‘A Confirmed Bachelor’ by Arthur Schnitzler

A Confirmed Bachelor is a novella included in the collection Vienna 1900: Games with Love and Death. It was originally translated by E.C. Slade in 1924 and published under the title Dr Graesler. The original German version was published in 1917 as Doktor Gräsler, Badearzt.

The story begins with the forty-eight year old Dr Graesler leaving his winter home in Lanzarote following the recent suicide of his sister. To Graesler’s annoyance the manager of the hotel suggests that Graesler should return the following year with a young wife. Graesler briefly visits his house in Berlin before continuing to a health resort elsewhere in the country where he has practised for six years. Before long Graesler attends to an elderly patient, Frau Schleheim, and is drawn into socialising with the Schleheim family. Dr Graesler is especially attracted to the daughter of the family, Sabine. Sabine is twenty-seven, quite serious and has had past experience working as a nurse in Berlin. One evening conversation turns to a local dillapidated sanotorium that is possibly up for sale. It would need renovating but the idea is put into Graesler’s head about running the sanatorium. Sabine is very enthusiastic about this project and is eager to assist Graesler in turning this into reality. She also offers to help with the adminstration of the spa, obviously looking forward to doing something useful and productive with her time. They spend hours together discussing the renovation and Graesler goes to visit the current owner who is eager to sell. After an evening with the Schleheims Graesler takes leave of Sabine:

He held Sabine’s hand a few moments, then raised it to his lips and kissed it fervently. She made no attempt to withdraw it, and when he looked up he thought her expression seemed more contented, even brighter.

Though Sabine and Graesler are both a bit awkward when it comes to matters of love both seem to be falling for each other. The following day, though, Graesler receives a letter from Sabine stating that she would like to marry Graesler if he were to offer. She admits that she doesn’t yet love him but their friendship is close to love. She reveals her past loves and discusses the future of the sanatorium in a cool manner. Graesler is a bit confused by the cool, dispassionate way that she has worked everything out, their marriage, the sanatorium, she even takes time to dissect his character; he notes to himself that she had correctly observed that he was priggish, vain, cold and irresolute. He wonders what else she may think after several years of married life. Graesler doesn’t know how to respond to this so he basically panics. He was already going to leave for Berlin in a few days time so he decides to leave earlier, i.e. straight away; he sends Sabine a letter informing her that he will return in two weeks time with an answer.

Whilst in Berlin Graesler is at a bit of a loose end and so he rummages through his dead sister’s possessions, he visits his lawyer, Böhlinger, and chats up a girl on the tram. The girl, Katharina, agrees to go to the theatre with him that evening and returns to his flat for supper. It’s not long before Katharina, who works in a glove shop, is living with him. Graesler also gets drawn in to attending a neighbour’s daughter who possibly has scarlet fever but who soon recovers. But now Graesler begins to think of Sabine and wonders if he had made a mistake.

More and more it seemed to him that Katharina’s true mission had been to lead him back to Sabine, whose love was to be for him the real meaning of his life. And the more trustingly Katharina—with no ulterior end in view—offered him the treasures of her gay, young heart, the more impatiently and hopefully his deepest yearnings went out to Sabine.

Note I will reveal the whole of the story in the rest of the post so you may wish to skip it if you don’t want to know the ending.

And so Graesler rushes back to the spa town to see Sabine and ask her forgiveness and to close the deal over the sanatorium. But the sanatorium is no longer up for sale and Sabine is no longer interested and wants nothing to do with him. Graesler now decides that Katharina is his soulmate and imagines returning to parade her in front of Sabine. So he heads back to Berlin only to find that Katharina is in bed with scarlet fever, possibly as a result of his contact with the neighbour’s girl. He stays with her until she dies and is upset by her death. After staying with Böhlinger for a few days he returns to his flat and bumps in to Frau Sommer and her child, Fanny, who had recovered from scarlet fever. Within a month Graesler has married Frau Sommer and the story ends with them visiting his hotel in Lanzarote to spend the winter.

This is an excellent story by Schnitzler, the character Dr Graesler is certainly annoying, he’s morally dubious and all the criticisms that Sabine accused him of are correct. But aren’t we all a little bit like Graesler at times? I suspect I am, and it’s not nice seeing such characteristics laid bare for all to see. It’s curious though that for Graesler everything turns out just peachy in the end.

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16 Comments

Filed under Fiction, Schnitzler, Arthur

16 responses to “‘A Confirmed Bachelor’ by Arthur Schnitzler

  1. I have several Schnitzlers to read but not this edition. Would you mind telling me all the titles in this collection?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jonathan

      No problem. There are four stories in all; they’re all oldish translations but they decided to change the title for this edition (Penguin, first published 1973). Listed below is first the title name in this edition followed by the original title followed by the German title. I’ve indicated the number of pages as well.
      1. Mother and Son/Beatrice/Frau Beate und ihr Sohn (74pp)
      2. The Man of Honour/The Murderer/Der Mörder (22pp)
      3. A Confirmed Bachelor/Dr Graesler/Doktor Gräsler, Badearzt (102pp)
      4. The Spring Sonata/Bertha Garlan/Frau Bertha Garlan (160pp)

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  2. This sounds excellent. I haven’t read it but I know I’ve got that somewhere.
    I wouldn’t have expected such a positive outcome for the main character.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jonathan

      It was a great story and Schnitzler kept wrong-footing me, just when I thought I knew where he was going with the story he surprised me. I was sure that Graesler was going to come to a sticky end.

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  3. I’ve barely dipped my toe in the water with this author but would definitely like to read more. Maybe this would a good one for GLM later this year – it sounds excellent.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jonathan

      I read ‘Dream Story’ years ago but wasn’t impressed enough to read more. I meant to read some of these stories for GLM last year but didn’t. I’m enjoying those I’ve read recently and have quite a few to keep me going for a while. Which ones have you read?

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      • A couple of his early stories ‘The Four-poster Bed’ and ‘Out for a Walk’, both published in the OUP anthology Vienna Tales. They’re brief sketches really, but rather effective given their length.

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  4. I’m definitely going to have to look out for this collection – I love older Penguins anyway and I really do want to read more of his work!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jonathan

      It’s a nice book. I bought it at a local secondhand bookshop along with another Schnitzler collection. Worth picking up if you see a copy on your travels.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Vishy

    Wonderful review, Jonathan! I have read only two stories by Schnitzler – The dead are silent and the play La Ronde. This story looks quite interesting. Want to read more Schnitzler stories. Thanks for inspiring me. On other news, I got the collected stories and novellas of Stefan Zweig after getting inspired by a review you wrote. Thanks so much for inspiring me! Can’t wait to read them!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jonathan

      Thanks Vishy. I recently read The Dead are Silent as well but haven’t read La Ronde, though I should get round to it.

      I hope you enjoy the Zweig collections. I’ve still got the novellas to read but after a run of short stories, novellas and non-fiction I feel like reading a substantial novel now—not sure what one though.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I skipped part of your review thanks to your warning (which was appreciated), but I read enough to know that I want to read this. I’ll have a look out for the collection.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jonathan

      That’s good to hear Max. I sometimes find when reviewing a short story that I can’t do it without talking about the whole story. I have three more volumes of stories by Schnitzler lined up to read as soon as I’m in the mood.

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