Literature in Vienna 1900 - Details


Turn-of-the century Vienna was the European capital of literary impressionism. Emerging as a protest against the sterile formalism and overwrought complexity of aestheticism, which had deep roots in the soil of Viennese literature (especially the work of the young Hugo von Hofmannsthal), the watchword of literary impressionism, in the words of one of its main proponents, Peter Altenberg (the pen name of Richard Engländer), was "simplex veri sigillum", or "simplicity is the seal of truth." Impressionism exploited linguistically compact lyric and prose forms: it's primary genres were the aphorism, the feuilleton (a brief essay-like, semi-journalistic prose form), the short story, the sketch. The hallmark of literary impressionism is a melding of the subjective emotions of the author with the surrounding objective, social world. External events often become mere occasions for the exploration of subjective emotions and attitudes. "Reporter der Seele" (Reporter on the soul) was the title of a well-known book from this period, and it captures well the program of literary impressionism. Stylistically, impressionism is marked by a succinct, telegraphic use of language that exploits innuendo, plays on words, biting wit, and humor. Among prose writers, impressionism is represented above all by Peter Altenberg, Karl Kraus, and Alfred Polgar. Arthur Schnitzler is famous for depicting the lifestyle of Viennese impressionism in dramatic form in myriad plays, such as Reigen (La Ronde), Liebelei (Flirtations), and Anatol.