A couple weeks back I noted that a a great city (Vienna) surrounded by a great empire (Austria-Hungary) deserved great literature. I started making a list of this literature, and readers had no trouble filling in the blanks for me.
So now I present the revised list of great literature of the Austro-Hungarian empire.
First off, I should mention a nonfiction book. It is a guide to fin de siecle Vienna’s politics and culture that I’ve found indispensable, the aptly titled Fin-De-Siecle Vienna: Politics and Culture by Carl E. Schorske.
Now on to the literature.
Here are my original picks:
- The Man Without Qualities
- The Road into the Open by Arthur Schnitzler: (I came across this one while reading Fin-De-Siecle Vienna
by Carl E. Schorske. He recommends it as the definitive work embodying
the vibrancy of Vienna culture in the late 19th and early 20th
- The works of Joseph Roth: This is an author that James Wood speaks very highly of. I first came across him while reading Wood’s essay on Roth in The Irresponsible Self,
and if I recall correctly, Wood states that Roth’s fiction excels in
describing the ossified, super-bureaucratized empire that would soon
collapse under its own weight.
- The Good Soldier Svejk by Jaroslav Hasek
- The Post-Office Girl (and the rest of Stephen Zweig)
And here are the reader recs:
- Wedekind, "Spring Awakening" and other plays (although, there was some disagreement as to whether Wedekind was fin-de-siecle Viennese or German Expressionist)
- Hugo von Hofmannsthal, some sampling of his poems and plays, plus The Lord Chandos Letter
- Karl Kraus, The Last Days of Mankind [apparently out of print in English]
- Hermann Broch’s The Sleepwalkers
- Leo Perutz, any novel but especially Little Apple and The Master of the Day of Judgment
- Alexander Lernet-Holenia, The Resurrection of Maltravers, Baron Bragge, Count Luna
- Patrick Leigh Fermor, for a chapter in his travel narrative A Time of Gifts
- Italo Svevo, The Confessions of Zeno (to my surprise, Trieste was a part of the empire when Svevo was born there)
- Elias Canetti’s three-volume memoir
- Peter Altenberg’s feuilletons
- Antal Szerb’s Journey by Moonlight
- The Whole Difference, a new collection of works of Hugo von Hoffmansthal
- Karel Capek, Tales from Two Pockets, Toward the Radical Center, and War with the Newts
- Gregor von Rezzori’s Memoirs of an Anti-Semite
- Peter Esterhazy, Celestial Harmonies
- Embers by Sandor Marai
- The Vienna Coffeehouse Wits, an anthology of Viennese journalists
- Broch, Death of Vergil
- Felix Salten
- Franz Werfel
- Adelbert Stifter, Nestroy, and Grillparzer
- Gustav Meyrink, Alfred Kubin, and Paul Leppin
- Hermann Ungar and Ernst Weiss
- Heimito von Doderer’s The Demons
- Miroslav Krleza, Zastave
There were also mentions of Thomas Bernhard and Peter Nadas, which I didn’t include in the above list because I wanted to restrict it to writers who worked during the days of the actual empire and the fin de siecle era. But, their mention does point to a rich vein of literature that was produced after World War II and continues up to today with authors like Bernhard, Nadas (whose Book of Memories is absolutely incredible), and, more recently, Attila Bartis and Imre Kertez. For more on contemporary Hungarian lit, have a look at the indispensible Hungarian Literature Online.