Saturday, May 11, 2013

Oh, I can permit myself a remark like that - Schnitzler's Fräulein Else

Fräulein Else (1924) is another Arthur Schnitzler stream-of-consciousness story.  I believe it is the other story, written an amazing twenty-four years after Lieutenant Gustl.  For Schnitzler, the technique was not a fundamental rethinking of fiction, but just a technique useful for telling  specific story.  For whatever reason, it took Schnitzler a long time to find a second story that fit.  Compare the almost plain prose of Casanova’sHomecoming (1918), or the surreal Dream Story (1926) or the intensely interior yet more traditionally told Night Games (1927).

I will interrupt myself.  The end of Schnitzler’s career – he died in 1931 – was impressive.  His cleverest work (La Ronde, Anatol) is from thirty years earlier, but he did his best writing when he was in his sixties.

Fräulein Else is a nineteen year-old Viennese girl on holiday with her aunt and cousin.  Her mother wires to ask that Else ask another guest, Herr Dorsday, for money to cover her father’s gambling debts.  Dorsday agrees, but demands sexual favors in return.  What will the innocent Fräulein Else do?

Perhaps the stream-of-consciousness device is not needed to tell so much as conceal, in Gustl a Maupassant story, in Else a melodrama.

Or it is meant to conceal something else.  I have not read any of Schnitzler’s early work (by early I am covering twenty years!) that had any Jewish subject matter, or Catholic or anything related to any other religion.  Professor Bernhardi (1912) is directly about secularized Judaism in an increasingly anti-Semitic Catholic culture.  Else is Jewish, too, although as far as I can tell this is mentioned in only one place (Rudi is Else’s brother):

No, Herr Dorsday, I’m not taken in by your smartness and your monocle and your title.  You might just as well deal in old clothes as old pictures…  But, Else, Else, what are you thinking of?  Oh, I can permit myself a remark like that.  Nobody notices it in me.  I’m positively blonde, a reddish blonde, and Rudi looks a regular aristocrat.  Certainly one can notice it at once in Mother, at any rate in her speech, but not at all in Father.  (24, ellipses in original)

This is pretty sneaky, obscure enough that I had forgotten until I went back to the passage that it first identifies Dorsday as Jewish – I had forgotten and assumed that he was not.  Else has to justify to herself her own anti-Semitic jab at him by acknowledging her own Judaism, however secularized and suppressed.  The line “Nobody notices it in me” is nicely tricky, since “it” looks like it should refer to “remark,” but in the flow of thought “it” has jumped ahead to “Jewishness,” where “it” remains as Else thinks of her mother.  She disparages her mother in favor of her father at other points in the novella; this passage gives a clue as to why.

In these later stories, Schnitzler is a great recycler – gambling, suicide as a solution to debt, the sexual sacrifice of a woman as a solution to debt, public nudity, and duels recur (well, the duels are an old Schnitzler fixture).  But the stories hardly seem similar, even dazzlingly different, all because of how they are told and who, not what, they are about.

I read an old translation, the 1925 F. H. Lyon version now published by Pushkin Press.


  1. The stream-of-consciousness technique is so interesting in many ways. With that said I sometimes struggle with the texts. Your analysis of the meaning of the word "It" in that particular context is enlightening and perceptive.

  2. The struggle is implicit in the form. Keeps you on your toes. Although other techniques should require other struggles.

  3. The new Pushkin edition is a beauty. Looking forward to reading it.