By Gareth Lewis

a paper for Bob Corbett's course Turn of the Century Vienna and Coffee House Culture

Paper slightly edited by Bob Corbett

About Arthur Schnitzler

Arthur Schnitzler was born on the 15 of May 1862 as the son of a Jewish medical Doctor. He spent five years studying medicine at the Vienna University and became an admirer of Sigmund Freud. Later Schnitzler and Freud became closer friends and shared many similar ideologies. After his studies at the University he joined the army for one year and received his doctorate at the same time. In 1885 Sigmund Freud and Schnitzler shared many ideas and interests, which examined the theories of unconsciousness and sub-consciousness. At the age of 31 Schnitzler decided to focus on his writing and his critical views of the K&K monarchy (Kaiserlich und Koeniglich). From the year 1890 onwards, Schnitzler and Hugo von Hofmannsthal belonged to an elite artistic group called the "Wiener Modern". In this establishment he was one of the most vehement critics of the K&K monarchy of Austria and Hungary. Only three years later Schnitzler decided to open his own private practice to be able to focus more on his writing. His novel "Leutnant Gustl" which became publicized in 1900 was the first to use an inner monologue as a new form of expression. His novel, which was an insult to the Austrian Army, made him loose the honours he had received when being in the army. He first started to write novels such as the Reigen, but Schnitzler also developed a certain passion for writing fiction, which later became the dominant style in his life. When his daughter committed suicide in the year of 1930, many people said that Schnitzler never really recovered from this tragedy and that his loss made his life seems pointless. Arthur Schnitzler died eventually one year later on the 21st of October in 1931 in Vienna. Later the Nazis in Germany and Austria banned his plays and novels, as they did with many Jewish writers.

"Der Reigen" the play

The play consists of five men and five women with a total of ten dialogues. Every act focuses on the sexual desires of each person. When one act is finished one of the characters is left behind, whereas the other moves on to the next partner, therefore moving up from one social class to the next. The play starts with the "Dirne", the Soldier leaves the "Dirne" behind and has his next sexual relationship with the Parlour maid. This pattern repeats itself until the Graf (being the aristocrat) meets up with the "Dirne" again, thereby closing the circle of sexual inter-relationships and social inter-relation. The play also focuses on the superior and inferior complexes of people from different sex and social standard.

Interpretation of the Reigen

At first, the Reigen was not meant to be a play. Schnitzler originally only printed 200 copies in 1903 for his fellow writers in the coffeehouses. But in the year 1920 the play was performed for the first time in Hungary. The reason for this was because when the play became public it was banned from the State in Vienna and Leipzig, and therefore could not be performed. It was originally a critical All of these are a couple at some stage. Schnitzler uses representative forms of all classes of that time and never mentions their names. He emphasises the representation of their respective social classes by playing with their dialects and their behaviour. The first scene is repeated ten times, the only alteration being the substitution of one character in each scene, and yet the audience does not become bored. In fact one feels the tension of the unmoral evoking. The repetition of "Werbung", "Lockung", "Paarung", "Saettigung" and "Ernuechterung" are the main parts of every scene. The main essence that Schnitzler wanted to make understood is that every human being, regardless of its sex and social status has something in common, which not always is to be seen as a result of love and marriage. Especially this criticism made Schnitzler break through as one of the most important critics of the century. Schnitzler also puts himself into the play as the Writer that has an affair with the Actress and young Girl. But by writing this play from the perspective of an outside viewer he again distances himself from the moral. Schnitzler also managed to make the couples fit together by always matching one person with a character from a higher social class than the other. Another interesting point is that each time a higher social class is reached, the dialogues become longer and the characters more elaborated, but this is only due to the higher classes being more formal than the others. Schnitzler though does not leave out the point that he is trying to make and that is to show that all individuals are only interested in their respective sexual satisfaction.

Reaction of the public to the play

As mentioned before Arthur Schnitzler published 200 copies of the "Reigen" which he distributed among his fellow writers. In 1903 the Reigen was printed in Vienna and Leipzig. The play, which became censored, was played 20 years later in Hungarian language. The idea to perform this Schnitzler play in the Hungarian language was to escape from the strict regime of the Austrian monarchy. The play was so appalling to the society, that the actors were taken to court. The play became so famous during the trial that no other writer could have wanted a better "promotion" for his novels and plays. The actors were prosecuted and the play was banned again. Schnitzler though did not let him self be intimidated by the court and wrote many novels and plays criticizing many of the social happenings.

Correlations with today

Many books and films today are used to criticise the public of today. There are differences of course and that are that the social system of the turn of the century has faded away. The classes are not dominant as they used to be. But the interrelation of people with each other has not changed to such an extent. Due to the two world wars the time of liberalism and socialism was paused and therefore these issues were only able to develop after 1945. Also critics were only accepted after the world wars and therefore artist may have felt the urge to criticise the whole time span form 1919 to 1945. Schnitzler addresses not only the social classes and their behaviour to each other. He also reflected the relationship between man and woman. This analysis and representation of the reality is just as right as today.


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