Arthur Schnitzler



Arthur Schnitzler was born the son of the Jewish doctor Johann Schnitzler, a throat specialist, on May 15, 1862 in Vienna. His mother, Louise, belonged to a wealthy, well respected Viennese family whereas his father had worked his way up to the rank of the director of the Viennese Polyclinic. Already as a child Arthur began to write his first plays but abandoned writing in order to study medicine at the University of Vienna, where he received his doctorate in 1885. He worked at Vienna’s General Hospital and later assisted his father in the Polyclinic. Eventually, he opened his own private practice which allowed him to dedicate more and more of his time to his literary endeavors. As a young doctor Schnitzler had written articles for medical journals but now he began writing for the theater again which was encouraged by his lover, the actress Adele Sandrock. He published his first book entitled Sterben with the publishing house Fischer in 1895. 

Schnitzler was always extremely interested in the human psyche. He explored the unconsciousness as well as the notion of dreams in his writings, practiced hypnosis with his patients, and dealt extensively with the sexual drive of all human beings. Thus, he was often compared to Sigmund Freud, with whom he shared similar ideas and interests. Freud even called Schnitzler his doppelgänger since Schnitzler explored in his literary writings what Freud investigated in his numerous case studies. Even though it is said that they never met, Schnitzler and Freud corresponded with one another throughout their lives.

One ‘Freudian’ device Schnitzler experimented with was the inner monologue, or stream-of-consciousness. Schnitzler was the first German-speaking author to ever use this technique exclusively in his short story Leutnant Gustl. Leutnant Gustl depicts the mental torture of lieutenant Gustl who has been rudely insulted by an inferior civilian. In order to restore his, and the honor of the entire Austrian Army, the only option that is left to Gustl is to kill himself. Thus, he wanders the streets of Vienna without the courage to commit suicide until, in the early morning hours, he learns that the person who so fiercely attacked him died of a heart attack. Since Schnitzler openly criticized the military ritual of duelling, his story was considered a severe insult to the Austrian Army and resulted in Schnitzler’s expulsion from the military as a reserve officer. 

Yet Schnitzler remained a critical writer of his time. In particular in his play Reigen, he explored the promiscuous behaviour of Viennese society, a society characterized by its allegedly high moral standards. He exposed the double standards that men and women alike harbour and charged that the sexual drive is universal, naturally crossing social classes. Thus, it does not come as a surprise that Reigen outraged the public and was banned from stage. Other writings that explicitly deal with the topic of sexuality are, among others, Liebelei (1895), Fräulein Else (1924), and Traumnovelle (1926). 

Together with writers such as Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Karl Kraus, Hermann Bahr, and Felix Salten, Schnitzler belonged to the group Jung Wien – a circle of intellectuals who met at the Café Griensteidl to discuss current affairs and their respective writings. It was also here that their respective love affairs were discussed and their lovers were exchanged once a writer had moved on to someone else.    

After numerous love affairs in his youth, Schnitzler finally married the actress Olga Gussmann in 1903 and had a son, Heinrich (1902) and a daughter Lili (1909) with her, whom he loved dearly. Nevertheless, his marriage failed and he divorced his wife in 1921. In 1930 his daughter committed suicide and Schnitzler never fully recovered from this tragic loss. He died of a brain hemorrhage in October 1931 in his villa in Vienna on the eve of the rise of the Nazi party. His books were banned and finally burnt with other Jewish writers such as Marx, Freud, and Einstein. 

-Gabi Eichmanns-