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Traumnovelle by Arthur Schnitzler. Tom Send a noteboard - 23/02/2011 03:01:52 PM
It’s impossible to talk about Traumnovelle without talking about “Eyes Wide Shut”, since the latter is simply an adaptation of the former. Only after reading the original novella, however, was I able to appreciate how poorly executed the Kubrick film really was.

I say this as someone who was a fan of the movie. I enjoyed its dark, brooding tone and the psychological subject matter. The anatomy of sexual and emotional betrayal, of passion and its natural extinction, are certainly exciting topics for any artistic endeavor. The stark and brutal reality of a bad relationship is masterfully depicted by Kubrick.

And yet, the entire movie is quite absurd. It was filmed in London when the plot supposedly unfolds in New York, and anyone familiar with New York immediately recognizes that the movie wasn’t filmed there. The main characters actions at times make no sense, and the entire notion of the secret society with all-powerful connections is a bit on the lunatic fringe side of plausibility.

Schnitzler’s novella, however, is flawless. The sexual tension is there, the dreamlike nature of the film is an attempt to recapture the dreamlike nature of the novel (fitting, given the name of the story), and all of the rich psychological and emotional depth is present. In fact, as one would suspect, the novella has a much deeper and richer sense of psychosexual angst and profundity. Not only are characters’ motivations and thoughts clearly expressed, but the symbolism is very psychological. The actions take place just before the beginning of Lent, in the Carnival Season (Fasching). While it snows the day before, the night that Fridolin, the main character, wanders around Vienna and finds the erotic masked ball, the weather gets warmer and warmer, with the Föhn wind blowing (thought to induce mental illness the same way the Santa Ana winds in California do, through an abundance of positive ions in the atmosphere). The warming temperature is almost like a fever, just as Fridolin`s evening is reminiscent of a fevered dream.

The setting of fin-de-siècle Vienna for the novel is another distinction that makes the actions seem far more natural. The secret society is implied to be a gathering of nobles or other powerful people in a society that is far from transparent and far from a representative republic. The supposed suicide of a baroness and the disappearance of a Jewish piano player as part of a cover up are far more plausible if we envision respectable nobility faced with the possibility of a scandal if any word ever got out about their debauches. Vienna is also a more appropriate setting in another regard. The book was written in the 1920s, when Vienna had become the irrelevant capital of a small country in Europe, but the action obviously takes place prior to World War I. In this respect, the book is a view back at a lost world, the time when Vienna was the capital of a multinational empire and Great Power. This only increases the dreamlike quality of the book.

In short, the novel is far superior to the movie because it makes more sense and provides a richer explanation of what is going on. Perhaps it is unfair to blame Kubrick and the movie format entirely, as Schnitzler is obsessed with smell, something that no movie (to date) is able to properly convey. Smell is often overlooked, but it is a powerful means of evoking vivid memory, and Schnitzler makes full use of it.

In addition, the book is far more ambiguous about points that need not be spelled out. Fridolin never finds out what happened to him. He doesn’t know if the woman who “saved” him at the party is the same Baroness Dubieski who supposedly poisoned herself. There are absolutely no clues to hint at one outcome or another. Fridolin never finds out if the masked ball was a harmless farce or a deadly situation he was lucky to have escaped. The reader is left to wonder whether the whole thing is a dream. But it was too vivid – he slapped himself on the cheeks, he could see and hear and smell what was going on far too well.

The book also contains a long, extended recounting of the dream Albertine, Fridolin's wife, had while Fridolin was out. It contains numerous references to Freudian symbolism (Schnitzler was very interested in his Viennese friend’s theories regarding psychoanalysis) and is in itself something that the reader can ponder for quite some time, pulling together random ideas and images that Albertine has been exposed to earlier in the book (including the fairy tale their daughter was reading in the opening lines of the novella) with her psychological impression of her marriage.

While the story is very close to the movie adaptation, “Eyes Wide Shut”, there are significant differences that make Traumnovelle a very satisfying read regardless. Given that it is a short book, it is well worth the minor investment of time in its ability to generate discussion.
Political correctness is the pettiest form of casuistry.

ἡ δὲ κἀκ τριῶν τρυπημάτων ἐργαζομένη ἐνεκάλει τῇ φύσει, δυσφορουμένη, ὅτι δὴ μὴ καὶ τοὺς τιτθοὺς αὐτῇ εὐρύτερον ἢ νῦν εἰσι τρυπώη, ὅπως καὶ ἄλλην ἐνταῦθα μίξιν ἐπιτεχνᾶσθαι δυνατὴ εἴη. – Procopius

Ummaka qinnassa nīk!

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Traumnovelle by Arthur Schnitzler. - 23/02/2011 03:01:52 PM 8117 Views
Re: Traumnovelle by Arthur Schnitzler. - 23/02/2011 04:49:06 PM 1595 Views
I think the movie needs to be discussed because almost everyone has seen it or heard of it. - 23/02/2011 05:30:27 PM 1293 Views
Do you count Kafka? - 23/02/2011 10:26:33 PM 1356 Views
I already got Kafka. I just haven't read him yet. - 23/02/2011 11:46:05 PM 1384 Views
Re: I already got Kafka. I just haven't read him yet. - 24/02/2011 09:32:33 AM 1398 Views
Thanks for the review. - 26/02/2011 03:58:48 AM 1400 Views
I've been wanting to read this for a while. - 27/02/2011 07:26:05 PM 1359 Views

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