Nikolaus Unger – Reflections on the Role of Vienna in Hermann Bahr’s post-1900 novels

Nr. 18    Juni 2011 TRANS: Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften

Section | Sektion: Cities in Austrian Literature

An Austrianism Beyond the Viennese:
Reflections on the Role of Vienna in
Hermann Bahr’s post-1900 novels

Nikolaus Unger (University of Warwick, GB) [BIO]


 Konferenzdokumentation |  Conference publication


After two decades participating in the cultural and socio-political transformations of the Austrian German and European fin-de-siècle in Vienna, Hermann Bahr (1863-1934) called for an expansion in the scope of an Austrian German modernism that had featured a near exclusive Viennese focus hitherto. In an article entitled “Die Entdeckung der Provinz” (1899), Bahr argued that it had become necessary to move beyond the elite literary circles of the Austrian capital and focus on discovering the life of the Cisleithanian provinces.(1) Accordingly, he decided to develop this ideal via a series of consciously “Austrian” novels, envisaging a twelve-work cycle that would provide his audience with a dynamic examination of Austrian perspectives vis-à-vis his experience of the early twentieth century. These works provide valuable and largely unexplored insight into Bahr’s evolving conception of what it meant to be an Austrian German before the end of the First World War, especially the role played by life in and beyond the capital. Through an examination of Bahr’s surviving correspondence with Joseph Redlich (1869-1936) and several of his post-1900 novels, which feature Vienna and other Austrian cities as central backdrops, this piece will explore the interplay between the capital and the provinces in an effort to understand the role played by cities in the evolving perspectives of two late-Habsburg figures preoccupied with understanding what it meant to be an Austrian German in the final years of a multinational Habsburg Monarchy that they considered home.


Social Class and Bahr’s Cosmopol/Provinces Dialectic

Robert Pyrah offers an interesting perspective on the topoi of the urban “Stadt” versus the rural “Land,” especially in regards to the often-discussed issue of Heimat writing (Heimatkunst), in his recent work investigating the role of cultural politics and the Burgtheater in the cultivation of competing definitions of Austrian identity in the inter-war period.(2) While Heimat as a topic of literary focus covers a wide range of ideological perspectives, Pyrah offers a useful definition that remains particularly relevant to our interest in Bahr here: “Heimat writing represents a conservative pattern of response to the modern world from a provincial (often rural) perspective, the changes wrought by industrialization in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and questions of regional and national identity”.(3) Acknowledging the predominance of Heimat writing in novels, Pyrah identifies figures closely associated with Bahr, such as Michael Hainisch (1858-1940), Viennese Fabian and the first president of the Republic of German-Austria in 1920, and Peter Rosegger (1843-1918), renowned Styrian poet and a regular contributor to Die Zeit after 1897, as the main representatives of this style. These interpersonal connections hold relevance.

While the fragmentation and pervasive negativity of political society, which occurred in the wake of liberalism’s decline around and after 1900, seriously affected their ability to engage party politics directly, members of the liberal educated bourgeoisie nevertheless remained firmly entrenched in noteworthy areas of Austrian society. Representative members of this social class continued to hold important positions in government ministries, the bureaucracy, banking, industry, higher education and the Austrian German-language media landscape both before and after 1918.(4) Politically, a younger generation of principled, but numerically insignificant, socially oriented liberals emerged in Vienna in the mid/late 1890s. Featuring an intimate connection to the politically disengaged Austrian German educated bourgeoisie yet unwilling to go so far as to claim to represent the interests of this social class in a way similar to that of the mass socio-political movements like the Christian Socials and the Social Democrats, the social liberal movement responded to the changing fin-de-siècle political landscape by utilizing the legal right to form associations and societies to address socio-economic and cultural issues in a public capacity.(5)

Founded in 1893, the approximately three-hundred member strong Wiener Fabier-Gesellschaft advocated the anti-Marxist advancement of the socialist cause through gradual reform. It attracted prominent academics from the University of Vienna like the political economists Eugen von Philippovich (1858-1917), Michael Hainisch and legal experts such as Julius Ofner (1845-1924) and Joseph Redlich as well as a number of lawyers and state officials, many of whom wrote articles for Die Zeit, the social liberal weekly newspaper founded by the political economist Isidor Singer (1857-1926), the journalist Heinrich Kanner (1850-1930) and Hermann Bahr in 1894.(6) In 1896, the social liberal movement established a small Social Political party to represent the views of the society’s members and experienced limited yet notable political success; Philippovich and Ofner won two seats in the Lower Austrian parliament in that year supported by the liberal and liberal-Jewish vote in Vienna’s first district and Ofner, and Redlich went on to be elected to the Austrian parliament as independent “Sozialpolitiker” in 1901 and 1907 respectively, serving until the break-up of the Monarchy.(7) A social liberal from an assimilated Jewish Moravian manufacturing family background, Redlich first met Bahr while they were working together at Die Zeit, where they formed a close friendship that continued until Bahr’s death in 1934. While Bahr focused his energies on establishing modernist Austrian German culture, Redlich, who earned a doctorate in law from the University of Vienna in 1891, worked for the government as a trainee in the governor’s office in Brünn/Brno before earning a professorship in constitutional and administrative law at his alma mater and winning election to parliament in 1907. Hainisch would enjoy the most successful political career of all the Fabians. Interesting in terms of positing the social liberal movement in the fragmentary political environment mentioned above, Engelbert Pernerstorfer also affiliated himself with the Fabian Society from its outset. Even after joining the Social Democratic party in 1896, he maintained his connection to the Fabians beyond the society’s official dissolution in 1901. As the editor-in-chief of the monthly pan-German newspaper Deutsche Worte (1881-1910) after its ideological break with Schönerer over the issue of anti-Semitism, Pernerstorfer continued to publish essays written by his social liberal colleagues on a regular basis before finally leaving the paper in 1904.(8)

Although these Viennese Fabians claimed to be working in the best interests of society, their potential social base remained no larger than that of the declining liberal movement and in fact they represented only the narrow social strata of the educated and haute bourgeoisie who had always been at the heart of Austrian German liberalism.(9) Social liberalism’s limited yet powerful influence on the administrative sector of the imperial government and on public opinion through the media organ of Die Zeit remains intimately linked to our interest in the overlapping socio-political and cultural response of the educated bourgeoisie to liberalism’s decline, the changing nature of Austrian German political society and Heimat writing. For Pyrah, this style appealed to social liberals that could readily promote these types of writers over their literary contemporaries who preferred bourgeois realism because of its penchant for a mode of social criticism akin to literary Naturalism in its emphasis on behavior and setting.(10) This certainly fits the case of Bahr’s novels, which can be best understood through the prism of his work promoting Austrian German cultural modernism before 1900 and his 1923 autobiography.(11)


Competing Paths to a Modern National Culture

The year 1899 marked the tenth anniversary of Bahr’s engagement with cultural modernism and, accordingly, he took the opportunity to reflect upon the Jung-Wien movement in “Zehn Jahre” (1899). As Bahr maintains, the group lacked an organized program; however, it did feature an important central sentiment: everyone involved shared the desire to be part of a modern Austrian German-language literature.(12) Questioning the reader as to the validity of this claim (did not an Austrian German literature already exist in the tradition that spans from the Nibelungenlied to Ferdinand von Saar?), Bahr argues that Jung Wien’s quest for a modern national literature presented a marked departure from this tradition through its conviction that art should be the communal work of an entire people instead of the product of select isolated individuals.(13)

For Bahr, modernity meant to create a living literature that would be accessible to the entire people and function as a chain through which many writers of diverse abilities and interests would benefit through their communal participation in something larger in scope; here, he argues that Jung Wien’s desire for a national culture mirrored the artistic drive of the great literary masters of antiquity, where art communally experienced and engaged each problem.(14) This conviction encompassed the movement’s driving force and through its work, a distinctly Austrian German-language literature, theater and even architecture and the visual arts all gained wider participation, more forms of expression and a broader audience.(15) Although this mission no longer served to hold the Jung-Wien group together by 1899, Bahr nevertheless concludes that this was something that these young men devoted themselves to as youths and would endeavor to uphold as adults.

In this capacity, Bahr argues for a necessary expansion in the scope of this Austrian German modernism in “Die Entdeckung der Provinz” (1899). Here, he expresses his own growing dissatisfaction with the exclusively urban focus of this new Austrian German culture. Because a living Austrian German literature cannot consist of only a few Viennese literati, Bahr argues that literary participation must move beyond the capital to include the literature of the provinces.(16) Just as the Austrian German Viennese encounter with modernism facilitated the acceptance of Viennese literary and theatrical forms, so too do the experiences of the provinces demand and deserve expression. For Bahr, the artistic awakening of the capital comprises only the beginnings of Austrian German modernism; as he exclaims: “Ist das unser ganzes Oesterreich? Dann heißt es aber, es sei Alles schon abgegriffen und verbraucht und kein unbetretener Weg mehr zu finden!”(17) Bahr suggests that someone write a novel about life in Galicia or about political life in the Monarchy; he points out that the aesthetic dimension of this cultural modernism and the national dimensions of life beyond the Austrian capital must continue to expand outwards from the literary center and overlap in terms of their subject matter. Furthermore, Bahr emphatically argues that if this modern Austrian German culture remains focused solely on the literary expression of modern life in the capital, the very purpose of its genesis would be negated because it would match the cultural paradigm that it fought so hard to overturn; accordingly, he concludes, “es ist unser fester Glaube, dass wir den Zirkel der paar Literaten und Dilettanten verlassen und ins weite Land zum Volke gehen müssen, wenn sich der grosse Traum einer neuen österreichischen Kunst erfüllen soll”.(18)

Karl Ritter von Adelsburg Ettmayer (1874–1938), a Bohemian German by birth who grew up in South Tyrol and studied romance philology at the universities of Innsbruck and Graz before eventually becoming a distinguished professor in that field, provides a markedly different perspective on national culture in his review of Bahr’s essay collection Bildung, which includes “Cultur”, “Österreichisch”, “Zehn Jahre” and “Die Entdeckung der Provinz”.(19) For Ettmayer, Austrian Germans are raised in an atmosphere that encourages individual opportunism vis-à-vis state and society and that with this, they have failed to develop a true national culture because of social fragmentation; he counts himself among the younger generation of nationalists who want to upset this paradigm so that the Austrian Germans can be free to be themselves.(20) Consequently, he takes issue with Bahr’s (mis)conception of national culture, in both its Austrian German and European dimensions.

Ettmayer maintains that by basing his concept of Austrian German national culture on the intellectual expression of privileged cultural elites who are removed from the rest of Austrian German society, Bahr fails to take into consideration the concerns of the masses, who feel little, if any, connection to his ideas. Indeed, Ettmayer dismisses outright the contemporary relevance of Bahr’s quest to establish a modern national high culture, pointing out that while “heimatslose ‘Cultur’-Menschen” will always gather in places where power, nobility and capital come together, their estrangement from the language and habits of the indigenous Volk necessarily limits their ability to create anything beyond a “Scheincultur”.(21) Utilising modern Italian national culture as an ideal example because it evolved out of two thousand years of shared experiences encompassing elements from all levels and regions of Italian society, he goes on to argue that the relatively recent evolution of a Central European German high culture from the work of intellectual elites residing in cosmopolitan princely courts, which constitutes the tradition on which Bahr builds his own conception of culture, cannot provide a sufficient socio-cultural basis for a truly modern national culture. Instead, Ettmayer sees the developmental experience of the modern German nation state (and Austrian German commitment to this endeavor through their steadfast desire for hegemony in the Monarchy) as central to the eventual synthesis of a truly Central European German national culture. For Ettmayer, the good Europeanism inherent to Bahr’s conception encompasses only the expression of an educated upper-class globetrotter phenomenon that is diametrically opposed to his ethno-cultural nationalist views; as he writes, “Diese sonderbaren ‘Europäer’, die unter ihre Cultur leiden, weil sie nicht so sein durften und nunmehr nicht so sein können wie die anderen, sind uns im innersten Herzen fremd und werden uns nie eine Cultur bringen…Ich glaube,- trotz Franzl, -[Bahr] liebt sein deutsches Volk nicht”.(22) He cites Bahr’s own acknowledgement of the fact that the younger generation emerging behind him want nothing to do with his conception of a modern Austrian German culture because it does not subscribe to their ethno-cultural Central European nationalism and Ettmayer makes plain his own commitment to the intellectual substantiation of the German Volk, ominously concluding that “Der Weg zur Cultur ist nicht so sonnig, wie Bahr glaubt, er ist blutig und grausam”.(23)

Ettmayer’s völkisch argument provides a clear illustration of the polarizing effects that nationalism and modernism were having on the Austrian Germans around the fin de siècle. Furthermore, it highlights the inherent complexity of the Austrian situation. That someone as socialist and anti the Viennese metropole as Bahr should be accused of elitism and national betrayal in socialist and völkisch terms is both ironic and indicative of the fragmentation with which younger educated bourgeois intellectuals had to contend around this time. However, Bahr’s European-inspired conception of a distinct modern Austrian German national culture does indeed represent something new, distinctive – and Austrian. Because Bahr promoted a national culture that was necessarily supranational in its identification with other European manifestations of cultural modernism, he did not hesitate to use his position at Die Zeit to promote the Czech variety.(24) While this undoubtedly angered those like Ettmayer who identified themselves with the wider Central European German ethno-cultural nation and felt threatened by the nationalities conflict, Bahr’s work nevertheless represents an important response to the crisis of Austrian German liberalism that gains enriched relevance when looked at in conjunction with the work that he undertook exploring these themes, especially the cosmopol/provinces dialectic, in his novels and their connection to the social criticism that preoccupied him and another Viennese Fabian, Joseph Redlich.

After two decades of participating in the cultural and socio-political transformations of the Austrian German and European fin-de-siècle, Bahr, in line with his ideas in “Die Entdeckung der Provinz”, decided to develop and explore his conception of modern Austrian German identity via a series of consciously Austrian novels.(25) Envisaging a twelve novel cycle that would provide his audience with a dynamic examination of his Austrian perspectives vis-à-vis his experience of the early twentieth century, Bahr emphasizes the personal and subjective nature of this endeavor in Selbstbildnis. Accordingly, these works provide valuable and largely unexplored insight into Bahr’s evolving conception of what it meant to be an Austrian German in this time period and his preoccupation with the interplay of the provinces and the city.

Bahr’s autobiography contains a clear illustration of these issues. Before describing the Vienna of 1881, the year he matriculated to the university and personally encountered the turbulent politics of the 1880’s, Bahr explains that his first experience of the city actually came in 1877 on the impetus of his father, Alois Bahr (1834-1898), who wanted to take the young Hermann there before he enrolled in the Gymnasium. These first glimpses of urban life certainly left a strong impression on the boy from the provinces. Astounded by the busyness of the streets and disappointed that the famed height of the tower of the St. Stephen’s cathedral had failed to live up to the accounts told to him by adults who had seen it firsthand, Bahr emphasizes the importance of the Burgtheater to his father, a liberal who experienced 1848 as a child and came into adulthood during the liberal movement’s heyday in the 1860’s. Alois took his son to this temple of Austrian German liberal culture, a prominent fixture in the entertainment of Bahr’s childhood by way of the vivid recounting of performances by his father around the family table. Interesting in terms of our own investigation is what Bahr describes following this visit: in the four days that followed, Bahr’s father intended to show him the capital; however, this Vienna consisted only of the “Stolz des Liberalen,” the Ringstraße. This, as Bahr explains, was a less than satisfactory experience: “Jahre hat es mir gekostet den Eindruck dieses falschen Wien, das ich zunächst zu sehen bekam, überwinden und das wirkliche Wien, das verborgene, finden zu lernen”.(26) After their triumph in 1866, the Austrian German liberals, in Bahr’s mind, consciously sought to forget this “real” Vienna; consequently, the Ringstraße functions as the full expression of the dysfunctional nature of political society in the Monarchy’s capital under liberal ascendency.

It is this conception of Vienna as a transformative location where Austrian German liberalism sought to forge a society along Western European lines that, in Bahr’s mind, was completely alienating to a young man from the provinces, as “die Gesellschaft wird nicht so sehr verbürgerlicht als vielmehr bohemisiert, der junge Mann aus der Provinz ist es, mittellos, stellenlos, ratlos in der gließenden Stadt, voll Gier”.(27) Bahr’s criticism continues as he explains that the Vienna of the 1866-1873 period was an improvised and “fictional” city consisting mostly of empty decoration, the product of the perplexity facing the Austrian Germans of the Monarchy following the defeats of 1859, 1866 and 1870 (and the incomplete reforms that followed) that persisted in the legacy and social penetration of the Neue Freie Presse.(28)

Bahr’s arrival in the capital in 1881 set him on a path diametrically opposed to the bourgeois environment that he saw breaking down in this post-liberal period. Reflecting back on this experience in 1923, Bahr describes his cultural activities while in Vienna:

Mich aus meinen allzuweiten inneren Weiten ins Enge zu ziehen, aber so, daß ihr Gehalt nicht ärmer, meine Spannung nicht lässiger würde, das war das Problem, um das allein es mir in den zwanzig Wiener Jahren immer wieder ging.(29)

But, for Bahr, this is a problem specific not to the Viennese but instead to the Habsburgs in that there is an inherent drive to strive for an ideal: a complete totality of life experiences, or in Goethe’s words a fusion of the inward and external world (“weil…nichts Macht hat, was nicht zuvor zum reinen Bilde geworden ist”); this Bahr traces back to his Silesian heritage, which, all ethnography of the interwar period aside, belies his concept of Austrianness as essentially multinational, especially in the period before the collapse of the Monarchy.(30) Bahr admits that this was the “Frage meines Lebens…Daß ich sie fand, aus allen Gefahren doch immer wieder zu ihr durchfand und sie jedesmal auf einer höheren Stufe wiederfand, das ist der Inhalt meiner Wiener Zeit”.(31) Once he felt comfortable enough to do so, Bahr took it upon himself to deconstruct this interior world; the novels that he wrote in Ober Sankt Veit and Salzburg are the product of this exercise: “Nur meine Welt an innerer Figur will in jenen Romanen erscheinen; sie versuchen mein inneres Alphabet durchzubuchstabieren”.(32) ith Bahr’s relationship with Joseph Redlich, Bahr’s novels reveal important echoes of this sentiment, especially in the ways that he explores what it means to be an Austrian German in this time period in terms of the aforementioned cosmopol/provinces dialectic. Furthermore, Bahr’s novels reveal a necessary overlap of the political and cultural dimensions of their respective professional activities, which is particularly interesting in terms of Redlich’s responses to them.(33) Early evidence of their mutual concerns appears in early 1903. Redlich frequently visited Bahr during his recovery from a near fatal appendicitis operation and, as Redlich’s diary entry on 6 February 1903 reveals, they were both disturbed at what they understood as the prevalent neglect of the Austrian German contribution to Central European German culture, especially in regard to modern German literary and cultural history and literary criticism. In response, they jointly proposed the foundation of a society for the research of Austrian history and culture; as Redlich writes,

ich meine, daß dem Österreicher in seinem ganzen Wesen die unersetzliche Perspektive nach rückwärts fehlt, das, was ich den Lebensraum des historischen Denkens nennen möchte. Bahr möchte einmal Bilder aus der österreichischen Vergangenheit schreiben. Ich meine, daß wir mit Begründung einer solchen Gesellschaft und deren Tätigkeit nur eine längst fällige Schuld gegen uns selbst und die deutsche Nation einlösen würden. Wir kämen dadurch erst mit den anderen deutschen Stämmen auf gleich und gleich.(34)

Sharing a mutual desire to promote actively a modern and distinct Austrian German-language culture while still thinking of Austrian Germans in terms of the multinational Central European framework of the state in which they lived, Bahr and Redlich proceeded to work towards these goals in a way consistent with the views of the Viennese Fabians.

Redlich, who enjoyed important political connections, helped Bahr continue his promotion of his Austrian modernist project in spite of the persistent resistance of traditionally oriented segments of late-Habsburg society. Intervening on Bahr’s behalf, Redlich spoke with Rudolf Sieghart in early November 1903 in order to secure for Bahr an audience with minister-president Koerber so that Bahr could personally argue against the suppression of Schnitzler’s Reigen, which even Redlich considered as borderline pornographic, on the grounds of artistic freedom.(35)

With the beginning of Redlich’s parliamentary career in 1907, the intimate association between culture and politics would continue to figure prominently in their relationship. While the letter that Bahr wrote to Redlich on 2 January 1907 congratulating him on the progress of the universal suffrage reform has not survived, a general picture of his sentiments appears in the form of a few comments regarding its contents that Bahr wrote on a piece of paper: “Brief an Josef Redlich warnend, sich einem Rausch über Wahlrecht hinzugeben, mit dem wir ja doch nur ein Menschenalter nach Deutschland kamen. Es ist nur ein Anfang, jetzt beginnt das Problem der Verwaltung”.(36) Increasingly disillusioned with what he perceived as a lack of general acceptance for his conception of Austrian German cultural modernism, Bahr, who had until this point considered culture as the primary vehicle for catalyzing Austrian German modernity, became openly critical of the socio-political weaknesses that he felt kept Austria from realizing his goals as well as from attaining an equal position vis-à-vis its European peers. These included the pervasive negativity of political society, the disproportionate influence of wealthy aristocrats in supporting the Emperor’s backwards-looking conservatism, the problem of the bureaucracy and the divisive effects of nationalism among the Monarchy’s peoples.(37)

This frustration first found expression in Wien (1907), a highly critical attack on the character faults of the Viennese that the public prosecutor’s office confiscated because it considered twenty-two pages of the work as an attack on the imperial family.(38) Bahr dedicated the work to Redlich, who thanked his friend with a short message left on a visiting-card that simply states, “Herzlichen Dank…für das schöne Büchlein dessen Widmung mich um so stolzer macht, je mehr törichte Leute zeigen, daß sie es nicht verstehen!”(39) Redlich personally interceded on Bahr’s behalf in parliament, interpellating the minister of justice regarding the confiscation so that the offending pages would become immunized by way of their inclusion in the parliamentary record.(40) Thanking Redlich for his help while on holiday on the Wörthersee, Bahr expressed his displeasure thus far with the new universal suffrage parliament that they had both considered necessary.(41) Although the two enjoyed fewer face-to-face discussions because Redlich’s parliamentary commitments consumed increasing amounts of his time, Bahr continued to send Redlich his latest work, especially his novels.


Bahr’s post-1900 Novels

Die Rahl (1908) and Drut (1909) provide important insight into Bahr’s thinking about Austria around this time. For Donald G. Daviau, Bahr’s novels remain important despite failing to captivate the reader by providing a purposeful literary presentation in which action and characterization fuse into a unified whole because his characters and essayistic exploration of their socio-political and cultural dimensions reveal key aspects of his own contemporary Weltanschauung.(42) In each case, these works function as a pretext for Bahr’s desire to study various Austrian German archetypes through his own subjective account of life in the Monarchy.

Die Rahl considers the relationship between art and society, especially in terms of the influence of the liberal education system and the theater on youth. It centers on the troubled story of the Gymnasium student Franz Heitlinger, who sees in the prima donna of Viennese theatre Rahl, whom Bahr modeled after the renowned Burgtheater actress Charlotte Wolter (1834–1897), an important artistic ideal around which to base his own developing Weltanschauung.(43) Franz attends her one-hundredth performance as Sappho and Rahl, in an effort to combat the emptiness she feels when not playing a role on stage, decides to take him home with her after the show and spend the night with him. This proves to be a life changing-experience for the young man; emboldened by the encounter, Franz, to the deep dismay of his staunchly liberal teacher, completely loses interest in the values of his schooling because he feels his love for Rahl to be more significant to his own personal development. Unfortunately, the actress has no intention of seeing him again and after several unsuccessful attempts to gain an audience with her, Franz confronts Rahl’s husband about his feelings for his wife; rebuffed by the couple, he comes to a two-fold realization: not only was her interest in him nothing more than a passing fancy, his love for her never went beyond his infatuation with her on-stage persona. Now able to differentiate between the artistic ideal that Rahl represents on stage and the unfulfilling life she leads outside of the theater, Franz becomes a man; indeed, this realization plays an essential role in his personal maturation, for he gains the ability to distinguish between aesthetic ideals and their place in the realities of society.

Bahr’s concern with the relationship between art and life, which corresponds with the issue at the heart of Grillparzer’s verse drama Sappho, forms an important underlying theme of the novel, especially in terms of Franz’s development.(44) Through Franz’s teacher, Professor Samon, and his classmate and only friend, Adolf Beer, Bahr highlights the response to the crisis of liberalism detailed previously by exploring the effects of the liberal education system on a younger educated bourgeois generation that no longer accepts the applicability of its values. These characters’ contrasting perspectives appear clearly in their divergent understandings of the educational value of the aesthetic and Bahr depicts the quasi-provincial life of post-liberal bourgeois Viennese society.

As the novel opens, Franz’s teacher pays a visit to his house in order to speak to his mother, Marie, about her son’s progress at school. Because Franz’s father passed away while he was still a child, Marie points out that her son looks up to Samon as a father-figure; she emphasizes that her son is in a completely different situation from his fellow classmates and asks that this be taken into consideration by his teacher. Samon, however, rejects the notion that Franz’s circumstances require special consideration in the classroom; for him, this is not the purpose of education: “Es fragt sich nur ob es darauf ankommt, ungewöhnlich zu sein. Ich glaube, das weder das Staatswesen ein Interesse daran hat, wie, gerade in unserer Zeit, manche Erfahrung lehrt, noch daß es dem einzelnen selbst immer zum Heile gerät, ungewöhnlih zu sein”.(45) As Bahr now saw it, subservience to convention and an emphasis on reason form the core values that education should provide to a young Austrian German man in order to mould him into what Samon denotes as a “vollberechtigter akademischer Bürger”.(46) Understanding himself a loyal servant of the state whose pedagogical activities endeavor only to serve its best interests, Samon believes that the optimal way to produce this transformation is to break the free will of the young and teach them how to conform to the system that they will soon enter.

Beer, Franz’s radical Jewish classmate, serves as a foil for these values. On the way home from school together, Franz and Beer take shelter from heavy winds under a bridge and Beer mentions that this is a place where people actually sleep; Beer highlights with scorn the social disparity of the city in which they live, self-righteously proclaiming that,

Dort stehen Paläste leer und in den weiten Sälen langweilen sie sich und haben die Gicht vor Gefräßigkeit. Aber die andere Hälfte darf unter den Brücken oder in den Kanälen haufen, wenn der Sturm heult, und muß betteln oder stehlen. Und Samon sagt, daß alles auf der Welt in Ordnung ist, und Samon ist ein ehrenwerter Mann.(47)

Beer exerts important influence on Franz’s intellectual development outside of the classroom, giving him books by Nietzsche that help him to articulate his dissatisfaction with the liberal values of his environment; moreover, it is through Beer’s influence that Franz has come to realise that “Eine neue Zeit bricht an, die bringt es, und diese neue Zeit sind wir!”(48) Betraying important echoes of Bahr’s own evolving response to the crisis of bourgeois liberalism after 1900, Beer qualifies this sentiment in a way that reflects the intellectual atmosphere of the late fin de siècle:

Natürlich ist das auch wieder nur ein Wahn, wenn wir uns einbilden, daß jetzt eine neue Zeit kommt. Warum denn? Woher denn? Hört der Mensch plötzlich auf, Mensch zu sein? Und das wird es wohl beim Alten bleiben. Aber jede Zeit lebt davon, daß sie auf eine andere hofft, die sich dann wieder mit der nächsten trösten wird, so foppen sie sich durch, immer mit dem Wahn der Zukunft, während andere wieder der Wahn der Vergangenheit foppt, daß es vorher besser war, in der guten alten Zeit. Bald heißt es: Es war einmal! Bald wieder: Es wird einmal! Und zwischen dem War und dem Wird leben wir und es ist nichts. Es war vielleicht einmal und es wird vielleicht einmal, aber es ist nichts, darüber allein haben wir eigene Gewißfreiheit.(49)

Indicative of Bahr’s own evolving response to his situation, Beer’s negativity masks an emphasis on the present and living in the now. Accordingly, both young men understand the desire to be themselves and their ability to fantasize about the future as central to their own experience of the changing world around them. However, these sentiments stand in direct contrast to those of Professor Samon, whose attitude allows for none of these desires to find expression in the classroom or the curriculum.

This incongruity appears again in these characters’ divergent understanding of the social role of the aesthetic. Noticing a framed portrait of the costumed Rahl on Franz’s desk between busts of Schiller and Goethe, Samon praises Franz’s interest in the actress – and its educational importance – to his mother. Samon points out that,

Sie ist die einzige, die noch durchaus den großen Atem der klassichen Überlieferung hat…Ihre Darstellungen, besonders der Iphigenie, der Sappho, der Medea, haben sich die Würde des idealen Stils bewahrt, die sonst überall im Schmutze der entarteten Scheinkunst unserer Tage zu ersticken droht…Eine geläuterte, durchaus maßvolle Kunst spricht sich hier mit erhebender und befreiender Macht aus.(50)

Vis-à-vis this liberal understanding of her aesthetic influence, Bahr identifies a different meaning in Rahl’s theatrical abilities through Beer, who explains to Franz,

Ein Zeichen…ist ihre Kunst, ein Zeichen und eine Gewähr, daß dem Menschen ein höheres Dasein möglich ist und wie hoch der Mensch gelangen kann, wenn er nur im Gemeinen nicht resigniert und sich mit dem Alltäglichen bescheidet! Vorwärts, aufwärts, in die Zukunft zeigt sie! So kann der Mensch sein!’(51)

For Beer, the aristocrats, the ladies of society and even Professor Samon all sit in the audience at the theater for entertainment only and fail to recognize artistic qualities in Rahl’s performance; as he concludes, only when their generation’s time comes will her art be appreciated for what it really is: a living ideal that can inspire people to overcome themselves in the spirit of Nietzsche.

Franz’s personal encounter with Rahl serves to determine an attitude towards her significance that is independent of these contrasting perspectives. Throughout the novel, the painter Höfelind, whom Bahr seems to have modeled after Klimt, provides important indication of Rahl’s eventual significance to Franz. Contracted to paint a portrait of her while she is in character, Höfelind struggles to fulfill this task because, as he laments, “der Auftrag ist dumm. Er hat die Schuld. Malen Sie die Rahl! Aber dann schicken sie mich zur Frau Gräfin her. Gut, die Frau Gräfin kann ich malen, bitte! Die Leute werden aber bös sein. Denn die Leute werden wollen, daß es die Rahl sein soll. Hier sitzt aber die Frau Gräfin.”(52) His inability to paint Rahl’s portrait is rooted in the very nature of her art. Rahl only represents the aesthetic ideal that makes her so famous while she is playing a role on stage; off-stage, she is nothing but the Gräfin Bettina, the dispassionate and largely unhappy wife of a globetrotting aristocrat and former diplomat who passively fulfils the social obligations inherent to her profession. Only after confronting Rahl’s husband about the feelings that he has for his wife does Franz realize that behind the aesthetic ideal that Rahl represents while she is on stage lies a less-inspiring but equally important human constant: “alle Menschen übten sich in einem fort; alles andere war ihnen offenbar gleich, wenn sie sich nur üben konnten”.(53) Transformed by this realization, Franz becomes independent of the more ideological positions of Samon and Beer. As the novel closes, Franz looks at the picture of Rahl on his desk and quietly recites her name as a personal mantra; finally coming to terms with himself and his situation, he thinks to himself, “Jetzt weiß ich erst, was das heißt, ein Ideal zu haben!”.(54)

Bahr sent a copy of Die Rahl to Redlich, who praised his friend’s “Geschichte einer Knabenseele” and identified a striking similarity between Rahl’s husband and Karl Graf O’Sullivan de Grass (1836-1888), Wolter’s husband. As Redlich writes in the final letter before a six-month gap in their surviving correspondence, “Ich möchte Ihnen gerne von den politisch so interessanten Tagen erzählen, die wir jetzt durchmachen und von den Dingen, die ich dabei aus der Nähe sehen kann. Das alte Österreich geht gewaltigen Krisen entgegen: und wir alle werden daran teilnehmen müssen”.(55) As the failure of parliamentary reform became increasingly evident to both Redlich and Bahr, Bahr’s interest in and concern with the socio-political sphere grew in intensity. This appears clearly in two works that he published in 1909: the overtly political travelogue Dalmatinische Reise and his second novel, Drut.(56)

In the case of his novel, Bahr took inspiration from the famous 1904 scandal surrounding Franz Hervay Edler von Kirchberg, who married a woman of questionable reputation while serving as the first Bezirkshauptmann of the Styrian district of Mürzzuschlag and was forced to tender his resignation after the press called his wife’s dubious past into question. Publicly humiliated by the scandal and professionally ruined, Hervay committed suicide. Public opinion held his wife responsible for his death and she was tried for bigamy, albeit unsuccessfully. Interestingly, Karl Kraus also used this tragedy as a pretext for criticism of the state and society, and several essays defending Frau Hervay appeared in Die Fackel.(57) However, there are important differences in their two perspectives: whereas Kraus denounced the smear campaign against Frau Hervay both before and after her husband’s suicide and her farcical trial, Bahr chose to explore instead the prehistory of this tragedy in his novel and draws notably different conclusions to that of his Viennese contemporary.

Bahr’s Drut is the story of the civil servant Baron Klemens Furnian, the son of an impoverished aristocrat and nephew of the influential canon Zingerl. Hoping to make Klemens into his protégé, the powerful and calculating minister-president Döltsch appoints the young baron as the Bezirkshauptmann of Ischl, Upper Austria; for Klemens, the provincial post serves as an important springboard for career advancement because he will be able to prove his usefulness to the system based in Vienna. Ostensibly well suited for life as a bureaucrat because of his upbringing, he makes a concerted effort to serve his administrative district to the best of his abilities but encounters only mistrust and enmity from the local populace and remains an outsider. On a forest walk, Klemens meets Gertrude Scharrn, a young Prussian Baroness with a bad reputation and a dark past. He quickly falls in love with her, despite her persistent attempts to warn him away, and when Gertrude becomes pregnant, Klemens insists upon marriage; because she lacks the proper documents and the couple needs to marry in haste, he uses his influence as the Bezirkshauptmann to pressure the local parish priest into performing the ceremony. Someone in Ischl learns of Klemens’ indiscretion and, in an effort to undermine his authority, an unconfirmed report about Gertrude’s past and the illegal marriage is published anonymously in the local tabloid. Klemens’ colleagues in the ministry, who are jealous of the preferential treatment that he receives from Döltsch, use the ensuing scandal to undermine his position with the minister and his uncle seals his downfall; knowing of Klemens’ value to Döltsch, Zingerl offers the minister-president a deal: the Church will overlook his nephew’s abuse of his professional position in exchange for unlawful tax concessions for a Church-owned factory in the district. Döltsch, however, promptly relieves his former protégé of his post and orders Gertrude’s arrest on suspicion of bigamy. Klemens commits suicide; holding Gertrude responsible for his death, an angry mob, composed of the very same townspeople who instigated Klemens’ tragic end, stone her to death on the way to her trial. As the novel closes, the local populace remains proud of their virtuous efforts to prevent what they considered an injustice and lament the loss of their posthumously beloved Bezirkshauptmann.

As with Franz’s maturation in Die Rahl, Klemens’ development as a character composes the novel’s central theme. As young men from similar social backgrounds, both protagonists share the desire to come to terms with themselves and finally be their own person; interestingly, both come to this realization while in the cosmopol’s periphery. Like Franz, Klemens came from a family background marked by tragedy; of old aristocratic stock, Klemens’ mother died while he was still a child and her husband, Colonel Furnian, unexpectedly lost the military commission that he had earned through his distinguished service record because of his complacency in the face of a professional environment characterized by arbitrariness and back-stabbing to get ahead. As a result, the family’s social position and financial security became tenuous and, despite adhering to his father’s emphasis on obedience and self-denial in order to achieve a successful civil service career, Klemens, whether as a child in his parents’ house, in the Jesuit gymnasium at Kalksburg or as an impoverished university student, never had the opportunity to do as he pleased.(58) Accordingly, he never experienced personal happiness. However, the chance discovery that Klemens’ and Döltsch’s mothers had been childhood friends suddenly changed the Furnians’ fortunes; secured via the minister’s nepotistic intervention, Klemens’ promotion alleviated the financial and social pressures plaguing the family and seemingly afforded him with the opportunity to live independently of them for the first time in his life.

Overall, the young Baron’s swift rise to this high civil service position, his experiences while serving as Bezirkshauptmann and his tragic end serve as a narrative vehicle for Bahr’s subjective assessment of the contemporary problems facing Austrian German political society. Indeed, Bahr explores important socio-political perspectives through the words and actions of several of the novel’s secondary characters. This emphasis appears most clearly in the novel’s second chapter, where the character of Exzellenz Klauer, an Austrian German liberal and retired government minister, expresses his dissatisfaction with the government under Döltsch, who is his political adversary and successor as minister-president, throughout a running conversation with his childhood friend Dr. Tewes, a physician and social democrat. Bahr provides an important description of the contemporary socio-political atmosphere through Klauer’s criticism.

Unlike Klauer, who refused to take responsibility for his own political ineffectuality and placed blame on the bureaucracy, Döltsch is a pragmatist who made his reputation by successfully rescuing a government business on the Austrian Riviera by learning how to manipulate people’s corruptibility. Once in government, he quickly found that these skills transferred seamlessly into practical politics because of the pervasive negativism and national particularism that fractured Austrian political society around this time. Describing him as a trickster, Klauer bemoans Döltsch’s propensity for playing social and political groups off against each other with government concessions:

und wo sich noch irgend eine Form zeigt, an der sich vielleicht eine politische Gestaltung wieder ansetzen könnte, gleich ist der Hexenmeister wieder da, um ins Feuer zu blasen: gruppiert euch wirtschaftlich, und er facht den Haß der Nationen an, versucht es national, und er holt die Kirche, die euch zersprengt, und wenn ihr endlich doch wieder begreift, daß nichts hilft, als sich nach politischen Grundsätzen abzuschließen, so hetzt er das Land gegen die Stadt, den Grundbesitzer auf den Fabriken los.(59)

Döltsch’s ability to play upon socio-economic and political fragmentation irrespective of the long-term consequences troubles Klauer, who identifies a striking resemblance between the “divide and conquer” strategy used by his adversary and the absolutist ethos of the Austrian bureaucracy under Emperor Franz.(60) Concerned by the differences that he sees between the liberal politics of his era, which despite notable socio-political shortcomings nevertheless felt itself responsible to both the state and society as a whole, and by the political opportunism of his successor, Klauer is highly critical of Döltsch’s penchant for distracting the Austrian people’s attention from deeper problems of the state system with his charisma and populist flattery.(61) Accordingly, he characterizes politics under Döltsch as dominated by a cozy relationship between “der Schwiehack und das Krätzl”(62), two words from Austrian German dialect that signify a partnership between dangerously cunning and charismatic representatives of the executive branch of government based in Vienna (as exemplified in Klemens and Döltsch) and the uninformed and easily impressionable local community of the provinces (the townspeople of Ischl). When looked at in conjunction with the main protagonist’s civil service career, these perspectives reveal an important political theme at the heart of Bahr’s novel: Klemens remains unable to escape the environment in which he has become mired.

Colonel Furnian hopes to spare his son a similarly disappointing professional fate to that of his paternal grandfather, who as a promising young civil servant earned the disfavor of Emperor Franz Joseph by authoring an ambitious memorandum criticizing the slowness of the government administration and offering possibilities for reform. Accordingly, he indoctrinates Klemens with the utilitarian view:

daß es sich nicht darum handle, Gedanken auszuhecken, die der Einbildung gelehrter Phantasten schmeicheln mögen, sondern nur darum allein, sich als ein brauchbares und nützliches Glied der Gesellschaft zu zeigen, auf das der Staat zählen kann, weil es nicht lange klügelt, sondern blind den Mächtigen gehorsam ist!(63)

While the Colonel’s insistence that his son adopt this attitude in order to succeed as a civil servant undoubtedly contributes to Klemens’ lackluster and unhappy life, it is Klemens’ difficulty to maintain this disposition in the face of a persistent desire to become his own person that ultimately brings about his professional demise. Apparently successful as “der fesche Kle, der freche Kle” amongst the townspeople, Klemens is afforded the opportunity to finally be himself through his romantic relationship with Gertrude. However, once she becomes pregnant and his newfound personal happiness comes under threat, the young Baron finds it impossible to resist using his professional power to rescue it. By marrying a woman with a bad reputation, he tarnishes the attractive persona that makes him so successful and by encroaching upon the Church’s sphere of influence, he upsets the status quo so cherished by his boss. Döltsch remains unwilling to risk the precarious balance that he maintains over the various interest groups involved in this scandal in order to save a protégé whose public reputation has already tarnished beyond repair, and he dismisses Klemens from the civil service because it is simply easier for him to replace the young Baron with someone more useful. Klemens, having lost the civil service career that he worked towards his entire life and facing life without the woman he loves (Döltsch announces to Klemens that she will be arrested on suspicion of bigamy at the same time as he dismisses him), chooses suicide over a switch to the life insurance industry.(64)

This tragic end serves to underscore the serious problems that Bahr sees in the political society of the late-Habsburg Monarchy as a whole, especially between the administration in Vienna and the life of the everyday Austrians of the provinces. Upon meeting Gertrude, Klemens points out to her that in Upper Austrian folklore, a “Drut” or “Trud” is an evil witch that visits people in the night and sits on their chest until they suffocate to death.(65) Basing his story on the Hervay scandal, Bahr chose this title intentionally; in the eyes of the local populace, Frau Hervay, or in this case Gertrude, was to blame for her husband’s demise. However, in light of Bahr’s concern with the relationship between the bureaucracy and the social group to which his protagonist belongs, an alternative meaning to the title’s allusion also warrants consideration. For Bahr, it is Austrian political society, especially the culture of the bureaucracy after the failure of parliamentary reform in 1907, that metaphorically sits on Klemens’ chest and ultimately suffocates him to death because it requires that the coming generation of young Austrian German men sacrifice their own personal happiness and the desire to be themselves in order to meet its arbitrary requirements. Whereas Franz emerges successfully from his difficulties at the end of Die Rahl by accepting his less than ideal environment and moving forward as a more complete person, Klemens remains unable to do either, choosing to kill himself rather than return to the unhappiness of his previous mode of life.

In the year between publishing Die Rahl and Drut, Bahr’s attitude towards the state and society, especially in terms of the coming generation of young Austrian German men who sought employment in the civil service, had undergone an important transformation. A 1909 essay, which Bahr later included in a collection of his socio-political essays from this period entitled Austriaca, provides further illustration.(66) Concerned with “der Verwaisung und Isoliertheit unserer [as compared to English] Studenten” vis-à-vis public life, Bahr identifies striking parallels between his own student experiences in the 1880s and the unhappiness and intellectual loneliness of later university students.(67) As he explains,

Die meisten stammen aus dem Beamtentum, den sogenannten liberalen Berufen und der kleinbürgerlichen Welt, aus Gegenden also, wo so schon die Sitte herrscht, die Kinder so lange als möglich vor allen Wirklichkeiten verwahrt zu halten. Niemals haben sie noch, aus ihrer eigenen Klasse weg, ins Leben der anderen blicken können, sie kennen den Bauer so wenig als der Arbeiter, die Denkart der ganzen Nation ist ihnen fremd. Statt nun auf der Universität dies nachzuholen, sitzen sie verlassen da und müssen sich mit Sport und Spiel betäuben. In den Parteien aber, an denen es ist, die Rechte des Bürgertums zu verwalten, wird verwundert geklagt, daß es an Nachwuchs fehle, und man tut erstaunt über die Trennung unserer Intellektuellen von allen öffentlichen Fragen.(68)

That bourgeois political society makes little effort to appeal to the interests and needs of these young men is, in Bahr’s opinion, a repetition of the very same mistake made by the liberals during the 1880s/90s. Furthermore, this social group’s disconnection from public life presents a central obstacle for the construction of a more positive future for the country because shunning these young men encourages social fragmentation by pushing youth into the more welcoming yet divisive radical nationalist fold.

Bahr’s third novel, O Mensch (1910), builds on this theme, emphasizing resignation and humanistic pantheism as a response to the isolation felt by the people living in Austria because of prolonged social fragmentation and political impasse. After having spent his entire career trying (unsuccessfully) to change Austrian political society for the better, the character of Hofrat Stelzer abjectly concludes, “Eher kann ein Hund mit einem Pferd sprechen als ein Österreicher der einen Partei mit einem der anderen. Österreich ist ein Land, wo man nur Monologe halten kann”.(69)

The surviving correspondence between Redlich and Bahr indicates that this remark reflected Bahr’s own conclusion at the time. The novel Drut’s socio-political scope was of utmost importance to the author. Bahr sent Redlich the manuscript of his “Verwaltungsroman” before publication in order to gain an honest expert opinion on these aspects of the work from a man he praised as one of the four or five who possessed enough literary and political insight to read it properly. He also asked his friend to bring his work on Dalmatia to the attention of Aehrenthal (1854-1912) and those close to Franz Ferdinand (1863-1914).(70) Upon the novel’s publication, Bahr urged Redlich a number of times to write a review of it in order to draw attention to the socio-political scope of the story because he feared that, “der politische Gehalt des Buches, der mir viel wichtiger als alles Ästhetische ist, könnte ganz verloren gehen und so das Buch überhaupt nicht zu seinen eigentlichen Lesern kommen”.(71) Redlich responded contritely to Bahr’s pleas and promised to provide his friend with a review of the novel as soon as his parliamentary workload settled down. Unfortunately, no further evidence exists regarding Redlich’s involvement in influencing Drut’s reception.

Nevertheless, the two friends continued a lively discussion of contemporary socio-political issues in their correspondence and despite differences in opinion, this exchange continued even after Bahr’s move to Salzburg in 1912. The two men shared similar views on the problems facing the late-Habsburg Monarchy and their mutual exploration of these issues would continue into and beyond the First World War, when Bahr’s Austrian perspective would continue to change in accordance with the contemporary situation.

Bahr’s works during the war, which include Kriegssegen (1915), Himmelfahrt (1916), Schwarzgelb (1917) and Die Rotte Korahs (1919), all build upon the cultural and socio-political dimensions of his evolving pre-war Austrianism.(72) In Kriegssegen, a compilation of feuilletons and essays written between August and November 1914, Bahr celebrates the opportunity presented by the war to generate the unity and Gemeinschaft that had been so sorely lacking within Austrian society in the period before its outbreak. Bahr understands the Austrian-German alliance as a positive engine of change that will only serve to sharpen Austrian Germans’ distinctive identity. For Bahr, their enthusiasm for the multinational state in which they live, especially among his father’s generation, suffered a serious setback after Königgrätz because of their prior commitment to ethno-cultural Central European German nationalism. As he explains, “Wir ließen uns einreden, unser Vaterland habe ausgespielt, werde nur noch aus Erbarmen oder eigentlich mehr aus Schlamperei geduldet und müsse froh sein, wie ein großer österreichische Staatsmann gesagt hat, fortwursteln”.(73) However, he continues, the generation of the 1890s reacted against this atmosphere and re-established a belief in the distinctive national identity of the Austrian Germans as a constituent part of the supranational Monarchy that younger members of the current generation of Austrian Germans, who are able to participate in this momentous time of change, have embraced.(74) Published after the initial glut of patriotic fervor in which its constituent essays were written, Kriegssegen was not well received by Bahr’s Austrian German intellectual contemporaries, who, like Kraus, had already shifted their attitudes towards the war into the pacifist camp.(75) However, the same cannot be said of Redlich, who, despite not always agreeing with Bahr, respected his ability to reach a broad audience through his work on Austria in a way that he, as an academic and parliamentarian, could not. In his words:

Es ist für mich immer ganz besonders eindrucksvoll, wie staatswissentschaftliche Erkenntnisse und Gedanken durch einen großen Schriftsteller, der zum breiten Publikum spricht, Leben, ja Flügel bekommen…Sie, lieber Freund, sind unter den Führern und Begründern der Deutschen ‘belles lettres’ unserer Zeit fast der Einzige, der auch über den Staat als freier Schriftsteller spricht und Gedanken der zünftigen Wissenschaft so erst in Licht setzt. Und wie sehr Sie durch Ihre Schriften über ‘Wien’, Österreich, Dalmatien usw. auf’s breite Publikum wirken, davon erhalte ich immer wieder sehr interresante Beweise! So bin ich Ihnen doppelt verpflichtet: als guter Österreicher und als Autor akademischer Schriften!(76)

In this period, Bahr became a devout Catholic for the first time in his life. Exploring an intellectual’s path to Catholicism in Himmelfahrt, he sought to incorporate his break with the emptiness of intellectual aestheticism and newfound faith in organized religion into his Austrian perspective. The product of Bahr’s concerns with the spiritual dearth characterizing the society in which he lived, Graf Franz Flayn, the novel’s thirty-six year old protagonist, is a wealthy and progressive provincial intellectual who has explored all that is modern in both the arts and the sciences while abroad in Paris and in Vienna only to return to his rural hometown after losing confidence in this lifestyle’s ability to provide him with any solid spiritual grounding. Through encounters with his aristocratic family, their servants, the townspeople of his Upper Austrian village and the recurrent character of Canon Zingerl, Flayn comes to realise that a simple Christian life surrounded by real everyday people provides a more firm spiritual foundation than the exciting, but ultimately insatiable, devotion to the cult of modern progress. Indeed, Bahr’s own personal reconciliation between faith and reason functions as the novel’s central theme. In connection with his broader attitude towards the war and its relationship to his Austrianism, Himmelfahrt closes with the assassination of Franz Ferdinand and Flayn going off to war to do his duty.

As the novel’s conclusion suggests, Bahr continued to understand the war as a positive catalyst that could serve to reinvigorate the faith in the Habsburg Monarchy that had been lost to rival nationalisms in the period from 1866 to 1914. He developed this perspective through several essays published in both German and Austrian periodicals, which were later included in Schwarzgelb. Describing the fusion of Central Europe’s different nationalities and cultures under Habsburg rule during this time of crisis as yet another manifestation of “das uralte österreichische Wunder,” Bahr understands the supranational state as an indispensable mixture of individual nationalities and regional cultures that together complete a multifaceted Austrian whole.(77) He explains:

Österreich ist in Europa der erste große Versuch oder Entwurf, ein bisher noch nicht ganz gelungener, ein vielleicht eben jetzt erst gelingender Versuch einer Organisation von Völkern in Freiheit…, deren Persönlichkeit, Eigenart, Vorgeschichte, Richtung und Willenskraft in ihm nicht nur nicht verlischt, sondern sich gerade durch ihn, an ihm erst erfüllt.(78)

As the war progressed, however, this perspective took a necessarily negative turn. Evidence appears in Bahr’s reply to Redlich’s description of “die geistige Verrottung” of Austrian German nationalist politics in Bohemia and Moravia on 18 September 1917:

Ihre Schilderung der stumpfsinnigen Nationalverbändler festigt nur meine Überzeugung, daß das Deutschtum in Österreich, das wirkliche, das, zu dem wir beide uns bekennen [österreichisch, föderalistisch, katholisch, demokratisch, europäisch], verloren ist (wenn nicht aus den Deutschen heraus!).(79)

As their late-war correspondence reveals, nationalism’s destabilizing effects, which intensified as the country’s wartime situation declined, proved too difficult a challenge for their distinct Austrian perspectives to overcome without restyling. Concerned with what will happen to Austria, especially the Austrian Germans, in the face of the impending reconfiguration of Europe at the war’s end, Bahr expresses his reoriented Austrian ideal in a diary entry published in the Neues Wiener Journal:

[D]as wahre, das ewige [Österreich], liegt nicht in dem zufälligen, empirischen, augenscheinlichen Österreich…ob es bestimmt ist, daß unser unsichtbares Österreich dereinst auch erscheine, das ist noch die Frage. Für mich ist es die Lebensfrage. Ich glaube daran …[weil] Mein Österreich ist ganz auf Poesie gegründet. Gerade das gibt mir den festen Glauben daran. Weil mir nämlich die Poesie, auf die dieses Österreich gegründet ist, unentbehrlich für Europa scheint. Wann es aber sichtbar werden wird, und wieviel davon und in welcher Form oder unter welchem Namen, das ist ja dem, der es im Herzen hat, eigentlich gar nicht so wichtig’.(80)

Bahr’s Die Rotte Korahs builds on these conclusions. Concerned with the Zeitgeist of 1919 and his concept of an Austrian Menschenart that would secure the continued existence of the country after the war’s end, the novel, in the words of Bahr’s friend and contemporary Erhard Buschbeck (1889-1960), “ist [Bahrs] Konzept eines neuen Österreichs, das er in wirkendes Leben umsetzen will, und über dieses sich erst formende Bild seines Geistes breiten sich die Schatten, die die Existenz der alten Monarchie immer deutlicher bedrohen”.(81) While the race issue and anti-Semitism play major roles in the work, they have been addressed in detail before; in contrast, Bahr’s vision of Austria in the novel, especially regarding the relationship between the country’s cosmopolitan capital and the provinces, has earned considerably less attention.(82) Born to an old aristocratic family, Baron Ferdinand Držić, the novel’s protagonist, is a wounded military veteran back from the front who discovers, to his surprise, that he is actually the illegitimate son of Jason, an exorbitantly wealthy Jewish entrepreneur who dies while on trial for fraud and leaves his entire estate to Ferdinand. Shocked by this turn of events, Ferdinand struggles with this discovery and interacts with the novel’s other characters, many of whom are recurring from Bahr’s pervious novels, in order to determine whether or not he will accept an inheritance that entails the public acknowledgement of his Jewish racial status in a thoroughly anti-Semitic social environment. After much deliberation, the young Baron decides to accept both the fortune and his Jewish heritage, move from Vienna to the provinces and marry the woman who is carrying his child.

This move from Vienna to the provinces is highly symbolic of Bahr’s reaction to the increasingly imminent reconfiguration of Habsburg Central Europe; after experiencing Austria for the first time among his comrades on the front, Ferdinand is determined to raise his child among “einfachen österreichischen Menschen”, and, serving as a mouth piece for Bahr’s ideas, he explains,

Der alte Grillparzer hat ja recht: In deinem Lager ist Österreich! Und heute noch wie je!…Von ihm allein leben wir doch nur. Aber freilich: wir sehen’s halt nicht, wir kümmern uns nicht drum, wir wissen nichts davon. Es ist immer da, auf den Feldern draußen, in den Fabriken drin, da schafft’s stumm Tag für Tag, es schafft unser Leben, wir zehren davon, nur fragen wir nicht nach ihm, wir sind zu gebildet: wir haben auch keine Zeit, wir machen derweil Verfassungen.(83)

For Bahr, the experiences and culture of regular provincial Austrian people getting on with their lives prove to be a more valuable source for understanding Austrianness than the unstable nature of state structures. As Ferdinand explains, “Wir haben unsre Sitten, wir haben unsren Glauben, wir haben unsre Sprach, wir haben sie nicht gemacht, es war alles schon vor uns da, wir haben’s vom Vater und Großvater her und so wie wir’s gekriegt haben, so taugt’s uns, das können nur wir wissen, was uns taugt”.(84) In terms of the changing nature of his Austrian German perspective, Bahr no longer understands civil servants, MPs or literati as an expression of this Austrian quality: “das alles drückt Österreich nicht aus, stellt es nicht dar, stellt Österreich bloß vor, stellt sich vor Österreich und verstellt es”.(85) As Bahr now believes, it is the Austrian “Menschenart” described above – the embodiment of people’s actual experiences beyond the Viennese world of high culture and high politics – and not the statecraft surrounding the reshaping of the Monarchy into the democratic republic of Kleinösterreich that will serve to sustain his distinctive Austrianism beyond the First World War.(86)

Sadly, for Bahr, this was not to be the case. His attempts to deconstruct his interior world in ways that would lead his audience to understand the larger issues of what it meant to be a modern Austrian German and the necessity to comprehend culture as more than just an either/or issue of the cosmopol and provinces, as he explained in his 1923 autobiography, would be deeply frustrated by the transformative events of the Monarchy’s collapse. After producing these five novels, Bahr hit a creative roadblock in his production of the sixth, largely on account of the changed circumstances of an inter-war environment wholly divergent from Bahr’s perspective in 1899. As he would sadly be forced to concede: “Der Krieg hat unsere ganze Kultur zerstört, da wäre doch die Klage, durch ihn um einen Roman zo kommen, lächerlich”.(87)


1 Hermann Bahr, “Die Entdeckung der Provinz”, reprinted in Bildung. Essays (Berlin and Leipzig: Insel-Verlage bei Schuster & Lieffler, 1900), pp. 184-191. 2 Robert Pyrah, The Burgtheater and Austrian Identity, Theatre and Cultural Politics in Vienna, 1918-38 (London: Modern Humanities Research Association and Maney Publishing, 2007). 3 Ibid, p. 13. 4 Albert Fuchs, Geistige Strömungen in Österreich, Mit einem Essay von Friedrich Heer (Wien: Löcker, 1996), pp. 8-9. 5 Ibid, pp. 136-7. 6 Edith Walter, Österreichische Tageszeitungen der Jahrhundertwende. Ideologischer Anspruch und ökonomische Erfordernisse (Wien: Böhlau, 1994), p. 52. 7 John W. Boyer, “Freud, Marriage and Late Viennese Liberalism: A Commentary from 1905”, The Journal of Modern History, 50:1 (Mar., 1978), p. 77. 8 Edith Walter, Österreichische Tageszeitungen der Jahrhundertwende. p. 52. 9 John W. Boyer, “Freud, Marriage and Late Viennese Liberalism: A Commentary from 1905”, p. 77. 10 Robert Pyrah, The Burgtheater and Austrian Identity, p. 14. 11 Hermann Bahr, Selbstbildnis (Berlin: S. Fischer, 1923). 12 Hermann Bahr, “Zehn Jahre”, reprinted in Bildung, pp. 173-4. 13 Ibid, p. 176. 14 Ibid, p. 175. 15 Ibid, pp. 176-7. 16 Ibid, pp. 186-7. 17 Hermann Bahr, “Die Entdeckung der Provinz”, p. 187. 18 Ibid, p. 191. 19 Karl von Ettmayer, “Hermann Bahr und die Provinz”, Der Kyffhäuser – Deutsche Blätter für Politik, Kunst und Leben (Linz) (1901) Heft 2, pp. 32-4. 20 Ibid, p. 33 21 Ibid, p. 33. 22 Ibid, p. 33.  original emphasis. 23 Ibid, p. 34. 24 Katherine David-Fox, “Prague-Vienna, Prague-Berlin: The Hidden Geography of Czech Modernism”, Slavic Review, 59:4 (Winter, 2000), pp. 735-60. 25 Hermann Bahr, Die Rahl (Berlin: S. Fischer, 1908); Hermann Bahr, Drut (Berlin: S. Fischer, 1909); Hermann Bahr, O Mensch (Berlin: S. Fischer, 1910); Hermann Bahr, Himmelfahrt (Berlin: S. Fischer, 1916); Hermann Bahr, Die Rotte Korahs (Berlin: S. Fischer, 1919); Hermann Bahr, Der inwendige Garten (Hildesheim: Borgmeyer, 1927); Hermann Bahr, Österreich in Ewigkeit (Hildesheim: Borgmeyer, 1929). 26 Hermann Bahr, Selbstbildnis, pp. 104-5. 27 Ibid, pp. 107-8. 28 Ibid, pp. 111-2. 29 Ibid, p. 289. 30 Ibid, pp. 289-90. 31 Ibid, p. 291. 32 Ibid, p. 292. 33 Fritz Fellner (ed.), Dichter und Gelehrter, Hermann Bahr und Josef Redlich in ihren Briefen, 1896-1934 (Salzburg: Verlag Wolfgang Neugegauer, 1980). 34 “Tagebuch Redlich, 6. Februar 1903”, Ibid, p. 12. 35 “Tagebuch Redlich, 3. November 1903”, Ibid, p. 17. 36 “[Bahr an Redlich], 2. Jänner 1907”, Fritz Fellner (ed.), Dichter und Gelehrter, p. 53.  original emphasis. 37 Donald G. Daviau, “The Misconception of Hermann Bahr as a Verwandlungskünstler”, in Understanding Hermann Bahr (St. Ingbert: Röhrig Universitätsverlag, 2002), p. 44. 38 Hermann Bahr, Wien (Stuttgart: Krabbe-Gußmann, 1907). 39 “Redlich an Bahr, [Wien, Anfang Juni 1907]”, Fritz Fellner (ed.), Dichter und Gelehrter, p. 54. 40 “Redlich an Bahr, Wien, 18. Juni 1907”, Ibid, p. 54. 41 “Bahr an Redlich, Ansichtskarte: Loretto am Wörthersee, [6. Juli 1907]”, Ibid, p. 56. 42 Donald G. Daviau, Der Mann von übermorgen. Hermann Bahr 1863-1934 (Wien: Österreichische Bundesverlag, 1984), pp. 167-8. 43 Wolter earned acclaim for her ability to play the role of the tragic heroine and her repertoire included Grillparzer’s Sappho (1818), which is performed throughout the novel. 44 For an exploration of the central themes of Grillparzer’s drama, see: Renny Keelin Harrigan, “Woman and Artist: Grillparzer’s Sappho Revisited”, The German Quarterly, 53:3 (May, 1980), pp. 298-316. 45 Hermann Bahr, Die Rahl, p. 28. 46 Ibid, p. 239. 47 Ibid, p. 56. 48 Ibid, p. 60. 49 Ibid, p., 70. 50 Ibid, p. 29. 51 Ibid, p. 68. 52 Ibid, p. 143. 53Ibid, p. 290. 54Ibid, p. 306. 55“Redlich an Bahr, Wien, 28. November 1908”, Fritz Fellner (ed.), Dichter und Gelehrter, pp. 57-8. 56 Hermann Bahr, Dalmatinische Reise (Berlin: S. Fischer, 1909); in this work, Bahr addresses the problems and concerns of a province far removed from the Austrian German crown lands, criticizing the government’s ham-handed administration of the Southern Slavs in an attempt to make his Austrian German educated bourgeois audience aware of the need for a reform of the Monarchy’s political organization. 57 Karl Kraus, “Der Fall Hervay”, Heft 165, 8 July 1904, pp. 2-12; “Der Hexenprozess von Leoben”, Heft 168, 10 November 1904, p. 1-20; “Aus Briefen der Frau von Hervay”, Heft 170, 7 December 1904, pp. 15-20. Austrian Academy Corpus, Online Version, <>. 58 Hermann Bahr, Drut, p. 12 59 Ibid, p. 68. 60 Ibid, pp. 70-1. 61 Ibid, pp. 64-5. 62 An Austrian German term with Hungarian roots, “Schwiehack” shares a similar meaning to the high-German term “Schwerenöter”; however, as Bahr explains, it represents a more extreme form of lady-killer: “Der Schwerenöter verhält sich zum Schwiehack wie’s Hauskatzerl zum Luchs”. Ibid, p. 55. Similar to the high-German “Eckensteher”, Bahr use of “Krätzl” here refers to “eine Gesellschaft, die einen Klüngel bildet, doch nie selbst so nennen würde”. Ibid, p. 59. 63 Ibid, pp. 164; 166-7. 64 Ibid, pp. 500-1 65 Ibid, pp. 276; for further information regarding this saying see: Albert Depiny (ed.), Oberösterreichisches Sagenbuch (Linz, 1932), pp. 226-7, available online at: (15 March 2011). 66 Hermann Bahr, Austriaca (Berlin: S. Fischer, 1911) 67 “Bahr an Redlich, Semmering, 7. April 1909”, Fritz Fellner (ed.), Dichter und Gelehrter, pp. 59-60. original emphasis. 68 Hermann Bahr, Austriaca, p. 120. 69 Hermann Bahr, O Mensch, p. 250. 70 “Bahr an Redlich, Wien, 14. März 1909”, Fritz Fellner (ed.), Dichter und Gelehrter, p. 59. 71 “Bahr an Redlich, Venedig, Lido, Villa Trieste, 28. Mai 1909”; “Bahr an Redlich, Bayreuth, Parsifalstraße 12, 11. Juli, 1909”, Ibid, pp. 62-3; 65. 72 Hermann Bahr, Kriegssegen (München: Delphin-Verlag, 1915); Hermann Bahr, Schwarzgelb (Berlin: S. Fischer, 1917). 73 Hermann Bahr, Kriegssegen, p. 57. 74 Ibid, pp. 58-9. 75 For Kraus’ criticism of Bahr’s work, see: “Gruß an Bahr und Hofmannsthal”, Die Fackel, Heft 423-5, May 5, 1916, pp. 41-52. 76 “Redlich an Bahr, Wien, 24. April 1915”, Fritz Fellner (ed.), Dichter und Gelehrter, p. 113. 77 Hermann Bahr, Schwarzgelb, p. 30; pp. 39-40. 78 Ibid, p. 18. 79 Fritz Fellner (ed.), Dichter und Gelehrter, p. 263. 80 Hermann Bahr, Tagebücher[1918], p. 197. 81 Erhard Buschbeck, “Vorwort”, in Hermann Bahr, Die Rotte Korahs (Wien: H. Bauer Verlag, 1948), p. 5. 82 Donald G. Daviau, Der Mann von übermorgen, pp. 184-9; Donald G. Daviau, “Hermann Bahr and Anti-Semitism, Zionism and ‘Die Judenfrage’”, in Understanding Hermann Bahr (St. Ingbert, Röhrig Universtitätsverlag, 2002), pp. 235-55. 83 Hermann Bahr, Die Rotte Korahs, p. 489. 84 Ibid, pp. 489-90. 85 Ibid, p. 578. 86 Ibid, pp. 611-2. 87 Hermann Bahr, Selbstbildnis, p. 293.


 Inhalt | Table of Contents Nr. 18

For quotation purposes:
Nikolaus Unger: An Austrianism Beyond the Viennese: Reflections on the Role of Vienna in Hermann Bahr’s post-1900 novels –
In: TRANS. Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften. No. 18/2011.

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