Broch, Hermann (1886–1951) By Dowden, Stephen D.
Hermann Broch is best known as a philosophically attuned novelist. Above all he is the author of two extraordinarily accomplished works of European modernist fiction: Die Schlafwandler (The Sleepwalkers) (1932) and Der Tod des Vergil (The Death of Virgil) (1945). After the Nazi seizure of power in 1933, Broch focused on charismatic politics, perverted religious feeling, and the contagious madness of crowds in a new novel. It concerns a wandering demagogue who seduces and corrupts the peasants of a Tyrolean village. Broch never felt satisfied with the book and did not complete or publish any of its three versions. The most fully developed of the three was published posthumously in 1953 as Die Verzauberung (The Spell). Broch’s failure to complete this book was predicated on his sense of literature’s impotence in the face of political violence. He turned to activism, writing anti-fascist tracts and developing his League of Nations Resolution (1936/37), which pressured that organization to take a stand against European fascism. When the Nazis annexed Austria, Broch fell into the hands of the Gestapo: as a converted Jew he was especially vulnerable. With the support of James Joyce and others, he escaped Nazi Austria in 1938.