The Writers Thomas Bernhard (1931–1989) und Arthur Schnitzler (1862–1931)

Writers who caused controversy

Thomas Bernhard

Two men who knew how to enrage the Austrians: the writers Arthur Schnitzler and Thomas Bernhard. Many people would have loved to have silenced them, and sometimes they succeeded. Arthur Schnitzler was forced to withdraw one of his works, and he was taken to court for indecent behaviour.

“The waiter is forgetful, the cashier is ugly, the walls are grey, the lighting is bad: all things that I find beautiful.” The Viennese dramatist Arthur Schnitzler (1862-1931) about the secret of the old Vienna cafés.

Thomas Bernhard turned the tables in typically mischievous fashion

in his will he decreed a complete ban on the performance and publication of any of his works within Austria’s borders. He forbade “any approach on the part of this Austrian state.” Schnitzler also had his problems with “this Austria”, albeit back then with the monarchy. In his novel “Leutnant Gustl” (“Lieutenant Gustl“) he openly attacked the honour code of the Austrian military – at a time in which almost no-one could resist the enthusiasm for war. He not only broke a taboo, but also introduced a new narrative form; decades later Thomas Bernhard would perfect the art of the internal monologue. Both ruthlessly and breathlessly the baseness of man is laid bare, repeated again and again until it is hardly bearable.

Arthur Schnitzler

 Arthur Schnitzler's birthplace

 A coffee house

Nevertheless, just as surprising as it is for the reader to find humour and lightness amid all the acidity and criticism, so it is to find the two great critics’ favourite places in Austria. Bernhard had a passion for coffeehouses; his regular haunt was the “Café Bräunerhof”. Schnitzler’s favourite was the “Café Griensteidl” on Michaelerplatz. And thus the two writers were united not only by their hatred of bourgeois society but also by their love of Vienna’s coffeehouses.

PS: Arthur Schnitzler’s birthplace is only five minutes from the Capri at Praterstrasse 16.

Text: Agnes Hamberger, Fotos: Christine Wurnig