3 January 2009

Arthur Schnitzler - Selected Short Fiction

Arthur Schnitzler was born in 1862 and is known as one of the most prominent members of the Viennese group of writers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, which included Stefan Zweig and Hugo von Hofmannsthal. He's most remembered now as a playwright - his play Reigen was filmed by Max Ophuls as La Ronde, and adapted for the stage by David Hare as The Blue Room. In addition his novella Traumnovelle (Dream Story) was adapted and filmed as Eyes Wide Shut by Stanley Kubrick.

Schnitzler was highly influenced by Freud, a Viennese contemporary, and most of his stories are dominated by themes of sex and death. The influence also manifested itself in a fascination with the inner lives of his characters, which became the stylistic feature of Zweig and Hofmannsthal too. He used interior monologues and stream-of -consciousness narratives avant la lettre, most notably in Lieutenant Gustl, included in this collection, a controversial story from the point of view of an officer who wants to avoid a duel, which caused Schnitzler to be stripped of his commission as a reservist for bringing dishonour on the army.

There are so many things to admire in Schnitzler - his great variety of form and technique, his easy facility with using female protagonists, his uncanny understanding of inner motivations, his humour (a couple of the stories are extended jokes) and his balance of tone throughout. Notable stories in this collection include Fraulein Else (also available on its own in Pushkin Press), The Wise Man's Wife and Lieutenant Gustl, as mentioned, but all of them have some worth. A delightful collection, that will bear rereading.