Arthur Schnitzler's 1895 play `Liebelei' provoked mass controversy within the Viennese upper class upon its premier in the `Burgtheater', as did many of his plays. This reaction could in part be explained by Schnitzler's "frank description of sexuality"¹ and his crudely realistic portrayal of Viennese society at that time through his application of very common personalities for his characters. In this essay, I intend to demonstrate the insight which Schnitzler gives the reader through the characters of `Liebelei', into Viennese society at the turn of the century.
First of all, strong insight is perhaps given into the Viennese high society, who were "devoted to order, mannered charm and the grandiloquent facades on the `Ringstrasse' "³ by the reaction of the audiences alone to the play and its characters. Both shocked and embarrassed the Viennese bourgeoisie with its "uncompromising representation of the Viennese world"². Schnitzler's writing of the play and his inclusion of these common, gritty characters coupled with the reaction of this part of Viennese society represents the "test of wills... [sic] between well-behaved traditionalism and liberated modernism"³ emerging in Vienna at this time.
Furthermore, within the play these "facades" belonging to the confident upper classes of the period are like wise displayed amongst the lower classes. For example, during the interaction between Christine and Katharina Binder (pp. 133-135 ), Katharina almost lectures Christine on the appropriate and expected behaviour of young working class girls within the Viennese `Vorstadt' - it
¹ Arthur Schnitzler - Wikipedia the free encyclopaedia, www.wikipedia.com
² Translation from in-class translation assignment
³ (Essay: Vienna Moderne 1895-1930, www.artsmia.org/modernism/e_vm.html)
is expected that girls adhere to these rules society has laid down for them. In addition, later on during the dialogue between Katharina and Christine's father, Herr Weiring, it becomes evident through Katharina's neutral reference to her husband as `der Binder' that she married him not out of love, but rather due to the fact that it was perhaps expected of her to marry the best of those on offer - the one who perhaps was "fix angestellt" (in permanent employment) which she seems to view as a decisive factor in choosing a husband. One sees her using this as a tool in trying to persuade Christine to court her nephew;
(pp 133) "Wissen Sie, Fraulein Christin', dass er jetzt fix angestellt ist?" (Do you know, Miss Christine that he is now in permanent employment?)
Both these examples clearly demonstrated the "facades" of the Viennese society, their rules and expectations of behaviour, within both the lower classes during the late 1890's.
Furthermore, these "facades" are also portrayed through dialogue between the upper class. For instance, when der Herr visits Fritz in order to challenge him to a duel,...