It’s all so Freudian, isn’t it, the basis of all these Schnitzler stories? Schnitzler’s characters reveal or discover themselves as the result of a crisis, but not through any action they take themselves. The characters attempt to defend themselves, but the truth resides in the unconscious and is made apparent by a breach in the defenses.
Schnitzler is anticipating the Freudian “talking cure,” in which the therapist guides the patient to create his own breach without having to suffer through the actual crisis. The errant wife can resolve to confess her affair to her husband (or not) without having the lover die in a carriage accident. This is the idea, right? Let no one assume I know too much about Freud or Freudianism.*
Schnitzler was an avid reader of his neighbor Freud, but it turns out Freud was also an enthusiastic reader of Schnitzler. Although a late novella like “Dream Story” (1926) is obviously, even blatantly indebted to The Interpretation of Dreams (1899), several of the stories in Night Games, including the ones I have written about so far, precede any significant contact with Freud’s ideas, making me wonder just how much Schnitzler there might be in Freud. They were both studying the same set of clinical subjects, the bourgeois Viennese.
The one story in the Night Games collection not about Sex and Death, “Blind Geronimo and His Brother” (1900), shows how guilt is actually Schnitzler’s central concern. Carlo blinded his brother when they were children, accidentally of course, but he has devoted his life to leading his blind brother around Austria and Italy, living off Geronimo’s earnings as a street musician. A meaningless chance encounter causes a sort of crisis of faith – has Carlo’s lifetime of sacrifice been meaningless? Rather than atone for his guilt, has he only committed more sins? And Schnitzler then woks through some plotty stuff to get us to this point, which is the end of the story – I am always quoting from the ending:
For he saw Geronimo smile in the mild, blissful way that he had not seen him do since childhood. And Carlo also smiled. He felt as if nothing bad could happen to him now – neither before the judge, nor anywhere else in the world – for he had his brother again… No, he had him for the first time… (124)
All of those ellipses are Schnitzler’s, not mine. Please note that the Sex and Death story I wrote about yesterday, “The Dead Are Silent” (1897) literally ends with “a great calm comes over her, as though everything will be all right again…” – in other words, with an almost identical ending.
The mention of the judge reminds me that Carlo and Geronimo end their story at a material low point, but at a psychological peak. The intervention of a trained therapist earlier in the story would have been helpful.
* Although I am old enough to have been assigned Freud in college, in a class called, and also about – youngsters will find this hard to believe, but it is true – “Western Civilization.” Freud was assigned to every student getting a BA! And read by about one in ten, I would guess.