Authors: Hermann Broch

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Austrian novelist

Author Works

Long Fiction:

Die Schlafwandler, 1931-1932 (The Sleepwalkers, 1932)

Die unbekannte Grösse, 1933 (The Unknown Quantity, 1935)

Der Tod des Vergil, 1945 (The Death of Virgil, 1945)

Die Schuldlosen, 1950 (The Guiltless, 1974)

Der Versucher, 1953 (revised as Demeter, 1967, Die Verzauberung, 1976, and Bergroman; English translation, The Spell, 1986)

Short Fiction:

Methodologische Novelle, 1933

Methodisch konstruiert, 1949

Short Stories, 1966


Die Entsühnung, pb. 1933 (also known as . . . Denn sie wissen nicht, was sie tun; English translation, The Atonement, 1972)


“James Joyce und die Gegenwart,” 1936 (“James Joyce and the Present Age,” 1949)

Dichten und Erkennen: Essays I, 1955

Erkennen und Handeln: Essays II, 1955

Brief, 1957

Massenpsychologie, 1959

Hofmannsthal und seine Zeit, 1964 (Hugo von Hofmannsthal and His Time: The European Imagination, 1860-1920, 1984)

Zur Universitätsreform, 1969

Gedanken zur Politik, 1970

Hermann Broch-Daniel Brody: Briefwechsel, 1930-1951, 1970

Menschenrecht und Demokratie, 1971

Briefe über Deutschland, 1945-1949, 1986


Gesammelte Werke in zehn Bänden, 1952-1961 (10 volumes)

Die Heimkehr, 1962

Kommentierte Werkausgabe in dreizehn Bänden, 1974-1981


Many artists and scholars consider Hermann Broch (browk) to be among such great twentieth century writers as James Joyce, André Gide, Franz Kafka, and Thomas Mann. Broch was born to Joseph Broch, a wealthy textile merchant and owner of a spinning mill, and Johanna (Schnabel) Broch, who was from one of Vienna’s distinguished and wealthy families. As was customary at the time, Broch, as the oldest son, was destined to take over the family textile company. Consequently, he attended a modern secondary school, where he studied the natural sciences and French before advancing to the Vienna Institute for Weaving Technology. His period of apprenticeship was served in textile mills in Germany, England, and Bohemia, as well as the United States, in Atlanta, Memphis, and New Orleans. He entered the family business in 1908.{$I[AN]9810001414}{$I[A]Broch, Hermann}{$I[geo]AUSTRIA;Broch, Hermann}{$I[tim]1886;Broch, Hermann}

In 1909, he became a reserve officer in the Austrian army and attained the rank of lieutenant. At this time, he converted from the Jewish faith to Catholicism out of social considerations. That same year, he married Franziska (“Fanny”) von Rothermann; they were divorced in 1922. His only child, Hermann Friedrich Broch de Rothermann, was born in 1910.

Working as an unpaid director of the family spinning mill in Teesdorf, a tiny village in Lower Austria, was most disagreeable to Broch. In his nightly solitary hours, Broch began to study philosophy and mathematics, which eventually led him to enroll at the University of Vienna. Once in the capital again, he frequented the Viennese literary and artistic cafés, where he met writers such as Karl Kraus, Robert Musil, and Franz Werfel and painters Albert Paris Gütersloh and Georg Krista. He read the works of the psychologist Otto Weininger and began a systematic study of the philosophers Arthur Schopenhauer and Immanuel Kant.

To his interest in philosophy and literature Broch added a third lifelong concern, politics. For the rest of his life, he devoted considerable energy to promoting welfare programs and reforms. His various interests and activities led Broch in 1927 to sell the textile plant and devote himself completely to his studies and writings.

Broch’s first major literary work was the trilogy The Sleepwalkers. In this “polyhistorical novel,” Broch presents a panoramic view of the political, social, economic, and philosophical development in Germany in three parts representing three different times: 1888 (“The Romantic”), 1903 (“The Anarchist”), and 1918 (“The Realist”). The first volume of this trilogy, which illustrates the decline of German bourgeois society, presents a Prussian world of fossilized conventions and an empty concept of honor symbolized by the uniform of the imperial guardsman Joachim von Pasenow. Pasenow’s entire life is determined by the obligation to maintain “the family honor.” From this semifeudal, aristocratic society of the first book the scene shifts in the second volume to a Rhenish metropolis, where the insignificant bookkeeper August Esch fights for advancement to chief accountant, using blackmail and bribery. The trilogy ends with the triumph of Huguenau, a totally amoral and unscrupulous army deserter who does away with Pasenow and Esch, thus illustrating the total disintegration of any system of social and moral values. In the epilogue, however, Broch develops a counterpart to this total decay with a vision of a new homogeneous and coherent world.

Broch’s most important literary work is considered to be The Death of Virgil. He started writing this novel in Austria in 1937, continued it while a political prisoner in a German concentration camp in 1938, and completed it, only after many other activities had interrupted the work, in the United States in 1945. The greatness of Broch’s novel is in part attributed to the mode in which it is written, for it is actually a single, extended inner monologue in which Virgil’s thoughts and visions are systematically elevated from the depth of presentiment to a consciously articulated word. The Death of Virgil has often been compared with James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922).

During the last decade of his life, Broch devoted considerable time and energy to the study of mass psychology and mass psychological occurrences. He had already begun this philosophical investigation in his fictional writings, as 1935 and 1936 manuscripts of his “mountain novel” can attest. One year before his death, Broch resumed work on this novel, a fictionalized investigation of the problem of a “mass response to Hitler, of everyday hysteria, and mass-consumption barbarism.” When he died on May 30, 1951, in New Haven, Connecticut, Broch had completed no more than half of the third version of the manuscript. The novel Der Versucher (the tempter), an adaptation of different chapters of the three versions of the manuscript, is considered the third great novel in Broch’s oeuvre. (The English translation, The Spell, is based on the first version of the manuscript.)

Although The Sleepwalkers and The Spell may be more accessible to the reader than The Death of Virgil, all Broch’s works–fictional and philosophical–are highly intricate examinations of the “universal totality of the human condition.”

BibliographyBartram, Graham, and Philip Payne. “Apocalypse and Utopia in the Austrian Novel of the 1930’s: Hermann Broch and Robert Musil.” In The Cambridge Companion to the Modern German Novel, edited by Graham Bartram. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004. The Sleepwalkers and The Death of Virgil are analyzed and placed within the wider context of 1930’s Austrian literature in this essay about novelists Broch and Robert Musil.Broch de Rothermann, H. F. Dear Mrs. Strigl: A Memoir of Hermann Broch. Translated by John Hargraves. New Haven, Conn.: Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Yale University, 2001. Broch’s son recalls his father’s personal life. Describes Broch’s relationship with his father, his exile in the United States, and other aspects of Broch’s often difficult life. In both English and German.Cohn, Dorrit. “The Sleepwalkers”: Elucidations of Hermann Broch’s Trilogy. The Hague, the Netherlands: Mouton, 1966. A critical analysis of this important trilogy. Includes a bibliography.Dowden, Stephen D., ed. Hermann Broch: Literature, Philosophy, Politics. Columbia, S.C.: Camden House, 1988. Proceedings of a conference sponsored by the Department of Germanic Languages at Yale University in November, 1986. Includes bibliographical references and an index.Halsall, Robert. The Problem of Autonomy in the Works of Hermann Broch. New York: Peter Lang, 2000. Halsall argues that concerns about autonomy are central to understanding Broch’s literature and philosophy and demonstrates how these concerns are evident in his novels, including The Sleepwalkers and The Guiltless. Includes bibliographical references and an index.Hargraves, John A. Music in the Works of Broch, Mann, and Kafka. Rochester, N.Y.: Camden House, 2001. Although this book examines music as an aspect of the work of three German writers, Hargraves’s study concentrates on Broch, arguing that of the three writers, Broch was the most interested in expressing the primacy of music in his writing. Essays discuss Broch’s discursive writings on music and the musical elements in several of his novels.Horrocks, David. “The Novel as Parable of National Socialism: On the Political Significance and Status of Hermann Broch’s Bergroman.” Modern Language Review 86, no. 2 (April, 1991). A critical study of The Spell, focusing on themes of Nazism. Horrocks examines why Broch portrayed the rise of Nazism in an oblique way and the novel’s significance as a political statement.Lützeler, Paul Michael. Hermann Broch: A Biography. Translated by Janice Furness. London: Quartet, 1987. Lützeler, who has edited the seventeen-volume collected works of Broch and written extensively on his life, provides a comprehensive general biography. Includes an index.Lützeler, Paul Michael, ed. Hermann Broch, Visionary in Exile: The 2001 Yale Symposium. Rochester, N.Y.: Camden House, 2003. Contains papers delivered at an international symposium that present a wide range of interpretations of Broch’s work. Several papers analyze various elements of The Sleepwalkers, The Death of Virgil, The Guiltless, and Broch’s early novels.Schlant, Ernestine. Hermann Broch. Boston: Twayne, 1978. A standard biography from Twayne’s World Authors series.Simpson, Malcolm R. The Novels of Hermann Broch. Las Vegas, Nev.: Peter Lang, 1977. A useful general introduction to Broch, providing an interpretation of each of his novels in relation to the author’s life. Evaluates Broch’s literary status and contribution to the modern novel.Strelka, Joseph P. “Hermann Broch.” In Major Figures of Modern Austrian Literature, edited by Donald G. Dariau. Riverside, Calif.: Ariadne Press, 1988. An overview of Broch’s life and work is included in this collection of essays about Austrian authors who began their literary careers before World War II, were driven into exile after Austria was annexed to Germany, and became prominent figures after the war.
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