By Arthur Schnitzler.
Translated from the German by Agnes Jacques.
173 pages
New York: Simon and Schuster, 1926.

Comments of Bob Corbett
February 2002

Beatrice Heinold, widow of well-known actor Ferdinand, is summering at one of the small lake villages in the Salzkammergut with her son Hugo. This is a genteel crowd of Viennese bourgeoisie, sophisticated, urbane and liberated. However, Beatrice realizes that her young son, Hugo, is either having an affair with, of close to doing so with Baroness Fortunata Schon, of whom Beatrice does not at all approve. She tries to confront the Baroness pleading for her son to be left in his innocence and is given the promise, but realizes immediately that the promise will not be kept.

Things complexify, however, when Beatrice inexplicably starts a passionate love affair with Hugo’s best friend, and after learning from him that her late husband, whom she had idolized as the perfect lover and husband, had many affairs during their married life. This weighs deeply on her, and she even contemplates further affairs with others in the community in some sort of revenge on her dead husband.

Arthur Schnitzler explores the traumas of such breaking out of traditional moral codes and seems to support them and have his characters move in that direction. I have analyzed this phenomenon in another work, which actually included this novel as well. However, in the end Schnitzler disappoints and seems incapable of allowing his characters to follow through fully on their new won and seemingly accepted moral freedom. I prefer not to reveal the ending in which this occurs, but I have noted it as a disturbing pattern in Schnitzler’s work. It’s as though he can arrive at the portals of liberation from older moral codes, but just loses courage in the very end.

Nonetheless, Schnitzler’s portrait of Beatrice’s sedate life, her bold act of taking a very young lover, his portrait of the agonies that Hugo goes through in his first love, and his vibrant description of life in this idyllic summer resort are all magnificently written, vivid and convincing.

For links to more about the period of turn of the century Vienna see: the course I taught on this subject in Vienna in 2001   or to go directly to more info about the people and places visit my links to files and external sources on the this period.

Bob Corbett

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Bob Corbett