Schnitzler, Arthur (1862–1931) By Garloff, Katja
Arthur Schnitzler was a leading exponent of Viennese modernism. The son of a Jewish laryngologist, Schnitzler studied and practised medicine before devoting himself exclusively to writing. His literary works explore the themes of love and death, reality and illusion, and changing codes of honour and morality. In his dramatic plays, Schnitzler emphasizes dialogue over action and often shows how people speak past each other. In his prose, he experiments with subjective modes of narration that give readers access to the thoughts and feelings of the characters.
In 1895 Schnitzler achieved a breakthrough with Liebelei [The Reckoning], a play about love, betrayal, social class, and gender roles. Liebelei features a prototypical ‘sweet girl,’ a young woman from the lower middle classes involved in a relationship with an aristocratic man. The 1896/97 Reigen [Hands Around] was to become Schnitzler’s most controversial work. The play consists of ten dialogues between lovers, one of whom will find a new sexual partner in the next scene in each case. Linking members from different social classes into a sexual chain, the play exposes the power asymmetries between them. While Schnitzler was primarily a chronicler of his time and society, he also wrote several historical plays, including the 1899 Der grüne Kakadu [The Green Cockatoo], which is set at the beginning of the French Revolution.