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Arthur Schnitzler


Arthur Schnitzler was an Austrian playwright and author. Schnitzler's father, Professor Johann Schnitzler (1835–1893), was an eminent Viennese throat specialist. Since his patients included dramatic and operatic stars, young Schnitzler was in constant contact with theatrical life and began writing plays while still a youth. After qualifying as a physician at the University of Vienna, he edited the medical journal Internationale klinische Rundschau (1887–94). His own professional articles dealt mainly with psychotherapy, and his friend Sigmund Freud later paid tribute to his poetic intuition.

In 1893, Schnitzler published a collection of seven short plays titled Anatol after the central character, an elegant philanderer. The book had a prologue in verse by Hugo von Hofmannsthal. His first full-length play, Das Maerchen (1894), was a failure, but Liebelei, produced in 1895 at the Viennese Burg-theater, proved so successful that Schnitzler decided to devote himself almost entirely to writing. Reigen (1900), a series of interconnected dialogues satirizing conventional love affairs, gave rise to a lawsuit in Berlin. (Years later Max Ophuels produced Liebelei as a comedy and, after World War II, turned Reigen into the internationally successful film, La Ronde.)

As Schnitzler grew older, the inconstant bachelor and the single girl ceased to occupy the center of his attention, and he became increasingly interested in relations between husband and wife. In many of his works, especially in the full-length plays Der einsame Weg (1904), Zwischenspiel (1906), Der Ruf des Lebens (1906), and Das weite Land (1911), he explored with growing sensitivity the problems of married life. In groping for a satisfactory substitute for the traditional marital relationship and for a morality better adapted to 20th-century psychology, he pursued various, amoral bypaths, but ultimately came to reject all moral systems, old and new alike. In the years before World War I his plays were among those most often performed on the German and Austrian stage. He was also writing some of the novellas which were always a favorite genre and included Lieutenant Gustl (1901), Casanovas Heimfahrt (1918), and Fraeulein Else (1924).

In 1912, Schnitzler dramatized a problem of medical ethics in Professor Bernhardi. In this play a physician, who regards it as his duty to relieve the final hours of a dying man, prevents a Catholic priest from administering the last rites, fearing that this might subject his patient to unnecessary suffering. Since the physician is a Jew, he becomes a target for antisemitic attacks. Here, as in the novel Der Weg ins Freie (1908), Schnitzler expressed his views on the place of the Jew in modern life. He held that antisemitism was the natural outcome of the Jews' historical position as a minority group in every land, and that no amount of Jewish or Christian sentimentality would eradicate anti-Jewish prejudice. He had a positive outlook on the issue of Jewish survival and derided those Jews who hid their origin. He prophesied that, as the liberals and Pan-Germans had betrayed them, so would the politicians of the left. Schnitzler accepted neither Zionism nor assimilation as a solution, believing that each individual had to make his own adjustment. For himself, he preferred to continue the struggle against his enemies in Vienna, where he felt himself at home.


R.H. Allen, An Annotated Arthur Schnitzler Bibliography (1966); J. Koerner, Arthur Schnitzlers Gestalten und Probleme (1921); R. Specht, Arthur Schnitzler (Ger., 1922); W. Mann, in: G. Krojanker (ed.), Juden in der deutschen Literatur (1926), 207–18; S. Liptzin, Arthur Schnitzler (Eng., 1932); H. Kohn, Karl Kraus, Arthur Schnitzler, Otto Weininger; aus dem juedischen Wien der Jahrhundertwende (1962), 13–29; O. Schnitzler, Spiegelbild der Freundschaft (1962); H.W. Reichert and H. Salinger (eds.), Studies in Arthur Schnitzler: Centennial Commemorative Volume (1963); H. Zohn, Wiener Juden in der deutschen Literatur (1964), 9–18; G. Baumann, Arthur Schnitzler (Ger., 1965); W.H. Rey, Arthur Schnitzler; die spaete Prosa als Gipfel seines Schaffens (1968); H. Kohn, in: YLBI, 6 (1961), 152–69.

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.