I've had a copy of Arthur Schnitzler's The Road to the Open on my bookshelves longer than I can remember. I suspect I bought it after I returned home from Austria where I lived for a year a (very) long time ago. Anything even tangentially related to Vienna or Austria was of interest to me, but time passed and I somehow got the notion that Schnitzler was in some way hard and decided I was too intimidated to read him. Not too intimidated to buy a copy of his novella Fräulein Else (translated by F.H. Lyon) much more recently, however, which Caroline inspired me to pick up and read for the German Literature Month. I'm so glad I did as it was the perfect place to start with Schnitzler. Despite being a Modernist writer who (at least in the case of Fräulein Else) was writing in the stream-of-consciousness style, I found the story not only wholly accessible but something of a page turner as well.
This is a case of being glad I didn't know too much going in beforehand, therefore not being worried about the prose style or complexity of the story. Yet I wouldn't mind now knowing more about Schnitzler and his milieu and perhaps a nice introduction or afterword with more about the text wouldn't be amiss. I know only a tiny bit about the former and nothing of the latter so I'll just press on and see this as a starting point. With one book under my belt, hopefully more will follow. As for Schnitzler, he was born in Vienna in 1862. He studied medicine but gave up practicing in order to write. He was a controversial writer since he wrote frankly about sexuality, and his books were later consigned to the bonfires by Hitler. Schnitzler had already passed away by that time, so didn't have to witness the madness. As a contemporary of Freud I wonder what each thought of the other.
Fräulein Else is a psychological work which takes place almost entirely in the head of Else, a young woman of nineteen who is vacationing in a small spa town outside of Vienna with her aunt. Like so many young heroines, she has a romantic view of the world. Attractive and social she dreams of marriage to a handsome man and travel to exotic places. Her happy idyll is cut short, however, with the arrival of a telegram from her mother announcing the dire situation her father has found himself in--he owes a great sum of money, which if not paid in a very few days will result in his being jailed. It's not the first time he has foolishly risked money on the Bourse and racked up gambling debts and will likely not be the last time. But there is no one else to turn to this time around in order to raise the kind of money he needs. So her parents have turned to Else in order to raise the cash.
What can a young woman of nineteen do to help her parents acquire the sum they need? A pretty young woman like Else might make herself useful by asking an old family friend for the money. Especially since "he has always been particularly fond of you" they tell her. Baron von Dorsday happens to be staying at the same hotel and has loaned money to Else's father in the past. Surely he has plenty and could be convinced to spare a bit more to keep the public prosecutor at bay and her father out of jail. A scandal must be avoided at all costs. It sounds easy enough if only Else didn't find Dorsday so repugnant.
It's not always a comfortable place being inside a character's head, but it can be interesting to see the thought process and how it flows from one topic to another. The private conversations that are held and observations made. Even as she coquettishly approaches Dorsday about the money, she is repulsed by him and herself for having to put herself in this situation, and by her parent's who have forced her through a subtle guilt-ridden manipulation to essentialy prostitute herself. For nothing is free, and Dorsday will expect something in return for his money. So what is this young woman to do? It's a moral dilemma she must face on her own and decide whether she can bear to see her father in striped prisoner's garb and her family ruined, or if she can go to this man and let herself be ruined. She has one other option, but none of the choices will have a favorable outcome.
I'm not sure I'm quite ready to tackle The Road into the Open, but I did bring home from the library Schnitzler's play La Ronde, which was made into a film, which I'll eventually watch once I've read the story. Tomorrow, if all goes as planned, it'll be time to talk about another Romantic Fairy Tale, "Undine". I've been reading Ingrid Noll's The Pharmacist, which is good but I think so far I prefer the other two books by her I've read. I need to start The Stalin Front very soon. And I'd still like to squeeze in one more short novel or novella this month--maybe something by Stefan Zweig or Peter Handke?