Schnitzler, Arthur


Schnitzler, Arthur
(1862–1931)
   Born in Vienna, Arthur Schnitzler was the son of a prosperous Jewish laryngologist. The future novelist and playwright was himself a physician, who, as a student, had an early interest in neurology and psychiatry. He did clinical work, as did Sigmund Freud, in the laboratory of Theodore Meynert (1833–1892), who was interested in classifying mental disorders through the study of the brain. Schnitzler himself used hypnotism in his early medical practice and would, as a mature man, confess that many of his plots had come to him in dreams. Schnitzler’s plays and fiction, marked by detached and transparent language, the absence of authorial intrusion, withering psychological realism, and a subtle understanding of interpersonal dynamics, were almost always set in Vienna and its environs. His characters—ambitious Jewish professionals, bored but erotically driven members of the high middle classes and aristocracy, self-righteous clergymen, the often helpless poor of the city’s teeming outer districts—were all familiar on the local scene. Duplicity was everywhere, but especially in marital relationships. Self-revelation and self-discovery, whether therapeutic or painful, were consistent themes throughout his work. Schnitzler’s first major success on the stage, Liebelei, which premiered at the Burgtheater in 1895, was the story of the daughter of a coachman, driven to suicide by the apparent faithlessness of a young man of good family who takes their relationship all too casually. Much of his work however, was far more controversial and brought him much trouble. The play Leutnant Gustl (1900), which centered around the problem created by a duel over a woman’s attentions, showed the military code of honor in an unfavorable light and cost the writer his officer’s rank. Das grüne Kakadu (The Green Bird), set during the French Revolution, offended circles around Emperor Franz Joseph. Reigen, better known as La Ronde to French and English audiences, reduced romantic bonds to the drive for self-gratification; it circulated at first only in manuscript form and provoked scandal even in 1920, when it was finally staged. Schnitzler himself refused to allow further performance of it.
   After World War I, Schnitzler lost much of his audience in his native land, which deemed his work too frivolous and cynical to be worthy of attention. Before his death, he tried writing scripts for American films, without great success.
   See also Jung Wien; Literature.

Historical dictionary of Austria. . 2014.

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