‘Late Fame’ by Arthur Schnitzler

schnitzler_latefamefront2Late Fame was first published by Arthur Schnitzler (1862-1931) in 2014…eh…what? Yes, Late Fame is a ‘discovered’ book by Schnitzler, although even that’s complicated, I mean it was discovered but people sort of knew it existed. I’ll start again. Late Fame was completed in 1895 and submitted for publication in the periodical Die Zeit but wasn’t published due to the difficulties of serialising it. Why it wasn’t then published in another format or as a book is unclear but it was then largely forgotten about. After Schnitzler’s death and the occupation of the Nazis his archives were smuggled out of Vienna to Cambridge University by the co-operation of the British Consulate and a visiting PhD student Eric Blackall who was writing his doctorate on Adalbert Stifter. Although other works from the archives were published, Late Fame was not. If you want to know more then the afterword is very informative as well as this page on the Pushkin Press website.

I read this as part of Stu’s ‘Pushkin Press Fortnight’ at Winston’s Dad Blog.

I would like to thank Caroline at Beauty is a Sleeping Cat for sending me a copy as a giveaway prize back in November last year.

The novella begins with the elderly civil servant Herr Eduard Saxberger returning home after an uneventful day from work. Rather surprisingly he has a visitor, a young man called Wolfgang Meier, who reveals that he and his friends are huge fans of Saxberger’s book of poetry, Wanderings, written thirty years previously. Wanderings was Saxberger’s only published work and he had nearly forgotten it had existed until his visit from Meier. Meier is a writer who he belongs to a group of young artists called “Enthusiasm” and he invites Saxberger to attend one of their meetings. When he is sent Meier’s book of poetry the following day Saxberger finds it difficult reading the poetry of this young man, he just doesn’t understand it. He then refers back to his own poems and although he’s initially unfamiliar with them they soon evoke his earlier life.

So these—these were the Wanderings for which the youth of Vienna had yesterday sent him their thanks. Had he deserved them? He would not have been able to say. The whole sorry life that he had led now passed through his mind. Never had he felt so deeply that he was an old man, that not only the hopes, but also the disappointments lay far behind him. A dull hurt rose up in him. He put the book aside, he could not read on. He had the feeling that he had long since forgotten about himself.

Saxberger is introduced to Meier’s group and is treated reverently as the esteemed author of the Wanderings. Some of the artists of the “Enthusiasm” group, it is explained in the afterword, are based on real people known by Schnitzler but it is not necessary to know any details as the characters are outlined perfectly by Schnitzler. There’s Blink the cynical critic, Christian who writes historical plays, young Winder who ends up being most besotted by Saxberger and amongst others there is also the ageing actress Fräulein Gasteiner. Saxberger’s life is changed by being introduced to this group of admirers, for the first time he is treated respectfully and as a man of importance.

The group decides that they want to put on a poetry event and they want Saxberger to contribute a new poem. But this is where the problems begin because Saxberger has not written anything for over thirty years. He sits at his desk, goes for walks along the canal but he has no inspiration and instead prefers spending time with his old friends watching billiards. In the end it is agreed that Gasteiner will read a couple of his poems from Wanderings at the event. As the book proceeds we experience subtle shifts of Saxberger’s mental state and in how he fits in with this new group. As the other characters become more familiar Saxberger feels that he is respected less but reflects that this is not necessarily a bad thing as it means that he has been accepted by them.

Schnitzler handles the poetry event brilliantly; there are no major disasters but the level of public interest is pretty low. But Saxberger realises that the applause he receives is rather meaningless as the audience applauds every act. An event occurs that only he notices when he is onstage being applauded as the author of the poems:

The ovation roared around him. He felt nothing in particular, hardly even the embarrassment he had feared. He had to go up again—this time without Fräulein Gasteiner, and it was a little peculiar to him to hear the noise of clapping hands and the loud shouts of “Bravo”. He bowed several times, turned to the door and then, just as the clapping was getting weaker, he heard a voice from slightly behind him, or to the side—he couldn’t quite tell—but the words were perfectly distinct, no matter how quietly they had been said: “Poor devil!” He wanted to look around, but he felt that that would seem absurd.

Who said this and what, exactly, did they mean? Saxberger can’t understand it.

This is a brilliant little novella and it’s surprising that Schnitzler didn’t push for its publication in some form or other. I’ve already revealed too much of the story but the ending is expertly handled; in keeping with the rest of the story it’s subtle, effective and, dare I say, heartwarming.

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16 Comments

Filed under Fiction, Schnitzler, Arthur

16 responses to “‘Late Fame’ by Arthur Schnitzler

  1. I liked this one very much too – my first experience of Schnitzler and I can’t understand why it was allowed to slip into obscurity!!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I have a copy of this bought when it was (finally) published. Sad it wasn’t published until now, but better late than never!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. How wonderful to see this in print at last. It sounds absolutely brilliant. I’ve only read a couple of his short stories so far, but I’d love to experience more of his work in the future. He strikes me as being a good observer of people.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jonathan

      Yes it is brilliant. I liked the sound of it from the first I heard of it from someone’s blog – I’m not sure who’s it was now as I think I’ve read a couple since. I’d only read ‘Dream Story’ before but I have a bought collection and a few are available on Project Gutenberg.

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  4. I’m so glad you liked it. That last quote is particularly poignant.
    I still need to read it. I wonder why he let the publication slide.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jonathan

      I really loved it. It is odd about it not being published, I mean in the afterword it’s mentioned that he spent over a year on it, he re-worked the ending until it was right (it’s perfect IMO) and then when it wasn’t accepted for serialisation it was dropped and forgotten about.

      I think you’ll like it Caroline.

      Like

  5. The history behind this story is very interesting.

    There is so much that a writer can do with the issues of human creativity and peoples’ reactions to it.

    This sounds very good. I would like to read it.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Very nice review Jonathan. I loved this, and I think heartwarming is fair. I spent so much of the novel on tenterhooks too, hoping for the best for Saxberger. Extraordinary how much tension a good writer can generate from so little.

    I’ve read two others of his (all three are covered over at mine): Fraulein Else which is a bit of a masterclass in the use of internal monologue as dramatic structure, since the entire book is one young woman’s thoughts; and Dying which is a brilliant tale of a young woman who vows to die with her tubercular lover on hearing he has but a year to live. He forbids her to, but as the year progresses the idea becomes more appealing to him and less to her.

    I have but haven’t yet read Dream Story or the Casanova one. For me he’s one of Pushkin’s great discoveries.

    Caroline, I absolutely second the recommendation to you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jonathan

      I know what you mean as I was half expecting bad things to happen to Saxberger; I thought the public reading might turn into a disaster or that he’d make a fool of himself over the actress or that he’d commit suicide etc. But none of these happen which was a pleasant surprise as I’m used to characters being treated badly.

      I would like to read the others available on Pushkin especially the Casanova one as I have an interest in the man; I keep meaning to read his memoirs. I have a Penguin collection of four stories called ‘Vienna 1900’ which I hope to read this year.

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      • I’ve read a volume of excerpts from Casanova’s memoirs, and they are absolutely brilliant. Superbly well written and often extremely funny. Very much recommended.

        Vienna 1900 is new to me. I’ll look that out.

        Liked by 1 person

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  8. Pingback: Late Fame: Arthur Schnitzler | His Futile Preoccupations .....

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