Woodcutters Characters

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Author: Thomas Bernhard

First published: Holzfällen: Eine Erregung, 1984 (English translation, 1987)

Genre: Novel

Locale: Vienna, Austria

Plot: Social realism

Time: The 1980's, in retrospect, the 1950's

The narrator, a writer who has recently returned to Vienna after twenty-five years in London. He is disgusted with himself for having accepted an invitation from the Auersbergers, met by chance in the street and well known to him in the 1950's. He had hoped to make a clean break with his artistic past, which drove him to a nervous breakdown. He observes his fellow guests, many of whom he already had seen at the funeral of a suicide, Joana, that afternoon, while they were all waiting for the guest of honor, a famous actor. On leaving the Mozarteum in the 1950's, the narrator had had close emotional and artistic ties with Jeannie Billroth, also present and now a celebrated writer, before turning to the Auersbergers and Joana. He feels hatred for them all now for setting him on the artistic path through life. The narrator is asleep when the actor arrives, and his behavior is ungracious throughout, but by the end he takes a kinder view of Vienna.

Jeannie Billroth, a celebrated writer. She is the Austrian Virginia Woolf, according to the narrator, a writer of trash who has sold herself for state subsidies. In her youth, she was the first to take the narrator's poetry seriously, so that inevitably they now loathe each other, and he can note that she has grown fat and ugly. At Joana's funeral, she takes a collection to help with expenses but is generally abused for tastelessness. That evening, she addresses a naïve question to the actor and has to endure further insults.

Elfriede Slukal, professionally known as Joana, an unsuccessful choreographer, dancer, and actress from Kilb, Lower Austria, who has hanged herself. A country girl, pampered by her parents, she had set her sights on Vienna and was a member of the artistic circles attended by the narrator after he left Jeannie. She married a tapestry weaver, Fritz, and her beauty helped to make his studio world famous. Seventeen years ago, Fritz ran away to Mexico with Joana's best friend, and she became bloated and drunken, trying for a time to earn a living with a “movement studio.” Her last years were spent with a seedy former actor who tried in vain to cure her alcoholism.

Mr. Auersberger, a talented pianist and composer, a close friend of the narrator in the 1950's and now his host. Of humble origins, he is a social climber who likes to impress people with coarsely ill-mannered scenes (for example, complaining about the goulash after the funeral and removing his dentures in public) and embarrassing remarks. His evenings have often ended with broken glass and furniture. Now he is a bloated alcoholic with a taste for young male writers.

Mrs. Auersberger, the woman who invites the narrator to the supper party. She is a social climber from the minor aristoc-racy; she and her husband live off their dwindling estates. Her artistic gatherings of twenty-five years ago horrify the narrator. Once a singer, she now has a grating voice and a shabby appearance, and she quarrels in public with her husband.

Actor from Vienna Burgtheater, a performer enjoying success as Ekdal in Henrik Ibsen's The Wild Duck. As the guest of honor at the Auersbergers, he appears well after midnight for supper. He behaves in the manner of a self-centered celebrity, insulting Jeannie brutally when she asks him a question. The narrator describes him as a mindless ham, which is perhaps partly true. He departs, wishing he could live in peace like a woodcutter.

John, whose real name is Friedrich, a former actor turned commercial traveler. He has a chronic cough and was Joana's constant companion for the last eight years of her life. He gives a grisly account of Joana's death while the narrator is eating goulash. He met Joana at her foolish “studio” and attempted without success to cure her alcoholism. The narrator recognizes good qualities in John despite his appearance.

Categories: Characters