Sigmund Freud and Arthur Schnitzler in Turn of the Century Vienna


Download 48.07 Kb.
Date conversion11.05.2018
Size48.07 Kb.


Sigmund Freud and Arthur Schnitzler in Turn of the Century Vienna

Sara Tapsak

Carleton College

March 2006

Though society may be seen as a reflection of the people who are in it, Vienna at the turn of the century can be considered a place in which the people were greatly impacted by society. Sigmund Freud and Arthur Schnitzler are two men who were greatly impacted by the Viennese culture in which they lived. They are two of the great figureheads that emerged from Vienna at this time, eternally influencing both the fields of psychology and literature. Though they can be compared in many respects and thought about in similar ways, the two were never close. Freud actually considered Schnitzler to be his Doppelgänger, or other half and one can never meet his Doppelgänger without the consequence of death. 1 Despite the fact that they were never close, these two men are undeniably linked by the pervasive façade that controlled the citizens of Vienna at the time. Freud’s feelings about Schnitzler are expressed in a letter he wrote to him in 1922 in which he states:

”I have formed the impression…that you know through intuition—or rather through detailed self-observation—everything that I have discovered by laborious work on other people.” 2

While Freud struggled to develop his theory of psychoanalysis, Schnitzler appeared to reach the same conclusions through his writing. The influences of love and death in Vienna at the turn of the century can be seen in the psychoanalytic theory of Freud and the literary works of Schnitzler, and therefore these men are a product of the society in which they lived.

Before looking specifically at the lives and relationship of Sigmund Freud and Arthur Schnitzler during turn of the century Vienna, it is important to briefly outline the cultural context by which these men were influenced. Vienna at this time was a very active place. There was an air of uncertainty that consumed Vienna and with it came feelings of nervousness for the citizens of the city. The Tagblatt in 1889 wrote:

“Nervousness is the modern sickness…it is the sickness of the century…outside, everything is gleam and gorgeousness. One lives only on the outside, one is led astray by the dancing phosphorescence…one no longer expects anything from the inner life, from thinking or believing.” 3

This illustrates perfectly the struggle that the citizens of Vienna endured to find a resolution to the conflict of leading the glamorous life that was expected of them and the nervousness caused by the unavoidable act of thinking. Frederic Morton further described this struggle as follows:

“Only in Vienna had the bourgeoisie, this sustaining class of modernity, been born so psychically frail. Here it sickened faster of the machines and the depersonalizing schemes of its own making. And here it became especially nervous at those rooting about in the malaise, namely artists and thinkers.”4

The nervousness deeply rooted in the people of Vienna was an issue that inevitably could not be avoided. This will be discussed in the context of Freud’s theory and seen in Schnitzler’s writing.

The Viennese along with this nervousness were dealing with a cultural identity crisis of sorts. People were forced to deal with how society wanted them to act, as well as the way they truly wanted to live and express themselves, two states often at odds with one another. The younger generation in Vienna at the turn of the century, a category in which Freud and Schnitzler would be placed, is described as:

“…free and glamorous in theory, crushingly impotent in action; freely skeptical yet unable to establish one skeptic-proof premise; free to see themselves as unbounded individuals without ever arriving at successful individuality; free to press pleasure to numb excess; free to demand the absolute of their senses and their ideals only to be failed by both, overprivileged and hapless at once; free to sound the depths of sophisticated frustration.”5

The struggle between opposing dyads of possibility profoundly affected the people of Vienna. In the same moment, they possessed freedom to achieve contentment or even happiness, but lacked the resolve to actually achieve either.

Finally, it was very difficult to be Jewish in Vienna at the turn of the century. For Sigmund Freud and Arthur Schnitzler this specifically meant difficulties in professional advancement. Many Jewish citizens as a result decided to convert to Catholicism, some gave up religion completely, and some remained faithful to their Jewish faith. With the appointment of anti-Semite Karl Lueger in 1897, Austrian liberalism lost its hold in Vienna entirely in only 3 years thereafter. 6 Steven Beller in his book, Rethinking Vienna 1900, describes turn of the century in relation to Judaism and Arthur Schnitzler saying:

“Schnitzler’s Vienna [is a] world of anxiety-ridden Jewish individuals, whose lives have been cast adrift by the failure of liberalism to produce the enlightened society promised by the ideology of emancipation, and who are confronted with the need to respond to an anti-Semitic reality any way they can.”7

One can make the argument that it is partially through their struggle of being Jewish in an anti-Semitic society that Sigmund Freud and Arthur Schnitzler were driven to the success that they eventually experienced.

In order to demonstrate the ways in which these two men are linked, it is important to look at their personal histories, specifically the aspects that are parallel. Sigmund Freud was born on May 6, 1856 to Jewish parents in Freiberg, Moravia, a part of Austria-Hungary, which now belongs to the Czech Republic. When he was four years old, his family moved to Vienna. Here Freud lived almost his entire life, until he had to flee the Nazi threat in 1938 and moved with his family to London.8 In 1873, at the age of 17, Freud entered the University of Vienna to study medicine. An essay on nature written by Goethe inspired him to pursue this academic field. Fifteen years later, in 1885, Freud spent a semester in Paris working with Jean-Martin Charcot. After seeing Charcot’s hysterical patients and his treatment methods, Freud came to believe that mental illness might be caused not only by the brain, but by the mind as well. He was also inspired by Charcot’s use of hypnosis. In the same year, Freud became a lecturer on neuropathology at the University of Vienna. 9

In 1886, after a four-year engagement, Sigmund married Martha Bernays, who was the daughter of a very affluent Jewish family in Vienna. In the same year, Freud set up his private practice. Sigmund and Martha started their family and eventually had six children. A year later Freud began treating patients with nervous diseases in his private practice and started using hypnosis as a treatment method. After having worked with Wilhelm Fleiss and Josef Breuer, Freud and his contemporaries discovered that having a patient simply talk about his or her psychological ailments provided some relief. In 1896, Freud began using the term psychoanalysis and decided that he must develop a complete theory of the mind and began to do so by analyzing his own psyche.10 Freud’s father died on October 23 of the same year and still trying to cope with his death, Freud started to interpret his own dreams. The death of a father, in his own words is “the most important event, the most poignant loss, of a man’s life.”11 This led to the eventual publication of The Interpretation of Dreams in 1899. 12 For the next two decades Freud continued to work, develop and publish his psychoanalytic theories. Devastatingly, Freud’s daughter, Sophie died in 1920 from Influenza. The pandemic killed an estimated twenty million people throughout the world, including Vienna’s artists Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele, as well as architect Otto Wagner.13

Turning to Arthur Schnitzler, he was born on May 15, 1862 in Vienna. He was the eldest son of Dr. Johann Schnitzler, a laryngologist, and Loiuse Markbreiter, daughter of a wealthy Viennese Physician.14 Johann Schnitzler came from a Hungarian Jewish family of modest means and moved to Vienna in order to make his fortune. Arthur Schnitzler followed in his father’s footsteps, although unwillingly, and studied medicine at the University of Vienna from 1879 to 1884. He received his doctoral degree in 1885, specializing in laryngology, like his father. He joined the Vienna Polyclinic, which his father started, and worked as a surgeon at the Vienna General Hospital. In 1886 he became the assistant of psychiatrist, Theodor Meynert. Schnitzler, like Freud, was interested in Meynert’s experiments with suggestion and hypnosis. Schnitzler also had a great passion for literature. However, his literary ambition always competed with his medical career, but with the death of his father in 1893, he turned towards writing though he never gave up medicine completely. Schnitzler always felt a tremendous amount of pressure from his father; he was the primary reason Schnitzler studied medicine. The death of his father provided an opportunity for him to pursue his passion for writing. Schnitzler was known for his many affairs with women throughout his life, who were mostly with singers and actresses. However, in 1903 he married Viennese singer, Olga Gussman, and they had two children, Heinrich and Lily. After years of fighting the couple divorced in 1921, but remained in touch. A tremendous blow to Arthur Schnitzler came with the suicide of his daughter, Lily in 1928, a year after marrying an Italian officer. She was only 18 years old.15

Through the accounts of both Freud and Schnitzler’s lives parallels between the two men can be seen. Both men were Jewish in Vienna at the turn of the century. Both men studied medicine and were affected professionally by their fathers. The death of Freud’s father inspired him to write The Interpretation of Dreams, while Schnitzler’s father was the reason he studied medicine and with his father’s death, Schnitzler was able to pursue his literary career. Finally both men dealt with the unnatural and traumatic event of losing a child. It is interesting to see the similarities between their personal lives and then to see the similarities in their work as well.

Sigmund Freud is best known for his psychoanalytic theory, which he began intensively focusing on and developing in 1896 after working with Wilhelm Fleiss and Josef Breuer the year before. Freud developed his idea of the life and death instincts and published them in Beyond the Pleasure Principle in 1905. He wanted to develop a theory that was much removed from sexuality, since he had been criticized in the past for being too sexual in his theories. Within this theory he combined his ideas of the conscious and unconscious with the more structured components of the id, ego, and superego. The id represents the human unconscious, including instinctual drives, the superego represents the morals and values imposed by society, and the ego works to resolve conflicts caused by the interaction of the id and the superego. Within in the framework of the id, Freud determined that human beings are driven by two major instinctual drives. These two instinctual drives are in conflict with one another and while one is seeking gratification, the other wants to return to the quiet of non-existence. The first instinct is Eros, which encompasses the sexual instincts and works to preserve life.16 The second is Thanatos, the death instinct, which is defined as “a drive toward destruction that can be turned inward toward the self or toward the outside world in an aggressive way.”17 It is also seen as the bodily instinct to return to the state of stillness that preceded birth. The idea of destruction in conjunction with the death drive, explains why people are drawn to repeat painful or traumatic events; even though these behaviors contradict the instinct one has to seek pleasure. This idea allowed Freud to make sense of the human tendency towards destruction, often including self-destructive tendencies.18 Further explanations of the death drive clarify that “ every living being aspires to death by virtue of its most fundamental internal tendency…the organism wants not simply to die, but to die in its own way.”19 These instincts, according to psychoanalytic theory, are constantly at odds within the human psyche, thus causing people to continually work to maintain a psychological equilibrium. When that equilibrium is disrupted, according to Freud, psychological disorders emerge.20

While Freud appeared to struggle with developing his psychoanalytic theory, Schnitzler appeared to reach the same conclusions more naturally through literature. It is important to note that most literature on Schnitzler adamantly claims that he was not attempting to connect his work with psychoanalysis in any way. However, the ways in which he writes and the topics he discusses are indeed linked to psychoanalysis. In response to Theodor Reik’s essay, Arthur Schnitzler as Psychologist, Schnitzler wrote a letter, in which he asserts: “more paths [lead] into the darkness of the soul…than psychoanalysts can dream of (or interpret).”21 Arthur Schnitzler clearly wanted to distinguish himself from the field of psychology in his writing, arguing even that literature was a better means of understanding human nature than psychoanalysis. However, many critics maintain that a connection, whether desired or not exists. Despite his assertions, Schnitzler’s medical training makes it abundantly clear that he was very intrigued by psychological problems, specifically neurology, hypnosis, and suggestion. 22 In describing the work of Schnitzler, Martin Swales, professor of German at University College in London, wrote:

“…one can easily imagine a psycho-analyst taking the stories as specific case-histories whose documentation is sufficiently accurate and detailed for an actual medical diagnosis to be made.”23

This psychoanalytic style can be seen in many works by Schnitzler, however, this analysis will focus on only two of them: Traumnovelle and Fräulein Else. Psychoanalysis can be generally categorized as a verbal form of therapy and this is exactly what Schnitzler’s characters are often doing in his writing. He achieves this by writing in a very stream of conscious manner, focusing on an “inward narration,” illustrating the “case-history” style Martin Swales speaks of.

Traumnovelle was written in 1926 and examines sexual fantasy inside and outside the confines of marriage. It is largely a commentary on the social norms of the time; the relationship between the bourgeoisie world and the so-called “underworld” of pleasure. Further, it deals with the idea of a multi-layered identity and the resolution of these layers. Traumnovelle follows the steps of Doctor Fridolin as he engages in a journey of self-discovery, by detailing his thoughts and psychological transformations.

Doctor Fridolin and his wife, Albertine appear to be a couple of upstanding morality and class in Viennese society. However, their desire for other partners places great strain on the couple’s marriage. The tension begins when Albertine admits to lusting for another man when her and Doctor Fridolin were on vacation years ago. Being suddenly called away, because of the death of a friend, Doctor Fridolin and Albertine do not fully resolve this issue. Throughout the course of his evening, Doctor Fridolin is seduced by a series of women and is increasingly tempted by each of them. The first is the daughter of the man who had died, whom he dismisses fairly easily. The second is Mizzi, a prostitute he meets on the street. Doctor Fridolin contemplates whether or not to engage in sexual relations with the prostitute:

“—bin ich verrückt? Fragte er sich. Ich werde sie natürlich nicht anrühren.”24

After deciding to accompany the young prostitute to her house, Doctor Fridolin again questions his decision to join her and thus questions his identity, as others would perceive it:

“Wer auf der Welt möchte vermuten, dachte er, dass ich mich jetzt gerade in diesem Raum befinde? Hätte ich selbst es vor einer Stunde, vor zehn Minuten für möglich gehalten? Und warum? Warum?”25

Psychoanalytic themes are seen in the preceding passages. Doctor Fridolin struggles with the concept of his own sanity when he questions his potential actions with the prostitute. His attempts to resolve an ego conflict are thus expressed. Further, when he ponders what others would think of him being involved in such circumstances, the inner workings of his superego are shown.

Finally, he meets a woman at a masquerade party. His distrust of his wife has grown throughout the night, as he realizes that he himself cannot be trusted. The last woman is of particular interest because she sacrifices herself for Doctor Fridolin’s safety. He gains entrance to the masquerade party when his friend, who plays piano for the guests, reveals the password to him. The party consists of devious sexual activity and shortly after his arrival, he is discovered to be an outsider and asked to remove his mask. He refuses to do so and thus puts himself in mortal danger. The masked woman says that she will take his burden and at this proclamation, Doctor Fridolin is immediately removed from the party. It is interesting to note that the masked state of the guests of the party can be considered representative of the façade of Vienna at the turn of the century. The people at the party, like the citizens of Vienna are forced to mask themselves, hiding their identity while indulging in their true desires. Doctor Fridolin later discovers that the woman was killed in order to spare him. The guilt he feels because of this, plagues him.

In the end, after Doctor Fridolin’s night of temptation, he decides to admit everything to his wife. Shockingly, the couple chooses to maintain an ignorance of their problems over awareness in order to maintain their “dream” of high society life. This again goes back to the idea that the desire to maintain this façade is greater than the need or will to deal with “existential isolation.”26

A second example of Schnitzler’s work worth noting is Fräulein Else. He achieved great success with this story, written in 1923, which depicts the inner monologue of a woman who struggles with the responsibility of preserving her family’s honor. She must expose herself to Herr von Dorsday, a man who could potentially bring her family into ruin. The story ultimately ends with her suicide and is an example of the idea that people often use hysteria as a coping strategy in the face of overwhelming societal pressures. 27 In Fräulein Else, Schnitzler sets up the “triadic structures” of suicide victim, pretext, and actual perpetrator. He goes further to discuss the ego-split that must occur to actually commit suicide. Dagmar Lorenz describes this state:

“…[it] has three components; Else steps out of her body and contemplates herself as a spectacle, assuming the role of simultaneous actress, stage, and audience.”28

And goes further to explain that:

“Schnitzler shifts between extremes, between radical change and continuity, making suicide as much as act of resistance to the status quo as a reconciliatory act, a feasible solution to a dilemma.”29

Here it is evident that Else’s suicide stems from a desire to return to a state of quite, a direct connection to Freud’s idea of the death drive. She constantly bombards herself with questions in order to mentally resolve her dilemma of exposing herself, an act she feels obligated to do at times and at other times not. Here she is about to go through with her “obligation”:

“’Herrn von Dorsday,’ Zimmer Nummer fünfundsechzig. Wozu die Nummer? Ich lege ihm den Brief einfach vor die Tür im Verbeigehen. Aber ich muss nicht. Ich muss überhaupt gar nichts. Wenn es mir beliebt, kann ich mich jetzt auch ins Bett legen und schlafen und mich um nichts mehr kümmern. Nicht um den Herrn von Dorsday und nicht um den Papa. Ein gestreifter Sträflingsanzug ist auch ganz elegant. Und erschossen haben sich schon viele. Und sterben müssen wir alle.”30

This passage, which is representative of Schnitzler’s style throughout the entire story, illustrates Fräulein Else’s inner struggle. She questions each one of her actions, showing that she is unsure of them. For some time now, before exposing herself to Herr von Dorsday, Fräulein Else has been toying with the idea of suicide. She justifies this course of action by saying that many people have killed themselves and that ultimately everyone must die. From a psychoanalytic perspective Fräulein Else is attempting to resolve the conflicting signals coming from her id and superego. She does indeed expose herself to Herr von Dorsday in front of a room of people and subsequently commits suicide by taking poison. The final reactions of the people around her are unknown because the story is told through her inner monologue and thus the resolution of the story is her suicide.

Despite his declaration that he doesn’t want his literary writing to be associated with Psychoanalysis and the work of Sigmund Freud, Arthur Schnitzler is undeniably wrestling with psychoanalytic issues. The state of Vienna at the turn of the century makes it impossible for these issues to not be somehow incorporated in his work; they affected every citizen in the city. This is seen both in Traumnovelle and Fräulein Else, which deal with the resolution of conflict within the human psyche.

In conclusion, Sigmund Freud and Arthur Schnitzler are two men ultimately linked by the society in which they lived. The themes of love and death, as expressed in Freud’s theory and Arthur Schnitzler’s writing, are indicative of a time in which Viennese society had great influence over its citizens. One cannot take into account their success without bearing in mind the context in which these two men were working. Freud’s theories were driven by a need to understand the human psyche in turn of the century Vienna and Arthur Schnitzler worked to achieve the same goal through literature. Perhaps they were Doppelgänger; each the other’s missing half and each working to understand themselves and ultimately the human condition. What one can be certain of is that both men worked to resolve the conflict caused by the imposed façade Vienna placed on its citizens during the turn of the century and found profound success in their own individual ways, Freud through psychology and Schnitzler through literature.


Beller, Steven. Rethinking Vienna 1900. New York: Berghahn Books, 2001.
Freud, Sigmund. Beyond the Pleasure Principle. New York: W.W. Norton & Company Inc., 1961.
Hofmann, Paul. The Viennese: Spendor, Twilight, and Exile. New York: Anchor Press Doubleday, 1988.
Laplanche, Jean. Life and death in psychoanalysis. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976.
Lorenz, Dagmar C.G. A Companion to the Works of Arthur Schnitzler. New York: Camden House, 2003.
Morton, Frederic. A Nervous Splendor: Vienna 1888/1889. New York: Penguin Books, 1980.
Rau, Petra, University of Portsmouth. "Arthur Schnitzler." The Literary Encyclopedia. 17 Nov. 2003. The Literary Dictionary Company. 9 March 2006.
Schnitzler, Arthur. Die Erzählenden Schriften: Zweiter Band. Frankfurt am Mein: Fischer Verlag, 1961.
Schnitzler, Arthur. Fräulein Else: A Novel. Trans. Robert A Simon. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1930.
Schnitzler, Arthur. Rhapsody: A Dream Novel. Trans. Otto P. Schinnerer. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1927.
Schorske, Carl E. Fin-de-siecle Vienna: Politics and Culture. New York: Vintage Books, 1981.

St. Clair, Michael and Jodie Wigren. Object Relations and Self Psychology: an Introduction (4th Edition). Belmont: Brooks/Cole—Thomson Learning, 2004.

Swales, Martin. Arthur Schnitzler: A critical study. London: Oxford University Press, 1971.
Yamanishi, David. “Freud Timeline,” July 20, 2004. (1/6/06).

1Paul Hofmann, The Viennese: Spendor, Twilight, and Exile (New York: Anchor Press Doubleday, 1988), 211.

2 Hofmann, The Viennese: Spendor, Twilight, 212.

3 Frederic Morton, A Nervous Splendor: Vienna 1888/1889 (New York: Penguin Books, 1980), 315.

4 Morton, A Nervous Splendor: Vienna 1888/1889, 315.

5 Morton, A Nervous Splendor: Vienna 1888/1889, 316.

6 Carl E. Schorske, Fin-de-siecle Vienna: Politics and Culture, (New York: Vintage Books, 1981), 6.

7 Steven Beller, Rethinking Vienna 1900, (New York: Berghahn Books, 2001), 19.

8 David Yamanishi, “Freud Timeline,” July 20, 2004. (1/6/06).

9 David Yamanishi, “Freud Timeline,” July 20, 2004. (1/6/06).

10 David Yamanishi, “Freud Timeline,” July 20, 2004. (1/6/06).

11 Schorske, Fin-de-siecle Vienna: Politics and Culture, 186.

12 David Yamanishi, “Freud Timeline,” July 20, 2004. (1/6/06).

13 Hofmann, The Viennese: Spendor, Twilight, 162.

14 Petra Rau, University of Portsmouth. "Arthur Schnitzler." The Literary Encyclopedia. 17 Nov. 2003. The Literary Dictionary Company. 9 March 2006.

15 Petra Rau, University of Portsmouth. "Arthur Schnitzler." The Literary Encyclopedia. 17 Nov. 2003. The Literary Dictionary Company. 9 March 2006.

16 Sigmund Freud, Beyond the Pleasure Principle (New York: W.W. Norton & Company In., 1961), 30-32.

17 Michael St. Clair, Object Relations and Self Psychology: an Introduction (Belmont: Brooks/Cole—Thomson Learning, 2004), 206.

18 David Yamanishi, “Freud Timeline,” July 20, 2004. (1/6/06).

19 Jean Laplanche, Life and death in Psychoanalysis (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976), 107.

20 Freud, Beyond the Pleasure Principle, 6-7.

21 Beller, Rethinking Vienna 1900, 161.

22 Dagmar C. G. Lorenz, A Companion to the Works of Arthur Schnitzler, (New York: Camden House, 2003), 131.

23 Martin Swales, Arthur Schnitzler: A critical study, (London: Oxford University Press, 1971), 120.

24Arthur Schnitzler, Die Erzählenden Schriften: Zweiter Band, (Frankfurt am Mein: Fischer Verlag, 1961), 449. Translation by Otto P. Schinnerer (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1927), 40: “Am I mad? He asked himself. Of course I will have nothing to do with her.”

25 Schnitzler, Die Erzählenden Schriften: Zweiter Band, 450. Translation by Otto P. Schinnerer (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1927), 41: “Who in the world would suspect that I am here in this room at this moment? Fridolin thought. I’d never have thought it possible an hour or even ten minutes ago—And why? Why am I here?”

26 Lorenz, A Companion to the Works of Arthur Schnitzler, 134.

27 Hofmann, The Viennese: Spendor, Twilight, 212.

28 Lorenz, A Companion to the Works of Arthur Schnitzler, 341.

29 Lorenz, A Companion to the Works of Arthur Schnitzler, 341.

30 Schnitzler, Die Erzählenden Schriften: Zweiter Band, 366. Translation by Robert A Simon (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1930), 108: “’Herr von Dorsday,’ Room Number Sixty-five? Why use the number? I’ll just drop the letter at his door as I go by. But I needn’t. I needn’t do anything. If I felt like it, I could lie in bed now, and sleep, and do no more worrying about anything. Not about Herr von Dorsday, and not about Father. A striped convict’s uniform really is very stylish, and many people have killed themselves. After all, everyone must die.”


The database is protected by copyright © 2017
send message

    Main page