Arthur Schnitzler.

The lonely way : Intermezzo : Countess Mizzie : three plays online

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Copyright, 1915,










HERMANN BAHR, the noted playwright and
critic, tried one day to explain the spirit of
certain Viennese architecture to a German friend,
who persisted in saying: "Yes, yes, but always there
remains something that I find curiously foreign." At
that moment an old-fashioned Spanish state carriage
was coming along the street, probably on its way
to or from the imperial palace. The German could
hardly believe his eyes and expressed in strong terms
his wonderment at finding such a relic surviving in an
ultra-modern town like Vienna.

"You forget that our history is partly Spanish,"
Bahr retorted. "And nothing could serve better than
that old carriage to explain what you cannot grasp in
our art and poetry."

A similar idea has been charmingly expressed by
Hugo von Hofmannsthal in the poem he wrote in
1892 when he was still using the pseudonym of
"Loris" as introduction to "Anatol." I am now add-
ing a translation of that poem to my own introduc-
tion, because I think it will be of help in reading the
plays of this volume. The scene painted by Hof-
mannsthal might, on the whole, be used as a setting
for "Countess Mizzie." For a more detailed version
of that scene he refers us to "Canaletto's Vienna"
that is, to the group of thirteen Viennese views which
were painted about 1760 by the Venetian Bernardo


Belotto (who, like his more famous uncle and model,
Antonio Canale, was generally called Canaletto), and
which are now hanging in one of the galleries of the
Kunsthistorische Hofmuseum at Vienna. The spirit
of those pictures may be described, I am told, as one
of stately grace. They are full of Latin joy in life
and beauty. They speak of an existence constantly
softened by concern for the amenities of life. It is
just what survives of their atmosphere that frequently
makes foreigners speak of Vienna with a tender devo-
tion not even surpassed by that bestowed on Paris or

An attempt to understand the atmosphere and spirit
of modern Vienna will carry us far toward a cor-
rect appreciation of Schnitzler's art. And it is not
enough to say that Vienna is one of the oldest cities
in Europe. It is not even enough to say that it pre-
serves more of the past than Paris or London, for
instance. What we must always bear in mind is its
position as the meeting place not only of South and
North but also of past and present. In some ways it
is a melting-pot on a larger scale than New York even.
Racially and lingually, it belongs to the North. His-
torically and psychologically, it belongs to the South.
Economically and politically, it lives very much in the
present. Socially and esthetically, it has always been
strongly swayed by tradition. The anti-Semitic move-
ment, which formed such a characteristic feature of
Viennese life during the last few decades, must be
regarded as the last stand of vanishing social tradi-
tions against a growing pressure of economical re-

Like all cities sharply divided within itself and liv-


ing above a volcano of half-suppressed passions,
Vienna tends to seek in abandoned gayety, in a
frank surrender to the senses, that forgetfulness
without which suicide would seem the only remaining
alternative. Emotions kept constantly at the boiling-
point must have an outlet, lest they burst their con-
tainer. Add to this sub-conscious or unconscious
craving for a neutral outlet, the traditional pressure
of the Latin inheritance, and we have the greater part
of the causes that explain Schnitzler's preoccupation
with the themes of love and death. For Schnitzler is
first of all Viennese.

Arthur Schnitzler was born at Vienna on May 15,
1862. His father was Professor Johann Schnitzler,
a renowned Jewish throat specialist. I am told that
Professor Bernhardi in the play of the same name must
be regarded as a pretty faithful portrait of the elder
Schnitzler, who, besides his large and important prac-
tice, had many other interests, including an extensive
medical authorship and the editing of the Wiener
klinische Rundschau. It is also to be noticed that Pro-
fessor Bernhardi has among his assistants a son, who
divides his time between medicine and the composition
of waltz music.

The younger Schnitzler studied medicine at the
Vienna University, as did also his brother, and ob-
tained his M. D. in 1885. During the next two years
he was attached to the resident staff of one of the big
hospitals. It was also the period that saw the be-


ginning of his authorship. While contributing medi-
cal reviews to his father's journal, he was also pub-
lishing poems and prose sketches in various literary
periodicals. Most of his contributions from this time
appeared in a publication named "An der schonen
blauen Donau" (By the Beautiful Blue Danube), now
long defunct.

He was also continuing his studies, which almost
from the start seem to have turned toward the psychic
side of the medical science. The new methods of hyp-
notism and suggestion interested him greatly, and in
1889 he published a monograph on "Functional
Aphonia and its Treatment by Hypnotism and Sug-
gestion." In 1888 he made a study trip to England,
during which he wrote a series of "London Letters" on
medical subjects for his father's journal. On his re-
turn he settled down as a practicing physician, but
continued to act as his father's assistant. And as
late as 1891-95 we find him named as his father's col-
laborator on a large medical work entitled "Clinical
Atlas of Laryngology and Rhinology."

There are many signs to indicate uncertainty as to
his true calling during those early years. The ensuing
inner conflict was probably sharpened by some pres-
sure exercised by his father, who seems to have been
anxious that he should turn his energies undividedly
to medicine. To a practical and outwardly successful
man like the elder Schnitzler, his own profession must
have appeared by far the more important and promis-
ing. While there is no reason to believe that his atti-
tude in this matter was aggressive, it must have been
keenly felt and, to some extent at least, resented by
the son. One of the dominant notes of the latter's work


is the mutual lack of understanding between succes-
sive generations, and this lack tends with significant
frequency to assume the form of a father's opposition
to a son's choice of profession.

This conflict cannot have lasted very long, however,
for the younger Schnitzler proved quickly successful
in his purely literary efforts. The "Anatol" sketches
attracted a great deal of attention even while appear-
ing separately in periodicals, and with their publica-
tion in book form, which occurred almost simultaneously
with the first performance of "A Piece of Fiction" at a
Viennese theater, their author was hailed as one of
the most promising among the younger men. From
that time he has been adding steadily to his output and
his reputation. When his collected works were issued
in 1912, these included four volumes of plays and three
volumes of novels and stories. Since then he has
finished another play and two volumes of prose

It is rare to find an author turning with such regu-
larity from the epic to the dramatic form and back
again. And it is still more rare to find him so thor-
oughly at home and successful in both fields. In
Schnitzler's case these two parallel veins have mutually
supported and developed each other. Time and again
he has treated the same theme first in one form and
then in another. And not infrequently he has intro-
duced characters from his plays into his stories, and
vice versa. A careful study of his other works would
undoubtedly assist toward a better understanding of
his plays, but I do not regard such a study essential
for the purpose. It is my belief that Schnitzler has
given himself most fully and most typically in his


dramatic authorship, and it is to this side of his crea-
tive production I must confine myself here.

"Anatol" is nothing but seven sketches in dramatic
form, each sketch picturing a new love affair of the
kind supposed to be especially characteristic of Vien-
nese life. The man remains the same in all these
light adventures. The woman is always a different
one. The story is of the kind always accompanying
such circumstances one of waxing or waning attrac-
tion, of suspicion and jealousy, of incrimination and
recrimination, of intrigue and counter-intrigue. The
atmosphere is realistic, but the actuality implied is
sharply limited and largely superficial. There is little
attempt at getting down to the roots of things. There
is absolutely no tendency or thesis. The story is told
for the sake of the story, and its chief redeeming qual-
ity lies in the grace and charm and verve with which it
is told. These were qualities that immediately won
the public's favor when "Anatol" first appeared. And
to some extent it must be counted unfortunate that
the impression made by those qualities was so deep and
so lasting. There has been a strong tendency observ-
able, both within and outside the author's native coun-
try, to regard him particularly as the creator of
Anatol, and to question, if not to resent, his inevitable
and unmistakable growth beyond that pleasing, but
not very significant starting point.

And yet his next dramatic production, which was
also his first serious effort as a playwright, ought to
have proved sufficient warning that he was moved by


something more than a desire to amuse. "A Piece of
Fiction" (Das Marchen) must be counted a failure
and, in some ways, a step backward. But its very
failure is a promise of greater things to come. It
lacks the grace and facility of "Anatol." Worse
still, it lacks the good-humor and subtle irony of those
first sketches. Instead it has purpose and a serious
outlook on life. The "piece of fiction" refers to the
"fallen" woman to the alleged impossibility for any
decent man to give his whole trust to a woman who
has once strayed from the straight path. Fedor Den-
ner denounces this attitude in the presence of a young
girl who loves him and is loved by him, but who be-
longs to the category of women under discussion.
When he learns her history, he struggles vainly to
resist the feelings of distrust and jealousy which he
had declared absurd a little while earlier. And the
two are forced at last to walk their different ways.
Unfortunately the dialogue is heavy and stilted. The
play is a tract rather than a piece of art, and the
tirades of Fedor are equally unconvincing when he
speaks for or against that "fiction" which is killing
both his own and the girl's hope of happiness in mutual
love. Yet the play marks a step forward in outlook
and spirit.

Schnitzler's interest in hypnotism, which had as-
serted itself in the first scene of "Anatol," appears
again in the little verse-play, "Paracelsus," which fol-
lowed. But this time he used it to more purpose.
By the help of it, a woman's innermost soul is laid
bare, and some very interesting light is shed on the
workings of the human mind in general.

"Amours" (Liebelei) may be regarded as a cross, or


a compromise, between "Anatol" and "A Piece of Fic-
tion." The crudeness of speech marking the latter
play has given room to a very incisive dialogue, that
carries the action forward with unfailing precision.
Some of the temporarily dropped charm has been re-
covered, and the gain in sincerity has been preserved.
"Amours" seems to be the first one of a series of
plays dealing with the reverse of the gay picture pre-
sented in "Anatol." A young man is having a love
affair with two women at the same time, one of them
married, the other one a young girl with scant knowl-
edge of the world. Yet she knows enough to know
what she is doing, and she has sufficient strength of
mind to rise above a sense of guilt, though she is more
prone to be the victim of fear. Then the married
woman's husband challenges the young man, who is
killed. And the girl takes her own life, not because
her lover is dead, not because of anything she has
done, but because his death for the sake of another
woman renders her own faith in him meaningless.

"Outside the Game Laws" (Freiwild) is another
step ahead the first play, I think, where the real
Arthur Schnitzler, the author of "The Lonely Way"
and "Countess Mizzie," reveals himself. It has a thesis,
but this is implied rather than obtruded. In style and
character-drawing it is realistic in the best sense. It
shows already the typical Schnitzlerian tendency of
dealing with serious questions with questions of life
and death in a casual fashion, as if they were but
problems of which road to follow or which shop to
enter. It has one fault that must appear as such
everywhere, namely, a division of purpose. When the
play starts, one imagines that those "outside the game


laws" are the women of the stage, who are presented
as the legitimate prey of any man caring to hunt them.
As the play goes on, that starting point is almost lost
sight of, and it becomes more and more plain that
those "outside the game laws" are sensible, decent men
who refuse to submit to the silly dictates of the duel-
ing code. But what I have thus named a fault is
mostly theoretical, and does not mar the effective
appeal of the play. What must appear as a more
serious shortcoming from an American viewpoint is
the local nature of the evil attacked, which lessens the
universal validity of the work.

"Change Partners!" (Reigen) was produced about
the same time as "Outside the Game Laws," but was
not printed until 1900, and then only privately. Yet
those ten dialogues provoked from the first a storm
which seriously threatened Schnitzler's growing repu-
tation and popularity. When Vienna finds a work
immoral, one may look for something dreadful. And
the work in question attempts a degree of naturalism
rarely equaled in France even. Yet those dialogues
are anything but immoral in spirit. They introduce
ten men and as many women. The man of one scene
reappears with a new woman in the next, and then
that woman figures as the partner of a new man in
the third scene. The story is always the same (except
in the final dialogue): desire, satisfaction, indifference.
The idea underlying this "ring dance," as the title
means literally, is the same one that recurs under a
much more attractive aspect in "Countess Mizzie."
It is the linking together of the entire social organism
by man's natural cravings. And as a document bear-


ing on the psychology of sex "Change Partners!" has
not many equals.

In "The Legacy" (Dag Vermachtnig) we meet with
a forcible presentation and searching discussion of
the world's attitude toward those ties that have been
established without social sanction. A young man is
brought home dying, having been thrown from his
horse. He compels his parents to send for his mis-
tress and their little boy, and he hands both over to
the care of his family. That is his "legacy." The
family tries hard to rise to this unexpected situation
and fails miserably largely, it must be confessed,
thanks to the caddish attitude of a self-made physician
who wants to marry the dead man's sister. The sec-
ond act ends with the death of the little boy ; the third,
with the disappearance and probable suicide of his
mother. The dead man's sister cries out: "Every-
thing that was his is sacred to us, but the one living
being who meant more to him tkan all of us is driven
out of our home." The one ray of light offered is
that the sister sees through the man who has been
courting her and sends him packing. It is noticeable
in this play, as in others written by Schnitzler, that
the attitude of the women is more gensible and tolerant
than that of the men.

The physician is one of the few members of that
profession whom the author has painted in an un-
favorable light. There is hardly one full-length play
of his in which at least one representative of the medical
profession does not appear. And almost invariably
they seem destined to act as the particular mouthpieces
of the author. In a play like "The Lonely Way," for
instance, the life shown is the life lived by men and


women observed by Schnitzler. The opinions expressed
are the opinions of that sort of men and women under
the given circumstances. The author neither approves
nor disapproves when he makes each character speak
in accordance with his own nature. But like most
creative artists, he has felt the need of stating his
own view of the surrounding throng. This he seems
usually to do through the mouth of men like Dr. Reu-
mann in the play just mentioned, or Dr. Matter in
"The Vast Country." And the attitude of those men
shows a strange mingling of disapproval and forbear-
ance, which undoubtedly comes very near being
Schnitzler's own.

The little one-act play "The Life Partner" (Die
Gefahrtin) is significant mainly as a study for bigger
canvases developing the same theme : the veil that hides
the true life of man and woman alike from the partner.
And the play should really be named "The Life Partner
That Was Not." Another one-act play, "The Green
Cockatoo," is laid at Paris. Its action takes place
on the evening of July 14, 1789 the fall of the Bastille
and the birth of the Revolution. It presents a won-
derful picture of social life at the time of the average
human being's unconsciousness of the great events
taking place right under his nose.

"The Veil of Beatrice," a verse play in five acts,
takes us to Bologna in the year 1500, when Cesare
Borgia was preparing to invest the city in order to
oust its tyrant, Giovanni Bentivoglio (named Lio-
nardo in the play), and add it to the Papal possessions.
All the acts take place in one night. The fundamental
theme is one dear to Schnitzler the flaming up of
passion under the shadow of impending death. The


whole city, with the duke leading, surrenders to this
outburst, the spirit of which finds its symbol in a
ravishingly beautiful girl, Beatrice Nardi, who seems
fated to spread desire and death wherever she appears.
With her own death at dawn, the city seems to wake
as from a nightmare to face the enemy already at
the gates. The play holds much that is beautiful and
much that is disappointing. To me its chief impor-
tance lies in the fact that it marks a breaking^point
between the period when Schnitzler was trying to write
"with a purpose," and that later and greater period
when he has learned how to treat life sincerely and se-
riously without other purpose than to present it as it
is. That was his starting point in "Anatol," but
then he was not yet ready for the realism that must
be counted the highest of all: the realism that has no
tendency and preaches no lesson, but from which we
draw our own lessons as we draw them from life itself
in moments of unusual lucidity.

"Hours of Life" (Lebendige Stunden), which has
given its name to a volume of four one-act plays, may
be described as a mental duel between two sharply op-
posed temperaments the practical and the imagina-
tive. An elderly woman, long an invalid, has just died,
and a letter to the man who has loved and supported
her during her final years reveals the fact that she has
taken her own life because she feared that the thought
of her was preventing her son, a poet, from work-
ing. The duel is between that son and the man who
has befriended his mother. The play constitutes a
scathing arraignment of the artistic temperament.
Bernard Shaw himself has never penned a more bitter
one. "Even if you were the world's greatest genius,"


the old man cries to the young one, "all your scribbling
would be worthless in comparison with a single one of
those hours of real life that saw your mother seated
in that chair, talking to us, or merely listening, per-

The most important of those four one-act plays,
however, is "End of the Carnival" (Die letzten Mas-
ken). An old journalist, a might-have-been, dying in
a hospital, sends for a life-long friend, a successful
poet, whom he hates because of his success. All he
thinks of is revenge, of getting even, and he means to
achieve this end by disclosing to the poet the faithless-
ness of his wife. Once she had been the mistress of
the dying man, and that seems to him his one triumph
in life. But when the poet arrives and begins to talk
of the commonplaces of daily life, of petty gossip,
petty intrigues, and petty jealousies, then the dying
man suddenly sees the futility of the whole thing. To
him, who has one foot across the final threshold, it
means nothing, and he lets his friend depart without
having told him anything. There is a curious recur-
rence of the same basic idea in "Professor Bernhardi,"
where the central figure acquires a similar sense of
our ordinary life's futility by spending two months
in jail.

To what extent Schnitzler has studied and been im-
pressed by Nietzsche I don't know, but the thought
underlying "The Lady With the Dagger" is distinctly
Nietzschean. It implies not only a sense of our
having lived before, of having previously stood in the
same relationship to the people now surrounding us,
but of being compelled to repeat our past experience,
even if a sudden flash of illumination out of the


buried past should reveal to us its predestined fatal
termination. This idea meets us again in the first act
of "The Lonely Way." The fourth of those one-act
plays, "Literature," is what Schnitzler has named it
a farce but delightfully clever and satirical.

Those four plays, and the group of three others
published under the common title of "Puppets" (Ma-
rionetten)) are, next to "Anatol," the best known
works of Schnitzler's outside of Austria and Germany.
They deserve their wide reputation, too, for there is
nothing quite like them in the modern drama. Yet I
think they have been over-estimated in comparison
with the rest of Schnitzler's production. "The Puppet
Player," "The Gallant Cassian" and "The Greatest
Show of All" (Zum grossen Wurstel) have charm and
brightness and wit. But in regard to actual signifi-
cance they cannot compare with plays like "The Lonely
Way," for instance.

The three plays comprised in the volume named
"Puppets" constitute three more exemplifications of
the artistic temperament, which again fares badly at
the hands of their author. And yet he has more than
one telling word to say in defense of that very tem-
perament. That these plays, like "Hours of Life" and
"Literature," are expressive of the inner conflict rag-
ing for years within the playwright's own soul, I take
for granted. And they seem to reflect moments when
Schnitzler felt that, in choosing poetry rather than
medicine for his life work, he had sacrificed the better
choice. And yet they do not show any regrets, but
rather a slightly ironical self-pity. A note of irony
runs through everything that Schnitzler has written,
constituting one of the main attractions of his art,


and it is the more acceptable because the point of it
so often turns against the writer himself.

"The Puppet Player" is a poet who has ceased
writing in order to use human beings for his material.
He thinks that he is playing with their destinies as if
they were so many puppets. And the little drama
shows how his accidental interference has created fates
stronger and happier than his own fates lying wholly
outside his power. The play suffers from a tendency
to exaggerated subtlety which is one of Schnitzler's
principal dangers, though it rarely asserts itself to
such an extent that the enjoyment of his work is
spoiled by it.

His self-irony reaches its climax in the one-act play
which I have been forced to name "The Greatest Show
of All" because the original title (Zum grossen
Wurstel) becomes meaningless in English. There he
proceeds with reckless abandon to ridicule his own
work as well as the inflated importance of all imagina-

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Online LibraryArthur SchnitzlerThe lonely way : Intermezzo : Countess Mizzie : three plays → online text (page 1 of 17)