Austrian Literature

The question of whether there is an independent Austrian literature and how it should be narrowed down is controversial: whether, for example, all writers born in the multi-ethnic state of Austria-Hungary (e.g. R. M. Rilke, F. Kafka or P. Celan) come under the term Austrian Literature fall or only those that can be determined by their language use (e.g. J. N. Nestroy, P. Rosegger) or are thematically related to the Habsburg Monarchy or the two republics (A. Schnitzler,H. von Hofmannsthal, H. von Doderer). The efforts to achieve cultural independence are certainly linked to all sorts of dependencies on foreign countries. Many authors have left their homeland completely or temporarily; Many works of Austrian literature appear today in German publishers and find the majority of their buyers and readers in Germany.

According to Educationvv, the question of when there was Austrian literature is even more controversial. Taking historical developments into account, it can be said that the beginning of self-reflection and critical reflection on an independent development began in the 18th century under Maria Theresa, when the conflicts between Prussia and Austria became increasingly harder. This view is essentially confirmed by Austrian literary historiography. The standard classification ” Sturm und Drang  - Classic  - Romantic “, which is characteristic of German literary historiography, cannot be proven for Austrian literature, and there was also in Vormärz hardly any political literature in Austria, later neither a pronounced naturalistic nor expressionistic movement. Nevertheless, even in the 19th and 20th centuries, there was no Austrian literature that was independent of the rest of German-language literature: rather, both developments are related to and dependent on one another.

From Enlightenment to Poetic Realism

With Josephinism, the Austrian Enlightenment experienced its own form. The spiritual life was essentially determined by the anti-clerical, especially anti-monastic efforts of Emperor Joseph II and by the ideas of Freemasonry. Both aspects are reflected in contemporary Austrian literature. There are few outstanding names at this time: A. Blumauer must be mentioned first with his Virgil travesty “The adventures of the pious hero Aeneas…” (1782), a biting satire on the Roman Church. The poet J. B. Alxinger, the versatile J. Richter, who in the style of Klopstock should also be mentioned as enlighteners writing poet M. Denis and J. F. Ratschky (* 1757, † 1810), whose »Viennese Musenalmanach« (1777–96) became the most important forum for poetry of the Josephine period.

Since the 18th century, drama has developed independently in Austrian literature. J. A. Stranitzky founded the old Viennese folk comedy soon after 1700 with the popular figure of “Hans Wurst”; his successors, i.a. P. Hafner, A. Bäuerle, J. A. Gleich, K. Meisl and I. F. Castelli created an exceptionally rich repertoire. Also M. Linde Mayr dialect pieces that enlightened concern baroque theatrical tradition and peasant comedy connect, establish a separate line of Austrian literature. Similar to Gottsched In Germany, the theoretician of the Austrian Enlightenment, J. von Sonnenfels, tried in Vienna to push popular impromptu theater back into the suburbs so that the stage could fulfill its educational function.

The period between the Congress of Vienna in 1815 and 1848 was shaped by the regime of Foreign Minister and State Chancellor K. W. von Metternich. His repressive system, which included rigorous censorship, promoted the Biedermeier retreat into private life, the special atmosphere in the community center and salon, where circles of friends of poets and painters, musicians and patrons met. During this time, Austrian literature produced important personalities whose effects continue to the present: With F. Raimund and J. N. Nestroy, the Viennese Volkstheater reached the high point of its development, in F. Grillparzers Tragedies, the actions of which are perfectly psychologically motivated, the Austrian drama. These authors differ in characteristic ways from the simultaneous literary movements and tendencies in the rest of the German-speaking area. This applies to the choice of the subject matter (Austrian history plays a major role, especially in Grillparzer, folk sagas and fairy tales in Raimund, current political topicality in Nestroy), for the choice of the genre (which is decisively shaped by the Wiener Volksstück) and for the specific baroque imagery of language. The outstanding narrator of this time is A. Stifter. His prose opened up a new kind of narrative art to the entire German-language literature, which, on the basis of Goethe and Jean Paul, points far into the modern age (»Nachsommer«, 1857). C. Sealsfield, who was the first German-speaking author to describe American nature and society, also achieved lasting importance as a narrator. N. Lenau, the most important Austrian poet of the 19th century, is close to German Romanticism with his melancholy poems of thought and nature. A. Grün wrote one of the rare examples of political poetry from the Metternich era with his (anonymously published) »Walks of a Viennese Poet« (1831). The representative of contemporary poetry that supported the state was J. G. Seidl, author of the “Kaiserhymne” and censor. F. Stelzhamer is considered to be the most important representative of dialect poetry of the 19th century. The varied work of F. Kürnberger reflects the debate around 1848 from the positions of Austrian liberalism.

In the second half of the 19th century, Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach continued with her simple stories (“Dorf- und Schloßgeschichten”, 1883) and novels (“Das Gemeindekind”, 2 volumes, 1887) new aesthetic and content standards. The subtle art of psychologizing F. von Saars conveyed by v. a. in the novellas a realistic image of society that already points to an end times mood. Austrian literature also found its own tone with those authors who thematize the Jewish world, such as K. E. Franzos, L. Kompert and L. von Sacher-Masoch. L. Anzengruber sat on the theater continued the traditions of the Viennese folk theater, but already pointed to naturalism in its unsentimental portrayal of peasant life (also in the novels). Like Anzengruber, P. Rosegger also shaped village life; his stories, v. a. but the autobiographical volumes “When I was still the forest farmer’s boy” (1900-02), to whose culturally pessimistic, anti-city attitude the “Heimatkunst movement” invoked shortly afterwards, were successful in the entire German-speaking area.

Austrian Literature