Authors: Arthur Schnitzler

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Last reviewed: June 2018

Austrian playwright

May 15, 1862

Vienna, Austria

October 21, 1931

Vienna, Austria


Arthur Schnitzler was one of the most prominent writers living in the city of Vienna during the highly productive and creative late nineteenth, early twentieth century era that produced individuals such as Sigmund Freud, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and Johannes Brahms. Born in that city on May 15, 1862, Schnitzler was the son of a famous Jewish professor of medicine and became himself a practicing physician upon graduation from the University of Vienna in 1885. For a time he was involved in studies in psychology. He was, however, more interested in a literary career and rather unsuccessful as a man of medicine. Schnitzler was somewhat of a dandy and a compulsive seducer but was at the same time always a keen observer of his own and his contemporaries’ behavior. He married in 1903 and had several children. Schnitzler died on October 21, 1931, in Vienna and is buried there.

Arthur Schnitzler.

By Ferdinand Schmutzer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

From 1888 to 1891, Schnitzler worked on the Anatol cycle of loosely connected dialogue sketches centering on the romantic obsessions of the young and frivolous bachelor Anatol, who becomes infatuated with a new woman—and attempts to seduce her—in every scene. The overwhelming mood of the sketches is one of a melancholy boredom, as Anatol, in repetitive but vain attempts, seeks to gain some sense of the authentic experience of himself and others. He is never able to penetrate to his true emotions and remains fixed in an illusory vision of life.

Light-O’-Love depicts two young frivolous women, Mizi and Christine, working girls from the outskirts of Vienna, who pursue love affairs with men of higher social status, in the vain illusion that they might elevate their class position. They are the prototypes of Schnitzler’s frequent character figures, the “sweet girl” (susses Madel), a kind of young, lower-class woman common to Viennese social circles and with whom the author was very familiar in his personal life. The young men of the play take such affairs and seductions lightly, and the ending is inevitably tragic. One of the men, Fritz, is killed in a duel because he has seduced a married woman. The Green Cockatoo is another of Schnitzler’s well-known one-act plays and takes place in France at the time of the 1789 revolution. As in many of his works, the action of this play revolves around the differences between reality and appearance, the typically Austrian theme of the theatricality of life.

Hands Around is the best known of Schnitzler’s plays and depicts a series of ten separate scenes involving a group of characters who have sex and go on to exchange partners in a cycle that links them to each other like a daisy chain. The series involves individuals from all levels of Viennese society. Because the scenes center so unabashedly on the sex act—the couples have nothing else to share except superficial talk—the play was banned from performance and publication in Germany and was involved in a court trial in Berlin in 1921. As in the earlier pieces, Schnitzler gives a devastating portrait of a decadent society in which people pursue fleeting sensations and in which true human interaction is reduced to a mere game of vanity and sexual conquest. The primacy of sexuality in Schnitzler’s plays and his keen observations of its role in motivating behavior once prompted Freud—who was doing his scientific work on sexuality and the psyche at the same time Schnitzler was writing his plays—to call the author his “double.” Both men seemed to be commenting on the same psychological phenomena from different perspectives. Film adaptations of the play were made in 1950, 1964, and 1973, and a musical version, Hello Again, premiered in 1993 and was itself adapted into film in 2017.

The play Professor Bernhardi treats the issue of anti-Semitism, commonly encountered in Vienna during Schnitzler’s time. A young Austrian, Adolf Hitler, was preaching his message of racial hatred at the time Schnitzler was working on the play. A Jewish doctor, Bernhardi, refuses to disturb the peace of a young Catholic girl, who is unaware that she is dying, by calling in a priest. An ugly incident ensues, and Bernhardi loses his position and is sent to prison. Schnitzler pointedly exposes a largely Christian society that, despite its commitment to brotherly love, is motivated by racial hatred, envy, and blatant stupidity.

Schnitzler was also a prolific writer of narrative literature. None but the Brave is one of his most read stories and deals with the young Lieutenant Gustl, who, after an opera performance, has a small confrontation in the lobby with a man of the lower classes. Because Gustl feels that his precious honor has been besmirched, he agonizes over the essentially trivial event, even considering suicide. Gustl is much like Schnitzler’s other male characters, a basically frivolous and vain personality who courts more the appearance than the substance of life. He manages to rationalize away the seriousness of the event and talk himself out of suicide. The text is written in an innovative narrative style that attempts to record Gustl’s flighty thought processes. The Road to the Openpresents a critical vision of Vienna during Schnitzler’s life. The novel examines a young artist and aesthete who undergoes a spiritual transformation when his lover sacrifices herself for his career.

Casanova’s Homecoming depicts the aging lover in his obsessive search for a final conquest. He murders a young man who is a youthful version of himself. Like None but the Brave, the well-known story Fräulein Else also uses a narrative technique of recording the often nonlinear strains of the character’s consciousness. It deals with an event in the life of a psychologically unstable young woman who falls victim to the sexual manipulations of an older man. The vain pursuit of sexuality and sensation versus the quest for authentic meaning in life characterizes these later narrative texts, as it does the majority of Schnitzler’s writings.

Author Works Drama: Alkandis Lied, pb. 1890 Das Märchen, pb. 1891 Anatol, pr., pb. 1893 (English translation, 1911) Liebelei, pr. 1895 (Light-O’-Love, 1912) Die überspannte Person, pb. 1896 Freiwild, pr. 1896 (Free Game, 1913) Halbzwei, pb. 1897 Das Vermächtnis, pr. 1898 (The Legacy, 1911) Paracelsus, pb. 1898 (English translation, 1913) Die Gefährtin, pr., pb. 1899 (The Mate, 1913) Der grüne Kakadu, pr., pb. 1899 (The Green Cockatoo, 1913) Reigen, pb. 1900 (Hands Around, 1920; also known as La Ronde, 1959) Der Schleier der Beatrice, pr. 1900 Lebendige Stunden, pr. 1901 (includes Lebendige Stunden [Living Hours, 1906], Die Frau mit dem Dolche, [The Lady with the Dagger, 1904], Die letzen Masken [Last Masks, 1913], Literatur, [Literature, 1917]) Sylvesternacht, pb. 1901 Der Puppenspieler, pr., pb. 1903 (The Puppeteer, 1995) Der einsame Weg, pr., pb. 1904 (The Lonely Way, 1915) Der tapfere Kassian, pr. 1904 (Gallant Cassian, 1914) Zum grossen Wurstel, pb. 1905 Zwischenspiel, pr. 1905 (Intermezzo, 1915) Der Ruf des Lebens, pr., pb. 1906 Komtesse Mizzi: Oder, Der Familientag, pb. 1907 (Countess Mizzie, 1915) Die Verwandlungen des Pierrot, pb. 1908 (The Transformation of Pierrot, 1995) Der junge Medardus, pr., pb. 1910 Der Schleier der Pierrette, pr., pb. 1910 (The Veil of Pierette, 1995) Das weite Land, pr., pb. 1911 (The Vast Land, 1921) Professor Bernhardi, pr., pb. 1912 (English translation, 1913) The Green Cockatoo, and Other Plays, pb. 1913 The Lonely Way, Intermezzo, Countess Mizzie, pb. 1915 Komödie der Worte, pr., pb. 1915 (includes Stunde des Erkennens, Grosse Szene, and Das Bacchusfest; Comedies of Words, 1917, includes The Hour of Recognition, The Big Scene, and The Festival of Bacchus) Fink und Fliederbusch, pr., pb. 1917 Die Schwestern: Oder, Casanova in Spa, pb. 1919 (The Sisters: Or, Casanova in Spa, 1992) Komödie der Verführung, pr., pb. 1924 (Seduction Comedy, 1992) Der Gang zum Weiher, pb. 1926 (The Way to the Pond, 1992) Im Spiel der Sommerlüfte, pr. 1929 (In the Play of Summer Breezes, 1996) Reigen, The Affairs of Anatol, and Other Plays, pb. 1933 Die Dramatischen Werke, pb. 1962 (2 volumes) Meisterdramen, pb. 1971 Three Late Plays, pb. 1992 (includes The Sisters: Or, Casanova in Spa, Seduction Comedy, and The Way to the Pond) Long Fiction: Der Weg ins Freie, 1908 (The Road to the Open, 1923) Casanovas Heimfahrt, 1918 (Casanova’s Homecoming, 1921) Spiel im Morgengrauen, 1927 (Daybreak, 1927) Therese, 1928 (Theresa: The Chronicle of a Woman’s Life, 1928) Flucht in die Finsternis, 1931 (Flight into Darkness, 1931) Short Fiction: Sterben, 1895 Leutnant Gustl, 1900 (None but the Brave, 1925) Der blinde Geronimo und sein Bruder, 1900 (The Blind Geronimo and His Brother, 1913) Frau Bertha Garlan, 1901 (Bertha Garlen, 1913) Die Hirtenflöte, 1911 (The Shepherd’s Pipe, 1922) Der Mörder, 1911 (The Murderer, 1922) Frau Beate und ihr Sohn, 1913 (Beatrice, 1926) Viennese Idylls, 1913 The Shepherd’s Pipe, and Other Stories, 1922 Fräulein Else, 1924 (English translation, 1925) Traumnovelle, 1926 (Rhapsody, 1927) Little Novels, 1929 Viennese Novelettes, 1931 Nonfiction: Buch der Sprüche und Bedenken, 1927 (Aphorisms: From an Unpublished Book “Proverbs and Reflections,” 1928) Der Geist im Wort und der Geist in der Tat, 1927 (The Mind in Words and Actions, 1971) Jugend in Wien, 1968 (autobiography; My Youth in Vienna, 1970) Bibliography Gay, Peter. Schnitzler’s Century: The Making of Middle-Class Culture, 1815-1914. New York: W. W. Norton, 2002. A look at Schnitzler and the time in which he lived. Includes bibliography and index. Keiser, Brenda. Deadly Dishonor: The Duel and the Honor Code in the Works of Arthur Schnitzler. New York: Peter Lang, 1990. An examination of the works of Schnitzler in relation to his portrayal of the honor code and the practice of dueling. Bibliography and index. Schneider-Halvorson, Brigitte L. The Late Dramatic Works of Arthur Schnitzler. New York: Peter Lang, 1983. A critical examination of Schnitzler’s later plays. Includes bibliography and index. Skrine, Peter N. Hauptmann, Wedekind, and Schnitzler. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1989. Skrine compares and contrasts the dramatic works of Schnitzler, Frank Wedekind, and Gerhart Hauptmann. Includes bibliography and index. Weinberger, G. J. Arthur Schnitzler’s Late Plays: A Critical Study. New York: Peter Lang, 1997. A study that looks at Schnitzler’s dramatic works, particularly the later period works. Includes bibliography and index. Wisely, Andrew C. Arthur Schnitzler and the Discourse of Honor and Dueling. New York: Peter Lang, 1996. An examination of the topics of honor and dueling as they are presented in the works of Schnitzler. Includes bibliography and index. Yates, W. E. Schnitzler, Hofmannsthal, and the Austrian Theatre. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1992. Yates compares and contrasts the lives and works of Schnitzler and Hugo von Hofmannsthal in this discussion of the Austrian theater. Includes bibliography and index.

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