‘The Spring Sonata’ by Arthur Schnitzler

I recently enjoyed reading Schnitzler’s posthumously published work Late Fame and felt like reading some more. As I had a copy of the collection of four stories, Vienna 1900: Games with Love and Death, I could easily satisfy my hunger for more Schnitzler. He’s an interesting writer as he straddles the 19th and 20th centuries, he’s experimenting a bit with style that would seem quite alien to the 19th century writer and he’s obviously interested in delving deeper into the psychology of his characters.

The longest story, at 160 pages, and the last in the collection is called The Spring Sonata. The notes say that this was a 1914 translation by J.H. Wisdom and Marr Murray and was originally titled Bertha Garlan. The original story was titled Frau Bertha Garlan and was published in 1900. I have been trying to track down what Schnitzler translations are available generally and have collected the information here.

Bertha is a widow and has a young son Fritz. She was twenty-six years old when she married Victor Garlen who had proposed following the deaths of her father and mother. She did not love him. Victor died three years after their marriage. She now lives with her brother-in-law’s family and to earn some money she gives piano lessons to children of the town. Her life is comfortable but a little tedious.

It seemed to her as if it had been an unpleasant day. She went over the actual events in her mind, and was astonished to find that, after all, the day had been like many hundreds before it and many, many more that were yet to come.

One day Bertha sees an advert for a concert by Emil Lindbach. Lindbach had been the only man that she had loved twelve years before when she was still a student.

Bertha is friendly with Herr and Frau Rupius. Herr Rupius is paralysed and enjoys examining engravings. Frau Rupius is still young looking and healthy and enjoys visiting Vienna frequently, possibly to have love affairs. Bertha misses the Vienna of her youth and when Frau Rupius invites her to accompany her the following day to Vienna she accepts.

On arrival in Vienna Bertha is self-conscious of her provincial clothes. After visiting a dressmaker Bertha visits her cousin and arranges to meet up with Frau Rupius for the return train. She spends time walking round some of the places that she and Emil used to frequent.

The following day she looks through some of her old letters including those between her and Emil. There hadn’t been an actual break in their relationship, they had just drifted apart. Upon seeing in a newspaper that Emil had received an award she decides, on an impulse, to send him a congratulatory letter and to Bertha’s delight Emil responds quickly suggesting that they should meet next time she’s in Vienna. She replies to Emil and arranges to stay in Vienna for a couple of days and to meet Emil at a museum. Bertha tries to confide in Frau Rupius but she feels a little intimidated by her.

Before her trip she is propositioned in the street by Klingemann, whom she finds odious, and visits Herr Rupius who suspects that his wife is about to leave him and is in an emotional state.

Bertha is excited about meeting Emil and as she walks about Vienna before their meeting she fantasises about living in Vienna with Emil.

Yes, it would be very nice to live in Vienna and be able to do just as she liked. Well, who could say how everything would turn out, what the next few hours would bring forth, what prospects for her future life that evening would open out before her? What was it then, that really forced her to live in that dreadful little town?

The meeting goes very well, they talk as if there hadn’t been a twelve year break in their relationship, but Emil has to rush off after they arrange to meet later that evening. She then spends the day thinking about the evening and what it means to her.

I won’t reveal any more of the story as it will ruin it for anyone wishing to read it themselves. I was half-dreading some 19th century type of ending where Bertha will be punished for her ‘immoral’ escapades but was relieved to find that Schnitzler was a lot cleverer than that. The beauty of Schnitzler’s writing is his unobtrusive stream-of-consciousness approach where we get to see how Bertha’s thoughts on Emil, her own life, the Rupius’ lives etc. go through subtle changes over the days following her trip to Vienna which are fascinating to read. The story has a dramatic ending, though thankfully not melodramatic, and has a sort of moral or summary of the whole story which I’ll quote below and which surely points towards a 20th century morality.

Bertha divined what an enormous wrong had been wrought against the world in that the longing for pleasure is placed in woman just as in man; and that with women that longing is a sin, demanding expiation, if the yearning for pleasure is not at the same time a yearning for motherhood.

This story is available on Project Gutenberg as Bertha Garlan and looks as if it is the same translation as in my copy.


Filed under Fiction, Schnitzler, Arthur

18 responses to “‘The Spring Sonata’ by Arthur Schnitzler

  1. Fantastic review! I haven’t read anything by this author, on to the TBR pile it will go!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. That Schnitzler page is great. I wish I had had it – or I should have made it myself – during my Austrian literature year, when I read a healthy chunk of what was available by Schnitzler, but not everything, and not Frau Bertha Garlan. Interesting to learn about it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jonathan

      Thanks Tom. I started trying to make sense of what was available. The English Wikipedia page wasn’t very helpful but the German page was very useful. I was going to brush up on my wiki skills and change the Wikipedia page but felt it needed redesigning more than updating.


  3. Excellent review Jonathan. I enjoyed Late Fame very much and I don’t know why I haven’t picked up more of his work – I’ll look out for this one.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jonathan

      It’s worth checking out the Ivan R Dee collections with translations by Margret Schaefer. I’ve bought a couple of the kindle editions but haven’t read any yet. I was going to have a bit of a Schnitzler session then promptly fell ill.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I don’t think I’ve read that Schnitzler, but I do love him very much, so thank you for a great review. If you feel like it, I would encourage you to link up to the #EU27Project, as I always like to see more Austrian writers on there. Here is the link:

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jonathan

      Oh yes I’ll link to your EU project later. I may write some reviews of the other stories in the collection but as I read them over a week ago I’ll have to skim read them to remind myself.


  5. Jonathan

    Oh, BTW I forgot to mention in the post that this story is available on Project Gutenberg as Bertha Garlan—as far as I can tell it’s the same translation. I’ll add this info to the post.


  6. I have that free version of Bertha Garlan. I’ be interested to see what you make of the others in the collection. Will you be writing them up?

    I love Schnitzler – I’ve reviewed I think three of his at mine so far with a fourth coming fairly soon. I’ll definitely be reading this one which sounds like it plays to his classic strengths.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jonathan

      I hope to review at least one more, ‘A Confirmed Bachelor’, which together with ‘Spring Sonata’ made up most of the book. I may get round to the others, ‘Mother and Son’ and ‘The Man of Honour’.

      I was impressed with SS and going over it quickly to write this review made me appreciate it more. I’m not always impressed with SoC but when done well, as with this story, it really adds another dimension to the story. We get to see how Bertha’s feelings towards Emil and the Rupiuses change throughout the story. I was all set for reading more Schnitzler before falling ill. I’ve lost the momentum now but hope to read some more soon.


  7. I’m very tempted to read this one as well. The unobtrusive stream-of-consciousness is so typical for him and what I love the most. Plus the psychological insight.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jonathan

      The SoC is done so well that we, modern readers, barely notice it. He must have been one of the first to use it.


    • “one of the first” – Yes!


      Links respectively to my pieces on Schnitzler’s “Lieutenant Gustl” and Eduoard Dujardin’s Les lauriers sont coupés.


      • I’ve read Fräulein Else and Leutnat Gustl which both make use of this with great success. But I haven’t read Dujardin so far. Thanks for the links.


      • Jonathan

        Thanks for the links Tom. What I liked about Schnitzler was that I didn’t really notice the SoC initially. I generally don’t like ‘pure’ SoC, I prefer it mixed in with narrative and dialogue.


      • It can feel like a stunt. “Lieutenant Gustl” is a bit of a stunt. But it is helpful, I think, that Schnitzler has no conceptual interest in the technique. He just uses it when he thinks it fits the story he is trying to tell.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Pingback: #EU27Project Update in May – findingtimetowrite

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