Who Is Arthur Schnitzler?

Answers to your questions about the news.
July 20 1999 12:33 PM

Who Is Arthur Schnitzler?

The final film of director Stanley Kubrick, Eyes Wide Shut, was based on a novella called Traumnovelle (Rhapsody: A Dream Novel) by a fin de siècle Austrian writer named Arthur Schnitzler, whose name seems vaguely familiar to many but whose major works could be named by few. Who, exactly, is he?

Arthur Schnitzler (1862-1931) lived in Vienna all his life, first as a physician and then, after the death of his father, who was also a doctor, as a writer. His body of work--4,000 pages in the German edition--includes plays, fiction, and poetry. His most celebrated plays are Anatol (1893), a series of seven one-act plays chronicling the affairs of a melancholy playboy; Leibelei (1896), about a sweet, sexually available girl; Reigen (1903) consisting of 10 dialogues, nine of which center on acts of sexual intercourse; and ProfessorBernhardi (1912), which addresses anti-Semitism in Viennese society. The most popular of Schnitzler's novels, The Road Into the Open (1908), is another study of anti-Semitism and its effect on Vienna's youth. Anti-Semitism aside (Schnitzler was Jewish), his main themes--love, sex, and death--were informed by his study of psychology and his own capacious sexual appetite. He once wrote in his diary that he longed to have his own harem. In real life, Schnitzler had numerous affairs, as well as orgasms, every one of which he cataloged for years. His work reflects his belief in a key principle: Everything that can go wrong between lovers, will.

Schnitzler's writing was perceived as immoral and scandalized critics in both Europe and the United States. In 1902, Leon Trotsky called him "an esthete and nothing but an esthete!" However, some of the hostility toward the writer was clearly due to anti-Semitism. During the obscenity trial for Schnitzler's most controversial play, Reigen (RoundDance), which portrayed infidelity and casual couplings, the court transcript states, "For the defense it is important to state that this trial is indeed not a battle against Reigen but one against the Jews, that Reigen was only used in order to bring about an anti-Semitic action." The directors and cast were acquitted of the charges, but Reigen still earned Schnitzler a reputation as a pornographer, and subsequent performances of the play sparked riots. In 1938, after Hitler annexed Vienna, that city's most prestigious theater pledged to purge from its stage all "Jewish filth" such as Schnitzler.

Americans first came into contact with Schnitzler's plays in 1912, when John Barrymore mounted a production of Anatol. Tom Stoppard adapted two Schnitzler plays: Liebelei, which he called Dalliance, and Das Weite Land (1911), which he called Undiscovered Country. David Hare's The Blue Room , in which Nicole Kidman's backside was glimpsed (though more of her was exposed in Eyes Wide Shut) was based on Reigen, as was Max Ophuls' film adaptation, La Ronde (1950).

Schnitzler's Rhapsody: A Dream Novel (1926), which has been difficult to find for many years, is being reissued with the release of Eyes Wide Shut. Collections of plays and stories are also finding their way back into print, and Schnitzler criticism has been collected in a centennial volume due out in 2000. Germanists consider him an indispensable part of their syllabuses, though generalists have until recently given him short shrift. Critics interviewed by Slate agree that Schnitzler is worth revisiting because of his wit, his insight into men and women, and his grasp of the way sex, love, and hate intersect. As Sigmund Freud once put it in an admiring letter to Schnitzler: "I have gained the impression that you have learned through intuition--though actually as a result of sensitive introspection--everything that I have had to unearth by laborious work on other persons."

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Don’t Worry, Obama Isn’t Sending U.S. Troops to Fight ISIS

But the next president might. 

The Extraordinary Amicus Brief That Attempts to Explain the Wu-Tang Clan to the Supreme Court Justices

Amazon Is Officially a Gadget Company. Here Are Its Six New Devices.

The Human Need to Find Connections in Everything

It’s the source of creativity and delusions. It can harm us more than it helps us.

How Much Should You Loathe NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell?

Here are the facts.

Altered State

The Plight of the Pre-Legalization Marijuana Offender

What should happen to weed users and dealers busted before the stuff was legal?

Surprise! The Women Hired to Fix the NFL Think the NFL Is Just Great.

You Shouldn’t Spank Anyone but Your Consensual Sex Partner

Moneybox
Sept. 17 2014 5:10 PM The Most Awkward Scenario in Which a Man Can Hold a Door for a Woman
  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 18 2014 8:58 AM Does this Colorado Poll Show Latino Voters Bailing on the 2014 Election?
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 17 2014 1:36 PM Nate Silver Versus Princeton Professor: Who Has the Right Models?
  Life
The Vault
Sept. 18 2014 9:57 AM "The Sun Never Sets Upon the British Empire," Explained in GIF by an Old Children's Toy
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 17 2014 6:14 PM Today in Gender Gaps: Biking
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 17 2014 9:37 AM Is Slate Too Liberal?  A members-only open thread.
  Arts
Television
Sept. 18 2014 8:53 AM The Other Huxtable Effect Thirty years ago, The Cosby Show gave us one of TV’s great feminists.
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 17 2014 9:00 PM Amazon Is Now a Gadget Company
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 18 2014 7:30 AM Red and Green Ghosts Haunt the Stormy Night
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 17 2014 3:51 PM NFL Jerk Watch: Roger Goodell How much should you loathe the pro football commissioner?