and German drama are often confused. In reality, they have nothing
in common but language, and the difference between them may be
measured by the difference between the spirit of Berlin and the
spirit of Vienna. The German playwrights reflect phases of their
national temperment clearly enough. Sudermann, for example, is
always heavily Prussian. The stucco palaces of Die Ehre
and Sodoms Ende belong essentially to upper middle class
Berlin; the farms and country houses of Johannisfeuer
and Das Glück im Winkel are as distinctively North
German as their pastors are Protestant. Hauptmann's legendary
plays are built of German mythology, and even his Silesian peasant
dramas gravitate naturally towards the Northern capital. Wedekind's laborious introspection and
substantial satire are German to the core.
Schnitzler is just as distinctively Austrian. Dramatically
Berlin belongs to the bourgeoisie; Vienna is a city of
the aristocrats. Schnitzler, like most ... Viennese playwrights,
is content to take as his theme only a few scenes from life,
and even in those few scenes he recurs continually to a single
passage. No wind instruments for him; he is a master of the strings.
To the Northern playwrights he leaves the wild barbaric march,
to the Maeterlinckian symbolists the tone-poem. His dramatic
method is the intellectualization, the refinement of the Viennese
waltz. The most famous of his plays is Liebelei (in the
English version Light o' Love, literally Flirtation).
But in reality they are all Liebelei, from Anatol to the
Komtesse Mizzi. The moralist will find "flirtation"
a euphemism, but Schnitzler has nothing to do with moralists
or morality. His subject is always the same--the lover and a
mistress or two. It is treated gracefully enough, with little
passion and much gentle melancholy, little humour and much wit.
His power lies chiefly in the creation of an atmosphere--a dim
twilight atmosphere as of autumn evenings crowded with reminiscence.
It is indescribably charming and completely aimless; a dream
world as magical as that of any symbolist, yet unsymbolic. Tragic
problems arise from time to time, as in Der einsame Weg
or Der Ruf des Lebens, but for the most part Schnitzler
moves upon the plane of comedy. The crisis arrives, catastrophe
occurs; but it is an intimately personal catastrophe, accepted
with ironical resignation by the aristocrat-hero, and added with
a sigh to his repertory of experience. That aristocrat-hero is
Schnitzler's most characteristic figure. "New mistresses
for old" is his eternal problem, and an imp is ever at his
elbow, whispering that the old were better. Still he must obey
the law of his own nature, and he accepts the necessity of change
as he accepts all else in his life, good-naturedly. The women
come and go. They arrive timidly, half-conscious only of their
power. They yield, and for a while some tiny raftered room with
latticed windows, discreetly hidden in a narrow by-way of the
city, is made the meeting-place. Freshly gathered flowers are
arranged upon the table, set for two. The lamp is lit, the curtains
are drawn. The old housekeeper, more discreet even than her dwelling,
moves noiselessly to serve the dishes and withdraws. The two
are left together; a gentleman of upper-class Vienna, a lady
of any class, or none. "We have seen this comedy before,"
you say at first. "It is sordid, sensuous, contemptible."
It is none of these, for Schnitzler is a magician. An honourable
magician, moreover. His work is never ugly. He avoids sensuality
by his honesty as an artist. There is nothing unnatural, nothing
immoral, nothing even furtive for him in the relationship of
lover and mistress. A certain discretion is preserved--that is
all. He traces the psychology of the intimacy. Within the limits
he has chosen for himself, he tells everything that can be told,
and much that the lesser artist is afraid to tell. Details of
circumstance are nothing to him. Moods everything. His drama
depends upon a crisis in the lives of two people; the inevitable
passing from old relationships to new. No flash of thought escapes
him. He records every motive. In the crisis itself there can
be no compromise. The break must come when one of the lovers
desires it, however faintly. As long as Romance spreads her wings,
the intimacy lasts; the instant they are folded it must come
to an end at whatever cost of suffering. That is the first condition
of equality between men and women; a brutal condition, but one
which must be faced. In the moment of parting pity is a dishonourable
emotion, chivalry the grossest form of patronage, sentimentality
a nauseous drug. Even the most cynical frankness is fairer, and
that is Schnitzler's weapon. He analyzes the transition moment
in scenes such as those of Anatol. Outwardly, between
the lovers, all is just as it was upon the first evening; inwardly
everything is changed. The man must be free. Conversation grows
lame. At last the explanation comes, and the woman departs; sometimes
with frankly outstretched hand and a glance of understanding,
sometimes helplessly in tears or riotously in a storm of indignation.
For these latter types the man has only a shrug of the shoulders
as he lights a cigarette. They offend his sense of decorum and
compel him to regard them as inferiors. For the others he bears
a touch of melancholy as a sign of mourning. He will think of
them in future twilight moods . . . . But a few weeks later he
will hire a new room in another by-way (not the same room, for
that would be unbeautiful) for the reception of another mistress,
and the old light o' love will pass to a new lover. There are
the Schnitzler hero and the Schnitzler heroine. They have most
of the vices of their city and the quintessence of its charm;
frivolity tinged with regret and intrigue with grace.
I have touched here especially upon the types and the setting
of the one-act cycle Anatol because they convey the Schnitzler
atmosphere most clearly. The situations are not literally rendered;
they change just as moods change, and are woven into different
forms. Anatol represents the comedy of the lover-mistress
motive, Liebelei the tragedy. In the former the man is
the central figure; in the latter the woman. In Liebelei
Christine meets her philanderer, and makes a hero of him. She
becomes his mistress, and lives on in a dream-world of her own.
Her hero is killed in a duel fought on behalf of another woman--and
that is all. Of Christine it can only be said that she is as
great a woman as is possible in the Schnitzler world: a world
devised for men as surely as that of Strindberg,
and in effect, although unconsciously, as contemptuous of women.
The misogynist, indeed, is a lesser enemy of feminism than the
philanderer. He is only the mouthpiece of ideas, not the arbiter
Liebelei was followed by the longer plays Freiwild
and Das Vermächtnis. They represent the nearest approach
that Austrian drama has made to the social problem play and the
modernity movement of other countries. In social problems, however,
Schnitzler is really out of his element. He has satirized the
duel a thousand times more subtly than Sudermann in Die Ehre;
he has ridiculed militarism, semitism, and anti-semitism, the
government and the revolutionary parties. But his interests are
not primarily political or social, any more than they are domestic.
In Reigen he returns to the drama of personal moods. Anatol
consists of seven scenes, Reigen of ten, a complete cycle
of duologues, each between a man and a woman. More than duologues,
however: scenes from life. They pass consecutively: A prostitute
and a soldier. The soldier and a parlourmaid. The parlourmaid
and a young gentleman. The young gentleman and a young lady.
The young lady and her husband. The husband and a girl. The girl
and a poet. The poet and an actress. The actress and a nobleman.
The nobleman and the prostitute.
There is the chain, stripped of the romance of Anatol
and reduced to a vivisection of sex instinct, a post-mortem examination
of passion. It is the work of an artist weary of many adventures,
and disposed to regard life as nothing but a round of stupid
intrigue and cynical reaction.
For the rest, Schnitzler has gone no further dramatically
than Anatol and Liebelei. The one-act cycles Lebendige
Stunden and Marionetten are new versions of the old
story. Komtesse Mizzi (1909) has all the old charm and
nothing more. One can have too much of the twilight mood, the
Viennese lover and his mistress, the melancholy and the grace.
Everything that Schnitzler has written or imagined is summed
up in the six hundred pages of his novel Der Weg ins Freie.
There is the search for the "path of freedom" that
he has never found. He has never made his way out of the half-world
into the real world. But among the dramatists of the half-world
he is supreme.
This article was originally published
in Modern Dramatists by Ashley Dukes. New York: Books
For Libraries Press, Inc., 1912. pp. 151-59.
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