and interpretative parts into a commentary on the critical debates of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries pertaining to the author at hand. Recent research and scholarship on Jewish literary and social studies facilitate Haberich’s contextualization of Schnitzler and his oeuvre in historically specific terms [End Page 124] and position the author within the current discourse on the intellectual culture of Austro-Hungary. This includes the coffeehouses, cabarets, and other public venues that were part of the public sphere open to Schnitzler and his fellow writers and intellectuals. Haberich examines Schnitzler’s background and personal life in a more realistic and less deferential manner than was the case with earlier critics. The result is a rather contemporary Schnitzler construct emerging from a fresh look at the author’s literary and autobiographical writings.
Haberich’s study transcends the fin-de-siècle framework while remaining mindful of the fin-de-siècle as Schnitzler’s focal theme that also colored the author’s attitude toward the post–World War I republic. Leaving the war virtually unaddressed, as Haberich notes, and becoming increasingly the target of anti-Semitic hostilities in the 1920s, Schnitzler examined the new Austrian republic through a fin-de-siècle lens and with a latent nostalgia of a time and setting that he criticized while they lasted. Schnitzler infused his view of the “modern” Austrian republic with sexual, sentimental, and Jewish content that harkened back to the prewar era. Indeed, some of his works written before the war, such as Reigen, fueled public scandals in the interwar years. In conjunction with his professional difficulties, Haberich traces the mounting difficulties in Schnitzler’s personal life such as his divorce from Olga Gussmann after eighteen years of marriage and the suicide of his daughter Lili, who had married an Italian fascist. Reflections of these events, Haberich shows, appear in the later oeuvre.
Haberich’s critical narrative establishes convincing connections between Schnitzler’s life situations, his literary production, and his fascination and engagement with innovations, for example, with film as the medium of the future. Haberich discusses the intersection of personal and literary development issues that the existence of Schnitzler’s extensive correspondences, diaries, and notes makes especially compelling. Not all of those documents have become accessible to date, which leaves mysterious informational gaps, for example the exact circumstances that precipitated Lily Schnitzler’s suicide. Issues with which the author contended, including the demise of the Habsburg monarchy, his concerns about Lily’s vulnerability, and his critical stance toward the continued honor code of the military, correspond with Schnitzler’s personal convictions and formed sources of inspiration for works such as Fräulein Else, Traumnovelle, and Spiel im Morgengrauen. Likewise, the fascination with the occult and secret societies [End Page 125] in Schnitzler’s generation, coupled with concerns about the disintegrating family and gender structures inform the later works. Haberich observes both continuities and attitudinal changes between Schnitzler’s pre– and post– World War I works, which illustrate Schnitzler’s responses to the changing climate but also attest to his versatility at a time when many critics considered him a man of the past.
Over the decades Schnitzler has drawn attention from prominent scholars as the innumerable studies on his life, work, and times document, including Heinrich Schnitzler, Christian Brandstätter; and Reinhard Urbach’s Arthur Schnitzler: sein Leben, sein Werk, seine Zeit (1981); Peter Gay’s Schnitzler and His Century: The Making of the Middle Class (2002); the general studies by Hartmut Scheible (1976), Michaela Perlman (1987), Renate Wagner (2006), and Richard Specht (2014); and explorations of Schnitzler’s family and relationships in context, such as Friedrich Rothe’s Arthur Schnitzler and Adele Sandrock (1998) and Jutta...