Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Road to the Open: fin-de-siècle Vienna

I’m not sure what my posting schedule will be like the next few weeks. Work is going to take most of my time and I’ll be travelling with the family when I can, so posting will be hit or miss depending on time and access. I enjoy writing about what I read because it makes me think twice (or more) about the book, giving me a chance to articulate what I just experienced.

In addition to the ancient texts I’m currently reading, I wanted to work in some time for turn-of-the-(20th)century Austrian works. To start things I began reading The Road to the Open by Arthur Schnitzler (translation by Horace Samuel). I’m only a few pages into the work but I can see much of the framework defined by Carl E. Schorske in his notable book Fin-de-siècle Vienna. A few quotes from Schorske to help provide structure for Schnitzler and for other books in this setting:
Two basic social facts distinguish the Austrian from the French and English bourgeoisie: it did not succeed either in destroying or in fully fusing with the aristocracy; and because of its weakness, it remained both dependent upon and deeply loyal to the emperor as a remote but necessary father-protector. The failure to acquire a monopoly of power left the bourgeois always something of an outsider, seeking integration with the aristocracy. The numerous and prosperous Jewish element in Vienna, with its strong assimilationist thrust, only strengthened this trend. … The traditional culture of the Austrian aristocracy was far removed from the legalistic, puritanical culture of both bourgeois and Jew. Profoundly Catholic, it was a sensuous, plastic culture. … If the Viennese burghers had begun by supporting the temple of art as a surrogate form of assimilation into the aristocracy, they ended by finding it in an escape, a refuge from the unpleasant world of increasingly threatening political reality.

Carl E. Schorske, Fin-de-siècle Vienna: Politics and Culture (Vintage, 1981), p. 7-8.

I’m only half-way through Schnitzler's first chapter and Schorske’s description of the era encapsulates the world I’ve seen in the novel so far. I realize I’ve shortchanged Schorske’s description, but I’d have to quote the entire chapter to do it justice. Both Schnitzler and Schorske will be covered as I read the book and both are highly recommended.

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